“Frying pan, meet the proverbial fire,” said Scandal Savage.
Mister Miracle and Big Barda stepped out of a Boom Tube moments before and demanded the Mother Box Scandal’s team fought so hard to obtain. It was their ticket to a big payday from Mockingbird.
“How bad is it?” Mockingbird asked in Scandal’s earpiece.
The two former Justice League members were among the most powerful beings in the universe. Scandal knew her team was no match for them. She only hoped Rag Doll and Jeannette were smart enough to realize it too. “Are you familiar with Mister Miracle and Big Barda?”
“Get the hell out of their now!” Mockingbird shouted.
Retreat was wise counsel but Scandal wanted clarification on the details. “So after all that I hand the Mother Box over to them?”
Mockingbird went silent.
“Hello?” Scandal asked. “Mockingbird, do you copy?”
“I’m here,” a dumbfounded Mockingbird replied. “I’m not sure.”
Scandal was annoyed with Mockingbird’s indecision. “Let me simplify matters for you. Do we get paid if I turn the Mother Box over to them?”
Mockingbird sighed. “No.”
“That’s all I needed to know,” Scandal replied.
Barda and Mister Miracle floated forward on their Aero-disks, small, smooth disks composed of some kind of anti-gravity metal known only to Apokolips and New Genesis, or at least that was what Scandal remembered from television and news stories.
“Let’s do this the easy way,” Mister Miracle warned. “My wife isn’t pleasant when she’s angry.”
Jeannette stepped forward to meet the challenge. With a sneer on her face and her right leg jutting from beneath the slit of her bloody courtesan gown, she was ready for battle. Her black bodice was shredded during her transformation and hung in tatters from her ivory shoulders. “Neither am I.”
Barda’s face twisted into Apokoliptian rage. “I hoped someone would say that!”
With the grace of a stampeding buffalo, Barda charged. Her Herculean strength was legendary but her quickness was surprising. With little more than a flick of an index finger she sent Jeannette flying toward the empty Tiraqi transport trailer. Jeannette crashed just above its coupling pin assembly. The trailer’s soft skin crumpled around her body but failed to slow her trajectory. She tore through it and exited the other side before slamming into a section of chain link fence that surrounded the mine site. She dropped in a heap.
“Mama mia! What a gal!” Rag Doll whistled. “I’m in love!”
He leaped toward Barda but Mister Miracle intercepted him in mid-air and threw him to the ground. “Sorry pal, but the little lady’s spoken for! Find your own dancing partner.”
A bloodied Rag Doll leaped up and clamped onto Mister Miracle’s waist. He weaved his sinewy coils around the Master of Escape’s body and climbed onto his back. He flipped upside down and slithered his legs through Miracle’s arms before locking them behind his head in a bizarre hanging full-nelson.
“I don’t know what you hope to accomplish with this circus trick you odd, little … whatever you are but you’ll find it easier to catch me than it is to hold me,” said Mister Miracle.
“Challenge accepted!” Rag Doll crowed and tightened his grip.
Mister Miracle rolled his shoulders forward in a Houdini-like effort to release his arms but Rag Doll negated the maneuver by slinking upward to match him.
“You’re like a living straightjacket,” Mister Miracle complained.
“You insult me!” Rag Doll cried. “A three year-old can escape a straightjacket! Or at least one with his clavicles removed! I mean, who needs them anyway? Am I right?”
Unable to free himself, Mister Miracle reached across his body and grabbed Rag Doll by the left ankle. He clamped down with super-strength. “This should make you agreeable to releasing me!”
Rag Doll howled in pain and released Mister Miracle. “It’s like Fifty Shades of Gray with Superman! Discipline me, Daddy! I’ve been so bad!”
Mister Miracle held Rag Doll away from his body like one would hold a bag of stinky garbage. “You have no bones,” he stuttered as he stared at the pliable limb in his grip.
“Sadly, I do have a few of the pesky nuisances remaining,” Rag Doll admitted as he hung upside down in Mister Miracle’s hand. “Care to help me rectify that little problem?”
“What manner of sick, perverted creature are you?” Mister Miracle asked.
His sinewy leg still in Mister Miracle’s iron grip, Rag Doll swung upward and latched onto Mister Miracle’s outstretched arm like a sloth hanging from a tree limb. He flipped himself over and pinned the New God’s arm to his side. Once more he latched onto Mister Miracle’s waist with two arms and his free leg. He sunk his fingers into the former Justice Leaguer’s eyes. “The worst kind, of course.”
Even a New God’s eyes were susceptible to attack. A blinded Mister Miracle thrashed wildly as he tried to pry Rag Doll loose.
A quarrel from Artemis’s crossbow exploded between Mister Miracle’s feet. The blast sent both Mister Miracle and Rag Doll reeling to the ground.
Icicle turned to Artemis. “Good shot, love!”
“Stop calling me that!” Artemis countered.
“You don’t mean that,” Icicle replied.
“Say it again and the next shot is yours,” said Artemis. “I should shoot you anyway for getting me mixed up in this crazy mess!”
Icicle waved his arms wildly. “It was supposed to be a simple protection job! How was I supposed to know a bunch of toothless hillbillies were in league with Tiraq?”
“Hey lovebirds! Save it for later!” Hush shouted as he took a bead on Mister Miracle with his pistols. He fired but the Mother Box sewn into Mister Miracle’s costume opened a miniature Boom Tube and sent the bullets flying into oblivion.
“What the hell?” Hush asked.
“Right off the bat I’d say you just shot Kalibak,” Barda replied. “My husband’s Mother Box has never been fond of the brute.”
Artemis’s attack extricated Rag Doll from Mister Miracle and because his eyes were closed the explosion didn’t blind him as it did Rag Doll.
Mister Miracle regained his footing and opened his bloodshot eyes. “Thank you, young lady! I was beginning to think I’d finally met my match! That thing is persistent!”
Hush holstered his guns and rushed Mister Miracle. “You left out annoying, profane, unpredictable, deranged, unstable, lewd, and sometimes downright embarrassing.”
“Ah, the camaraderie among teammates,” said Mister Miracle.
Hush attempted a karate chop to Mister Miracle’s throat but the New God was too quick for him. He caught Hush’s arm in midair and flipped him to the ground. “Batman taught me that. It’s called Judo.”
Meanwhile Barda turned her attention to Scandal and the briefcase tucked beneath her arm. She approached slowly with one hand outstretched. “Hand over the Mother Box!”
Scandal cradled the Mother Box tightly. The bloody stump of the Tiraqi commander dangled against her left thigh. “See, I can’t do that. We don’t get paid unless we deliver it to our employer.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Mockingbird whispered in her ear. “I’ll pay you half without the Mother Box. Just don’t get yourselves killed.”
“Sorry,” Scandal replied. “But it’s personal now.”
At last Barda stopped. She stood inches from Scandal and towered over the smaller woman.
Standing nose-to-chest with the Goddess’s ample bosom, Scandal’s only reply in such a dangerous situation was wildly inappropriate. “Wow! Too bad you bat for the other team.”
The innuendo was lost on the Warrior Goddess. “The Mother Box… now!”
It wasn’t often Scandal’s tongue tasted fear but she refused to back down. “No.”
“That’s not a word I like!” said an incensed Barda.
Scandal lifted her eyes to meet Barda’s. “I am so seriously jealous of your husband right about now.”
Just when Scandal thought Barda was about to pound her, Jeannette pounced like a panther and slammed the statuesque warrior to the ground. “Nobody, and I mean bloody nobody, puts Baby in the corner!”
The two women rolled on the ground, grappling for an advantage. Jeannette’s strength wasn’t in the same class as Barda’s but her surprise attack allowed Scandal to put some distance between the Mother Box and the New God.
“How’s it going?” Mockingbird asked.
“I think I just tinkled a little,” Scandal replied.
“No, truthfully,” Mockingbird pressed.
“Seriously,” Scandal added. Did she hear Mockingbird chuckle?
Somehow Jeannette wrestled her way to the top and sat on Barda’s chest, pinning the New God’s arms beneath her knees. She landed blow after crushing blow to the larger woman’s face but they were futile as mosquito bites. “Bloody Apokoliptian tramp!”
Barda finally slipped a hand free and caught Jeannette’s fist in midair and clamped down on it. Jeannette yelped in pain.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Rag Doll regained his senses and tangled once again with Mister Miracle. This time however Mister Miracle held the advantage. He held Rag Doll’s left leg in a scissor lock and pinned the imp’s arms behind his back.
The hold didn’t seem to bother Rag Doll at all. In fact, he was more concerned with the struggle between Barda and Jeannette. “Your wife and our girl seem to be enjoying themselves.”
Despite himself, Mister Miracle chuckled. “My wife always enjoys a good bout with a worthy opponent.”
“So that thing in your chest it’s like a supercomputer, right?” Rag Doll asked as he tried to slink out of Mister Miracle’s hold.
“Something like that,” Mister Miracle nodded.
“And you’re not preserving their battle for posterity?” Rag Doll asked. He wrapped his free leg around Mister Miracle’s outside leg.
Mister Miracle gritted his teeth and struggled to free his legs. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“Can you say www.bigbarda.com?” Rag Doll asked. “Do you have any idea how much people will pay to see such fine specimens of metahuman womanhood fight like that?”
“Hey! That’s my wife you’re talking about!” spat a disgusted Mister Miracle.
But it was too late. Rag Doll used the shock tactic to slip free of Mister Miracle’s hold. He scampered onto the New God’s back and tried to snap his neck with his newfound leverage.
“Sloppy, Scott old boy!” said Mister Miracle, cursing himself for being so easily distracted. Only his super strength saved him from a broken neck. He tried to pry his right arm underneath Rag Doll but the imp matched the maneuver. “It’s like fighting a rubber band.”
“Or spaghetti?” asked an excited Rag Doll. “Minus the meatballs of course! Nasty little buggers got in my way. Snip! Snip!”
“You mean you…” a mortified Mister Miracle asked.
“I found a do-it-yourself castration kit in the back pages of a comic book,” Rag Doll explained. “Or was that an ad for a Swiss army knife? Who cares? Same glorious results!”
Scandal was glad to have Rag Doll on her side. Everything Hush said about him earlier was true of course but few could go toe-to-toe with someone like Mister Miracle and hold their own. Even fewer would find it exhilarating. She turned her attention to Jeannette and Barda. Whatever advantage Jeannette enjoyed earlier was quickly fading. Though she was still on top Barda managed to rise up so it appeared Jeannette straddled her lap. The two super-powered women locked hands and fought for leverage.
“You fight a losing game,” Barda hissed.
Jeannette head-butted Barda’s nose. “Don’t be so certain about that!”
The blow drew blood but it only served to enrage Barda further. The two women jockeyed for position with neither gaining an edge. It wasn’t until Icicle froze Mister Miracle and Rag Doll in a Stonehenge-like slab of ice that Barda found an additional reserve of strength and bent Jeannette’s wrists back until they cracked like a gunshot. She swatted the wounded Jeannette away like an insect. “My husband!”
Jeannette writhed in pain and nursed her broken wrists beneath her armpits. “Curse the saints! I’ve never felt such strength!”
Barda rushed to her husband’s side and punched the massive ice wall. “If you’ve hurt my dear, sweet husband Mahkent, I swear by the Source itself there will be nowhere you can hide to escape my fury! I’ll….”
A second blast of ice shot from Icicle’s hands and latched onto the top of the frozen slab. Icicle gave it a tug and slammed it down on Barda.
It took a moment for Barda to lift the slab off her. She took care to move it aside gently and made a beeline toward Icicle. She was far beyond a woman scorned at that point.
“Let’s be reasonable adults about this love,” Icicle stammered as he backed away holding his hands before him to beg for mercy. “I’ll free your old man. I promise he’s okay.”
Before Barda reached Icicle, Jeannette regained her footing. “Boys and girls, you’d better plug your ears because I feel a song coming on!”
Scandal scrambled to insert the special earplugs into her ears and then severed her connection to Mockingbird. She only wished Icicle and Artemis were prepared for the onslaught to follow.
Jeannette’s eyes sunk deep into their sockets and slipped into blackness. Her ivory skin bleached to the color of leprosy. Her hair and facial features morphed into that of her banshee form. One moment she was a beaten, broken woman. The next, a monster stood in her place. She opened her mouth and unleashed her sonic assault.
The aural offensive knocked Barda to her knees. She crumpled to the ground in the fetal position and covered her ears. Her head slung violently from side to side as she struggled to gain her bearings. She kicked up chunks of coal with her feet. Fists of steel hammered into the ground with such fury the mountain itself trembled.
Jeannette’s mournful dirge also shattered the wall of ice that held Rag Doll and Mister Miracle. Both slumped to the ground and writhed in agony. For once Rag Doll wasn’t awake to relish the torture of Jeannette’s song. His pliable, unconscious form whipped around like licorice in a blender.
Mister Miracle thrashed his head against a large chunk of ice beneath him until his ears bled.
Seeing her husband suffer snapped Barda’s head back into the game. She rose to one knee with blood gushing from her nose. She tried to stand but fell to her knees then tried again. At first she could muster little more than a slow crawl toward Jeannette. Then she rose to a knee and got both feet under her. With shaky knees that wobbled like jelly she slowly stood.
Jeannette looked worried.
Barda put one foot in front of the other and took an agonizing step.
Scandal wanted to do something – anything – to impede her progress but even with her special earplugs in place it was all she could to keep her wits.
Barda lumbered toward the Sonic Songstress. Taking one heavy, steady step at a time she inched toward the source of her agony until she was close enough to make a final lunge. Though she caught Jeannette with only a glancing blow, the punch turned Jeannette’s head all the way around. She fell to the ground with a broken neck and twitched as she morphed back into her human form. The hills fell silent.
“Jeannette!” Scandal cried. Had Barda killed her? She was immortal. Wasn’t she?
Barda dropped to her knees and shivered. Jeannette’s attack obviously drained her. She beheld the broken woman lying on the ground before her. “You call that torture, foul creature? I was raised by Granny Goodness! We’d call your song recess in the Orphanage!”
The former Female Fury stumbled toward her still-convulsing husband and cradled his body to her bosom with one hand. With the other she activated a control on the Mother Box built into his uniform. He stopped thrashing about instantly and relaxed. She laid him on the ground and turned her attention to Scandal.
Scandal reactivated her comm link with Mockingbird. “Sorry about that. Jeannette had a go with her song.”
“And how did that go?” Mockingbird asked.
“I’ve never seen anyone fight through it like that. Barda broke Jeannette’s neck and muttered something about a Granny Goodness, whatever the hell that is.”
“You don’t want to know,” Mockingbird replied.
“Couldn’t be any worse than what’s headed my way,” said Scandal.
“Barda?” Mockingbird asked.
“She has me dead in her sights,” Scandal replied. “Now would be a good time to have Misfit pop over here and take this damned thing from me!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mockingbird answered.
Scandal backed away from Barda. “You’re too intelligent to play dumb with me, Mockingbird.”
“How long have you known?” Mockingbird asked.
“I’ve suspected since Sao Paolo,” Scandal replied. “If you want this damned thing get her over here now or we’ll both be disappointed!”
“Of course I’d still have both my arms,” Mockingbird answered.
“And I’d give both my arms for the kind of money you’re paying,” Scandal replied. “But I’d prefer not to since Misfit can teleport in here and …”
“POP!” The night air filled with the acrid aroma of smoke that accompanied one of Misfit’s jumps. A moment later Scandal’s motley-dressed former teammate appeared. “Oh gross!” she exclaimed as she eyed the briefcase and attached bloody stump. She took the briefcase from Scandal and held it away from her body to avoid contact with the bloody stump of an arm.
“Who are you?” Barda demanded.
“Get out of there now, Charlie!” Mockingbird ordered.
Misfit gave Scandal a quick hug and a peck on the cheek then turned to Barda and blew her a kiss. “I was never here!”
“You heard the lady, Charlie! Get out of here!” Scandal added. “Now!”
An instant later she was gone.
Barda looked a mixture of rage and confusion. “Where did she go? Make her come back!”
Scandal shrugged her shoulders. “Make who come back?”
“The girl who took the Mother Box,” Barda explained. “The teleporter.”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” Scandal replied.
Barda found her scepter lying on the ground. Its bulbous end glowed bright blue. “There’s no sign of the Mother Box anywhere. What have you done with it?”
“That I truly can’t answer,” Scandal replied. She felt the need to emphasize her point lest Barda lose control. “Honestly!”
A bewildered Barda checked her weapon as if it were broken. “You don’t understand! My Mega-Rod can locate any Mother Box if…”
“Let me stop you right there,” Scandal interrupted. “You call your weapon a Mega-Rod? Gender issues much?”
“Don’t goad her,” Mockingbird warned. “Without Mister Miracle’s calming influence she is one of the most dangerous individuals in the universe.”
“Point taken,” Scandal agreed. She focused her attention again to Barda. “You were saying about this Mega-Rod of yours?”
“I can calibrate it to track Mother Boxes that are calling out for help,” Barda answered. “This one cries no more.”
“Meaning what?” Scandal asked.
“It’s either happy or dead,” Barda answered.
“And what about us?” Scandal asked. “Are we finished here?”
Barda took a deep breath and dropped her weapon to her side. “Take your people and go! I don’t ever want to see you again!”
“That makes two of us!” Scandal replied.
The Aerie, Later That Night
Misfit stopped by the Aerie after taking a shower. She was dressed in a white terry cloth robe and matching slippers. Her hair was wrapped in a red towel that made her look like Sargon the Sorcerer. She took the seat across from Oracle’s desk and reached for the Mother Box. “What’s the big deal about this thing anyway?” Her brow wrinkled as she picked it up and studied the device carefully.
“Be careful Charlie!” Oracle snapped. “Don’t do anything to damage it.”
Misfit placed the Mother Box back on Oracle’s desk and slipped off her shoes. She cradled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Her bare feet rested on the edge of the chair. “Lighten up, Babs! It’s not even in my hands anymore.”
“I hope this “thing” as you called it will give me an edge over Calculator,” Oracle explained. “I don’t like being behind especially when there is so much at stake.”
Misfit smiled and placed her feet back on the floor. “You’re behind?”
“That pleases you?” Oracle asked.
Misfit removed the towel from her head and ran her hand through her damp tousle of hair. Her fiery locks fell into place. “Yes and no.”
“What do you mean?” Oracle asked.
Misfit flipped around in her chair and straddled its back. She rested her head on the lumbar support at the top of the S-shaped bracket that held it into place. “Yes in that it’s good to know that you’re human, but no in that I have no love for Calculator after all he’s done to us in the past.”
Oracle nodded. “I forget that you have more dealings with him than I do. I don’t mean to treat you like a kid, Charlie.”
Misfit shrugged. “Don’t feel bad. I am a kid, you know.”
Flamebird entered the office and looked surprised to find Oracle with company. “I thought I heard voices coming from in here. I’m sorry. I can leave you two…”
“Charlie’s a friend who is going to help us some,” Oracle explained. She pointed to Misfit with one hand and Flamebird with the other. “Charlie, Bette. Bette, Charlie.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Misfit.
Flamebird eyed Misfit suspiciously then turned back to Oracle. “Are you sure everything’s okay?
Oracle tried to hide the Mother Box with her computer monitor. “Everything’s fine, Bette. Charlie and I were having a talk.”
“I can leave you alone if you’d like to…” said Flambird.
Misfit pointed to the Mother Box on Oracle’s desk. “We were discussing this…”
Oracle shot Misfit a frustrated glance. Subtlety wasn’t the girl’s super-power.
“… hard drive,” Misfit continued.
Oracle watched as the Mother Box morphed itself into the shape of a computer hard drive. Adaptability appeared to be no problem if she wanted to integrate it into her systems.
Flamebird approached Oracle’s desk and grabbed the Mother Box. She turned it over and inspected it. “That’s odd. I don’t see a brand name on it.”
“It’s… one I designed and manufactured myself,” Oracle lied. She prayed Flamebird wouldn’t drop the device. “One of a kind, that one.”
Flamebird shrugged her shoulders. “In that case let me return it to your desktop. I love a good geek-out as much as the next nerd-girl but I bet it would take several weeks of paychecks to pay for that thing if I dropped it!”
Seeing the Mother Box returned to her desk, Oracle breathed a sigh of relief. “You have no idea!”
“Okay, ‘night then,” said Flamebird.
“Goodnight,” said Oracle.
“Nice to meet you, Bette,” said Misfit.
Flamebird nodded. “You too, kid.”
Flamebird left the room and turned down the hall toward the penthouse.
“You know Bette on your world too?” Oracle asked.
Misfit shook her head. “Not well. We’ve met briefly a couple of times but she isn’t a part of the team.”
“Your old team’s loss,” Oracle replied with a stretch and yawn. “I think I’ll hit the hay.”
“I guess I’ll turn in too,” said Misfit. “I have a long day tomorrow.”
“Dinah going to get you registered for school?” Oracle asked.
Misfit nodded. “I’m looking forward to it for a change.”
“I’m glad,” Oracle replied. “Goodnight.”
“’night,” said Misfit and she made her way out of the room.
“And Charlie,” Oracle called.
Misfit popped her head back into the room. “Yeah?”
“Yes ma’am,” Oracle corrected. “I couldn’t have done this one without you.”
The large goofy grin that spread across Charlie’s lips could only belong to a teenager’s exuberance. She bit her lower lip to contain her excitement. “Thanks!”
Once more Charlie left the room but Oracle heard her let out a small squeak as she neared the far end of the hallway leading to the penthouse. She was a great kid and Oracle looked forward to working with her - if she didn’t kill the young woman first.