Waking, part 2

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Kyle Rayner was in a good mood that even a JLA summons couldn't quite erase. For once, he was over a month ahead of deadline, and he had caught a wave of mysterious sympatico with the writers he worked with. Everything he drew seemed to be golden - right the first time and accepted with delight by his editors.

He wondered if that explained why his head had seemed so much clearer as Green Lantern. Without the nagging worry of impending deadlines and juggled bills, he found his focus in costume had improved dramatically. He felt as a consequence he was developing more finesse with the ring, anticipating "right" responses to various criminal threats and natural disasters with an efficiency that made him feel a little more worthy of the Green Lantern legend. For the first time, he hit the teleporter without that nagging dread that he would make a rookie mistake or otherwise disgrace himself among people who were as much his heroes as his friends and allies.

The teleporter area was quiet, and he wasted no time there, striding instead toward the conference room. "Hey, everybody," he greeted. "What's the situation?"

Superman looked toward J'onn.

"I'd rather wait until we're all here," J'onn demurred. "Hello, Kyle. How are you?"

There was something in J'onn's tone that suggested the question was not merely a polite inquiry, and Kyle gave the Martian a hard look. "I'm fine. Never been better. And you?"

"Worried. Have any of you-?"

"Hey, J'onn, everyone-" Plasticman's voice broke in through the conference room comlink- "I just got a call from the Flash. They're taking Max Mercury to STAR Labs - something weird with the Speed Force. Wally thinks he should stay there and look into it."

"That's-"

"Weird how?" J'onn overrode Superman, earning a surprised look from his teammate.

"I don't have the specifics, although Wally did say they found Max unconscious."

Wonder Woman frowned. "Unconscious? And no sense of why?"

"That's why they're going to STAR Labs."

"Ask Wally to keep us posted," Superman requested, his eyes resting on J'onn's face.

"Roger-wilco," Plasticman replied.

"And re-signal Bat-"

"I'm here, J'onn," Batman's voice interrupted, drawing the others' attention as he walked through the door.

"Then if Wally's not coming we can get started," Aquaman stated with a hint of impatience.

"Plasticman, are you with us?"

"One ear tuned, Green Guy."

Kyle smirked slightly at the visual. As much as Plasticman's contortions could be annoying, there was something right with the world as long as their elastic teammate continued to clown.

"Fine. I'd rather the Flash were here, but I presume you've all noticed that he's been losing weight?"

"You summoned us here to talk about the Flash's weight!" Aquaman exploded, startling Kyle. The Atlantean could be very short tempered at times, but it wasn't entirely in character for him to snap at J'onn with so little provocation.

"Arthur," Superman warned. "J'onn, what is this about?"

"Just that. I suspect that Wally's weight loss and Max Mercury's collapse are related - and are in fact part of a larger trend toward over-extension that seems to be affecting the whole planet."

The conference room monitor flashed on, and Plasticman's distorted torso crossed the screen. "Like this?"

If J'onn were annoyed by the interruption, he gave no sign. In fact, he seemed strangely tentative to Kyle.

"More like the fact that in the last month we have seen more technological innovations, more improvements in national GDPs, and less violence than in any similar span in recorded history."

Kyle blinked. "And that's a bad thing?"

"It is if all that efficiency and productivity are coming at a human cost - which I suspect is what Wally's weight loss and Max's collapse are hinting at."

Diana stopped just short of a scoff. "Come on, J'onn. Wally's already suggested there's some problem with the Speed Force. And while I agree that that might be something we need to be addressing, to stretch that -"

"Diana, how are you?"

Wonder Woman blinked. "I'm fine, J'onn. Really. Actually enjoying the recent lull in criminal activity, since it gives me more time with my sisters. But I'm a little worried about you. This kind of paranoia..."

Too much time with Batman, Kyle thought, finishing her sentence, knowing the others were undoubtedly thinking the same. He felt a hint of guilt when he saw a faint frown crease J'onn's features.

"And you, Kal?"

"Same as always, my friend." There was a hint of sympathetic humoring in Superman's voice.

"Plasticman?"

"Heck, couldn't be better! Practically bouncing."

"So I see," J'onn remarked dryly. "And you all have noticed nothing peculiar about your sleep or eating patterns in the last few weeks?"

"J'onn," Aquaman stood up, "I'm sorry, but I've got better things to do than worry about what's right with the world. I can't run up here for every surface dweller hang nail that develops." He began walking toward the door.

"Hold on, Arthur," Batman ordered, turning from the table and putting a hand to his cowl. "Go ahead, Nightwing."

There was silence for a moment as Batman listened, and Kyle thought the grim set to Batman's face grew a shade grimmer.

"Understood. Batman out."

Batman turned his attention back to the others. "Nightwing reports that Jesse Quick passed out during a meeting this morning. She came to disoriented and has been in and out of consciousness several times since then."

Superman glanced around the table. "Plas, get Wally."

"Already done," Plas reported, and Wally's visage replaced his on the monitor.

"Plas I told you -"

"Wally," J'onn broke in.

"J'onn, didn't Plasticman explain-"

"We know, Wally. Something similar seems to have affected Jesse Quick."

"Damn. I'll go look-"

"Wally," Superman interrupted, "I think given that whatever is going on is affecting speedsters, I think it might be best if you took it eas-"

"What, because you guys are so equipped to deal with the Speed Force? Sorry. I'll let you know when I've got this wrapped up." The screen went blank, leaving the room silent for a moment.

"I'll go talk to him," Superman decided. "Wonder Woman, you should go to STAR Labs and see what they've found out, if anything. Batman, is Jesse Quick-"

"The Titans are taking her there now."

"Good. Lantern, if you could go by JSA headquarters and let Jay Garrick know what's going on and warn him. Plasticman, you've got monitor. Find out if Impulse is at STAR Labs with Max. If not, let Kyle know so he can go round him up. Batman, be prepared to interface with STAR Labs. Arthur, we'll call you if we need you. And J'onn -" Superman gave the Martian a concerned look - "maybe you should catch some sleep yourself, get away from the monitors awhile."

Without further comment, Superman followed Aquaman from the room with Wonder Woman not far behind. Kyle hung back, approaching J'onn where he still sat at the table with Batman. J'onn's expression was difficult to read, but somehow Kyle couldn't help feeling that there had been something ignoble about the way his concerns had been dismissed by the team. He set his hand on the Martian's shoulder. "I'm glad you called this meeting," he said quietly.

J'onn mustered a faint smile. "Thanks, Kyle. You should go see to the JSA."

Kyle nodded and left the room.



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