All's Fair, part 3

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Superman looked around the table, his eyes carefully sliding past Aquaman's empty seat. The conference room door slid open to admit Batman. "J'onn is still investigating in South America. He may be delayed."

Superman nodded. "Well, maybe we should get started. This phenomenon has now affected 18 bodies of fresh water and Wonder Woman reports that STAR Labs is tracking fluctuation in the salt levels in the ocean."

"Up or down?" Batman asked.

"Down," Diana answered. "The level has just begun dropping enough to be appreciable, but they haven't been able to isolate the source of the desalination."

Plasticman flopped fishily in his chair. "Can't be good for the wildlife," he gurgled.

"Some of the more sensitive eco niches are beginning to show signs of damage," Wonder Woman acknowledged, ignoring her teammate's shift to an octopus choking itself.

"This is just weird. An attack on the ecosystem? You think the events are related?" Green Lantern asked.

Plasticman snorted. "Do Bats fly at night?" The octopus's head morphed into a perfect pink and red replica of Batman's cowled face.

"Don't push me, O'Brian," Kyle warned, his eyes narrowing.

"Green Lantern, Plasticman - enough!" Superman ordered. He'd have to rethink his duty roster, he realized, if these two were already on each other's nerves. "I think it is a fair bet the events are related and are motivated by someone or something, but I can't for the life of me -"

"Superman!" the Flash's face suddenly flashed onto the conference view screen.

"Go ahead, Flash." All the heads at the conference table turned to the image of Flash in the monitor womb.

"The Atlantic Corridor - it's closing!"

Absolute silence met this announcement for a moment, then Batman spoke. "Rate?"

The Flash shook his head. "Not quickly, maybe an inch or so an hour. The walls are holding - just moving toward one another.

Batman hit a console on the table, splitting the screen to show the rotating Oracle mask beside Wally's worried face. "Oracle, did you get that?"

"Atlantic Corridor closing - plugged in. We've also got three more lakes affected and the Slab is reporting strange ice floes in their vicinity."

"Danger of breach?"

"No, the Slab is holding. So far no sign that whatever this is is directly affecting any human structures or activity."

"Check that." The heads at the table swiveled to J'onn, striding purposefully to the table. "Oracle, correlate missing persons reports for the last week to the affected lake zones."

"Running the pattern."

"Missing persons?" Wonder Woman asked.

J'onn's face wore a grim expression. "Three children went missing around Lake Titicaca sometime in the 12 hours before we noted the rise in the lake level. Local superstition holds they were swallowed by the lake."

"This is not good," Superman worried. "Oracle?"

"Still checking. I think J'onn's onto something, though. Some of these places wouldn't have missing persons report and some people might not be gone long enough to be missed, but we've got hits for 12 of the 21 lakes."

"Any pattern?" Batman asked.

"Checking - thus far - J'onn, you said three children?"

"Little girls, yes."

"Okay, there's one note: the missing are all female. Otherwise no obvious pattern. Aside from vicinity to a lake."

"Missing persons, ecological disaster - anyone else smellingmagic?" Green Lantern puzzled.

"Anyone else smelling fish?" Plasticman added, resuming a piscean aspect.

"Plasticman!" Superman snapped. "Enough."

"No," Plasticman pushed. "Not enough. Hello, people. Atlantic Corridor closing? Weird water stuff?" The fish shape suddenly gave way to a more forbidding aspect as Plastic Man assumed the dimensions of Aquaman. "Our expert on this one is MIA and we are -"

"Plasticman, ENOUGH!" Superman barked, prompting his teammate to throw himself against the back of his chair and let his limbs elongate as if blown back by a gale. Superman clenched his fists and stalked to one of the viewing windows, trying to regain his temper. He was not prepared to tolerate this - mockery - of his missing friend. It took him a moment to realize that the room had fallen still in the echo of his outburst, but he couldn't make himself turn back to them.

"Plasticman is right," a soft voice commented.

Superman whirled, glaring daggers around the table until his mind processed who had spoken and he found himself looking into J'onn's eyes.

"Whatever is going on," the Martian continued, "it is something for which we are missing our most qualified expert.. And Kal, as much as I am loath to suggest - we need that kind of expertise."

"We've got two more missing persons reports in," Oracle's synthesized voice reported. "And I agree with Green Lantern that this has the taste of magic. It's too early to say for certain, but I have no more than three missing person reports by any given lake."

Flash's expression suddenly grew thoughtful. "You said three? And 21 lakes affected? Hold on. You know how I said the Corridor walls were moving about an inch or so an hour? Try metric - 3 centimeters per hour."

"Great, now we've got a villain on the metric system," Kyle groaned.

"Which does suggest an earthly rather than alien foe," Batman observed.

"Or alien around long enough to assimilate certain things," Wonder Woman added with an apologetic look toward J'onn.

"J'onn, did you have more data from Lake Titicaca?" Superman interrupted.

J'onn nodded. "Oracle has most of my data. The water level rose due to a bulge on the lake floor, a symmetrical dome. I phased through it-"

"J'onn, was that -"

"It needed doing, Diana. And it told me nothing except that this is not natural. The dome is solid, composed of layers - a crust of rock, then a layer of ice, and at it's core is salt."

"Sea salt?" Green Lantern asked.

"I am not certain. It is difficult to collect a sample when I am intangible."

"So it could be sea salt," Superman said thoughtfully. "Which would explain the desalination."

"Desalination?"

"Sorry, J'onn, you weren't here for that. STAR Labs is showing gradual desalination of the ocean."

"Before we get any further," Flash began, "have we got all the related events? Missing persons, possibly in groups of three. 21 lakes, presumably each with one of these domes at the bottom -"

"We should investigate that," Batman interrupted.

"Agreed," Superman put in. "Go ahead, Flash."

"If the domes are consistent, they have three layers - rock, ice and salt. The salt may or may not be related to the desalination of the oceans. Oracle, any more detailed information on the Antarctic situation?"

"Just that. Shilo's got his tech team monitoring the situation, but I doubt they're looking beyond the motion of the ice."

"Okay. So the ice pockets in the lakes may or may not be related to that."

"Or there's a frozen lake on Antarctica," Green Lantern added.

"Right. Another thing to look into. But we're still on the checklist. So we've got the lake domes and ocean desalination and the collapsing of the Atlantic Corridor."

"Oracle, call Tempest," Batman ordered.

"Batman?" Superman gave the Dark Knight a puzzled look and didn't quite expect the frosty reply he received.

"Forgive me, Mr. Chairman. It strikes me that we are dealing with some confluence of magical events and an attack on or at least modifications of the Earth's water systems. We could call Zantana from reserve, but we are still short our water expert. We could do worse than his heir, even if he is not JLA."

Superman locked gazes with Batman, maintaining eye contact as he spoke. "You are our tactician, Batman. I concur. Oracle, if you would apprise Tempest of the situation. Meanwhile, it seems we have our own investigative work to do. Plasticman, I'd like you and Flash to investigate the Atlantic Corridor and then report to STAR Labs for whatever additional information they can provide. We should get Atom on board to confirm J'onn's initial analysis of the domes. I'll team with him to hit as many of the sites as we can. I'd like Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter to check in at the Slab and see if you can get more information on what's going on with the ice and see if there are any related phenomena anywhere on the planet. Wonder Woman, if you can do some leg work on the missing persons cases. Batman, you've got monitor and if you'll brief Tempest when he arrives -"

Batman nodded curtly. "Very good," he said, rising to his feet.

"Rendezvous back here in an hour unless something big hits before then. J'onn, are you up to setting the telepathic link?"

Strangely, the Martian's tone seemed almost chilly. "I am fine, Kal," he reported, following with a mental, Link established.

"Good. Everyone keep alert. I don't want to get any more blindsided by this. Meeting adjourned."

Superman watched the team disperse with a sigh. Short one man. Anew dynamic between two of his team members, one of whom was only just recovered from serious injury. A need to bring in a person - a very competent hero, but still - a person without longstanding JLA ties. A completely baffling attack - if attack it was. He wanted to save the world, but right now? He'd settle for knowing that he wouldn't lose any more friends on his watch.

With a final glance to the planet rotating below, he followed his team to the teleporters.



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