Waking, part 12

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



The grim expressions around the table mirrored his own, Superman knew, as they listened to the end of Oracle's report. There was a heavy silence in the air for a long moment.

"So," Nightwing finally spoke, leaning forward in Batman's chair, "we have a pretty good idea that whatever is causing the mind-body disconnect is telepathic in origin, and reason to suspect it might not be malicious."

"How can it not be malicious?" Kyle demanded. "It's like we're being worked to death and made to feel happy about it."

Nightwing held up a hand. "I didn't say it wasn't malicious, just that we should leave open the option that it's not."

"I say it is," Aquaman snarled, setting his hooked hand on the table and glaring around the table. "Maybe you surface dwellers are lost in euphoria, but things aren't so rosy in Atlantis."

"Aquaman?" Superman probed.

"Political factions have risen in the provinces, pseudo-leaders who held things together in my absence and developed a taste for power." Aquaman's face distorted in a distasteful expression. "Civil unrest has been intensifying in the last couple of months. And when that sound cut out? We had our first hour's peace in several days."

"Sound?" Nightwing asked sharply.

Aquaman gestured emptily in the air near his head. "Telepathic chaff. I didn't even notice it until it stopped for a while tonight, but now it's back."

"Arthur," Superman began slowly. "Why didn't you mention this when J'onn called his meeting?"

"What's the point!" the monarch exploded. "The League has made it clear time and again that our concerns are secondary to those of your surface dwellers."

"Arthur!" Wonder Woman sounded genuinely affronted. "I don't see how you can believe that after -"

"Enough," Superman interceded. "Sniping at one another won't get us closer to any answers."

"No," Nightwing agreed slowly, "but I think - Oracle, you were working with Batman before he went down. What was he pursuing?"

"A moment, Nightwing. You know he asked for reports on all the teams, and the spreadsheet he left on the Watchtower computer shows him working variables for the different effects."

"Different effects?" Superman asked.

"Yes. He'd identified four discrete reactions to whatever is happening, and he was trying to figure out the pattern."

"Oracle, can you lay those out for us?" Nightwing requested.

The conference room monitor flared to life, the Oracle mask floating in one corner. A summary of categories lined up on the screen, ranging from no effects to increased aggression. In between sat bodily unawareness and complete collapse. "He seems to have decided that the middle two terms were variations of the same reaction," Oracle interpreted, "that collapse was just an advanced state of bodily unawareness. He was trying to make sense of the other two alternatives."

"Children, Kryptonians and Amazons," Plasticman noted. "One of these things is not like the others," he sang, adopting the logo of educational television.

Nightwing frowned. "Superman, Wonder Woman - you've noticed nothing different over the past few weeks?"

Both heroes shook their heads.

"So either you are somehow immune to this whatever it is or-"

"-or whatever it is is ignoring them," Oracle put in.

"Does it matter?" Aquaman grumbled.

"It might," Nightwing said thoughtfully. "If there's some trait these three groups share that distinguishes them from adult humans."

"Hey," Plasticman interrupted, twisting his torso into a big number 7. "Isn't 7 regarded as the age of reason? Maybe a telepathic assault requires certain abstract thinking skills."

"Which would mean that the lack of effects might be coincidental rather than sharing a common explanation. Good thinking, Plasticman," Nightwing acknowledged.

"And teenagers are affected by becoming more aggressive because they lack emotional control?" Green Lantern volunteered, half-joking.

"Watch what you're implying, Green Lantern," Aquaman growled.

"It could be a hormone thing," Oracle speculated.

Aquaman slammed his hook down on the table. "This is getting us nowhere! I have a kingdom on the brink of civil war, and we sit here and talk. If we're not going to get to the bottom of this, I've got better uses for my time!"

"Arthur!" Superman barked, rapidly losing patience with his teammate despite his sympathy for the Atlantean.

"He has a point," Lantern put in. "This is a question for better minds than mine. I need to know what I can do right now to help."

"Is there some way we could block a telepathic signal?" Wonder Woman asked. "We've lost J'onn's link before. Maybe..." She trailed off, and an increasingly uncomfortable silence descended on the team. Superman shifted in his seat, glancing uncertainly at the others' faces.

"Okay, is anyone else feeling really bothered by the fact that they can't even remember what J'onn sounded like right about now?" Plasticman asked.

A set of relieved murmurs answered him.

"That's gotta mean something," Kyle commented.

"I've run the computer through all occasions when we've lost J'onn's link," Oracle's voice announced, quieting the group. "In each case, it's either been because something has happened to J'onn or because there was something disrupting his focus - usually some mental noise louder than he could penetrate."

"Is that the principle of the telepathic dampeners on his quarters?" Nightwing asked.

Superman shot a glance in Nightwing's direction, temporarily dismayed that a non team member knew that detail of the Watchtower's construction.

"No," Oracle reported without hesitation. "That's a bit of Martian technology. There's some STAR Labs devices that work on a white noise principle, though."

"So we could put something in orbit to shield the planet?" Superman suggested.

"It would take a while to put together something of that scale," Oracle said. "It's not the kind of technology that's been developed for much use outside the Slab and STAR Labs."

"But it wouldn't be impossible," Nightwing put in. "Although - GL, you think you could head down to J'onn's quarters and see what effect it has on you?"

"Um," Kyle shifted uncomfortably. "It's kinda his private space, y'know?"

Wonder Woman gave him a comforting smile from across the table. "I doubt he'd mind, and I think I see what Nightwing's getting at. If those dampeners are enough to cut off the telepathic signal then we've got something we can work on replicating -"

"And maybe I can figure it out enough to temporarily jury-rig something through the ring," Kyle finished, rising from his chair. "Okay, I'll call from down there."

"Although," Superman began as the door slid shut behind Kyle, "if we shut off the signal, are we going to see more of what we saw earlier tonight?"

"Be fine by me," Aquaman muttered. "Might actually get some sleep."

"But not so fine if surface chaos spills into your oceans, Arthur," Superman pointed out.

"That is another question, though," Nightwing noted. "What we saw earlier was more than just people suddenly aware of how tired they were. That was true for people working in areas of the world where it was night time, but in the daylight zones?"

"Like crazed junkies," Plasticman murmured, morphing into the shape of a syringe.

"Plasticman, how-?"

"I had monitor, Wonder Woman." He smiled sulkily. "And not all of grew up on the right side of the tracks."

"Wait - does this mean that we're dealing with an addictive telepathic presence?" Superman asked, the notion alarming him.

A com signal beeped.

"Go ahead, GL," Nightwing answered.

The monitor shifted to show Kyle standing amidst a pile of books, his face twisted into an odd expression. "I'm here," he reported. "And I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"You look it, too," Superman observed. "Thanks, Kyle."

"Wait," Nightwing ordered. Kyle hesitated, his hand paused mid-motion over the comlink as he looked questioningly at Nightwing through the monitor. "What else?"

The odd expression began to resolve itself, settling into lines of misery. "I'm really lonely," Kyle said, a faint whimper in his tone.

"Get out of there, GL," Nightwing ordered. "Report straight here."

The monitor winked out and Superman blinked. "That answers that, I guess."

"I wonder-" Nightwing mused, then shook himself. "Right. So cold turkey isn't going to be the answer, or the world is going to be in serious trouble. But telepathic dampening isn't a bad idea."

"They tuned in gradually," Aquaman suddenly spoke up. "I didn't hear them start up - just noticed them when they went silent and came back."

"So maybe we can tune them out gradually," Wonder Woman added speculatively.

"Oracle, we should explore getting some production lines set up to build orbital dampeners."

"Investigating possibilities now, Nightwing."

"Good. Superman?"

"Thanks, Nightwing. I don't think we should quit looking for the source of this, but this at least gives us some action. We work on creating dampeners and stay prepared to deal with any fall out should whatever's doing this decide to go on its way. Which means keeping the superhero community on alert and rested-"

Plasticman stretched out two heads - one wide eyed and the other snoring. "They'll like that order," he remarked.

"They don't have a choice," Superman pointed out. "Nor do we. Which means I think we should adjourn this meeting, rest and see where we are in about six hours."

"About time," Aquaman groused, brushing past Green Lantern as the younger man entered the room.

"I miss something?" Kyle asked.

"Not at all," Superman said wearily. "Everyone, get some rest. Oracle, as soon as you can leave your work to the computer, do so. We're back here at 10 am Eastern."

The meeting disbanded, but Superman did not wait to watch them all leave. Instead he eschewed the teleport tubes and flew toward the comfort of Lois.



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