“Charlotte? I know you can hear me,” Oracle repeated for the third time. “Your comm unit is tracking.”
The “Charlotte” in question was one Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe, aka Misfit. She was the first “Other Worlder” Oracle encountered during the event the news media dubbed “Dangerous Toys”. It was also Misfit who first put the bug in Oracle’s ear about expanding the team like her counterpart on the alternate Earth. At first Oracle dismissed the idea but then Black Canary was shot by the other Earth’s Calculator and then he burned down the Clock Tower. Whoever said necessity was the mother of invention grossly underestimated desperation.
In the wake of those events Oracle was forced to expand her operation. The first addition was Lady Blackhawk, the lone female member of the famed Blackhawks squadron who was misplaced in time. She was followed by veteran Justice Leaguer Gypsy who was Black Canary’s handpicked replacement. Flamebird was the final member of the newly-revamped “Bird of Prey”. Oracle was opposed when her then-fiancé Nightwing recommended Bette. Not only was she his one-time love interest but she was green and undisciplined. Oracle’s fears were unfounded. Bette not only proved herself an excellent teammate but Oracle and Nightwing had since broken up.
“The truth is Charlotte, I messed up,” Oracle explained. “You scared me.”
The admission was no lie. Oracle liked to pretend she tracked Misfit to assure the girl’s safety but her intentions weren’t entirely noble. Misfit’s intimate knowledge of Oracle’s operation was like having the lid blown off her own personal Batcave.
The bird-shaped earpiece remained quiet. And who could blame Misfit if she didn’t reply? Not only did Oracle deny the girl refuge when she first arrived on a strange new world but she also made the decision to allow the girl to go with Hush, an extremely dangerous Batman villain from the other Earth.
An acrid explosion filled the room with bright, pink smoke. “I scared you?” Misfit bellowed. “Really? That’s all you got? I scared you?”
In light of Calculator’s security breach at the Clock Tower, Misfit’s sudden appearance rattled Oracle. “Hello Charlotte.”
“I know that tone of voice,” Misfit replied. “You use it when you’re on the defensive and looking for an advantage.”
“You have to admit my disadvantage is quite intimidating,” Oracle replied. “It seems you know everything about me and I so little about you.”
Misfit grinned. She seemed to relish the lack of parity in their encounter. “That tone also means you want something.”
Oracle sighed. Batman had nothing on Misfit when it came to turning the microscope on someone! “I need your help.”
Misfit rolled her eyes then crossed her arms defiantly. “Gee, imagine that!”
“I also have an offer,” Oracle added. She was winging it now. She hadn’t considered the need to “sweeten the pot” at all. Oracle assumed the girl would be eager to help.
Misfit unfolded her arms. “I’m listening.”
“It was a mistake to turn you away,” Oracle continued.
“Damned right is was!” Misfit interrupted.
Oracle soldiered on. “I don’t know your Oracle but if she’s anything like me, think how she would react to a stranger breaking in on her private frequency and claiming to have knowledge of everything down to her identity. To put it in your vernacular, I freaked out.”
Misfit crossed her arms again. “Is that an apology?”
“It is,” Oracle replied.
Misfit shook her head. “Sounds more like a justification to me. Apologies usually begin or end with a “sorry”.
Oracle took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
“And you said something about an offer?”
Sharp girl! Oracle hoped the apology would derail talk of her offer.
Pinned down, Oracle opened her mouth and words she thought she’d never hear herself say rolled off her tongue before she could bite it. “Do you want to stay here with me?”
Misfit threw her arms around Oracle’s neck. “Now there’s the Babs I know and love!”
Oracle couldn’t believe she just lost a poker game to a seventeen year-old girl. “But staying here is all! Do you understand?”
Misfit pulled away. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not on the team,” Oracle replied. It was time to shift the power in their encounter.
“The team?” Misfit asked with a wry smile. “Expanded the operation, have we? I wonder who put that little bird in your ear?”
“Black Canary was injured. I had to pick up a few others,” Oracle explained.
Misfit looked excited. “Zinda and Helena?”
“Half-right,” Oracle replied. “Zinda’s on board. Helena’s not a team player.”
“Give her time,” said Misfit. “She’s a big softie at heart. Like some other super chick I know.”
“You really do have me at a disadvantage,” Oracle laughed.
“I’ve been through this with you before,” said Misfit. “Before you know it, you’ll have me going on missions because my power is too useful to let me sit on the sidelines.”
“Speaking of which….” Oracle segued.
Misfit palmed her forehead. “You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me! I thought you’d at least wait a few weeks after the “this does not mean you’re on the team” speech, but this is a new record for hypocrisy - even for you!”
Oracle’s heart sank. She overplayed her hand. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Charlotte. I’m sorry.”
“Offend me? This is…. freakin’ awesome!” Misfit beamed.
Oracle breathed a sigh of relief. Misfit was right. Her teleportation powers were simply too useful to allow her to remain on the sidelines. “It’s not a big assignment.”
“That’s fine,” said an eager Misfit. “No job to big or small for me!”
“I need you to deliver a package,” said Oracle.
The eagerness on Misfit’s face wilted. She crossed her arms once more. “Try FedEx.”
“It’s a very important assignment,” Oracle pleaded. “It’s imperative I make this connection to keep my team out of harm’s way.”
“Our team,” Misfit corrected.
Oracle wondered if she was such a pain in Batman’s butt when she was young and green. “Fine… our team. Only let me break the news to the others first. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough,” Misfit replied. “Just one more thing.”
A future Hall of Fame quarterback recently switched teams in free agency with less demands. “Yes?” Oracle asked.
“My mom was the only one who called me Charlotte and that’s when I was in trouble. Call me Charlie.”
Oracle nodded and extended her hand. “Charlie it is then! Welcome to the team Charlie.”
Misfit shook Oracle’s hand. “Now where’s that package?”
Sao Paulo, Brazil, The Hotel Unique
Scandal Savage stood on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Unique and surveyed the city below. One of the world’s largest cities, Sao Paulo stretched for miles in every direction but the nearby Jardins neighborhood drew her attention. Not only were its famous green areas lit up like desert oases at night, but her team’s contact was down there somewhere.
“Penny for your thoughts,” said Jeannette as she emerged from the famous crimson pool on the hotel’s terrace. She toweled herself dry and joined her teammate.
“A penny may be overvaluing them these days,” Scandal scowled.
Jeannette laid an arm across Scandal’s shoulder and hugged her close. The unexpectedly tender gesture was out of character for the woman possessed by a demonic banshee whose very cry could drive human beings insane or even prove fatal. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’re one of the most capable women I’ve ever known.”
“What the hell are we doing here?” Scandal asked.
Jeannette released her hug. “Trying to make a living, like everyone else on this god- forsaken mudball.”
Scandal turned away from the terrace edge and lounged in an Adirondack chair by the pool. “True, but something doesn’t feel right.”
“Perhaps not being on our own Earth?” Jeannette asked. “I know that’s it for me.”
Scandal nodded. “I’d give anything to go home but my melancholy runs deeper than homesickness. We had a purpose there but here we’re just petty crooks on the run.”
Jeannette laughed and took a seat by Scandal. “Bite your tongue, I’m many things but petty isn’t one of them.”
“You know what I mean,” Scandal explained. “Are we seriously holed up in South America and pulling jobs that would make the Royal Flush Gang blush?”
“Money’s money,” Jeannette answered. “What’s really eating you?”
“I miss Lawton and Blake,” Scandal admitted.
“Bane too?” Jeannette teased.
Scandal sighed. “Yes, even that over-protective oaf.”
Jeannette grabbed Scandal’s hand and stroked it. “You’ve still got me.”
“Don’t do that,” said Scandal, pulling her hand away.
“Do what?” Jeannette asked as she leaned in closer, practically on top of Scandal.
“Jeannette, you’re drunk,” Scandal protested. “You reek of alcohol.”
Jeannette tried to kiss Scandal. “It takes a lot more than I’ve had to get me drunk.”
Scandal backhanded Jeannette across the face, knocking over her chair and sending her bikini-clad, platinum-haired teammate sprawling to the concrete terrace. “You’ll thank me for that tomorrow.”
Jeannette laughed. “Heh, you like it rough, huh?”
Scandal buried her face in her hands. “Can we please not do this? This hotel is much too beautiful for us to tear it all to hell with a metahuman free-for-all.”
“Is that what this is?” Jeannette asked as she stood and rubbed her newly-pink jaw. Scandal’s handprint was visible. “I thought it was foreplay.”
“Jeannette dear, you don’t even bat for my team,” said Scandal, trying to reason with her teammate as she stood for the inevitable fight.
“Maybe I want to try switch hitting again,” Jeannette cooed.
What did Jeannette mean by “again”? There were things about her teammate Scandal obviously didn’t know still but she stood her ground. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Why?” Jeannette shouted. “I’m not your type? Not tall enough or red-headed enough for you?”
And there was the truth, Scandal missed Knockout.
“Leave Kay out of this,” Scandal ordered. She raised her fists.
“Or what?” Jeannette asked. “You’ll hit me again?”
Scandal dropped her fists and melted into her chair once more. “It feels like we’re separated by far more than death now.”
Jeannette sat on her teammate’s chair and hugged her once more. “I know. Forgive me for making you say it?”
Scandal nodded her head and laughed to keep from crying. “Bitch.”
Jeannette smiled. “And don’t you forget it! You going to be okay?”
“I just need some time alone,” Scandal answered.
Jeannette released her teammate and stood. “I was headed to my room anyway. By the way if I ever were to switch teams…”
Scandal placed her foot against Jeannette’s bikini-clad backside and pushed her away playfully. “Not only are you a bitch but you’re a tease as well.”
Jeannette laughed and left Scandal alone with thoughts of Knockout. Why did Kay have to die? It wasn’t fair that Scandal finally found love and the woman of her dreams was taken away so quickly. They talked of a normal life, settling in the suburbs and of white picket fences. They both knew there was no way in hell it would ever happen but it was their dream. And then her lover’s life was stolen away.
An explosion rocked the terrace and jarred Scandal from her thoughts. While hardly earth-shaking it was powerful enough to vein the tinted glass of the mezzanine on the other side of the pool. A silhouette moved within the smoky haze inside. Perhaps her contact was trying to communicate directly, which was a breach of their agreement.
By the time Scandal reached the mezzanine, a second explosion shattered the already spider-webbed glass. The shards fell to the ground. When the smoke cleared, the steel-frame that remained was empty. A couple of wicker chairs were overturned and burning as a result of the explosions. The matching table was charred but intact. An earpiece rested on it. Someone wanted to talk badly. Scandal inserted the earpiece into her ear. “Hello?’
“Scandal Savage?” asked a decidedly computerized voice on the other end.
“This is Scandal. It seems you broke the terms of our arrangement,” Scandal huffed.
“Ah yes,” the voice replied. “Your arrangement.”
The heavily-synthesized voice masked the person’s gender. There was no hint of an accent to account for ethnicity or nationality.
“Who the hell is this?” Scandal demanded.
“Someone who wants to hire you,” the voice replied.
“We already have a job,” Scandal answered.
“I said I wanted to hire you,” the voice emphasized. “And I believe you’ll find my offer much more lucrative than playing hired muscle to a cocaine run, which by the way was just busted up by the Sao Paulo police.”
Was that why Scandal’s contact was late in contacting them? “How dare you interfere with our job!”
“How dare me?” the voice shot back. “I had nothing to do with it. The Brazilian Lords cartel was under investigation for five years and got sloppy. It seems you dodged the proverbial bullet. However, your bank account is a quarter of a million dollars poorer because the money was never deposited. And you’re on the hook for four luxury rooms at one of the most expensive five star hotels in the world. Or you were. I settled the tab for you.”
Scandal said nothing.
“Hello?” asked the voice on the other end.
“I’m here,” Scandal whispered. “Who is this?”
“I told you,” the voice answered. “A potential employer.”
Left with few alternatives, Scandal listened. “Go on.”
“As far as the Sao Palo police are considered you were never involved with the Brazilian Lords. There isn’t as much as a digital footprint left behind.”
“How did you do that?” Scandal asked.
“Would you believe I’m the Great and Powerful Oz?” the voice replied.
“Do not toy with me!” Scandal volleyed. “Speak your mind or this earpiece will be at the bottom of a crimson-colored swimming pool in five seconds!”
“Fair enough,” the voice answered. “There is chatter about a Patriot group here in the United States obtaining a weapon of mass destruction from the rogue nation of Tiraq. I want you to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Scandal had her first clue about the voice. They were American. “You get me, you get my team. I don’t work alone.”
“Suit yourself,” the voice replied. “I’m hiring you and only you. What you do with the money is your business.”
“Speaking of which, how much are we talking about?” Scandal asked.
“A shrewd businesswoman too,” said the voice. “Two-hundred and fifty thousand.”
“No deal,” Scandal scoffed.
“My offer is the same as the one you had on the table with the Brazilian Lords,” the voice replied. “You can’t afford to pass it up.”
Scandal laughed. “You have no idea what I can afford.”
“Don’t I?” the voice countered. “I’m looking at three separate accounts opened in your name since you arrived on our world and another Swiss account that appears to be draining funds from Vandal Savage. My guess is that neither he nor your teammates know about that one. All told you’ve amassed a little over two million dollars since you arrived. Does that about cover it?”
Scandal was stunned. “I…”
“What’s wrong, Scandal Savage? Cat got your tongue?”
“I want a million,” Scandal demanded.
“You’re in no position to negotiate,” said the voice.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Scandal replied. “You obviously need me or you wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble investigating me and setting up this encounter. By your own admission, you erased all records of my team’s connection with the Brazilian Lords cartel and assumed responsibility for our hotel bill so we’d have no ties to them. I would have thought you full of bull until you did your little magic trick and broke into my private financial records, emphasis on private. You want me.”
It was the voice’s turn to go silent.
It felt good to turn the tables on any foe but to do so to a worthy one was exhilarating. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
“Seven hundred and fifty-thousand,” the voice countered.
“My hand is on the earpiece now,” said Scandal. “Enjoy your swim.”
“Okay! Okay!” said the voice. “A million it is.”
Scandal savored the win. “Here’s to a healthy working relationship.”
“This is a one-time job,” the voice shot back.
“Since you know me so well allow me the folly of taking a crack at you,” said Scandal. “You’re obviously wealthy and an elite hacker which puts you in either the Silicon Valley or Gotham City since you used the phrase, “here in the United States” earlier. You operate independently and I’m guessing you’re on the side of the angels given your insistence that our working relationship won’t be an ongoing one. How am I doing?”
Again the earpiece buzzed with silence. Finally the voice replied, “I will contact you with further instructions in the morning. Keep your earpiece on.”
“Will do,” Scandal replied. “But I’m headed downstairs to the salsa club. If I’m lucky I’ll find a lovely lass or two to warm my sheets. I hope you don’t blush easily.”
“We’ll resume communications at 0800 hours,” said the voice.
“One more thing,” said Scandal. “What do I call you?”
“Given that you referred to your group as the Secret Six on your world, you can call me Mockingbird,” said the voice.
“Wealthy, charming, and a wicked sense of humor?” Scandal asked. “I believe we’ll get along just fine.”
,The Aerie, Gotham City
“I wish I could have at least said hello,” said Misfit.
“Now see, talk like that just scares me to death,” said Oracle. “You can’t blow our cover, Charlie, especially to the enemy.”
“You’ve gotten Scandal all wrong, Babs,” Charlie argued. “She’s not my enemy. She took me in when certain other people turned me away.”
There was enough truth in Misfit’s teenage angst to sting. “The three current members of Scandal’s team are extremely dangerous individuals, Charlie. I should have sent someone after you before but we were stretched thin with Calculator shooting Dinah and destroying the Clock Tower.”
“The only one who gave me the creeps was Rag Doll and Hush kept him in his place,” Misfit replied.
“You know them better than I do, Charlie,” said Oracle. “Can I trust Scandal?”
Misfit shrugged her shoulders. “My time with them was short before that jerk Hush sent me packing.”
“Did he hurt you?” Oracle asked.
Misfit looked away.
Righteous indignation boiled Oracle’s blood. “What did he do to you, Charlie?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Misfit answered. Oracle had seen that defeated look in a woman’s eyes before. “How dare he touch you!” Misfit looked up. “No! You have it all wrong! You thought he…” Tears filled her eyes as she shook her head. “He broke my heart okay? I should have known an older man wouldn’t see me that way.”
Oracle felt foolish. How could she not consider a school-girl crush? Was it possible Hush recognized the danger Charlie was in and rather than take advantage of a naïve young girl with amazing powers, he chose to remove her from the danger even if it meant breaking her heart? Or was that giving him too much credit?
Oracle lifted Misfit’s fallen chin and wiped away a tear. “If you need to talk, I’m here. You did great work today, Charlie.”
Misfit composed herself but was obviously still upset by some very troubling memories. “Anything for the team, Babs. Anything for the team.”
A Mountain Top Removal Mining Site in West Virginia, 11:00 pm E.S.T
“I don’t like this one bit,” said Hush.
“What’s not to like?” Jeannette asked. “The four of us split half a million and keep some local rednecks from getting their inbred hands on a bomb. Simple math to me.”
Scandal’s group was entrenched in the woods near a mining operation in the Appalachian Mountains. According to Mockingbird’s intelligence, the owner was a wealthy financier of Patriot militias around the country. The heavy equipment dotting the scarred landscape was silent for the night. Armed Patriots in camouflage waited at attention with their mismatched guns resting on their shoulders.
“Look at all the big toys!” Rag Doll drooled while pointing to the construction equipment. “My share of the loot to anyone who will crush me beneath a bulldozer!”
“Get paid to kill you?” Hush grunted. “Where do I sign up?”
Rag Doll savored the thought by enveloping himself with a hug. “What a glorious ending it would be! The crunching of bones! The flattening of sinew and muscle! The twitching of fiery nerves. The …”
“Yeah! Yeah!” said Jeannette. “Keep your jollies in your pocket, dough boy. We’ve work to do.”
“Do they always bicker so much?” Mockingbird asked in Scandal’s earpiece.
Scandal was used to her team’s perpetual arguing. In fact she’d worry if it ever stopped. “Only on the good days. Other times they forgo the pleasantries and skip straight to trying to kill one another.”
A clap of thunder in the distance startled everyone.
“Oh joy!” Scandal huffed. “Storm’s moving in.”
“Nothing on radar but I heard the thunder on my end too,” Mockingbird replied.
“Would it improve my chances of being struck by lightning if I wet myself?” Rag Doll asked. “A pity they did away with the electric chair!”
Scandal ignored her teammate’s death wish babble and studied the landscape carefully. A single dirt access road provided the lone entrance and exit to the site. That made the surrounding woods a more attractive option if her team were forced to retreat.
“Perhaps you should be more cautious in accepting employment in the future,” Hush advised. “How do we know we can trust this Mockingbird character?”
“We don’t,” Scandal replied. “But with our Sao Paulo gig falling through I’ll take a chance on a half a million rebound.”
“We agreed to a million,” Mockingbird whispered in Scandal’s ear. “Holding a few points for a rainy day?”
“Something like that,” Scandal replied.
“Why can’t we talk to this mysterious Mockingbird ourselves?” Jeannette asked.
The last thing Scandal needed before going into battle was a mutiny. “When you foot the bill, you can make the rules.”
“I give you an A in deflection,” said Mockingbird.
“Your approval is not required,” Scandal replied.
“Look!” Rag Doll cried as he pointed to the access road. “The fun has arrived!”
Scandal raised her binoculars to her eyes. A procession of four Escalades and a tractor trailer approached the mine. Once the vehicles were parked, doors opened quickly. The middle-eastern men who stepped out of the vehicles were dressed in expensive tailored suits, Italian if Scandal wasn’t mistaken. They were armed with automatic weapons but heavily out-numbered.
“Not exactly flying under the radar,” said Hush.
Jeannette shrugged her ivory shoulders. “So they like to show out a little? What’s the harm?”
“A convoy like that attracts attention,” Hush explained. “How could they sneak under the noses of Homeland Security? Or even gain entrance into the country? Something’s fishy about this setup.”
“Forget Homeland Security. They’re our problem now,” said Scandal.
“What do you see?” Mockingbird asked.
“About forty camouflaged Patriots with shotguns and rifles,” Scandal replied, relaying the scene. “About a dozen Tiraqi, most appear to be muscle but armed to the teeth as well. It could get ugly.”
“It probably will,” Mockingbird replied.
Three Tiraqi broke ranks. One carried a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. The other two walked in front of him as they closed the distance between them and the Patriots. Halfway to the Patriots, the leader ordered the others to halt. They complied.
The Patriots mirrored the Tiraqis’ actions but looked uncomfortable – the difference between amateurs and professionals. Once both groups were satisfied the situation was secured the men in the front parted, allowing their leaders to conduct business.
“I’m telling you something’s wrong with this picture,” said Hush.
“What does he see?” Mockingbird asked Scandal.
“I’m not sure,” Scandal replied. “What is it Hush?”
Hush lowered his binoculars. “If the Americans are buying the weapon from Tiraq why is the Tiraqi carrying the money?”
“Do you have a visual on the WMD?” Mockingbird asked.
“Negative,” Scandal replied. “I’m guessing it is in the tractor trailer.”
“Any idea what’s in the briefcase?” Mockingbird was growing nervous.
“Clueless,” Scandal answered.
Hush opened a small supply crate the team brought with them and retrieved a parabolic listening dish from within. “As long as our mysterious benefactor was kind enough to supply us with this tech, I say we put it to good use.”
Soft, white noise emanated from the device as Hush manipulated the controls. “….bring the device?” asked the Patriot commander.
“Affirmative,” the Tiraqi replied as he held up the briefcase.
Scandal was stumped. The unexpected information didn’t match up with Mockingbird’s intel. “What kind of WMD fits into a briefcase?”
“I’m searching already,” Mockingbird answered. “I’m as bewildered as you but play it cool. Don’t show your hand to your team.”
“I can lead my people,” Scandal whispered. “I’m not the one who failed to do my job.”
The Tiraqi negotiator held up his briefcase. “And the payment?”
The Patriot leader nodded. “We have them in custody.”
“Dead or alive?” asked the Tiraqi.
The Patriot leader pointed over his shoulder. “Does it matter?”
The Tiraqi shook his head. “We prefer to take them alive, but dead will suffice.”
Scandal recognized a business opportunity. “You didn’t say there would be hostages.”
“I didn’t know,” Mockingbird replied.
Scandal recognized an opportunity. “Says the Great and Powerful Oz! Our price just doubled.”
“I love a good negotiation!” Rag Doll rubbed his hands together and squealed. He turned to Jeannette. “Did I ever tell you about the time I ripped out a prostitute’s tongue for...”
Hush lowered the parabolic dish. “Is it possible to keep that idiot quiet for one minute?”
Jeannette covered Rag Doll’s mouth. “Shush, you prattling fool! Scandal’s talking money!”
“I have no interest in the hostages,” Mockingbird replied.
“We both know you’re lying,” Scandal shot back.
“Try me,” Mockingbird replied smugly.
Scandal had one more play. “Fine. When we go in, Hush, Jeannette, and I will secure the weapon.”
Rag Doll removed Jeannette’s hand from his mouth. “What about me?”
Scandal smiled. “The hostages are yours.”
“You wouldn’t!” Mockingbird snapped.
“Try me,” Scandal shot back.
Mockingbird sighed. “Two million it is but only if you secure the hostages and keep that psycho away from them!”
“Good doing business with you,” said Scandal. “Check that. Doll, you’re with Jeannette and me. Hush, secure the hostages if possible.”
Rag Doll looked perplexed. “Did I just get screwed? Speaking of that, did I tell you about the time my father put my head in a vice until my eyes popped out of their sockets?”
Hush raised the parabolic dish once more and pointed a thumb in Rag Doll’s direction with his free hand. “He’s still yapping!”
“The prisoners please,” the Tiraqi leader demanded.
“Not so fast,” said the Patriot commander. “Show me the device.”
The Tiraqi leader laid his briefcase on the ground and opened it. Scandal gasped when he held the weapon aloft for the Americans to see.
“Sweet mother of God!” Jeannette exclaimed.
Hush lowered the dish. “That’s a game changer.”
“What is it?” Mockingbird asked. “What do you see? Scandal, are you there?”
Scandal composed herself. “The Tiraqis have a Mother Box!”