Tag Archives: Justice University

Justice University: Chapter 27

Friends in Need

“This is easily the greatest thing you have ever done.” Wally told Arthur dreamily. He was standing beside Arthur, Kyle and John Jones aboard the top deck of a triple story yatch that Arthur had hired for the day. Below them, students milled around, laughing and eating from the buffet tables that were placed at strategic intervals across the length and breadth of the ship.

“You need to thank Bruce as well. He put up half the money for the ship, and insisted we take the biggest one I could find.”

“I would not have imagined Bruce to the kind to want to throw parties for large groups of people.” John observed.

“I think his main reason for keeping the ship big was to have more places to hide from Clark.” Arthur said.

“So he’s still trying to avoid Clark?” Kyle asked. “They room together. How could he have managed to avoid him for the past week?”

“That just shows how dedicated Bruce is to never having a conversation with Clark.” Arthur grinned. “Clark says he takes off in the morning at seven and returns late at night to immediately go to sleep. It’s not like Clark is exactly dying to talk to him about what happened at his father’s office last week, anyway. They both need some space from each other for now.”

“And we get to party aboard a giant yatch because of it.” Wally said happily. He led the others down the stairs to the second deck, rubbing his hands together. “Come on, guys, we’ve got three hours till we get to the island. Let’s rock this joint! We’re going to make this a party to remember for future student generations at the university, and-”

Wally’s voice faded away as he encountered a pretty brunette coming up the steps. It was Linda Park. She smiled at Wally, but he was too surprised to smile back. All he could do was goggle at her for a moment before hurriedly moving out of her path.

“What’s the matter?” Arthur asked after she had left. “I thought it was your intention to ‘Rock this joint’?

“You invited Linda, too?” Wally hissed at Arthur. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I invited her friend Marion.” Arthur corrected him. “Who then invited Linda. And the reason I didn’t tell you was because I was looking for exactly the kind of reaction you had to meeting her.”

“That was gold.” Kyle chuckled. “He was looking at her like she was an alien. And I haven’t seen him jump out of the way so fast since he ran into that professor’s class he was skipping.”

“Screw you guys.” Wally muttered.

The party suddenly seemed to have grown considerably less fun for Wally as he wandered moodily around the deck, thinking about what as ass he had made of himself in front of Linda yet again.

Wally spotted Clark leaning on the railing watching the waves hit the side of the boat.

“You look like you’re having a blast.” Wally said, walking up to him.

“I am.” Clark said with a benign smile. “We should do this more often. I love the ocean. I think I saw that girl you like on the lower deck.”

“Yeah, she’s here.” Wally sighed. “Arthur invited her without telling me. I screwed up with I met up. Didn’t say hi or anything. Now she thinks I’m even more weird than she already did.”

“You’re way too hard on yourself, man.” Clark told him. “There’s no reason you can’t have a fresh start. Go up to the girl and introduce yourself. You should start with a joke, since you’re always full of those. Put her at ease. Pretend she’s like any other guy.”

“Wow, start with a joke, thanks man.” Wally said bitterly. “That’s a great help. You should be a dating coach. Next you’re going to tell me that confidence is key, and to actually listen to her instead of starting at her boobs.”

“No need to get snippy with me, I’m just trying to help. You over analyze things whenever you start thinking about this girl.”

“That’s because it is complicated.” Wally said. “That’s why I need advice a bit more specific than the golden oldies you’re dishing out. Enjoy the waves, Clark.”

“You’re over complicating things.” Clark called out to Wally’s retreating back.

Wally resumed his wandering across the deck of the yatch, jumping out of the way whenever he saw Linda and her friends moving in his general direction. One just strategic retreat brought him to the back of the yatch, where Diana lay on one of the deck chairs wearing thick sunglasses and reading a novel on her mobile.

“Your turn.” Wally said as he flopped down on a chair next to Diana.

“My turn for what?” Diana asked, taking off her glasses.

“Helping me out. Linda Park is on this ship, and I just had a super embarrassing encounter with her. How do I recover from that?”

“I can introduce you to her.” Diana offered. “I can act as a ‘wingwoman’, I believe the term is.”

“Do you know her?” Wally asked hopefully.

“No, but I won’t be so overawed by her beauty that I would freeze up in front of her.”

“That won’t work.” Wally waved her suggestion aside impatiently. “I have a better idea. You and I stand next to her and we pretend to flirt.”


“You laugh loudly at my jokes and hit me playfully on my shoulder.”


“We make her jealous so she thinks I’m a hot stud instead of a loser.”


“Oh come on, Diana! I’d do it for you, if you ever had to make a guy jealous.”

No, Wally. You must not start a relationship based on a lie. Linda will appreciate you based on your own personal positive attributes instead of your imaginary ‘studliness’.”

“You’re as bad as Clark.” Wally said bitterly as he jumped to his feet. “You two deserve each other.”

“Why? Did he say something to you?” Diana asked, but Wally was already striding away.

All of his other friends were busy talking to other people on different parts of the yatch. Then Wally saw Bruce skulking near a buffet table soundly ignoring a gaggle of girls nearby who were eyeing him. He spotted Wally beckoning to him, and walked over to join him at the railing of the ship.

“Hey, Bruce, I was trying to think of a way to get Linda to see me as a guy she’d want to be with instead of a dork. You have any idea how to do-”

“We isolate her from the pack.” Bruce said. “Carry out the classic ‘Savior’ maneuver. Make her think she’s in danger, and then you swoop in to the rescue. Our choices are limited to the yatch area. But wait! Are they? I’ve got a plan forming that will probably work. Wait till she’s walking next to the railing. Set off a flash bomb next to her. Screaming and confusion ensues. She’s disoriented and is temporarily blind. That’s when I bump in to her and send her over the railing. She’s screaming and thrashing in the water, and that’s when you jump in to rescue her. Now you’re her hero. The only flaw in the plan is she might know how to swim, but that’s a risk we’ll have to take, unless we can get the information out of her friend who’s-”

“Wait. Wait.” Wally’s head was swimming slightly. “How do I get a flash bomb?”

“I’ve got one, obviously. You think I was going to go to a party without one?”

“What? You… okay, I don’t even know where to start asking… look, you’re joking, right, Bruce? That whole plan you just spelled out was a joke?”

There was a long pause while Bruce stared at Wally.

“Of course, that was a joke.” He said at last. “I would never actually suggest such a course of action because of… all the obvious reasons.”

There was a long pause again. “Remind me never to come to you for dating advice.” Wally said.

“Oh sure, because I’m dying to hand out advice to lovesick shmucks who’re too weak to take practical action.” Bruce called out to Wally’s retreating back.

Wally spied Linda on the deck railing one story above them standing with her friend Marion and a blonde-haired guy. A large, flowery blue beach hat was hung next to Linda on a railing knot.

Great. She’d found someone already. She was laughing at something the guy was saying, and Wally felt a stab of irritation at not making his move quicker. He forced himself to stop staring at Linda as he moved over to the buffet table to look for a bite.

And then he saw a hat fluttering through the air. It was the same hat that was been hanging on the railing next to Linda, and must have been swept away in the strong breeze.

As Wally watched, the hat landed in the on-deck pool built on the left side of the ship which was currently empty as the party-goers were more interested in the buffet.

In a few moments, the other guys standing near the spot where the hat floated were going to notice it and try to retrieve it. Wally had only seconds to distract their attention. He spotted Diana making her way to the deck from one of the rooms through the glass windows and made a rapid choice. He raised his voice and pointed towards her.

“Hey, looks like Diana found that bikini she was looking for.”

Every guy on deck and some of the girls rushed to the window.

Diana strolled into view, clad in a comfortable pair of jeans and a sweater while munching on crab cakes from a plate. “Anyone want one?” She asked, and wondered why they all looked so disappointed.

Meanwhile, Wally had jumped into the pool and was swimming towards the hat. He imagined Linda watching his progress anxiously, maybe a hand clasped to her heart at the dangers he was facing on her behalf. Okay, maybe he wasn’t facing any actual dangers, but still. The water was quite chilly. He could easily catch a cold…

He caught hold of the hat and swam to the side of the pool. His wet shirt clung to his body as he emerged from the pool, and he wished he’d gone to the gym more often. He looked up at Linda and her friends, who were watching his progress with great interest, and waved the hat towards them. He then made his way to the stairs leading to the upper deck.

He reached the deck and spied Linda and her group coming towards him as he held out the hat and smiled. The blonde-haired guy who had been talking to Linda got to him first.

“Thanks so much, dude.” He enthused. “You totally saved my hat.”

Wally’s smile faltered. “What?”

The guy seized the hat and began to examine it anxiously. “It was in the water for only a few seconds, so I don’t think it was damaged too much.”

“This is your hat?” Wally asked, as Linda and Marion watched them from a few feet away.

Something in Wally’s expression made the guy turn defensive.

“Oh, man. Not this again. Look, this hat is unisex, all right? Women and men can wear it. I burn easily so I need to wear hats. It’s really a very practical accessory for the beach.”

“Right. Okay.” Wally turned away in disappointment.

“Look, I’ll show you some photos on my phone.” The guy said, grabbing his arm. “There are so many photos of male models wearing the hat.”

“Dude, I don’t care.” Wally said irritably, shaking off the guy’s grip and moving rapidly towards the staircase to the lower deck.

He got back to the lower deck and took up position at a railing, watching the ocean moodily. In any case, the trip was coming to an end. The island the yatch had been headed for was coming into view, and the students were making preparations to disembark and explore the place. Bruce had asked the others to meet him at the entrance to the yatch so they could all get off together, so Wally starting making his way towards the spot.

“Hi.” Wally turned to find that it was Linda Park who had offered him the greeting.

“Oh.” Wally’s brain seemed to freeze. “Hi.”

“That was pretty sweet of you to get yourself wet to get Bobby’s hat back.” Linda said with a twinkle in her eye.

“No problem.” Wally said, his mind still unable to think of something to say.

“So listen, how many times are we going to bump into each other before you ask me out?”

“Er…” Surprise wrestled with Wally’s regular brain functions, and a single line emerged from his mouth. “I was definitely going to get around to it sometime before graduation.”

Linda laughed, and that sound served to allow Wally to get over the bouts of embarrassment that he usually felt in her presence.

“But since all my professors have banded together to assure me that my current level  of academic performance means that won’t be happening any time this decade, I might as well move up the date a bit. I’d love to take out some time.”

“I’d like that.” Linda smiled again. “Me and my friends were planning on exploring the island. You’re welcome to join us.” Out of the corner of his eye, Wally saw Bruce beckoning to him. The others had all assembled near the yatch’s entrance.

“There is nothing I would like more.” Wally said fervently, turning back to Linda. “But there’s this other thing I need to see to first. I’ll meet up with you back at the yatch later, okay?”

He moved away from the surprised Linda and headed to his friends.

“What are you doing?” Clark asked him in amazement as he jogged over to them. “You finally get her talking and now you’ve walking away from her?”

“This is more important.” Wally said soberly. Clark stared at him in surprise, then looked at the others, who’s expressions had also turned grave.

“What’s going on?” He asked uncertainly. “Who died?”

No one cracked a smile.

“Let’s take a walk.” Bruce said. He led the others off the yatch. While the other students were heading towards the island’s beach area, Bruce led them towards the nearby forest which exhibited minimal signs of human inhabitation. Bruce seemed to know exactly where he was going as he led the others through a winding path deeper into the forest.

“What is this place?” Clark asked.

“The island belongs to the government.” Bruce said. “They use it as a storage area of sorts. Nothing dangerous. Just relics from past projects they would prefer not to bring to the public’s attention.

They kept walking in silence for twenty minutes before Bruce finally stopped. They had reached a clearing. In front of them, a slope led to a garden that looked like it had been left untended for some time. Wild plants had sprouted up in many areas, ruining the orderly appearance of the place. A single black marble wall rose ten feet high in the air at the center of the garden, in what appeared to be a memorial of sorts.

“I did some digging around.” Bruce spoke up abruptly, addressing Clark. “Turns out the inhabitants of Krypton were cremated by the US government and their ashes scattered at a remote, uninhabited location. This is that location, Clark.”

Clark stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

Bruce gestured towards the giant marble monolith. “This memorial marks the spot where the ashes were scattered. And it contains the names of all the scientists working on Project Krypton. I… I thought maybe you’d want to…” For once Bruce was unsure of what to say, and his voice trailed away.

For a long moment Clark stood staring at the garden. Slowly, he moved down the slope towards the garden gate. The others did not follow him, and he founding himself walking alone towards the memorial with leaden steps.

He reached the marble statue in the center of the garden. There were etchings carved into the face of the rock. The opening lines were in Latin. Then followed a long list of names. Clark started scanning the list, running his eyes up and down randomly, both hoping and dreading to find the names. Simon Brown… Corey Songs… Adelaide Parker… John Ingles… Jor El… Lara El…

Clark’s breath caught in his throat. He reached out to touch the etching that spelled out the names of the parents he had never known he had.

In that moment, the truth of his new reality finally hit Clark. Jor and Lara El were no longer simply names he had read in a letter, but actual flesh and blood people who had lived and died once. These were the people Clark had belonged to before he had even known the meaning of such a relationship. Their blood ran in his veins. But he could never meet them. He would never hear Lara call him by the name they had given him. He would never feel the embrace of Jor El’s arms. He had no memories of the people who had brought him into this world, and whose ashes now lay scattered on the island. Clark felt a deep welling of sadness within him, and a sense of loss for something he had never owned in the first place.

For a long time he stood staring at the names on the memorial. He wondered if there was something he should do. Some mark of respect or acknowledgement that he should perform in memory of his birth parents. But he could think of nothing. He knew no prayers nor words to express what he was feeling at the moment.

Slowly, he turned away from the memorial and began the walk back up the hill. The others were still waiting for him at the gate, their faces showing various degrees of pity, sadness and compassion. Diana reached out a hand as he came up to them, and he squeezed it as he stared at the others.

“I saw their names.” He said, his voice more hoarse than he had intended. He could not think of anything else to add to that.

He stared at Bruce, who stood in an almost defensive posture. “Thank you, Bruce. For arranging all of this.”

Bruce’s entire body relaxed. “No problem.” He said, feeling for some reason suddenly embarrassed to look at Clark.

“I wish I’d known them.” Clark said simply. Diana’s hand tightened in his. The looks of commiseration on the other’s faces deepened. “I wish they were here right now. I wish they hadn’t died.”

He took a deep breath. “But you know, If I could send them a message to where they are now, I’d thank them. I’d thank them for sending me to Smallville. I’d thank them for choosing Ma and Pa to raise me. And I’d tell them that it’s because I was raised as Clark Kent that I got to meet all of you. I’d tell them I’ve got friends who always have my back, and who’ve done more for me than families do for their own.”

The tears were shining in Clark’s eyes. “I can’t thank them, so I’m just going to thank you. All of you. Thank you for coming with me here today. Thank you for always being there for me, no matter what.” He stepped forward, and before a surprised Bruce could react, had enveloped him in a hug. Clark reached out to the others as well, and soon all seven were joined in the hug.

“You better believe that’s never going to change, man.” Wally said quietly. Bruce found himself hugging the others back as well.

Justice University – Chapter 26

Chapter 26 : Last Son

‘Dear Jonathan, I hope this letter finds you well. You and I were never the best of friends, but I consider you one of the finest men I know. And I have recently been forced to the conclusion that it is your closest friends who manage to do the most damage. For the past few days I have been aware of how my end will come. Not just mine, but my wife’s as well. You are aware of the project I was working on for the government involving the element Krypton. In our efforts to turn that noble element into a weapon, our community of scientists have exposed ourselves to a radioactive form of Krypton. For many weeks now, this radioactive element has scattered far and wide across our community, mixing with our water supplies, and with the very air we breathe. I have been repeatedly trying to warn the others of the danger facing us, but they were so wrapped up in the project and in their perceived knowledge of the element that they refused to believe this new isotope  could harm us.

And now it is too late. Far, far too late. For the past week scientists have been falling ill and dying left and right. The government has barricaded our community to prevent the disease spreading outside. There is no cure for the green poison coursing through our veins. I and my wife Lara will meet our end here. Together.

But there is still hope for our son, Kal. I have kept him secure within a containment unit of my own design. He has not been exposed to the deadly air outside his unit. I and my wife will not be able to live to see our little Kal El take his first steps, or go to school. We have no relatives to turn to.

You and I were never more than work friends, Jonathan, but I always respected the man you were. I remember you telling me how much you regretted the fact that you and your wife are unable to have children. I implore you to take Kal and raise him as your own. Raise him to be as fine a man as you are. And tell little Kal about Jor and Lara El. Tell him that his birth parents loved him very much, and are with him in spirit with every new step he takes into the world.’

Jonathan Ken lowered the letter he had been reading aloud to his wife in their kitchen. Across from him Martha Kent sat cradling a one year old boy with wispy black hair and bright blue eyes. In the living room, two government officials who had delivered the baby and the letter to Jonathan sat awaiting a response as to what was to be done regarding Kal El’s future.

“What do you think, Martha?” Jonathan asked, placing the letter on the table and rising to his feet. He walked over to where his wife sat and bent over the child in her arms. Kal laughed and gurgled as he attempted to reach up and touch Jonathan’s hand.

Martha looked up at Jonathan, and her eyes were streaming with happy tears. “Clark. We’ll call him Clark.”

Jonathan stared down at his wife, and all his doubts and misgivings melted away in the warmth of her smile as he reached out to grasp Clark’s hand.

*  *  *

Three year old Clark Kent stood nervously waiting for the bus that would take him to his first day of school.

“Are you sure they’ll like me?” He asked his parents, who stood waiting with him.

“They’ll love you.” His mother said as she gave him a hug.

“Just be polite and respectful to everyone.” His father told him. “Go up to the other students and introduce yourself. You’ll find most of the students come from nearby farms. Take part in as many of the class activities as you can.”

Clark nodded, frowning with concentration as he listened to his father’s advice. The bus came, and he clambered aboard, running to the end of the bus so he could wave to his parents through the rear window.

As Jonathan waved back, he found himself thinking about how it should have been Jor and Lara El standing here waving goodbye to Kal. Clark did not even know their names.

Jonathan told himself that three years old was too young to explain to Clark the complicated history of his parentage. He would be told about his parents when he got older.

* * *

Twelve year old Clark Kent stamped into the kitchen, rubbing his muddy boots on the rubber mat before making his way towards the fridge. “Pete Ross says he’ll give me his old bike if I give him my Nintendo set.” He declared with a grin. “He’s only had it for two years. It’s got gears and everything to let you ride really fast. I’ve already played all the games on Nintendo. Can I give it to him?”

“Fine.” His father nodded. “But you’re only going to ride the bike in front of me for at least a week until I decide you can be trusted to ride it safely.”

“I know how to ride a bike, dad.” Clark rolled his eyes.

“Not with gears, you don’t.” His mother said.

“I’m not a little kid anymore.” Clark called out behind him as he ran upstairs to get his video game set.

No, he was not little anymore. Jonathan had begun to realize that. He was ready to be told the truth about his parentage. Soon. Jonathan was going to tell him soon.

*  * *

Sixteen year old Clark Kent weaved around the boxing ring, his eyes narrowed as he focused on anticipating his opponent’s moves. Lighting fast jabs were traded between the two boxers, Capen Morrell proving a very near match for Clark’s strength and speed.

The bell rang, and the two opponents shook hands. Clark was declared the winner of the fight by two points. Jonathan stood among the audience with Martha, clapping and shouting along with the rest of the school. Beside him, Jonathan could almost sense the presence of Jor El’s spirit, and he felt a wave of guilt. Time was running out. Clark would have to be told very soon.

* * *

Eighteen year old Clark Kent stood in Jonathan Kent’s office. Next to him stood Dan Turpin. The officer was praising Clark for his assistance in capturing Armek and his teammates. Clark was looking somewhat embarrassed, but was grinning.

Jonathan watched his strapping young son, his heart bursting with pride. But then Clark looked up, and in his face Jonathan saw the face of Jor El. The guilt that had been a part of him for so many years returned with force. By now Jonathan had long missed his window of opportunity. How could he tell Clark about his parentage after keeping the truth from him all these years? All Jonathan would do for now was smile and nod mutely while he wrestled with the questions in his mind.

* *  *

Nineteen year old Clark Kent stood reading the letter from Jor El. There was pin drop silence in the room. Finally, he lowered the paper and stared at Jonathan Kent.

“Jor and Lara El were exiles from Macedonia.” His father’s voice was quite steady. “They were scientists who were given refuge in America in exchange for their services. I had met Jor when I was serving in the army. I became friends with him and his wife Lara, and we kept in touch after I left the military. They were working on a top secret research project known as Krypton, under the guidance of a man called General Zod. Krypton was the name of the undercover town where their team lived. Something went wrong with their experiments. The community was exposed to a dangerous radiation, and the entire area was sealed shut. No one inside survived. Except one person. In Jor El’s home soldiers found a specially constructed incubation chamber that had been sealed shut. Inside the chamber they found you. You were one year old at the time, and you hadn’t eaten for two days. You were very thin and weak, but you were alive. And next to you was the letter from Jor El, addressed to me.”

Clark sank into the sofa behind him. He stared down at the ground, trying to process what he had just read.

“So you’re…” He looked up slowly at Jonathan and Martha. “You’re not my parents?”

Martha’s breath caught in her throat. “We are your parents, Clark. We have raised you since you were one year old. Of course we are your parents.”

“So who are these two?” Clark held up the letter. “Who was Jor El? Who was Lara El?”

“Your birth parents.” Jonathan spoke up, struggling to keep his voice even. “They knew they were going to die. Their final wish was for Martha and I to raise you as our own.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Clark asked, his voice rising.

There was a long pause. “We wanted to tell you, Clark.” Martha’s voice was trembling now. “We were going to tell you. We were just waiting… waiting for the right-”

“It was my fault, son.” Jonathan said in a low voice. “I wanted to tell you. So many times in the past I almost told you everything. But something always got in the way.”

“What got in the way?” Clark had risen to his feet, his voice angrier than ever. “We lived in the same house for 18 years! What was stopping you telling me about Jor and Lara El? Ever since I was a kid you told me I should always tell the truth, no matter what. And all that time you were hiding the fact that I was adopted!”

“You are our son.” Martha said again. “We never wanted to hurt you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Clark shouted. It was the first time he had yelled at his parents. His face was flushed as he stared at his mother and father, who suddenly looked like strangers to him.

“I am sorry, Clark.” Jonathan said heavily. “I am sorry for not telling you sooner. I have no excuse for my behavior.”

Silence fell in the room again. It dawned on Clark that he was supposed to make the next move now.

Without another word, he strode out of the room, banging the door shut behind him.

The silence seemed to grow more pronounced within the room as Bruce and John stared at each other. Martha stepped towards the sofa and sank into it, her hand on her mouth. Jonathan walked over to her with a heavy tread and sank down beside her.

* * *

With no way of assisting Clark’s parents, Bruce and John returned to the University. Neither spoke on the way back. Bruce was surprised John did not admonish him for the role he had played in the Kent’s current family crisis. But John knew there was nothing to be gained by adding his voice to the stream of internal criticism that Bruce was no doubt subjecting himself to. Once they got to the University, Bruce brushed off all attempts by their friends to find out what had happened at Jonathan Kent’s office. He left John to fill the others in and locked himself in his room.

The next day arrived, and Clark had still not returned to the University. Diana had already got a call from both Jonathan and Martha independently asking if she had any idea of Clark’s whereabouts. But no one within the group knew where Clark was or what he was up to.

“I’m sure he is fine, Mrs. Kent.” Diana found herself telling Martha. “Clark has handled murderers and terrorists in the past without getting hurt. He will contact us once he has dealt with… with this new development.”

Diana tried to sound cheerful and confident, but the truth was she did not feel confident at all. From past experience, she knew Clark’s instinct while dealing with personal problems was to shut himself away and deal with the issue himself. But this was one problem which needed the support of his friends if only Clark was willing to open himself up.

“Any news of Clark?” Wally asked Diana when they met in the middle of the day on their way to class.

“None.” Diana shook her head. “We will have to go to Officer Turpin if he does not contact us or return to the University before nightfall.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Wally sighed as they parted.

By afternoon, there was still no sign of Clark, and Diana was definitely beginning to get worried. She sat alone in the cafeteria pecking at her food when she saw Bruce making his way towards her.

“I know where Clark is.” He said abruptly. “I just got a call from Scott Free. Clark’s in New Genesis right now. He slept there last night, too.”

Diana received the news in silence.

“Someone needs to get him back.” Bruce said.

“That someone cannot be you, Bruce.” Diana said coldly. “You have involved yourself far enough in Clark’s personal affairs for the time being.”

Bruce did not flinch. “Yes, I have.” He held out the keys to her. “I know I made a mistake, Diana. And I know it’s not me that Clark needs to talk to right now. Go to him. Please.”

Diana stared at him. A part of her did not want to be the one to have to go to New Genesis and confront Clark in his vulnerable state. Another part of her wanted to be the first one their to comfort him. She took the keys and rose with a nod to Bruce.

Soon she had passed out of the University, driving Bruce’s car towards New Genesis. She arrived there just as the sun was beginning to sink into the horizon. The bustle and activity that had greeted had whenever she visited the place in the morning was missing now, replaced by a subdued chatter emanating from the main building which served as a boarding place for children who had made New Genesis their home.

Diana made her way to the High Father’s office, where she found Scott Free and Barda waiting for her as well.

“It is good to see you, Diana.” High Father. “The children missed seeing you during the holidays.”

“I’ll try to come more often.” Diana smiled as she greeted the other two. “I only wish my present visit was a happier occasion. Where is Clark?”

“He’s working on painting one of the classrooms to the south of our schoolyard,” Barda said. “He’s been there the whole morning. Didn’t even take a break for lunch.”

“He came to us yesterday, asking to spend the night with us.” High Father said. “I could see he was greatly disturbed in his mind. Clark has been a great friend to us. We were happy to let him stay with us for as long as he needed to.”

“What’s going on with him?” Scott asked. “He didn’t say anything about why he came here, except that he needed a break from college.”

“He has learned some rather distressing news yesterday.“ Diana explained. “I am glad he found the space he needed to digest the information here. But now he needs to return to the University. I will go talk to him.”

Diana was well aware of New Genesis’s various buildings and soon found the classroom High Father had told her about. She found Clark bent in front of one of the walls, paintbrush in hand, painting the left side of the wall.

“You appear to be quite busy,” Diana called out, and Clark turned. For once there was no answering smile on his face, and he turned back to the wall.

“High Father wanted this new classroom painted, so I offered to help.” He spoke without looking at her, concentrating on the wall.

A few moments passed with only the scrape of the paint brush against the wall breaking the silence.

“Are you all right?” Diana asked finally.

“No.” Clark finally looked at her. “I’m sure you know about the chat I had with my parents yesterday. Turns out my parents have been lying to me my whole life. Turns out I’m adopted. Turns out I’m an orphan. Turns out I can never meet my birth parents because they’re dead.”

There was silence again, while Diana tried to think of what to say. Clark focused his attention on the wall again.

“I understand this is a very difficult time for you.” Diana said softly. “But you cannot hide yourself away from your friends and family forever. You need to come back home, Clark.”

“What is ‘home’?” Clark asked her bitterly. “I always thought Smallville was my home. Now I find out I was born in Krypton. Home is the place you go to feel safe. Home is with your mom and dad, who look after you no matter what, because you belong to them, and they to you.” Clark’s eyes were suddenly bright with tears. “Smallville isn’t my home, Diana. The Kents aren’t my real parents. I don’t have a home anymore. Jor and Lara El are dead. Krypton is gone. It’s just me now.”

Diana stared at Clark as he squeezed his eyes shut and wiped away the moisture from his eyes. He took a deep breath and stood up, tossing the brush aside as he straightened his back and tried to regain his composure.

“I should have known you were adopted, Clark.” Diana said. Clark froze, then turned to stare at her in surprise.

Diana took a step towards him. “It’s true. Facially, physically, your eyes, you look nothing like Jonathan or Martha Kent. But here is the thing. It never even occurred to me that you might not be their son, because with every word you spoke, every aspect of your behavior, you showed who your parents were. It had nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do with the fact that they are your real parents in all the ways that a child needs a parent. Through every birthday, every first day of school, every sickness, they were your parents, Clark. No DNA test in the world is going to change that fact.”

“Parents don’t lie to their children for nineteen years.”

“Your parents are not perfect. They made a mistake. And it was a big mistake. Are you going to punish them for it forever? Refuse to ever talk to them? Disown them?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Clark muttered.

“You have already done it by coming to New Genesis.” Diana said softly. “Even our inactions have consequences, Clark. For the past twelve hours, your mother has been calling every person who knows you at the University, desperately trying to get in touch with you. Your father is feeling crushed. He is convinced you hate them.”

Clark covered his eyes with his hands, suddenly feeling exhausted. “I don’t hate them. I just don’t know what to say to them. How do I make this whole thing normal again, Diana? Am I supposed to just pretend the last 24 hours never happened? Do I pretend I’m okay with it?”

“You don’t have to decide anything right now. This is your new reality, whether you like it or not, but there is no required time period for coming to terms with it. You can take as long as you want to accept the truth about your birth parents. But Clark,” Diana placed a hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. “Don’t destroy your current family because of a memory of the parents who were taken away from you two decades ago. You cannot bring back Jor El or Lara El, but you have another set of parents who need you. Don’t take away their son from them because you’re feeling angry.”

Clark sighed, rubbing his eyes. For a long time, he did not speak. Diana did not know what else to say.

“You’re right,” Clark said finally. “I can’t hide from this. And I can’t let Ma and Pa think I hate them. Let’s get back to the University. I’ll call my parents tomorrow and talk to them.”

“Good, let us go back.” Diana felt relieved as she led Clark out of the room with the half-painted wall.

They went to the head office, where Scott and Barda were still waiting along with the High Father for Diana’s report.

“Thanks for letting me crash here,” Clark said to High Father. “I promise I’ll get back soon and finish painting the rest of the wall of that classroom.”

“Even in your time of distress, you think about your duty.” High Father smiled as Scott hugged Clark. “Our doors are always open to you, Clark.”

“Feel better.” Barda said as she hugged Clark as well. “And remember you always have friends here. You too, Diana.”

“Of course.” Diana hugged her as well.

The two exited New Genesis on the way to the parking lot. Clark spotted the car Diana had driven there. “So he didn’t want to come?”

“He feels badly about his role in this whole affair, and does not know how to talk to you about it.”

“I don’t know either,” Clark said as he got into the car. “Guess we’ll talk it out once we get back to the University.”

Diana swung the car out of the parking lot and soon they were speeding down the highway. Neither spoke, and Clark was grateful for the silence.

Then the car slowed down, and Clark looked up in surprise. They were not at the University, but outside Jonathan Kent’s office.

“What are we doing here?” He asked Diana, who stared back at him evenly.

“You need to deal with this now. Trying to thrash this matter out over the phone will only convince the Kents that you really do hate them. I messaged your father. Your parents are waiting for you in his office. Go talk to them. I’ll wait for you here.”

“I don’t even know what to say to them.”

“Then don’t say anything. Your parents told you something they have been keeping secret for two decades. Now is not the time to avoid talking about it. Just stand there if you have to and give them a chance to say their piece.”

Clark stared at her. Then he turned to stare at the building. He opened the car door and stepped outside. For a long moment he hesitated. But then, almost on their own accord, his feet started moving towards the building, walking past the doorway, through the main area, and up the stairs to his father’s office.

He found his father’s secretary missing from her usual spot outside the office. He opened the glass doors, and saw his parents sitting inside. They rose when they saw him, several emotions running across their faces.

“Sorry I ran away before.” Clark ventured, trying to keep his voice light. “Kind of had a lot to process.”

“We were so worried, Clark.” Martha said. “John and I felt horrible for putting you through all this. I was awake all night imagining all kinds of terrible things happening to you. And it would all have been because of us.”

“Not because of you.” Clark said. “I’m nineteen now. It’s time for me to start accepting responsibility. I want you guys to know, I don’t hate you. I can never hate you.” Clark suddenly felt a lump in his throat. “I may not be your real son, but you never for a second let me think I wasn’t. You gave me the kind of childhood other kids dream of. I’ll never be able to thank you both enough for all you’ve done for me.”

“Clark…“ Martha’s eyes were streaming with tears as she tried to think of something to say. But it was proving impossible to put into words all that she was feeling.

Clark took a deep breath. “Look, I can’t pretend I’m completely okay. I’m still trying to process everything you told me. But no matter where I came from, it’s not going to change who I am. And who I am is what you two made me.”

Jonathan let out a sigh. “We couldn’t be prouder of the man you’ve grown up to be, Clark. Jor and Lara gave us a bigger gift than we had any right to ask for when they choose to send you to us.”

“Thanks, dad.” Suddenly, Clark felt his eyes moisten again. “I still get to call you mom and dad, right?”

His father’s eyes welled with tears. “We’ll always be your mom and dad, son. Always. Nothing in the world is ever going to change that.”

Clark stepped forward to hug Martha, who’s shoulders were shaking. The tears were falling thickly from Jonathan’s eyes as he folded his wife and his son in his embrace, and for the first time in nineteen years, felt the weight of guilt in his stomach replaced by relief.

*  *  *

“Clark has gone to meet his parents,” Diana spoke into her phone as she waited in the car for Clark’s return. “I think everything is going to be fine now. Clark does not seem so angry anymore.”

“That’s good to hear,” Bruce said. “I’ll see you both when you get back.” He hung up, and sighed, rubbing his eyes. Before him, his computer glowed anew as he opened his web browser.

Bruce Wayne knew he had made a mistake. And that mistake had hurt his best friend. Other people would have tried to apologize. But Bruce did not believe simply apologizing was enough. He believed in atoning for one’s sins.

“Push everything else back.” He spoke into the computer, communicating directly with the machine’s sophisticated AI that would not be available on the market for at least five more years. “We have one primary priority for now. Find out everything you can about a man called General Zod. Key search words: Non. Jor El. Lara El. Krypton.”

Justice University: Ch 25

The Secret

Bruce Wayne did not like secrets.

He kept many of his own, and was paranoid about keeping them safe from public scrutiny. But he did not appreciate others keeping secrets from him. His naturally cynical disposition always assumed the worst whenever he came across secretive behavior in others, and the only way to put his mind at rest was to uncover the secret.

Of course, Bruce did not understand that fact about his nature. He simply took his own inquisitive nature and deductive abilities as tools to be used for solving problems. It never occurred to him that there could be something darker going on with his need to know everything about everyone.

So when he decided to investigate Jonathan Kent’s strange recent behavior, he told himself that he was doing it for Clark. The curious circumstances of Non’s death were still unexplained. Why had he come to the University? Why was he after Clark? What was Zod? What had compelled Jonathan Kent to send that warning to Clark? So many questions needed to be answered. The safety of Clark and everyone around his was at stage. That was also what he told John after he drew him aside from the group, a few days after Non’s death.

“Something’s going on.” Bruce said to John. “Clark’s father was way too insistent that Clark not go after Non. I heard his voice. It wasn’t just fatherly concern that made him give Clark that warning. There was something else going on there.”

“He was afraid Clark would attempt to take matters into his own hands.” John reminded him. “Which is a legitimate concern, considering our past experience with criminals.”

“I don’t buy it. He was way too insistent on letting the police handle Non, and he’d never made such a warning in the past whenever Clark did something dangerous. We need to find out what the deal is with Non and Clark, and what made him come to the university on a suicide mission. And Zod. What the hell is Zod? We need to get to the bottom of this whole thing.”

John sighed. “So what do you propose to do?”

“I’m still thinking about it.” Bruce frowned. “I just want you to stay alert on standby in case I need backup. Clark’s too close to this to think rationally. We might have to handle this problem without him.”

John said nothing, but merely continued to watch Bruce closely through narrowed eyes as he elaborated his plans for looking into the Zod matter.

Bruce began with a basic search on Zod on his computer. The word yielded a few results, but there seemed to be no connection to Non and Jonathan Kent at all.

Next Bruce tried a search for Zod Jonathan Kent. Nothing emerged. Bruce tried different variations of the word Zod and several other keywords relating to Non, Jonathan Kent and Metropolis. Still nothing.

Bruce sighed, leaning back in his chair with a frown. He was going to need a more straightforward source to find the answers he wanted. And he knew where that source was.

* * *

“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Kent.” Bruce said.

“Not at all, Bruce.” Jonathan Kent smiled. They were sitting in the mayor’s office the next morning. “I hope everything’s okay at the University?” He had a straightforward way of talking that was unlike anything that Bruce had seen in other politicians.

“Oh, yeah, everything is fine.” Bruce smiled. “I’ve just got a few questions. About Non.”

A shadow crossed over Mr. Kent’s face. “I suggest you let the police follow up on the murder investigation, Bruce.”

“I’m afraid that’s easier said than done.” Bruce said. “Non was targeting Clark and my other friends, and me. I can’t just sit by and wait for the poice who, no offence, I don’t really have a lot of faith in.”

“Bruce.” Mr. Kent’s voice had lowered as he leaned forward. “I know you have an interest in criminal matters. I also know you fancy yourself an amateur detective. But there is nothing for you to find if you’re planning to go looking for Non.”

“Why were you so insistent that Clark not go after Non?” Bruce asked abruptly. “What was the connection between Clark and Non that made him break out of prison reach the university? What or who is Zod?”

“Again, Bruce, the police is looking into the matter-”

“I don’t think they are.” Bruce said quietly. “I think they already know. I think you do, too. So how about telling me?” It was a gesture of respect towards Clark on Bruce’s part that he was not trying to trick Clark’s father into giving him information.

Again, a shadow passed over Mr. Kent’s face. But he did not try to deny the claim. “I do know some things, Bruce. But those things happened a long time ago. Decades ago, during the cold war. There is no point in dragging that matter up now to spoil the present. I understand we are dealing the circumstances of a dangerous criminal’s death. As Clark’s father, and the mayor of this city, I hope you believe I am intelligent enough to use my knowledge in the right way to help the police.”

“I’ve no doubt you will, sir.” Bruce said quietly. “But I think we deserve some more information. Non broke out of prison specifically to warn Clark about some kind of danger. And what affects Clark affects me and all our other friends as well.”
Mr. Kent stood up. “You talking, but not listening, Bruce. This conversation is getting us nowhere.” Bruce slowly rose to his feet as well. Jonathan Kent stared at the young man sadly. “You’re a good kid, Bruce. I’m glad Clark has you for a friend. But there are still some things in this world that you don’t understand. Please. For your sake. For my sake. For Clark’s sake. Please forget about Non. I’m asking you to do this one thing, if you value Clark’s happiness at all.”

Bruce said nothing. Jonathan Kent observed him for a moment, then turned away with a low sigh. Mr. Kent’s secretary came in to usher Bruce out.

Bruce made his way back to the University with Mr. Kent’s voice still ringing in his ears. He could still hear Mr. Kent’s final words as he sat down in front of computer in his room. Mr. Kent had made his position clear. It was now up to Bruce to follow or ignore his advice.

Back in his room, for a long time, Bruce sat staring at his open computer screen. The optimistic part of him wanted to believe Mr. Kent, give up his search and leave the matter to the police. The cynical side of him put the worst shade on Mr. Kent’s words and what he was trying to hide. It was now up to Bruce to decide which part of his mind to heed in the present situation.

After a long pause, he leaned forward and opened Google, entering the words Zod Cold War American Military.

* * *

The next afternoon, John Jones was called to Jonathan Kent’s office building by Bruce. The two met at the gates of the building, and John saw that Bruce was looking uncharacteristically agitated.

“I don’t know what to do.” Bruce said abruptly as John came up to him.

“What do you mean?” John asked cautiously.

“I don’t know what to do about Mr. Kent.” Bruce stared at John in frustration. “I don’t know how to go about resolving this matter without hurting Clark.”

“You think you have found your answers?” John asked.

“I’ve found the only answers that fit.” Bruce said. “I finally knew which era to begin my search on Zod in. Turns out I had to go all the way back to near the end of the Cold war in the late 1980s.”

“What did you find?”

“I tracked Mr. Kent’s activities at that time. He was listed as a corporal during the war, but the references I gathered about his activities at the time clearly point towards the fact that he was working as a spy. He went to Russia on several occasion, and was captured and detained by the Russian secret service for two years.”

“You found all this evidence online?” John cut in.

“I hacked the government’s website, of course.” Bruce waved the unimportant detail aside. “They won’t know. Not the first time I’ve done it. The point is, Jonathan Kent was returned to America amid suspicions that he had divulged secret information to the Russian government. They’d found out some secret project America was working on at the time. Something called project Krypton. Anyway, for a time, it seemed the government was going to convict Mr. Kent. But then another ex-Russian turned American national was convicted of the very same crime. His name was Glenn Jacobs. At least, that’s the name he adopted after coming to America. But you and I know him as Non.”

There was a long silence while John stared at Bruce. “And you think this means…”

“Isn’t it obvious? Jonathan Kent had Non framed and sent to jail for his own crimes.” Bruce said. “That’s why Mr. Kent was livid when he found out Non was at the University. That’s what Non was doing in Clark’s room. He was trying to tell Clark the truth about his father. Zod must have been the first part of some message Non was trying to write out for Clark.”

“This…” John shook his head slowly and sighed. “Bruce, all these facts… your theory is-”

“I know it sounds crazy.” Bruce cut in. “I couldn’t believe it either. But it’s the only explanation that fits all the facts. That’s why Mr. Kent was trying so hard to keep the truth from Clark. He was trying to hide his own guilt.”

Again, John was silent for a long moment before speaking. “So what do you plan to do now?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know what to do.” Bruce stared at John, the frustration in his expression more pronounces than ever. “This isn’t a normal criminal. This is the mayor of Metropolis we’re talking about. And Clark’s father. Any steps I take against Jonathan Kent puts me in direct opposition to Clark, and you know how emotional he is. He won’t listen to reason.”

“Bruce.” The two turned and stared in surprise at a tiny grey haired, clear eyed woman standing behind them.

“Good morning, Mrs. Kent.” John broke the silence. “How nice to meet you. Clark did not tell us you were in Metroplis.”

“I came here today.” Martha Kent was looking at Bruce. “Jonathan called for me. He told me we needed to talk about something. Are you all right, Bruce?”

“I’m fine.” Bruce forced a smile past his shocked expression. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too. Let’s go meet Jonathan.” She walked into the building, and almost before they were aware of it, Bruce and John found themselves following her.

“We were here because-” Bruce began slowly, trying to think up an excuse.

“I know why you are here.” Martha Kent cut in quietly. “Jonathan told me about your conversation with him yesterday.”

She glanced back at him, and Bruce could not suppress a squirm of guilt. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kent, but I needed to find answers. Clark and those close to him are in danger because of whatever happened between Non and your husband.”

“Nothing happened between my husband and Non.” Martha Kent still spoke calmy. They had reached the waiting room outside Jonathan Kent’s office. The secretary looked startled to see Mrs. Kent.

“Could you please give us some privacy?” Mrs. Kent said politely. The girl looked even more startled. She scurried out of the room, casting a bewildered eye back on the three.

“I’ve called Clark.” Mrs. Kent informed the other two. “I’m not angry with you, Bruce. Your actions have remined Jonathan and I that we owe Clark the truth.” Her voice trembled at the end, but her eyes were clear when they turned towards John.

“Could you come in to meet Jonathan?” She asked him. “You seem to always know what to say, John. And we really need someone like that right now.”

“Of course.” John said, nodding.

“You can wait for Clark here, Bruce.” Mrs. Kent said, turning to him. “He should be here any moment now.”

Bruce did not say anything as John and Mrs. Kent entered the mayor’s office, where Mr. Kent rose to greet them. His wife said something to him, and Jonathan Kent’s eyes flickered over to look at Bruce through the window. He did not look angry, but merely resigned.

Bruce felt helpless as he stood and watched John speaking to a deadly serious Jonathan Kent, and Martha Kent, who seemed on the edge of tears. Bruce fought the urge to take out his mobile to tell Wally to start a new search on his computer about Martha Kent’s past. He could not shake the feeling that he had made a mistake. He could not make head or tail of Mrs. Kent’s appearance, or why she would feel the need to call Clark to the office, or ask for John’s help.

John’s expression had grown more somber as he listened to Mr. Kent. No one in the room was looking out at Bruce. Finally, John rose and made his way back out of the office with a heavy tread.

“Well?” Bruce said urgently, as John came up to him, turning briefly to watch Mr. and Mrs Kent sitting pale and huddled together in the office. “I hope you didn’t tell him about my theory, John. And I hope you were able to get some useful information out of them. Do you think my theory fits into whatever Mr. Kent told you?”

NO, Bruce!” John turned on him suddenly and sized his shoulders. “It was NOTHING like that. Your entire theory was false. For once, you were wrong. Is your mind capable of comprehending that fact?”

Bruce stared at John, at a loss for friends in the face of his friend’s uncharacteristically furious tone.

With an effort, John seemed to get a hold of his emotions. He released Bruce’s shoulders.

“We need to leave.” He said at last. “We’ve trespassed far too long on the Kent’s private matters as it is.”

They heard footsteps approaching the waiting area, and a few seconds later Clark Kent came into view. He stopped short when he noticed his two friends standing in the waiting room.

“Hey.” Clark stared at the two of them in surprise. “What’s going on? What are you two doing here?”

There was a long silence. “I…” Bruce hesitated.

“Clark.” John cut in. “I think you should talk to your parents right now. They are waiting for you in your father’s office.”

“Son?” The office door opened, and Jonathan and Martha Kent emerged. Both their faces looked drawn and haggard.

“Dad, what’s going on?” Clark asked, his frown deepening as he looked at his mother’s white face. “Are you all right, ma?”

“Sweetheart, you should sit down.” His mother spoke quietly as she gestured towards the waiting room sofa. “Jonathan and I have something important to tell you.” Clark hesitated for a moment, then slowly walked over to the sofa and sank down on it, keeping his eyes trained on his parents.

“I’m sorry, son.” Jonathan Kent began slowly. “There is something that I should have told you a long time ago. I would have, if I were a braver man. But I have waited too long already. It’s time you learned the truth.” Tears had formed in Martha Kent’s eye and were trailing slowly down her cheeks.

“We’ll give your family some privacy.” John said, grabbing Bruce and dragging him away from the room. Bruce did not protest. Jonathan Kent did not seem to have heard them. His next words were addressed to his son.

“Clark… We are not your real parents.”

Bruce stopped walking, and so did John. They both turned at the same moment to look at their friend, and thus both were witness to the worst moment of Clark Kent’s life.

Justice University: Ch 24

The Man Who Never Spoke

The next few weeks passed peacefully at the University. The students slowly settled into the old routine of classes, assignments and projects. The weather continued fair and bright. There was no hint of anything strange or unexpected in the air. Nothing that could have warned the University of what was to come. And that was what made the incident all the more shocking. Three weeks into the new semester, the guard standing watch over the University’s main gate was found dead, his neck snapped with brutal force.

There was instant uproar. Every member of the university’s security force was deployed on the grounds. The students were herded into classrooms, canteens and other guarded areas and ordered to stay put. The security camera at the main gate had captured the incident of murder. The footage showed a giant, hulking man try to enter the college through the gates. He was stopped by a solitary guard. Without any sort of warning, the man had attacked the guard, lunging for his neck and savagely bearing him down to the ground. A brief moment’s struggle, and then the guard stopped struggling, his head lolling back limply as the man rose and lopped off in the direction of the university’s main grounds.

A photo of the man’s savage face glaring up at the camera had been captured and circulated among the students. The face had been identified as belonging to a convicted criminal names Non. Students were instructed to notify authorities immediately if anyone saw him.

Clark, Bruce, Diana, John and Kyle sat in the library, which was packed to maximum capacity. For once, no one was trying to enforce the no talking rule, and a loud buzz filled the room as groups of students sat talking about the murder of the guard, and the presence of a savage killer in the university.

“Feels weird that we’re just sitting here.” Wally remarked to the others. “Usually, when there are killers on the loose, I expect to see one of our group in the middle of it.”

“Not when the police is already on the scene.” Diana said. “We would just get in the way.”

“Where do you think the killer is right now?” Kyle asked. “I vote for the auditorium. Big, empty, and stashed with chairs. Plenty of room to hide.”

“If the police has any sense, that’s the first place where they’ll look.” Bruce said. “If I were the killer, I’d stay on the move constantly. Although, if I was the killer, I’d never be stupid enough to get caught up in a sealed area like the university in the first place.”

“That is quite strange that he would come here.” John agreed. Clark’s phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and saw the call was from his father.

“Hi, dad.” He said, turning on the phone.

“Clark!” Jonathan Kent’s voice was deeply agitated. “I just heard about the murder. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” Clark assured him, putting the phone on speaker. “We’re all fine. The whole group is sitting in the library, and we’re waiting for news from the professors.”

“Has there been any news of the killer that entered the university?” Mr. Kent demanded.

“I don’t think so.” Clark said. “The college authorities haven’t made any announcements so far after telling us to stay in groups. For now, we’re all just sitting here.”

“Good. Stay with the others.” Mr. Kent’s voice grew more urgent. “I’ve sent the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit to the University. They’ll handle everything. Listen to me carefully, Clark. Under no circumstance are you to go after this man.”

“What?” Clark stared at the others in confusion. “Of course not. Why would I go after a killer when the police is already here?”

“I know you and your friends fancy yourself as some amateur sleuths. But don’t even think about going after this man. He is incredibly dangerous. You must allow the police the handle this matter.”

“Dad, I’m not going to-”

“Promise me, Clark!”

“Okay, okay, I promise.” Clark disconnected the call and looked at his friends, mystified. “What was that about?”

“Does your dad really think we have some sort of a death wish that we’d go after a killer when the police is here?” Wally asked.

“Looks like it.” Clark said, still looking bemused.

“That was strange.” Bruce said, his eyes narrowing. “Why was your father so very insistent we don’t go after this man?”

“Maybe he thinks hanging out with you has made me obsessed with criminals too.” Clark grinned.

Bruce said nothing, but continued to frown.

“Let’s go after this guy.” He said abruptly, and the others turned back to him in surprise.

“Are you trying to get me in trouble with dad?” Clark asked with raised eyebrows.

“That’s not why I want to go after him.”

“So what is the reason?” Arthur asked.

“Clark’s father doesn’t want us to.” Bruce said. “And he was so insistent that we don’t go, that I’m thinking we should. Something’s going on here. Something Mr .Kent isn’t telling us. Whatever it is, if it involves a killer loose on University grounds, we need to find out what it is.”

“The entire police is already here.” Clark pointed out to him. “And my dad specifically told me not to do the exact thing you’re asking me to do.”

“Oh, come on.” Bruce said impatiently. “This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about doing something dangerous. We need to help the police.”

“Bruce, I. Promised. Dad. I. Won’t. Go.” Clark spoke loudly and slowly. “That means I won’t. I’ve never done something behind dad’s back before and now I’m not starting now. If he wants me to stay away there’s a good reason behind it.”

Bruce stared at the others, but he could he tell they were with Clark on this. He leaned back in his chair for moment, as though to get as far away from Clark’s stupid morals as possible.

“Fine.” He said abruptly, springing back up in his chair. “We won’t go looking for this guy. We’ll just bring him to us.”

“What do you mean?” Wally asked. Bruce brought out his smartphone and laid it on the table. He has taken a well-known brand and cannibalized the whole phone, adding in a bunch of expensive features of a legally dubious nature.

“Flash screen. On.” Bruce spoke. Immediately, an enlarged, computer screen sized replica of the smartphone screen appeared on the table surface. The flash screen was a virtual clone of the actual glass screen, and was communicated with entirely through voice commands. The others leaned in closer together to watch the screen with interest. Despite his earlier assertion, Clark could not stop himself from leaning in as well.

“Google Non.” Bruce spoke, and immediately a search page appeared bearing the key word non. There were several hundred million results.

“Right.” Bruce looked wryly at the others. “Guess I’ll have to be more specific. Google Non. Metropolis. Jail.”

More results filled the screen. Bruce opened the first page with a command. It was a news report published twenty minutes ago detailing Non’s entry into the University. Nothing they already did not know.

Bruce frowned and turned to Wally. “I need your phone.” He took the phone Wally handed to him and dialed a number.

“I hope you’re not implicating me in a hacking crime.” Wally said, only half-joking.

“Don’t worry.” Bruce said as the call rang at the other end. Then the call was picked up. “Eel? This is Bruce. Are you inside the University?”

“No, man.” Eel O’Brien voice appeared on the other end. “I’m just been watching the news. Who the hell is that killer guy?”

“His name is Non.” Bruce said. “That’s all we know so far. I was wondering if you have any contacts who can tell us more about him.”

“Sure, I know a few guys.” Eel said cautiously. “Of course, trudging all over town asking about a killer can be pretty dangerous. Expensive too.”

“I’ll see to it that you’re amply compensated.” Bruce said. “But only if you can get me solid information.”

“Glad to hear it.” The broad grin on Eel’s face could be heard in his voice. “I’ll probably have something for you in an hour. I’ll call you on this number when I get something.”

Bruce disconnected the call and handed the phone to Wally. “Eel O’brien can be quite useful if you’re looking for news related to criminals in Metropolis.” He turned back to his flash screen. “Let’s try again. Google News. Non. Guard. Murder”

A video on a news site was the first result in the news category. Bruce clicked on the link, and the video started playing of a reporter standing outside the University’s main gate. Most of the coverage went over the facts that Bruce and the others already knew. But one important piece of information surfaced at the end. Non’s real name was Mark Jacobs.

“Google Non. Mark Jacobs.” Bruce spoke into the flash screen. This time, the information yielded by the search was a lot more specific.

“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Bruce muttered, as everyone at the table leaned in closer together to read the handful of reports on Marc Jacobs AKA Non.

“He was arrested eighteen ago in Metropolis for grand theft auto.” Wally, enlarging one jpg image of a newspaper clipping.

“They decided to move him to Metropolis Maximum security after he killed an inmate at his first prison.” Bruce said, tracing a finger down the clipping. “Maximum security prison for ten years.”

“The inmates started calling Jacobs No-one because he never said anything to anyone, and that nickname eventually became Non.” Diana said, reading another clipping in a separate window of the screen. “Eighteen years in prison, and he only ever said a handful of words to prison guards in that time. He made no friends inside prison, and the other inmates tended to stay away from him.”

The six continued to pore over the screen, trying out different combinations of search terms relating to Mark Jacobs, but could find precious little of use. Twice they ran into restricted government sites that made Bruce wish he was back in his hostel room with his computer. Finally, Eel called Bruce again on his phone.

“Yeah, so I have a friend who has a friend.” Eel spoke rapidly as soon as Bruce connected the call. “She works at the police station. Non is the only topic of conversation at the station today. They were shifting him out of maximum security today to a regular prison when he escaped. The mayor’s been ringing up the police commissioner all morning. The police has been giving the order to bring in Non dead or alive by sundown at all cost. Be careful with this one, Bruce. Non may look like an ogre, but the guards say he’s a really smart guy who managed to keep prisoners around him in line without saying a word. Nasty guy. And he knows people. Everyone is really riled up about this guy.”

“We noticed.” Bruce said dryly. “Do you know why Non was getting moved out of maximum security?”

“I do. Turns out Non is dying. He picked up a nasty infection in Jail from one of the other inmates. No one was aware of it at first because he always looked so strong. Then one day he collapsed in the showers, coughing up blood. By the time he was admitted in the hospital and tested, the disease had spread too far in his body to repair the damage. Doctors said he had only a few more months to live if he took care of his body, which is nearly impossible to do when you’re in prison. That was a month ago. That’s all I could find out.”

“Right. Thank you.” Bruce disconnected the call and turned to the others, even as he fired up a fresh search on his phone. “This guy Non is no ordinary criminal. Eel says he’s not a dumb guy at all. So why would he allow himself to get trapped inside the university where he’s certain to get caught.”

“He had received training.” Diana said musingly, remembering the security camera footage. “The way he was crouching as he ran. It is how leopards crouch before they spring on their prey. Someone taught him how to hunt. And he managed to overpower maximum security guards single handedly.”

Just then, the noise coming from various tables died down. A hush fell over the hall as the figure of officer Dan Turpin stepped inside. He raised his hands and stared at the crowd.

“Thank you for your patience and cooperation.” He spoke in a raised voice. “The criminal no longer poses a threat to the university. You all may return to your hostels and await further instructions from the college authorities.

All the students got to their feet. Bruce had already bounded forward towards the officer.

“Officer Turpin.” He called out.

“Hello, Bruce.” Dan Turpin nodded to him as Bruce walked up to him. “I half expected to see your lot out there alongside the officers looking for the intruder.

“We got orders from the Mayor not to interfere.” Bruce said as the other six walked up to them. “Could you tell me something about Non? I’d be really grateful.”

“Nasty case.” The officer shook his head. “There was a struggle before he was killed. The policeman had to bash his head in before he managed to hold him off long enough to get his hands on his gun and shoot. You can’t be too gentle with a big brute of a fellow like him.” Turpin sighed, motioning to the others to move to a side as the students filed out of the hall.  “I guess I owe your little group a favor or two. What do you want to know? And keep in mind a lot of the information is classified.”

“What can you tell us about Non?” Bruce said at once. “How did he manage to escape from maximum security?”

“I can’t tell you too much about Non.” Turpin said. “Suffice to say he’s committed some very nasty crimes in the past and was locked away to protect society from him. He broke free of the guards as they were moving him from the high security van to the regular van they use. No great mystery there. He was simply far too strong for the guards to handle, and they weren’t expecting a struggle. Hid out in the fields near the prison for an hour or two, hijacked a lorry, killed the owner and reached the University. And now if I have satisfied all you people’s curiosity, it’s time you got back to your hostels. No need to worry further. The danger is past us.”

Bruce did not press Turpin further. The group parted ways with the officer and joined the surge of students making their way out of classes and the hall back to their hostels.

“I have to call my dad.” Clark said, taking out his mobile and moving away from the group.

Diana fell back from the group also, and held Bruce back as well with a slight pressure on his shoulder.

“We need to make sure the case is truly complete.” Diana said to Bruce. He nodded. The two slipped away from the stream of students going back to their hostels and made their way to the scene of the crime.

They saw Officer Turpin talking to one of the officers standing in front of the hall. Behind them, a body bag lay on the ground, and it was clear that it was not empty.. Turpin turned, and an irritated frown appeared on his face as he recognized the two.

“Officer Turpin.” Diana forestalled him before he could say anything. “I realize we are trespassing on your good nature. But we need to see the body of Non just once.”

For a moment, Bruce was sure Turpin was going to refuse, and order them both off the premises. But then to his surprise, the officer nodded and sighed. “I’ll let you have one look to ease your mind. I suppose I would have been worried too if my friend had been in trouble.”

“What friend?” Bruce asked abruptly, freezing in the middle of striding towards the bag.

“Clark, of course.” Officer Turpin said, looking at Bruce in surprise. “I thought you already knew. Your friend Clark Kent was Non’s target. That’s why he came to the University. Didn’t Mayor Kent talk to Clark?”

“I must have missed it.” Bruce said calmly. Both he and Diana kept their expressions carefully blank as they stepped towards the body. Bruce unzipped the bag and parted the covers. A bloddied face stared up at the sky with empty eyes. The face had been so badly smashed that it was impossible to identify the features as belonging to the savage man caught on the security cameras.

Bruce nodded as he stepped back. “Thank you, officer. I’m very grateful.”

He and Diana turned and moved rapidly away from the crime scene.

“He was after Clark.” Diana breathed.

Bruce nodded. “And Jonathan Kent knew. But chose not to tell Clark. Not even to warn him.” He signed in frustration. “Why couldn’t they have caught him alive? So many questions still remain. But at least the danger is over for now.”

Diana’s footsteps slowed. “Is it, though?”

Bruce turned, struck by the change in her posture. “What do you mean?”

“Is the danger past us?” Diana said slowly, more to herself than to Bruce. “Or is that what everyone is supposed to think?”

Bruce stared at her. “You’re going to have to be a bit clearer. What is going on?”

“I don’t know.” Diana closed her eyes. “Certain parts of this don’t make sense. They caught him quite easily, didn’t they, for someone who managed to escape maximum security and travel halfway around the city without getting caught?”

“Surprising, but not impossible.” Bruce said.

“And then a single policeman managing to overpower him.” Diana continued, her eyes far away. “And the face. Why would he hurt the man’s face so badly?”

“He was a violent criminal.”

“He was a clever criminal. That’s what Eel told you. Everyone in prison thought Non was stupid because he never spoke. But he wasn’t, and he used their wrong perception to his advantage. Bashing someone’s face in must have taken a lot of time and effort. And the only clever reason for doing that, the only logical reason, would be to disfigure the dead body so people don’t realize it’s not really Non at all.”

And suddenly, Bruce understood what Diana was talking about. “You mean Non killed the policeman, swapped clothes, and bashed the policeman’s face in? But that wouldn’t work. The police had been briefed about Non. They would have reconized his face. His…” A light dawned in Bruce’s mind. “his voice…”

“Not his voice.” Diana’s voice was still far away. She seemed to have accessed some hidden warrior’s instinct inside her that was helping her understand Non’s tactics. “They wouldn’t recognize his voice. He wasn’t actually mute. Everyone just assumed that because he never spoke. But he had an actual voice. One that no one recognizes. He could have pulled the cap over his face, and run out to get help. And if that’s true, then that means… Non is still at large. And he’s after Clark.”

The two stared at each other for a moment. Then without another word, the two took off running in the direction of Clark’s hostel.

* * *

Clark reached his room, his mind still buzzing with what his father had said to him. He had still not given any reason for his earlier warning to Clark.

Clark entered his room and reached for the light switch. And then he saw, rising from his bed, a huge, hulking figure. Instinctively, Clark’s hands rose to assume a protective boxing stance, but it was no use as the hulking figure crashed into him. Non was strong. Tremendously strong. For a moment, Clark could only struggle helplessly while his mind tried to process the situation.

But then reason re-asserted itself, and Clark butted Non hard on his chin. The huge man staggered back, and again Clark’s hands rose, this time in attack mode. His punches flew hard and fast at Non’s face, chest and finally gut.

As Clark’s hand crashed into Non’s stomach, a spray of liquid flew at his face. He stepped back, surprised.

Non stood panting, a few feet in front of him.  Then suddenly he collapsed to his feet, coughing hard.

Clark turned and switched on the light. He ran a hand across his face and saw the liquid that had hit him was blood. Non looked up at Clark, and suddenly there was no trace of the feral animal in his eyes. They were wide and scared.

Clark stared at the man crouching in front of him, confused and uncertain. Before he could make another move, Non was overcome with an even worse coughing fit. Blood sprayed from his mouth all over the floor.

Clark bent towards him. “It’s okay.” He said awkwardly even as a part of his mind acknowledged the fact that he was comforting a convicted killer. “I’ll get you help, okay?”

Non seized Clark’s sleeve. “Came… to… warn…. You…” He rasped, before being overcome with another coughing fit.

Clark stared at him in amazement. “What? What do you mean? Warn me about what?” But Non only coughed harder, sinking lower to the ground. Clark was holding his arm, and he could tell his pulse was growing weaker every second.

“Clark!” Diana’s voice appeared outside the door. Clark turned to see her and Bruce racing towards his room. “Clark, Non is still alive!”

“I know.” Clark indicated the figure on the ground to the others. “We need to find a doctor. I’ll stay here with Bruce. Diana, go get a guard and tell him to send an ambulance before-”

“What’s he doing?”  Bruce cut in sharply.

Clark turned, and saw Non was now completely prostrate on the floor. He appeared to be moving a finger slowly and painfully over the floor.

“The doctor!” Clark said to Diana, and she turned and ran back the way she had come.

Bruce and Clark entered the room again. The figure on the floor had not stopped moving. Non was facing away from them now, and they could tell the ambulance was not going to be of any use. Non had stopped moving. Clark leaned in to check his wrist, and knew it was over. Now he had a better view of Non’s hand, and what seemed from his vantage point to be upside down letters. A chill ran down his spine when Clark realized Non had been writing something on the floor in the blood he had coughed up.

“What does it say?” He asked Bruce, who had bent to examine the letters. Bruce was silent for a moment while he studied the floor. Finally, he looked up at Clark.

“Zod… It says Zod.”

Justice University: Ch 23

Begin Again


Wally winced, and raised a hand in front of his face to block out the booming voice of the young man standing in front of him with a huge grin on his face. “Easy, Jervis. I can see you standing right in front of me.”

“Sorry, I’m just so pumped to be back!” Jervis Tetch strode energetically into Wally’s room. He was a tall student with a round, good-natured face, a noticeable potbelly, thick black glasses and long hair swinging loosely and wildly from his scalp. “I just got back to my dorm. Dumped my bag in my room and came straight out again to celebrate. This is going to be the best year of my life. What’s up, Kyle?”

Kyle raised a hand in greeting, and winced as Jervis gave it a resounding smack. “Hey, man. Good to see you.”

“What do you mean, the best year of your life?” Wally asked, closing the door and turning to face Jervis.

In response, Jervis thrust his hand into the pocket of his jacket and took out a pen drive case with a dramatic flourish. “This is why. Come on, let’s go over to Dalton and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Well, sure, I could do with a drink.” Kyle agreed, rising to his feet.

“Let’s go.” Wally nodded, once again opening the door.

The three made their way out of the hostel and towards the university offices. It was still very early in the semester, and the students walking around them had the unhurried post-holidays saunter.

“Bruce!” Wally called out to a student walking several yards in front of them.

Bruce, who had been walking alone towards the opposite direction on the other side of the road turned, and nodded back to Wally. He came over and fell in step with the other three. “Where are you all going?”

“Daltons.” Kyle replied. “Jervis has some big reason to celebrate. Where’s Clark?”

Bruce shrugged. “I haven’t seen him all day. He and John went to visit his father.”

“And Diana?”

“She’s gone with Arthur to New Genesis.” Wally volunteered. “She told me in the morning.”

“Well, looks like it’s just us, then.” Jervis said brightly. “And we’re gonna make a night of it at the bar. At least until my money runs out.”

“So are you gonna tell us what the celebration’s for?” Wally asked him.

Once again, Jervis took the pen drive case out of his pocket. “This pen drive contains a piece of software called Top Hat, and it’s going to revolutionize the internet marketing industry.”

“What is it exactly?” Bruce inquired, taking the case and opening it. He peered inside at the tiny blue drive lodged within.

“See, I’ve been working on the top hat project for the past two years.” Jervis explained. “This was actually the reason I got a full scholarship to university. I sent the initial test module to Professor Emil Hamilton. He liked my idea and offered me a seat here if we could develop it together. And that was so great because there was no way I could’ve gotten to this point on my own.”

“Hamilton’s that guy who works in Star Labs, right?” Kyle asked. “I thought he was a professor of biology.”

“That’s his official post.” Bruce said. “He’s got a mastery over half a dozen scientific disciplines on the side.”

“Exactly.” Jervis nodded fervently. “The man’s a genius! I’ve been working on the last legs of Top Hat over the summer. That’s why I arrived late this term. But it’s finally finished, and I’m waiting for Professor Hamilton to get back to his office so I can give it to him.”

“So what does Top Hat do?” Bruce inquired, handing the drive case back to Jervis.

“Basically, it’s a form of AI that studies your internet habits.” Jervis said, pocketing the drive. “The sites you visit. The videos you watch. The comments you leave on social media. It compiles every single piece of information about you available online to create a psychological profile of your habits and inclinations.”

“That doesn’t sound very different from all the other programs that pull information off the internet.” Bruce commented. “Facebook and Google have been doing something like that for years.”

“But that’s just phase one.” Jervis said, his voice growing more excited. “What sets my program apart is what happens in phase two. Once the profile has been created, Top Hat starts showing the user ads. But they’re not just any ads that relate to your internet searches, which is what happens nowadays. No, these are ads that carry words and images that are specifically designed to appeal to your subconscious, and make you want to buy the product.”

“The subconscious?” Bruce’s voice was deeply skeptical. “Sounds like that trick mentalists have for making you think of a specific number for them to guess. And that technique has a very low rate of success even when the options are in low numbers. How do you apply it to the hundred and thousands of products that sell online?”

“By exponentially increasing the number of suggestions!” Jervis’s voice was almost cracking with excitement now. “I’m not talking about one ad running once. I’m talking about multiple ads that run one after the other, each geared specifically to a single user’s taste’s and triggers, for as long as it takes to have them make a purchase. You’re right, the mentalist’s method has a very low chance of success. But I’ve been running Top Hat’s beta version for the past week, and it has a success rate of over thirty-five percent!” His eyes were gleaming with excitement. “Can you imagine that? Every company on the planet would kill to get that kind of conversion rate on their sales. I’m talking about a twenty times sales increase at the very least!”

Bruce nodded slowly. “If you really have managed to do that, it would be pretty revolutionary. WayneCorp would pay an arm and a leg for that technology.”

“I’ll be sure to offer you a discount.” Jervis laughed.

“Well, I can’t say I’ve understood everything you said just now. As far as I can make out, you’re going to use google to control people’s minds somehow.” Wally remarked. Jervis laughed again. “But congrats anyway, man.” All three of them shook Jervis’s hand as they came within sight of Dalton.

“Thanks, man.” Jervis chuckled. “This really is going to be the start of something incredible.”

The four entered the bar known as Dalton’s. It was frequented mostly by college students who lived within walking distance, and was largely empty.

“A pitcher of your finest beer.” Jervis declared to the waiter as the three found seats around a table in the corner of the room.

“So what are you going to do with Top Hat now?” Kyle inquired as the four settled themselves down comfortably.

“Now comes the task of actually finding some investors to turn the prototype into a saleable product.” Jervis said. “There’s licensing, then there’s the people we’ll have to chase down just to book an appointment with investors. It’s a long road ahead yet.”

“Let me know if you’re looking for investors from Gotham.” Bruce said as the beer arrived. “I might be able to get you some useful contacts.”

“Thanks, but the prototype belongs to the university’s research lab.” Jervis said, pouring everyone out a generous measure of the beer. “The professor will probably want to focus on Metropolis investors for now.”

“To the Top Hat.” Wally declared, and the four raised their glasses for the toast, while Jervis grinned broadly and bowed his head.

The night wore on as the first pitcher was replaced by a second. By the end everyone was feeling pleasantly light-headed, but the most profound effect seemed to have been on Jervis. He was hiccupping frequently and swaying around in his chair. He talked rapidly and incoherently about a range of subjects, staring at the other in glassy-eyed earnestness. Finally he stood up and declared his intention to go to the bathroom. The other watched him make his way extremely unsteadily to the end of the room, falling down twice in the process before finally reaching the bathroom door.

“So what’s going on with you, Bruce?” Wally asked as the three turned back to their glasses after having watched Jervis’s progress with interest. “The group hasn’t had much of a chance to get together ever since Clark came back. Is Diana still not talking to him?”

“Yeah.” Bruce drained the last of the beer from his glass. “Three days and not a single word to him.”

“Clark looked pretty unhappy about it.” Wally commented. “I still don’t get what happened with those two.”

“Yeah, what is this whole thing about?” Kyle added. “Why is Diana so mad at Clark?”

“He didn’t call her all summer.” Bruce said briefly. “He’s been dodging her calls ever since her birthday party.”

“Why?” Wally stared at him in surprise. “I thought the two of them would be an item by now. I thought they would’ve sealed the deal over the summer.”

“I went with Clark to Diana’s birthday party in the summer.” Bruce said. “Ever since then Clark’s been acting funny. He didn’t seem to have enjoyed himself there.”

“Was this party really stuffy?” Kyle asked shrewdly. “Was it stuffed full of diamonds and billionaires wearing those diamonds, and did the whole place look like something out of Vogue magazine?”

“It was just a regular party, really.” Bruce shrugged. “Nothing special.”

“A regular party for Bruce Wayne is a trip to Mount Olympus for us ordinary mortals.” Wally remarked. “I can see why Clark would feel uncomfortable. But are you telling me he was so intimidated that he got scared off of asking Diana out?”

“I don’t know.” Bruce said slowly. “Whether or not they go out is their business, but they need to at least start talking to each other again. I hate having to be the chatty one when we’re all together.”

“Good luck getting someone as stubborn as Diana to talk first.” Kyle remarked, taking a swig from his glass. “One way that they taught us to resolve conflict in the corps was by focusing both parties on a mutual enemy. So maybe try being a dick to both of them at the same time.”

Jervis returned from the bathroom, still looking extremely unsteady. “Oh man.” He said, slumping down on his chair and putting his head on the cold table surface. “I am totally wasted. I’mma need you guys to take me back to the dorm. I don’t trust my legs right now to take me where I need to go.”

“Yeah, let’s get going.” Wally waved to their waiter for the check. Jervis waved his credit card limply towards the waiter while his head stayed glued to the table.

“Why don’t I pay for this right now.” Bruce rose and followed the waiter to the counter. He paid the bill and came back to see Wally and Kyle helping Jervis to his feet. Leaning heavily on the two, Jervis made his way to the door with Bruce bringing up their wake. The cool night breeze was a refreshing change from Dalton’s stale air conditioned atmosphere.

“We’ll just swing by Star Labs on the way.” Jervis’s speech was slurred, even though he was able to walk on his own, albeit unsteadily. “Hamilton might be there to check on the lab. He was supposed to be back this afternoon.”

They made their way back into the university. The roads were far less crowded now, as the group made their way to Star Labs, an imposing and futuristic looking building located in the north side of campus. They were nearing the entrance when they saw a man exit the building while strapping on his backpack.

“Professor Hamilton” Jervis called out excitedly. The man stopped and looked around for the source of the shout. He spotted Jervis and raised a hand in greeting.

“Jervis.” Professor Hamilton was a middle-aged man with a balding head and thick round glasses similar to Jervis’s. The eyebrows behind the glasses were raised in surprise at the moment. “Have you been drinking?”

“Just a little bit.” Jervis said, his speech no longer slurred. “I was out celebrating. I did it, sir. Top Hat is working perfectly!”

A broad smile spread across the professor’s face. He did not even bother to glance at the other three boys. “That is excellent news!” He took the pen drive case that Jervis had thrust towards him and rolled it between his fingertips. “You were much faster than I had anticipated.”

“I’ve been busting my ass all summer. I… I’m sorry, I meant I’ve worked very hard.” Jervis looked embarrassed, but the professor was not paying attention. He had opened his brief case and taken out his laptop.

“Hold this for a moment.” Professor Hamilton told Wally, thrusting the laptop in his hands. Opening the top, he pressed the power button while Wally held the laptop up patiently.

The professor opened the case and extracted the pen drive. “We finally have something to show for two years of research.” He inserted the drive in his computer and clicked on the single icon that showed up onscreen. Instantly, a screen opened and a row of commands appeared in front of the group.

“Beautiful.” Professor Hamilton breathed. “I see you finally decided to use the sonix program to create the loop functions.” He scrolled carefully down the list of commands, nodding with satisfaction. “Congratulations, Jervis. It looks like you have a fully functional Top Hat at last.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you, sir.” Jervis said, smiling broadly as he plucked the pen drive and inserted it back in its case. He handed it over to the professor. “You were the best mentor I could ever have asked for.”

“It was my pleasure.” Hamilton smiled, unsnapping his briefcase and sliding the case inside. “And now we can finally start talks with companies on behalf of the university’s research office. I have to get back home now, so I’ll see you tomorrow, Jervis.” He nodded to the other two and hurried down the road.

“That’s one headache off my hands.” Jervis sighed. “Well, I should get back to my hostel. Tonight was really fun, guys. Let’s do it again sometime.”

“Absolutely.” Wally agreed, as He, Jervis, Bruce and Kyle continued down the road on their way back to their hostel.

The next day, Bruce found him sleep broken by a hammering on the front door. He jerked awake and stared at the clock. Six AM. The hammering started again.

“Who is it?” Bruce called out sharply.

“Officer Turpin.” He recognized Dan Turpin’s guttural voice.

“Open the door, Bruce.” Came Wally’s voice next. “It’s urgent.”

Bruce jumped out of bed as the last vestiges of sleep shook themselves out of his brain. He crossed over to the door and opened it to see Dan Turpin standing outside with Wally at his side, and Jarvis standing in the background with another young man.

“We have a situation.” Jarvis spoke up, his voice rising rapidly in excitement. “Someone broke into Emil Hamilton’s house and stole the pen drive. You have to help us, Bruce.”

“Seems like you two know a thing or two about this top-secret project.” Officer Dan growled. “I was on my way to Star labs with Wally, Jarvis and Dylan. I’ll need you to come along, too.”

Bruce nodded, his mind swiftly adapting to the new situation. His brain was already working on two separate tracks simultaneously. He got dressed at top speed, and soon, the four boys were following Officer Turpin out of the hostel and towards Star Labs. A few brief introductions confirmed that Dylan was Jervis’s roommate.

The lab was a different place from what it had been in the night. Various personnel rushed in and out of rooms, and several police officers were also on the scene. Officer Turpin ignored everyone and led the other three straight to the main office.

Professor Emil Hamilton was sitting at his desk, a look of great distress on his face. He was speaking to an officer, who saluted in front of Turpin and moved back as the other entered the room.

“These are the three boys you spoke to last, professor?” Officer Turpin asked.

“Yes, yes, that’s them.” Professor Hamilton nodded. “Jervis is my student and my intern, but I’m afraid I don’t know the other two very well.”

“Fortunately, I do.” Officer Turpin said. “I’ve worked with Bruce and Wally in the past, and I believe their presence can aid us in this investigation.” He turned to Bruce, Wally and Jervis. “So first, let’s catch everyone up to speed. Mr. Tecth, you gave a pen drive to Professor Hamilton last night that had some sensitive information on it, correct?”

“It’s a project we’ve been working on for the past year.” Jervis spoke up excitedly. “You have got to find it, officer! It’s a new form of loop back programming framework that is designed to make choices based on statistical probability for a set of variables-”

“Yes, yes, fine.” Turpin put up a hand. “We needn’t go into all that. The information on the pen drive was worth money?”

“It would have been, once it was coded into search engines.” Prof Hamilton said wearily. “It would have been potentially worth tens of millions. But the real world testing phase was still a long way off.”

“How many people knew about the Top Hat program?” Wally asked.

Preffesor Hamilton shook his head helplessly. “It is impossible to keep a project like this completely under wraps. There were many industry experts I need to confer with, and those who provided us with the resources to carry the program forward. But they were all men of impeccable reputation. I cannot imagine any of them resorting to stealing a fellow scientist’s work.”

“You’d be surprised what the prospect of millions of dollars can do to people’s ethics.” Turpin said dryly. “Let’s go back to last night. Please tell us what happened right from the beginning exactly as you remember it. Don’t leave out any details.”

“It’s all such a mess in my mind. I woke up from my sleep completely disoriented. And I keep remembering things like they happened backward. I could swear I smelt the burning before I heard the window break. But the thief had to break in through the window and then plant the bomb, so how is that possible?” He lowered his head into his hands. “Everything is jumbled up together. If only my head would stop aching for a minute…”

“Let’s try talking about the things you clearly remember.” Turpin prompted. “What is your first definite memory from that night?”

Hamilton paused, thinking hard. “When I got downstairs.” He said finally. “It was a clear night, and the moon was shining quite brightly. I could see the room clearly by that point. I saw the smoke coming out of the suitcase, and I felt the breeze coming from the broken window. Then again I smelled a fresh wave of that horrible burning smell. I turned on the lights, and that’s when I saw my briefcase. Its casing had been burnt away. All my papers kept inside had been ruined. The case of the pen drive was lying broken open, and the drive itself was missing.”

“It was a chemical bomb.” Turpin supplied to Bruce. “No explosion, no loud bang, but the objects placed in its proximity get destroyed all the same. Our analysts are still looking into its exact makeup. So there you have it. We’re dealing with a criminal who wasn’t simply satisfied with stealing a valuable pen drive. He also had to completely ruin the suitcase, which is the most risky and bizarre way I’ve ever seen of getting rid of evidence. Then there’s the fact that there absolutely no prints of any kind to be found. Not on the suitcase, not on the brick, not anywhere in the house and nowhere in the garden. Not to mention the fact that the whole operation was carried out in record time. Oh, and also don’t forget the fact that the thief was polite enough to close the window latch behind him after he left. Those are the facts as we know them. Now can you make head or tail of this whole business?”

“A couple of points do present themselves.” Bruce said slowly. “I think there might be a lead we can follow that might yield some result. But I can’t do it alone. I’ll need the others with me.”

“You mean that whole team of yours?” Officer Turpin’s eyes narrowed. “How about letting me know about your leads, and I’ll follow it up?”

Bruce smiled blandly. “I’m afraid I was being too optimistic when I called it a lead. It’s more a hunch than anything, and it’s not a matter that will respond well to police questioning. It’d be best if me and my friends tackled it.”

Officer Turpin stared at him for a long moment before finally nodding. “Fine, I guess your past work have earned you a chance at least. You can do this your way, but I want a full report at the end of the day of exactly what you’ve been up to.”

“Thanks. I’ll also need my team to get the day off from classes.” Bruce said.

“You can have it.” Professor Hamilton put in fervently. “I’ll talk to the dean and explain everything. Work with the police, work with the media. Work with the military if you have to. Take as much time as you need, just find me that pen drive!”

“I’ll try my best.” Bruce said. He nodded to the professor and the officer, and left the room, Wally and Jervis right behind him.

“Your team?” Wally spoke up. “So we’re in an episode of ‘Bruce and his Sidekicks’?”

“Don’t get hung up on technicalities.” Bruce said. “We need to call all the others. Call everyone and get them to meet up in the caféteria.”

“So that’s the deal.” Bruce concluded half an hour later. He was sitting in the cafeteria with Clark, Diana, John, Arthur, Wally, Kyle and Jervis. He had been bringing the others up to speed on the case. “The pen drive needs to be found as quickly as possible, and the police has agreed to give us the day off from classes to look for it. Any questions?”

He stared around the table. Everyone at the table had been listening to him intently, except for Clark, who had been staring at Diana, who was pointedly ignoring him.

“When exactly did you find out about the robbery?” Arthur asked Jervis.

“We got the news a couple of hours ago.” Dylan said. “Jervis had a wicked hangover and had been sleeping like a log ever since he got back to the room last night. His phone rang and I picked it up. It was from Professor Hamilton.”

“Next thing I know officer Turpin is hammering on my door.” Jervis put in. “I couldn’t even understand what he was saying at first because my head was throbbing so much. Oh god, all that work down the drain.” He buried his head in his hands with a grain.

“Don’t lose hope yet, we still have a chance of finding the drive.” Wally said. “Bruce has a plan, right Bruce?”

“Yes, we’ll need two teams.” Bruce said. “Me, Clark, John and Diana in team one, and you, Arthur, Kyle, Jervis and Dylan in team two. I’ll need team two to carry out some investigations around the university, while team one takes my car and checks on some contacts in town that might give us a lead.”

“I shall stay with the team here in the university.” Diana said stiffly.

“No, I’ll need you with me.” Bruce said. “One of the contacts I mentioned lives in New Genesis. You’ll need to be the one to talk to him. And it’s not a conversation to have over the phone.”

“I’ll stay back.” Clark said awkwardly, looking at Diana. “I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable because of me.

“I am not uncomfortable.” Diana said, sitting rigidly in her seat and staring straight ahead.

“Either way, I’ll need you there, too.” Bruce told Clark. “We’ll probably need to take a trip to your father’s office.”

Clark nodded pointedly towards Diana, then frowned at Bruce. Everyone else was also sitting in uncomfortable silence. Clark shook his head slightly at Bruce.

“Yeah, we’re not going to start playing charades right now.” Bruce said irritably. “Need I remind everyone that we’re talking about a multimillion dollar piece of tech that Jervis spent years working on. The sooner we get on with the case, the better our chances of finding it.”

Everyone at the table nodded and finally rose. The group split into two, with Wally and his team heading back to Star Labs, and the other team heading towards the parking lot, Diana marching at the front with her nose in the air and Clark bringing up the rear penitently.

Two hours later the three seemed to be no nearer to finding the pen drive. They had traveled all over Metropolis in Bruce’s car, from one location to another, to no avail. Bruce did not seem too perturbed, but almost seemed to be enjoying himself. He and Clark sat in the front while John sat in the back, with Diana sitting next to him in stone-faced silence.

“You think we should call Scott free?” Clark asked. “He might know something about the people who deal in that kind of stuff in Metropolis. We haven’t spoken for a while, but I’m sure he’d help us out.”

“Sure, that could work.” Bruce said vaguely. The energy that he had displayed back at the university had ebbed considerably. He did not seem to have a very clear idea about the plan of action for the day. He only paused in his driving to occasionally send out messages and receive brief calls. They had already visited the police station.

“Scott Free can’t help us with this.” Bruce said. “I always liked to drive the car on this particular highway. It has the best stretch of road in Metropolis, I think.”

“What about the pen drive, Bruce?” Diana asked impatiently. “What is your plan?”

“Well, I’m afraid I was a little too optimistic in front of Jervis.” Bruce said. “There’s a very real chance we might never find the drive again. I’ve made a few calls that will hopefully get us some answers soon.”

Bruce brought the car to a stop in front of a bustling bazaar packed with shoppers and tourists. He got out of the car, and the other three got out as well.

“This is Paling street.” Bruce announced. “It’s home to many individuals of ‘questionable repute.’ There’s a man who lives here who knows every criminal in Metropolis who can make something like a chemical bomb. Problem is, he has no fixed address. We’ll need to wander around for a bit until I spot him or one of his accomplices.”

And so they set off. The narrow lanes of the bazaar uncoiled endlessly in front of them. Shops had been erected on every available, with several spilling out onto the road all around them. All the shoppers were on foot, and there were no vehicles passing through the area.

“How much further?” Clark demanded fifteen minutes later, wiping a drop of sweat off his brow.

“Just a bit.” Bruce said, striding forward serenely. “I’m pretty sure we’ll get to him soon.”

They continued their journey, although it seemed increasingly certain Bruce was not sure where he was going. He would frequently take sudden turns seemingly on a whim, and they had still not seen any sign of characters of a ‘questionable repute’.”

“Bruce, I think we should be getting back now.” Clark said pointedly after twenty more minutes had elapsed. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“Just a bit further.” Bruce said. “Are you too tired to go on?”

“It’s not me.” Clark said in exasperation. “I’m worried about Diana… I mean…” he looked deflated as Diana turned to meet his gaze with a frown.

“Why are you worried about me?” She demanded. “Do you think I am too weak to walk for a bit?”

“No, it’s not that.” Clark had a slightly hunted expression on his face now. “I was just thinking, we’re not getting anywhere with this trek, so maybe you’d be more comfortable in the car-”

“Thank you, but I’m fine.” Diana cut in curtly. “I can keep walking all day if it means finding that man.”

Clark looked abashed and fell silent. The group continued walking in silence through the crowd of shoppers and shops.

“Besides,” Diana spoke up again twelve seconds later. “Now is a little late to be worrying about my health, Clark.”

“What?” Clark stopped walking. “What does that mean?”

“I mean you spent an entire summer ignoring me when I called you repeatedly.” Diana said, turning to face him again. “It never occurred to you then to call back and make sure I was fine or not?”

“I knew you were fine.” Clark said. “I always called Bruce or one of the others to check up on you and make sure you were fine.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Diana’s voice was rising in anger. The heat and body fatigue was only adding to her anger. John and Bruce were standing mutely to the side, watching the exchange. “That you would need a middle man to check up on me because you didn’t want to talk to me directly?”

“I did want to talk to you.” Clark said in a low voice. “There was just this thing I needed think about first…”

“What thing?” Diana demanded.

There was a pause, while Clark stared over her shoulder into the distance. “It’s private.” He said at last.

The frown on Diana’s face deepened. She turned wordlessly and set off down the road.

“Diana, wait.” Clark grabbed her arm. “I really didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I didn’t think you’d think I was avoiding you for something you did.”

“What was I expected to think?” Diana demanded, shaking his hand off her arm. More than a dozen bystanders were now watching the unfolding drama with interest. “For a whole year we go everywhere together. I invite you to my party. To meet my friends. To meet my mother. And then suddenly you start acting like I don’t exist.”

“I wasn’t doing that.” Clark snapped back. The long walk had taken a toll on his temper as well. “I just needed some time to think. I needed some alone time. To think… to think about us. Going to your party made me realize some things. I needed to figure out where I fit in with you. I needed to…”

Clark’s voice trailed away. He turned away from Diana and stared into the distance, oblivious to the gaze of the nearby pedestrians.

“I’m sorry, Diana.” He said as he turned around to face her again. His voice was no longer angry. “I’m sorry I never called you. And I’m sorry I dodged your calls.”

Diana stared back at him. “I just want to know why, Clark. Why did you lead me on to… have expectations, and then spend all summer ignoring me?”

“Because going to your party made me realize how out of my league you are.” Clark said.

Diana stared at him, caught off guard. “I don’t understand.”

“Diana, I’ve known you for over a year now.” Clark said. He no longer looked troubled or angry, but simply tired as he spoke in a matter of fact tone. “And in all that time you were just one of us. I never thought of you as anything other than a college student. I knew you were rich, but I never really thought anything of it. Going to your party made me realize how far apart we are. I was born and brought up on a farm. I helped my father milk cows and shovel manure ever since I could walk. I wore my father’s old clothes all through high school. We still have just one car that everyone uses. My father may be the mayor now, but I’ll always be that guy who needed to collect money for a year doing odd jobs on other farms just to buy a cycle when I was fourteen.”

“And you, Diana? You’re a princess. You’re on the same level as Bruce. Ever since I got the invitation to your party, I’d been obsessing over what kind of a gift to get you that you’d remember as something special. And then when I finally got to your party I realized that there was no way I would ever be able to buy you something which can even begin to compete with what all your other friends got you.”

“Clark…” Diana seemed to be struggling to work through her surprise. “How could you think any of that matters to-”

“I’d wanted to ask you out on a date in the past.” Clark cut in quietly. “But see, a date for me back in Smallville used to mean going to the local diner for a coke. I can’t take you to a fancy restaurant like Bruce did. I can’t buy you a diamond necklace. I’d have to borrow money from Bruce and Arthur just to rent a car, and even then-”

The rest of Clark’s speech was cut short by Diana striding up to him and punching him on his arm.

“Ow!” Clark exclaimed, taking an involuntary step back and clutching his arm. “What the hell was that?”

“Did it hurt?” Diana demanded.

“Of course it hurt!”

“Good.” Diana stepped back and stared at Clark. “And I’m going to punch you even harder if you ever call me a princess again. I get enough of that fucked up ‘Princess’ bullshit at home.”

John and Bruce’s eyebrows shot upwards. Clark looked scandalized. None of them had ever heard Diana swear before.

“You know what I loved about coming to Metropolis?” Diana asked Clark. “The fact that no one here gave me any special treatment. No one knew who my mother was, or cared about my family wealth. And the best part was that I met a group of people who accepted me on my face value. And now you are being so unbelievably infuriating with your ‘Out of my league’ garbage. Is Bruce out of your league? Is Arthur? When did you suddenly started measuring people’s worth based on their bank balance?”

“I never said that’s what it is.” Clark protested. “I just didn’t know what to say to you after I saw that Mastrokalis douchebag hand you a diamond necklace!”

“Did you see me swoon over the necklace?” Diana demanded. “Did you see me enter into paroxysms of joy over that gift? Have you ever even seen me wear such an ostentatious piece of jewelry? I can’t stop people giving me things, Clark. But that doesn’t mean I attach value to an experience based on price tags. Alexander Mastrokalis did not go to New Genesis with me to visit Millie. I did not stand beside Alexander when we were trying to put a stop to Qlak Khent and his goons. And my mother’s rich friends aren’t here with me right now when we’re trying to track down a criminal. I do all those things with you and Bruce and Wally and the others, because this is where I feel I belong. Not stuck in the tallest tower of some medieval castle waiting to marry a prince like you seem to expect of me!”

Diana stopped talking abruptly and stood breathing hard. There was another long silence. The bystanders had finally started getting bored and were beginning to move away from the scene.

“I’m sorry…” Clark began, trying to decide on the most important point to apologize about, and then stopped. He tried again. “Look, I never meant to imply you were a spoilt rich girl or anything like that. I know you’re so much more than your money. But I just meant to say… I’m not… Diana, I can’t compete with-”

“Who is asking you to compete?” Diana stamped her foot in frustration. “When did I ask you for an expensive present? When did I ever ask you to take me to an expensive restaurant?”

“If I may.” John broke in gently. “The problem here isn’t what Clark thinks of Diana, or what Diana thinks of Clark, but what you both think of yourself. Clark does not consider himself impressive by any of the usual indicators of social standing, while Diana has a chip on her block about her rightful place in the world. Both these problems are equally valid based on your life experiences, but neither will be resolved through one day of shouting. Neither should it be the reason for a broken friendship. Clark, do you realize now how much you hurt Diana’s feelings through your recent behavior?”

“Yeah, and I’m really sorry.” Clark hung his head. “I didn’t think it through, Diana. You have every right to be mad at me.”

“And Diana, you realize Clark’s behavior was a result of him struggling with his own self-esteem issues rather than anything you did?”

“I suppose.” Diana muttered. “It was still very hurtful.”

“Yes, it was.” John agreed. “The question is, is it hurtful enough to stop talking to him? All the dangers and obstacles you two have faced together. All the problems that seemed more bearable when you were tackling them together. Surely a simple misunderstanding should not be the reason to throw all that away.”

“I suppose.” Diana muttered again.

Bruce sidled up next to John. “I knew keeping you in team one was a good idea.”

Clark was staring pleadingly at Diana. “I’m really sorry, Diana. John’s right. I was dealing with my own issues all summer. It had nothing to do with you. I promise I’ll work on them.”

“I am sorry, also, for punching you.” Diana said stiffly. “I was taking my anger at other people out on you.”

Clark opened his arms tentatively. “So what do you say? Friends again?”

“It depends.” Diana said coldly. “Will you ever call me the ‘P’ word again?”

“Absolutely not.” Clark said solemnly. Diana hesitated for a moment, but then she stepped forward and allowed Clark to engulf her in a bear hug.

“You’re an idiot.” Her muffled voice arose from somewhere near Clark’s shoulder.

“Oh, I absolutely agree.” Clark was smiling broadly as he released her. “But I’m a slightly wiser idiot now, thanks to your punching ability.”

Diana smiled back at him. The last few bystanders, realizing the scene was at an end, resumed their activities again.

“And now.” Clark turned to Bruce. “We can set properly about finding that pen drive. Where do you think your guy is, Bruce? What’s our next step?”

“We should probably be heading back to the university now.” Bruce remarked.

“What?” Diana stared at him in surprise. “But what about the pen drive?”

“Oh, that.” Bruce waved his hand airily. “Never mind that. It’s been dealt with.”

The others stared at Bruce, who stared blandly back. “Arthur and Wally found the pen drive half an hour ago.”

“What! Where?” Clark asked.

“Where it’s been all along.” Bruce shrugged. “Inside Jervis Tetch’s cupboard.”

Again, the three stared at him. “What are you talking about?” Diana demanded.

“I mean Tetch was the one who stole the pen drive.” Bruce said. “Although stole is the wrong word, considering he never handed the pen drive to Hamilton in the first place.”

There was another short silence while the others stared at Bruce.

“You will need to help us out here, Bruce. When did you know Jervis had the pen drive?” John finally asked.

“About ten seconds after Turpin told me about the case.” Bruce shrugged. “Two points about this incident had struck me right from the start. The first point had actually occurred last night. Jervis had told us he needed our help getting back to his dorm because he was completely wasted, but then he was able to function in a perfectly normal manner during our meeting with the professor. That pointed towards the fact that he was clearly less drunk than he wanted us to believe. It made me suspect that the main purpose of asking us to accompany him back was to have us bear witness to his meeting with the professor and his return to the hostel with us. This was done so that if suspicion was to ever fall on him, he would have the testimony of two people that the authorities knew and trusted backing him up. We were to provide him with an airtight alibi.”

“And the second point?”

“That Professor Hamilton smelled the chemical before hearing the window glass break. The police didn’t pay much attention to that fact, because they were thinking in reverse. They had already decided that this was a case of a break-in and burglary, and they were trying to force the facts to fit around that theory. But Hamilton’s testimony was conclusive proof that the bomb exploded inside the house first, and then the glass window was broken. It was a time delayed chemical bomb. The kind of bomb that operates on the basis of a chemical reaction. The reaction can be delayed from being completed depending on the amount of separation between individual chemicals. In this case Tecth had two pen drive cases with him that night. One that contained the actual pen drive, which he showed to us and to Professor Hamilton to prove his invention, and the other case, which he handed over to Hamilton, which actually contained the bomb.”

“Tecth did all of this to make it seem like the theft occurred at Hamilton’s home instead of at the university during a time when Tecth was provably nowhere near the house.”

“But Nathan said he’d been with Jervis in their dorm the entire night. So who broke the window?”

“Just some hired help, is my guess. The kind that can be reached by placing a simple ad on Craigslist. He didn’t have to do anything much. Just stand on the street in front of Hamilton’s house and, after getting the signal from Tetch in the form of a phone-call or sms, hurl the brick at the window. He never even had to set foot on Hamilton’s property to carry out his job. Hence the lack of footprints or fingerprints anywhere on the Professor’s property. The only problem was that Tecth miscalculated the time of the chemical reaction by a few seconds, so the brick was thrown too late, and broke the window sometime after the chemical reaction set off the bomb.”

“If Jervis just wanted to sell the technology on his own, why didn’t he just do so before? Why go through this whole charade?”

“He had signed a non-disclosure agreement, which meant he would have gone to jail if he had tried to sell the tech on his own. His best bet was to make it look like the pen drive was stolen, and then a few months later, sell off the technology under a different name. This way he keeps his reputation intact and makes millions of dollars in profit. It was a good plan. But not good enough.”

There was yet another pause as the other three stared at Bruce, while he gazed back with a self-satisfied smirk.

“So, there never was a guy to find here?” Clark finally demanded. “You had us all go traipsing around all day just so Diana and I could work things out?”

“I was trying out some advice Kyle gave me last night.” Bruce said. “I didn’t fancy spending the entire semester having you look guilty and apologetic and Diana glaring at everyone.”

“I never glared at anyone.” Diana protested. “And I had to miss my morning classes because of your ridiculous ruse!”

“The gains justify the inconvenience.” Bruce shrugged. Clark mouthed ‘Thank you’ to him, something Diana noticed, causing her to turn her glare onto him.

“Oh come on, I can bear missing a few classes to get you to talk to me again.” Clark said with a grin.

“It was not I who stopped talking in the first place.” Diana reminded him quietly, and the grin slipped from his face.

“You’re right, and once again, I’m sorry.” Clark gave her another quick hug.

“Now that everything is settled, perhaps we should be getting back.” John said as the two broke apart. “Unless Bruce wants to send us on another wild goose chase?”

“One was enough for today.” Bruce said with a smirk as the three turned to head back to his car. “Hopefully, we’ll be back in time to see the look on Jervis’s face when finds out we have the real pen drive…”

Justice University: Ch 22

Back To The Fold

“It’s called Warworld.” Bruce said. “An illegal fight club. People step into the ring. They fight, the spectators bet, and the winner walks away with a certain percent of the spoils.”

“And the rest?” Arthur asked.

“Goes to Mongul.” Bruce said. “He started the club. He is trouble.” He stared at John, Kyle, Wally, Diana and Arthur as they sat around the cafeteria table, and decided not to trouble them with the grisly details that he had found out about the owner of Warworld.

“What does Dak Syde want with Warworld?” Wally asked.

“Think of it as a training camp.” Bruce said. “Virtually every local tough has fought there at some point. The owner gets an excellent idea of how good a fighter a man is, how brutal, and how willing he is to fight dirty to win. Potential candidates are tracked down and offered further training and employment, police protection etc. It’s an efficiently brutal head hunting process.”

Kyle fidgeted in his seat. “What do you want us to do about it?”

“We’re going to shut it down, and find out any connections to Dak Syde in the place.” Bruce said. “I have a plan to get us inside the place and out.”

A silence met the statement. Kyle and Wally glanced at each other. Diana and John were staring fixedly ahead. There was a slight frown on Arthur’s face.

“Or maybe we let the police handle this?” Wally suggested at last. “Warworld sounds like a dangerous place. Dan Turpin and his men should have an easier time there than us.”

“Mongul’s paid off the police.”Bruce said flatly. “No cops will be caught dead near that place.” He found himself missing Clark. Trying to cajole people into working with him was not a comfortable experience, and he was aware his diplomatic skills left much to be desired.

“But you’re comfortable sending all of us to a place like that?” Arthur spoke now, his frown deepening. “A place the police won’t touch?”

“I’ll do the dangerous work.” Bruce said. “But we’ll need decoys and lookouts. And as for the danger, there will be no more of it than there was when we went after Protex’s gang, or Luthor.”

“Look man, we did those things because they were unavoidable.” Wally said. “And you have to admit we had a lot of help from luck to survive them. This mission just doesn’t seem all that necessary.”

Bruce had to literally bite his tongue to keep back a sharp retort. “It is if you want to stop Dak Syde.” He said as evenly as possible. “I thought that was the goal.”

“It is, Bruce.” John spoke up. “But what you are suggesting is far removed from the help we have attempted to provide in times of need in the past, and crosses into vigilantism. It is a dangerous territory to tread, my friend.”

“We can’t expect to solve this matter without getting our hands dirty.” Bruce said through gritted teeth. “You all know why Dak Syde is dangerous, and Mongul is almost as bad. This mission is necessary, and I repeat, I’ll handle any real danger during the mission.”

“We all know that’s bull.” Arthur said flatly. “If the plan gets screwed even slightly, everything falls apart. And once that happens we all have to face the heat.”

“We won’t if everybody follows their orders.” Bruce growled.

“Yeah, because we’re all so great at doing that.” Arthur rose from his seat. “Sorry, Bruce. I think we should sit this one out.” He turned and began to walk away from the table.

“Get back here, Arthur.” Bruce called out sharply. “I didn’t say you could leave yet.”

Arthur turned around slowly. “What was that?” he walked up to Bruce until their faces were inches apart. “You didn’t say I could leave? You’re going to give me permission? Who the hell do you think you are?” John rose and stepped in quickly to hold Arthur back. Bruce was watching him through narrowed eyes.

“We need to work on this as a team. Every team needs a leader. I’m the most qualified.” He said.

“To be a dictator maybe. But I’m not going into a den of thieves because you feel like playing the hero.”

“So you’re scared.” Bruce stated flatly.

John grabbed Arthur’s shoulders to stop him reaching for Bruce. “Because it’s my decision, you jumped up little egomaniac. We’re not your little toy soldiers that you can order around and tell when to charge.”

“Calm down, man.” Kyle said, laying a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “That’s not what Bruce meant. We understand if you don’t want to go, and that’s totally your decision. Right, Bruce?”

Bruce nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Arthur shook off John and Kyle and strode off.

“What about you two?” Bruce asked, looking at Wally and Kyle. They both looked uncomfortable.

“I’m really sorry, man.” Wally said slowly. “But I think Arthur’s right. We’re in over our heads. And I just don’t think getting some more information about Dak Syde is worth all this risk.” Kyle nodded quietly as well. The two stood up slowly, not looking at Bruce, and walked away as well.

Bruce was breathing hard as he looked at Diana. “Diana?”

Diana stared up at him and met his gaze, looking troubled. “Please let the police handle this, Bruce.” She said in a low voice. “We have done enough. We need to let them do their duty, and we need to get on with ours.” She rose and walked away as well.

And then there was only John left. The two stared at each other for a moment, and Bruce did not have to ask anything. John’s expression was clear enough.

“Bruce-” John began in a low voice.

Bruce turned and strode silently out of the hall.

“So there aren’t any other sources?” Bruce asked, a frown on his face.

“None that you’ll be interested in.” Eel O’Brian shrugged, staring around the campus with practiced indifference. He had just finished telling Bruce about the paucity of personal information about Mongul, and where he might keep any important documents.

“So is there anything else you can tell me?”

“Not me.” Eel gestured behind Bruce, and he turned to see Selina Kyle walking towards them.

She strolled over to them, something about her air of indifference similar to Eel’s. “Hey, boys.” She called out. “This is a strange little tea party.”

“You have information about Mongul?” Bruce asked.

Selina shrugged. “I went to warworld once with a friend of mine. Nasty sort of a place, even by my standards.”

“What can you tell me about the location?” Bruce asked.

“It’s a bad place to be in, even by Suicide slum’s standards.” Selina said. “It used to a huge gym that was taken over by the mob and then dumped, on account of it basically being made of cardboard and cello tape. It’s close to collapsing in on itself anyday now, which means Mongul doesn’t have to worry about anyone trying to take it from him. It’s got a bunch of tenements at the back where he lives, along with some of his gang, although he’s pretty protective of his house. Most of the tenement’s deserted.”

Bruce nodded, thinking hard. “The documents?”

“No idea.” Selina shrugged again. “Might be anywhere, might not even exist. Organisational ability isn’t really a valuable job skill in Suicide slum.”

Bruce stood for a moment deep in thought, then came to with an abrupt start. “Tonight would be the best time to get inside. I’ll need to make some arrangements first.” He turned away and began to walk back to his hostel.

“It’s a death trap.” Selina called out suddenly. Bruce stopped. “Look, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but Mongul is not the kind of guy you mess with. Even Gotham mob bosses are scared of him. He’s way too dangerous for you to take on alone.”

“Selina,” Bruce half turned to glance back at her. “I’m dangerous.”

The man sitting at the table looked oddly like an office clerk as he sat bent over the dusty table, a log book in front of him. Until you got close and saw the tattoos and scars covering his body.

“Name?” He said without looking up as Bruce walked up to him.

“Malone.” Bruce said. The man finally looked up and stared at him appraisingly.

“This ain’t a fashion show, kid.” He said, looking down again. “Beat it.”

“I’m here to fight.”

“So are these guys.” The man indicated the line forming behind Bruce. “And they actually know how to put on a show. They were breaking teeth while you were in diapers. So beat it. This isn’t a place for you.”

“Why don’t you let me decide that.” Bruce said, taking out a roll of bills. “I’ll be betting on myself as well.”

The man stared at Bruce, then took the roll of bills and nodded. “Your life, kid.”

“So when does the fight start?” Bruce asked.

The man grinned. “Well, you were kind enough to open the pool. So no time like the present.”

Bruce was grabbed from behind and thrown into a wall away from the man at the table. The milling crowd open a path for him as the spectators fanned out in a circle, shouting and clapping. The others were clamouring to get their money down on the fight.

Bruce’s attacker was on him again, a big heavy set man who stank of beer, raining down blows unceasingly. There was no science or method to the fight.

And then suddenly, the attacker’s neck was caught in a scissor hold. Three punches, quick and hard and aimed for the eyes and nose, sent him staggering back. Bruce got to his feet and faced the man, his eyes sizing up his opponents strength and speed as he moved to shift his weight from one leg to the other.

The man rushed towards Bruce, one heavy arm raised. Bruce ducked, and the next moment his knee had risen to smash the man in his chest. Without a second’s pause, his other leg slammed into his neck, leaving him gasping. Bruce’s elbow shot out, and the man lay panting on the floor.

Bruce surveyed the silent room as he slowly took his jacket off. “Next.”

A slow clap came from the back of the room. The crowd turned to locate the source, and Bruce saw a man standing in front of a throne like chair at the end of the hall. Almost seven feet tall. Built like a linebacker. Heavy brow jutting out over merciless eyes, Bruce knew he was looking at Mongul.

“Impressive.” Mongul’s deep voice rumbled. “A good start for what promises to be a night of high interest. Gentlemen, place your bets. It is time to separate the men from the boys!”

The battles raged on within warworld. Men of varying shapes and sizes hurled themselves at each other to the raucous cheers of the onlookers. Mongul sat impassive on his throne like chair, his eyes intently studying each contender. The aura of violence prevalent was in many ways reminiscent of Bludhaven.

Bruce moved discreetly through the shouting crowd. He had won every match so far, and was due to fight whoever won the present round. In the meantime, he had had ample time to study the surroundings and make his preparations. Now had come the time to make his move. He reached into his jacket pocket, his face impassive as he pressed a button.

A loud shrieking noise filled the room, jerking the shouting men out of their rounds. Once it became clear it was not a police siren, the men stared at each other in confusion. The shouting and yelling increased as the circle around the two contenders began to break up and disperse.

And then an explosion sounded from the back of the room. Everyone turned, and they saw a section of the roof fall in. That was all it took to confirm the suspicion. The badly constructed structure was finally collapsing. That was an uproar as men pushed and pulled their way to the exit, unheeding of those who had fallen and were being trampled. The mob burst out into the open, and turned to stare at the building. It was not collapsing any longer, and no more explosions sounded. The door of the gym swung shut. The men looked at each other in confusion. While nothing further happened, they all stood rooted still, uncertainly waiting for someone other than themselves to be the first one to enter the building. The seconds ticked past and still no one moved.

Inside the gym, Bruce turned away from the door and stared at Mongul, who had not run, but had risen from his chair and stood watching him.

“Hologram and sound effects.” Bruce called out. “That’s the most unfortunate characteristic of these kind of men.” he continued as he neared Mongul. “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot.” He came to stand directly in front of the big man. “The gym seems a lot smaller without your little army around you, doesn’t it?”

“Hardly.” Mongul rumbled, his eyes studying Bruce curiously as he crossed his hands behind his back. “Is there a reason you had to resort to all these theatrics?”

“I want some information about Dak Syde. Evidence against him.”

Mongul put his head to one side, seeming amused. “At least you have taken the trouble to ask nicely.”

“Something told me that wouldn’t work in a place like this.” Bruce glanced around the gym.

“And why should I tell you anything?”

“I have ways of making people talk.” Bruce stated calmly. “But before we have to resort to that, I could tell you I am working to bring him down, and any information you give will help speed up the process.”

Mongul laughed then, a deep, rumbling laugh. “A mutually beneficial arrangement, I see. You invade my domain, and then expect to do business with me.”

“Not business, no.” Bruce said softly. “An interrogation. How smoothly it goes, depends on you.”

Mongul cocked his head to one side again. “I have killed men for lesser insolence than yours.” He murmured. “Something that I intend to do to you, too. But your attitude appeals to me, little man. So much so that I will do you the courtesy of telling you, you are deluded about your grasp on this situation. I am still in charge here. That I have allowed you to live thus far is a demonstration of my interest, not your ability.” Bruce did not challenge the statement. He could feel the shift in the atmosphere of the room. The time for talk would soon be past.

“As for Dak Syde,” Mongul continued. “In all honesty, I do not know anything.”

“I find that hard to believe. You supply thugs to him. You control parts of suicide slum. And you have considerable influence in the underworld.”

“And all of that means nothing to Dak Syde.” Mongul said, a thoughtful frown now appearing on his face. “Dak Syde is far removed from the typical Metropolis mobster, in the sense that he does not consider himself one of us. It is no secret that he wants to control Metropolis, but even aside from the considerable personal gain such an undertaking would involve, deep down, I believe he truly considers it his birthright to rule. In that sense, he sees himself as royalty. Better not just than us criminals, but better than the other citizens as well.”

“And so he will make use of my services, but he will not associate himself with me beyond that. All the communications are through the usual channels, which would hardly be worth looking into for evidence. Even if I wanted to provide you information about him, I simply do not have any to give.”

Bruce stared at him, his mind racing. He realised Mongul was telling the truth. He had miscalculated in believing he would find information here. The mission had been in vain, and it seemed the others had been right not to come.

“Then it seems I will have to be disappointed in my plans.” Bruce said calmly.

“Not a good plan.” Mongul remarked, taking a slow step forward. “Tell me, as a point of idle curiosity, did it ever occur to you to make some plan other than barging into the very epicentre of my kingdom, demanding answers?”

“I prefer the direct approach.” Bruce remarked.

“Even if doing so gets you killed?” Mongul’s voice was very soft.

The two stared at each other for a moment, and Bruce hardly dared to breathe. Any second now…

And then Mongul was bounding towards him with shocking speed. Bruce barely had time to brace himself before the other man was on him. Mongul picked him up and threw him into the wall, Bruce’s punches flying futilely past his head. He was incredibly strong. He grabbed Bruce around his neck and began to squeeze, the small eyes narrowed with malice.

Three elbow jabs to Mongul’s arm, and his grasp released. Bruce pushed hard with both his legs, and sent his opponent lumbering back. Without pausing for a second, he jumped to his feet and ran forward to continue his assault in a flurry of punches.

A part of Bruce was surprised by his own savagery as his leg smashed into Mongul’s kneecap. He had never fought like this before, always preferring to incapacitate his victims instead. But the atmosphere of Warworld had done something to him. The air of mindless violence had had a deeper effect on his mind than he was prepared to admit, and unleashed some primal, instinctual aggression within.

And still it wasn’t enough. Mongul was still on his feet, still sending brutal punches to Bruce’s head that sent him reeling back every time. Not for nothing was he the head of warworld.

The fight was drawing out for too long. Bruce felt himself tiring while Mongul showed no sign of slowing down. But Mongul wasn’t interested in a victory so much as escape.

Bruce was sent crashing violently into the wall, and once again got to his feet, his reflexes a little slower now. Mongul had turned and was making his way to the exit of the gym. Bruce knew he was heading towards the back of suicide slum where he lived within the tenement, possibly to get back up. He followed as quickly as he could.

He came out of the gym exit to find Mongul standing rooted in the middle of the lot in front of the tenement. Bruce followed the direction of his gaze.

Arthur, Diana , John, Wally and Kyle stood at the end of the lot. In Arthur’s hand was a gun that belonged to his father, the same gun they had used to scare away Mongul’s men, the ones they had found in the tenement. Bruce stared at them, and then stared back at Mongul as he walked slowly up to him.

Mongul’s eyes were narrowed as he sized up the situation. Finally, a mean little smile played across his lips as he stared at Bruce.

“Amusing to think you sought to defeat me on your own.” He rumbled. “With the added advantage of your henchmen, you might just be able to give me a proper match.”

“I don’t need any help to beat you.” Bruce replied. He turned to face the others. “Nobody interferes-” He began to say, and just then Mongul’s elbow smashed into his back, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Bruce got to his feet quickly, cursing his competitive nature. Mongul was running at full speed, and by the time Bruce was on his feet, he had disappeared inside the tenement house.

Suddenly the house was full of noise, as the seven ran towards the doorway. From inside came the sound of heavy bodies falling, furniture upturning, and Mongul yelling.

And then suddenly a deeper crash was heard, more absolute than the others. The doors were blasted open, and Mongul’s heavy body was sent staggering out before collapsing onto the ground, where he lay breathing feebly. The dust flying from inside settled, and Clark Kent stepped out of the house and into the open.

“Clark!” Wally and Kyle roared in delight as they ran over to him. Arthur and John were grinning broadly as they walked over to him, and even Bruce could not stop a grin from forming on his face. Clark grinned back just as broadly as they reached him, and he hugged Wally and Kyle and Arthur and John before clapping Bruce on his back. “Looks like I got here right at the end.”

“Close to the end.” John smiled. “I take it my message reached you, then?”

“Just in time for me to head to college and have Eel tell me you’re all here.” Clark said. “I wasn’t sure if you guys had a plan in place for this little excursion, and I didn’t want to do anything to upset it. So I decided to stay hidden until I was needed.” He grinned at Bruce. “Didn’t know you’d send this guy straight into my arms.”

“I could have taken him.” Bruce remarked.

“I know, but I needed some practice too.” Clark grinned again.

And then they all realised Diana was still standing at the back of the lot, watching them. The laughter died away as they all looked at the Clark and Diana uncertainly. Clark was staring at her, who stared back, her eyes very bright. No one else dared make a move.

“Diana…” Clark called out quietly, taking a hesitant step towards her.

Diana turned abruptly and strode away, her back very straight.

Clark watched her leave. He stared down at the prone body of Mongul on the ground, and then turned to stare at the others. “We should call the police.” He muttered, feeling the excitement he had felt at seeing them all fizzle out. The others nodded in silence, as they took another look at the swiftly departing figure.

Justice University: Ch 21


Officer Dan Turpin placed his badge and gun on his desk and let out a small grunt as he took his seat behind it at the Metropolis Police Station. In front of him stood five youths who had been involved in a recent bombing attempt on Oan Towers.

He recognized two of them.

Wally West and Kyle Rayner stood in front of Turpin’s desk without looking at each other. They had exchanged bewildered expressions upon seeing each other at the police station, but personal explanations would have to wait until the police was through with them.

Turpin stared at Wally and Kyle. “Why are you kids always mixed up in this kind of business? If it isn’t murder frame-ups, its terrorists, and if it’s not terrorists it’s bomb threats. Don’t you ever have any studying to do at that college of yours?”

“He was working with me.” The slightly older man with the brown, crew cut hair spoke up, indicating Kyle. “I’m with the guardians.”

Turpin nodded, unimpressed. “They told me about you. That doesn’t explain why you got civilians involved.”

“We didn’t know about them.” Hal indicated Wally and the man next to him.

“I’m with Keystone PD.” The man spoke up. “The pulse was in our custody when it was stolen. They sent me to investigate. Wally was helping me.”

“And you, er… Carl, is it?” Turpin asked Kyle with a frown. “Why were you there? Don’t you know civilians aren’t allowed within international jurisdiction matters?”

“I’m not a civilian.” Kyle said, letting out an inward sigh. He reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a green, curiously shaped ring, and slipped it on his middle finger. “My name is Kyle Rayner, and I am the green lantern of sector 4479.”

Wally’s head whipped towards Kyle and he stared at him in amazement. Kyle continued to look at the officer.

Turpin sighed, leaning back in his chair and massaging his temple. “Suppose you five tell me everything from the beginning, instead of piling on the surprises? Think you lot can manage that for once?”

Outside Oan towers: Two hours earlier

Wally West got out of the cab and paid the driver. He turned to stare at the imposing complex stretching out in front of him beyond the main gates. Somewhere inside the complex, a picture of him had been caught on camera and shown to him by Eobard Thawne. That picture had been dated two days into the future. He was half an hour away from the exact time shown on the picture.

Wally walked slowly towards the gate, but then hesitated. The booth next to the stop outside the main gate was empty. There should have been a guard there. And yet…

Wally could not even believe what he was contemplating doing. But the man had shown him that it was already predetermined that he would be inside the building at the appointed time. And then there was the bomb, which Thawne had said only he could save the city from. He was torn over what he should do. A part of him still thought it was all unbelievable. That was why he was not going to the police just yet. He wanted to make sure…

He hesitated for another moment, but then walked slowly towards the gate.

Wally stood in front of the lab building and stared up at the security camera. He was fairly sure this was the point at which the photo had been taken. He checked his watch. There was still time. Twenty minutes before… something was supposed to happen. It was an unsettling thought that he had no idea what that was supposed to be. Maybe he was really just wasting his time. And he was technically breaking into private grounds. He still had time to get out before-

“Hey!” An angry suddenly voice shouted. Wally turned. A guard was glaring at him from a hundred yards away. “What are you doing here?”

Wally hesitated. “I was told to be here.” He began, then realised how ridiculous the full explanation would sound. He was uncertain as to how to proceed. The guard was talking rapidly into his walkie talkie.

“Wally!” A voice appeared, and Wally whirled to see Eobard Thawne beckoning to him from atop a staircase.

Wally hesitated for one more second, staring at the guard. He was in a dangerously vulnerable position, and Thawne was apparently the only person there at the moment who seemed to know exactly what was going on. He ran up the staircase after Thawne’s diminishing figure, and entered the building.

Thawne had disappeared. Wally stared around the darkened room he was in. The shouting of guards outside came to his ears. He made his way out of the room through the sole doorway, and stepped into fluorescent light.

A scene of destruction greeted him. He was in some sort of a laboratory. Machines lay broken and scattered on the ground. There was smoke rising from a strangely shaped instrument. Two scientists were lying unconscious on the ground. Three guards stood staring at them. Their walkie talkies squawked, and they heard the message. They all turned simultaneously to look up at Wally, and he froze under their gaze.

“Stay where you are.” A guard shouted as the three came towards him up the stairs. “This is a crime scene. You are staying with us until the police arrives.”

Wally’s mind was in a free fall. He could not even begin to understand what was going on. All he knew was that somehow he was being seen as a criminal, and the police was involved. His hands rose slowly in the air as the guards continued to shout, and a prickle of panic appeared in his mind.

That was when he saw Thawne disappearing into the shadows at the opposite end of the walkway.

Wally was suddenly filled with anger, and a sudden fit of desperation. He did not know what was going on, but Thawne did. Whatever kind of trouble he was in, he knew that Thawne behind the whole thing.

It was then that Wally decided on a course of action that, in retrospect, even he could not decide whether was brave or stupid. Perhaps the truth was it was less a decision and more an instinctive response to the situation.

He sprinted up the walkway, past the surprised guards. They shouted and grabbed at him, but he was too fast. He was on the other side of the walkway before they had drawn their guns. The first shot rang out as he exited the hall, burying into the wall inches away from where he had been a second ago.

Wally raced out of the hallway and made his way rapidly down the stairs. He could see Thawne crouching behind a tower, watching the laboratory. Upon seeing Wally he turned and tore off in the opposite direction. Wally jumped down the last few steps, and the chase was on.

Thawne was in excellent shape, but Wally was filled with a steely anger that made him oblivious to any fatigue. He gained steadily on the figure ahead of him as they made their way deeper into the complex, the sound of guards shouting all around them

Finally Thawne slowed down. They were under a bridge connecting two buildings, and were, for the moment, hidden from view. Wally increased his speed, seconds away from Thawne. But then he stopped abruptly. Thawne had reached into his jacket, and the steely glitter of a berretta handgun suddenly shone in his hand.

Thawne was panting, and so was Wally as the two faced each other. The guards were coming closer.

“Walk away, Wallace.” Thawne said coolly. “This will not end well for you if you try to force my hand.”

Wally stared at him, still panting hard. “Why?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Thawne smirked.

Suddenly, the sound of a bike roared behind them. Thawne frowned in puzzlement. He turned to locate the source, and a biker suddenly burst into view.

Thawne’s gun was raised and three shots rang out, but the bike was far too fast. He raised straight towards Thawne, and then at the last second turned, hitting Thawne with his shoulder at full speed. The gun flew from the impact and landed several feet away with a clatter.

Thawne took one look at the biker, and then ran. He was running at top speed now, and going full pelt.

The bike roared again, and suddenly it was right beside him. A sharp, 180 degree turn, and Thawne ran straight into the bike, the impact sending him tumbling hard to the ground. He stayed on the ground staring up at the biker as guards ran towards them, attracted by the noise. Wally jogged up slowly as well.

The biker pointed towards Thawne, and the guards nodded and seized him. One looked questioningly at Wally, but the biker shook his head. Thawne was led away, dealing one last look of hatred at the biker.

Wally stared at Thawne’s retreating back, and then at the biker, a blond haired man with clear blue eyes.

“Tight spot there, Wally.” The man said lightly.

Wally stared at him. “What the hell is going on in this place?”

The biker grinned. “Give me a minute to speak to the guards, and then I’ll be happy to answer all of your questions. And by the way,” He extended his hand. “My name is Barry Allen.”

“He was lying to me the whole time?” Wally said.

“Shocking though it might seem, he’s not actually a time traveller.” Barry said dryly. “He was a supplier to Sinestro, a man who runs a rival company to Oa, and when the hit was decided they needed a patsy to pin it on. The purpose of telling you the story was to get you here, and then frame you.”

“But he told me all these weird things.” Wally rapidly narrated the circumstances of his first meeting with Thawne.

“The mobile he gave you showed information on a glass screen, right?” Barry said. “He was using sixth sense technology. They were developed a few years ago. The screen you saw the information on was a projection he was controlling. You might have seen the new samsung phones that use the technique of touching phones to share files. That’s what he was doing when he pulled out the information from your mobile. And the glasses he showed you? They’re pretty common in certain circles, too. He stole then from my boss, actually. You can almost do all those things through a smartphone nowadays anyway. It was simply a question of adapting the technology to lenses.”

“But he showed me the picture.” Wally persisted. “It had me going towards the building, and it was dated today.”

“Ever heard of photoshop?” Barry asked. “They could have grafted your face onto a giraffe. Melding it to the face of an employee at Oa was nothing. Neither was changing the date on the photo.”

Wally stared at him, his colossal stupidity becoming painfully clear to him at that moment.

“Why did he choose me for all of this?” He asked finally.

“Because your little group has had a remarkably large hand in recent criminal arrests in this city.” Barry said. “It makes your mysterious involvement more credible than any other citizen.”

“But why was I chosen from the group?” Wally asked, a hint of bitterness in his voice. “Because they knew I’d be the one they could fool most easily?”

“I can think of a better reason.” Barry said slowly. “Thawne has a special vendetta against me. He wanted to get me here so his friends could finish me off inside the complex. He knew getting you involved would force me to come here personally.”

“Why?” Wally asked with a frown.

Barry stared into the distance for a moment. “Because,” He said at last in a slightly awkward tone. “I’m dating your sister, and she’d be really mad if I let anything happen to you.”

“You’re dating Iris?” Wally stared at him in surprise. “She never said a word to me!”

“Yeah, we’re being low key about it for now.” Barry said with an apologetic smile. “We both need to concentrate on our jobs for now. But it has been going on for a few months.”

Wally stared at him, his brain finally starting to take it all in. “Well, thanks for saving my life, I guess.”

“Don’t mention it.” Barry smiled. “And it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Wallace. Iris told me a lot about you and your little group, and all the times you’ve helped the police. I used to run in high school too, but from what I’ve heard, you might be faster.”

“Thanks.” Wally grinned. “You seem to know a thing or two about speed. The things you did with that bike were amazing.”

“It took a while to learn.” Barry said with a smile. “There seem to be a few things you and I share. Speed is in our blood. So is justice. So how about we work with the police when it gets here to get Thawne behind bars? They’ll want a word with you as well as me.”

“Who would have thought it would come to this?” Sinestro said softly.

Hal, Kyle and Gardner stared back at him from across the table. They sat in a conference room inside Oa complex. The building in which the meeting was taking place was completely deserted.

“You have a strange way of showing remorse.” Hal said.

“Remorse? My dear boy, why would I show remorse? I warned Ganthet years ago what my dismissal would mean. This situation is several years in the making. I merely regret that the guardians did not heed my warning.”

“I’m glad they didn’t.” Kyle broke in coldly. “If it got you out of the corps instead of weakening it from the inside, I think they made the right call.”

“Careful, child.” Sinestro’s cold green eyes swivelled over to him. “I was wearing the ring while you were still in diapers. I understand the corps and the guardians much better than you ever will.” Hal gave Kyle a warning glance. He was here only to observe, not to interfere with the proceedings.

“Exactly what is this pulse supposed to do?” Hal said in a neutral voice.

Sinestro picked up the silver briefcase sitting on the ground next to him and placed it on the table. Slowly, he opened the briefcase. A detonator with a pulsing red button lay in the centre. To the left lay a gleaming yellow gun, which Sinestro extracted and placed in front of him.

“Just an extra precaution.” He smiled at Hal. “Although we know how foolish a personal attack on me would be inside this complex. Now, the pulse is the result of a brain wave on the part of a silicon valley scientist named Rahul Maurya. He passed away soon after, unfortunately, but by a happy coincidence the pulse fell into my hands.”

“We’d heard about Maurya’s design.” Hal said coolly. “And Oan scientists have already built a shield against it.”

“Yes, I am well aware of Tomar Re’s claims.” Sinestro smiled. “But you and I both know it is impossible to build a shield against my pulse. Once I press the button, the power battery that the guardians have spent all their resources making will be destroyed. I’m sure your scientists have been working round the clock trying to locate the bomb, but I can assure you they won’t find it.”

There was a long pause. “Your demands?” Hal’s voice had changed, and Sinestro’s smile widened.

“A merging between Oa and my company, with myself as majority stakeholder.”

“That’s a pretty big demand.” Hal murmured.

“A logical one.” Sinestro said. “At one press of the button, I can annihilate the power source, and without a central power battery, Oa’s position on the global energy market crashes. It was foolish of the corps to stake all their money on this new energy source. The only way out is to join me.”

“Exactly how did you manage to know where to place the battery?” Hal asked.

For the first time, Guy Gardener stirred in his seat next to Hal. He stood up and went to stand next to Sinestro. “I decided to look for new career opportunities, Jordan.” Kyle was staring at Guy, open mouthed. Sinestro was smirking at Hal.

“Guy Gardener is a revolutionary, just like myself.” He said. “And when I contacted him, he saw at once how much more effective my methods are than the guardians.”

Hal was staring at Guy. “I can’t say I’m surprised. The guardians have made mistakes in the past.” He paused, with a hard look at Gardener. “Making you a lantern was one of the biggest.”

“Guy!” Kyle burst out, unable to contain himself. “What the hell are you doing? You’re a green lantern. How could you do this to the corps?”

“Sorry, kid. But Sinestro’s more my kind of a boss than the guardians.” Gardner said. He turned to look at Hal. “And I was a better lantern than you ever were, army boy.”

“Is that why they kicked you out?”

“What?” Kyle said, turning to stare at Hal.

“I’m sorry you didn’t know, Kyle.” Hal said coldly. “He’s not a lantern anymore. He lost his badge a month ago.”

Gardener’s eyes had narrowed as he stared at Jordan, a muscle working in his jaw. “What happened to qward wasn’t my fault.”

“Tell that to the victims of the controllers.” Hal said evenly.

Gardener took a step forward, his hands curling into fists. Kyle had the sudden urge to shout a warning to Hal.

“You talk as if I’m the only lantern who ever made a mistake.” Gardener hissed.

“You’re the one who makes multiple mistakes.” Jordan said coolly.

Gardener let out a low laugh. “Is that right, parallax?”

The blood drained from Hal’s face, as he rose and took a step in Gardener’s direction as well.

“Yes it is, you psychotic clown. I made a mistake in the past, but I’ve learnt from it-“

“Learnt how to kill people, you mean? Learnt how to screw the guardians out of their own money.”

“I didn’t steal that money.” Hal was shouting now. “Don’t you dare try to make me out to be a thief, Gardener.”

“What else you wanna call it, Mr. Lantern.” Gardener roared as well. “It’s because of you that the battery was broken in the first place, you who tried to break into the guardians accounts, you who made Wog and the others lose their life savings. And then you tell me I’m the one who should be ashamed? At least I never tried to-“

“Enough.” Sinestro’s cold voice broke the argument before it could escalate into a fistfight. “Stubborn, hot headed children. That is what you all are. And you call yourselves lanterns. You can kill each other after this meeting is over. But first, Hal Jordan, I need an answer.”

Hal was breathing heavily as he sat down, and it took several seconds for his blood pressure to return to normal. “I trust Tomar Re.” Hal said quietly at last. “He said he’d fixed the shield, and I have no reason to doubt him. Nor do the guardians.”

“Are you sure, lantern?” Sinestro voice had turned to a whisper. “Would you trust him with the fate of Oa? Perhaps we should put your faith to the test?”

“We should.” Hal spoke quietly, yet something in his voice sent warning bells ringing in Sinestro’s mind. Before he could react, Hal had already reached across the table and pressed the detonation button.

The other three sprang to their feet as well. Sinestro’s eyes bulged in disbelief as he stared at Hal. Kyle was staring at him as well. But Hal’s eyes were locked on the window. He took out his mobile and dialled a number, his gaze dispassionate. Someone at the other end picked up, and a brief message was relayed.

Hal sat back slowly in his chair, motioning to Kyle to sit as well. He was staring back at Sinestro now. “That was the head of security at Oa.” He said quietly. “He just told me that the bomb went off. And it was ineffective on the battery.”

A ringing silence followed the announcement. Sinestro was breathing hard, his nostrils flaring. “You planned this.” He spoke slowly. “You planned all of this.”

“No, we just modified your plan a little.” Hal said. “Your bomb would certainly have been a threat. For the outside world. We had to make sure it went off in controlled surroundings.”

“Controlled surroundings!” Sinestro repeated in disbelief. “It could have ruined the guardians. It could have destroyed all their work.”

“Tomar Re told us his shield would hold.”

“And you gambled everything on his word?” Sinestro still looked disbelieving. “You staked the future of the corps on the word of one green lantern?”

“That is what we do.” Hal’s voice had changed. It was quieter now, and compelling. “We put everything on the line every day, and all we have to depend on is our trust in our brothers. That’s what you never understood about the lanterns. And that’s why you couldn’t stick to our code.”

The look on Sinestro’s face was twisted and ugly. In a second, he had grabbed the gun off the desk and was levelling it at Hal. There was no time to even think about dodging.

And then a fist smashed into his face from the left, and he was sent sprawling to the ground. He looked up to see Gardner picking up the gun from the ground.

What are you doing?” Sinestro bellowed.

“My little bit in this plan.” Gardner remarked, emptying the chambers of the gun. “It’s not the action I’m used to, but what you gonna do.”

“You are with them!”

“Oh, yeah.” Guy nodded matter of factly. The surprise on Sinestro’s face was replaced by anger.

“You fool.” He said through gritted teeth. “I could have made us both rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

“Not if it meant an end to the corps. Sure, we’ve had some bad patches, but that’s another thing you never understood about this job.” Gardner stared down at him, and for once there was no mocking glint in his eyes. “Once a green lantern, always a green lantern.”

Slowly, Sinestro got to his feet. Guy had walked over to Hal and Kyle, and the three stood staring at him in silence, the green rings glinting identically on their fingers.

“You’re free to leave whenever you want to.” Hal said quietly. “No one else need know about this. Only because you were once one of us, and the damage was contained. But if you ever try to threaten us again…” He let the words hang in the air for a moment. “Just remember. You attack one of us, you attack us all.”

Sinestro stood staring at them, breathing heavily. Then he turned and strode out of the room without a word. For several moments no one else in the room moved.

“Come on.” Hal said at last, motioning towards the door. “We’re done here.”

“Sorry about the scare, kid.” Guy said to Kyle. “The guardians sent me to Sinestro to keep an eye on him. When you called me, I saw it as a nice opportunity to be there when things came to a head.”

“A neat end, all things considered.” Hal mused aloud. “I was worried when he took out the gun, but everything else played out fairly to plan.”

“So that argument between you two was part of the plan?” Kyle asked slowly.

Hal and Guy glanced at each other. “Err… no, that was just in the heat of the moment.” Hal admitted.

“And that little talk isn’t over yet, Jordan.” Guy said. “We’ll be picking up where we left off someday soon.”

“Looking forward to it.” Hal said with a grin.

“So that’s it?” Kyle asked as they moved towards the exit of the building. “The big mission is over? We can call up the guardians? I was expecting” But Hal had come to an abrupt stop as he opened the door.

Outside, a police car was parked next to a laboratory building. A handcuffed man that Hal recognised as Eobard Thawne was being forced into the car.

“Looks like it isn’t over yet.” He muttered with a slight frown. Officer Turpin spotted the three and started making his way towards them.