Waking, part 4

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



"Hold on a sec, Doc. Next shift is arriving so you might as well talk to us both," Plasticman directed, noting the soft signal from the activated teleporter.

"Wise idea," Doctor Mid-nite agreed, settling patiently into the chair at the STAR Labs communications array.

"Made even better by cutting the middle man," Plasticman pointed out, stretching an arm to open the monitor womb door and admit Batman. "I present the man with the plan!" he announced with a flourish.

"Not yet," Batman contradicted grimly, taking the lift up to the level where Plasticman sat. "Hello, Doctor."

"Batman," the other man acknowledged. "More bad news I'm afraid."

"Ray."

The Doctor nodded. "He confirmed your suspicions - all the speedsters have physical symptoms of overexertion. Frayed tendons, build up of lactic acid in muscle tissue, stress fractures. Plus they're showing early signs of various ailments associated with vitamin deficiencies and varying degrees of dehydration. Their bodies were shutting down in self-defense. Which is exactly what has happened with the Atom."

"Because in his miniaturized state, his body is relatively accelerated."

"That's my hypothesis."

Plasticman let out a low whistle, contorting into a passable imitation of J'onn in the pose of the Thinker. "So J'onn was right?"

"So it appears," Batman remarked harshly, causing Plasticman to hold up a warning hand and stretch his head and body far from his teammate.

"Ease up, Bat Guy. I never doubted Mr. Green and WAAAY Smarter than Me."

"What is the status of your team?" Batman asked Mid-Nite, ignoring the man pretzeling beside him.

"Resentful, since they all claim to feel great. All minus Dr. Fate, who seems to feel no differently, and our youngest members, who are hinting at irritability beyond what can be attributed to normal adolescence. But they all seem to be going along with a toned down schedule."

"Good," Batman approved. "What is the prognosis for your patients?"

"I'll worry more if they don't start regaining consciousness in about 24 hours, but at the moment, I'd say they're getting much needed rest. We've brought their families in, and we'll probably send them home as they wake up."

"And you?"

"Going off shift now," Mid-nite reported dutifully. "As I suspect you will order our stretchy friend to do?"

"Hey, I'm no workaholic. Send me home, Bats!" Plasticman formed a set of wings and aimed himself toward the door.

"A moment, Plasticman. Good night, Doctor."

"Good night." The monitor winked out, and Plasticman immediately stopped posturing.

"This is serious, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes."

Plasticman frowned. "But it doesn't feel serious. I don't feel tired - I feel like I could take on the world."

"Which is why it's serious. You will have a good meal and get some sleep."

Plasticman pushed back his omnipresent sunglasses and made his eyes cartoonishly doe like, fluttering exaggerated eyelashes. "Whah Batman, Ah didn't know you cayred," he drawled.

"Go," Batman growled.

"Going, going. Sheesh." Plasticman slapped a hand down on the security panel. "It's all yours."

Batman didn't respond, and Plasticman departed for the teleporter.

A moment later, a new signal pinged in the monitor womb.

"Go ahead, Oracle."

"Hey, boss. Nightwing just signed off for the night. That's the last of our crew."

"Good. He gave you his report on the Titans?"

"It's lining up with the rest of the teams. Troia unaffected. Tempest and Dolphin showing the same irritability as Aquaman, albeit less extreme. And here's a twist. Neither Lian nor Cerdian seems particularly off-schedule."

"Hm. And Argent?"

"A bit edgier than usual, but still feeling pretty on top of things."

"Like Robin."

"And the rest of Young Justice," Oracle agreed, "except Superboy and Wondergirl, of course."

"Of course. I'll take over now."

"You sure?"

"We need you at peak - not just feeling that way."

"I could say the same about you."

"I got 6 and a half hours of sleep last night, plus a four hour nap this afternoon. You?"

The Oracle mask winked out, replaced by Barbara Gordon's face. She stared intently at him through the monitor for a long moment, then sighed. "I can't argue with that. And I know why you're worried. But - I'm not really tired."

"Sleep anyway. Batman out."

He closed his end of the comlink, but he watched the display board narrowly until Oracle's signal went off-line. Only then did he turn his attention to the latest information he'd received.

Irritated Atlanteans. Disabled speedsters. Utterly unaffected aliens and Amazons. And everyone else over the age of puberty feeling more energetic than they had in years. The pattern was there, but he couldn't see the answer. Something was working on the earth's population - something that struck him as misguided rather than malicious. But what accounted for the exceptions? And the variations? It wasn't avoiding meta-genes per se. Perhaps there was something in human body chemistry - particular hormones, perhaps? That would explain the lack of effect on young children, and might account for differing reactions to whatever it was. But that suggested a chemical agent, and analyses of air, soil, and water samples showed no appreciable difference from similar samples over the long duree.

He began manipulating spreadsheets, shifting variables and adding notes to the work J'onn had begun. It still wouldn't come clear.

He leaned back for a moment where he perched, considering. It wasn't as if people were ignoring their bodies. He could gauge from his own experience - he literally wasn't feeling any muscle aches or sense of fatigue. It wasn't until J'onn's insistence that he get sleep that he'd even noticed that, given his schedule, he should be exhausted. And even then, it wasn't until he'd taken the time to engage a meditation technique designed to increase mind-body awareness that he'd discovered that his body was wearing down, and that something was preventing even as simple a feeling as hunger from registering in his brain. Only his sense of obligation to Alfred had kept his diet balanced.

Some electronic broadcast, he mused, like Ra's' Babel effect? He ran an analysis of both sound and light waves blanketing the earth. Nothing.

A dream broadcast then, or telepathy...

That was J'onn's territory, and the Martian had already warned him before he had gone silent that it might take him some time to isolate such forces.

Batman's thoughts went back to the morning's meeting. The League had been uncharacteristically dismissive of J'onn's concerns, almost cruel in their rejection of his insight. J'onn had been philosophical about it, reading it as evidence that whatever was affecting the planet did not want to be discovered - or at least, not challenged. Still Batman had felt J'onn's emotional response, had been hard pressed not to chastise his teammates. It was one thing when the League occasionally dismissed Batman - he frequently preferred to work beneath their radar anyway. But to ignore J'onn -

Batman stilled his renewed outrage. J'onn had been fighting his own battles for longer than any of them; Bruce's sense of indignation on J'onn's behalf might be a welcome note of sympathy for the Martian, but J'onn did not require defending.

J'onn did have a point, though. The reactions of Superman and Wonder Woman suggested that they were not necessarily immune to the manipulations which were affecting their more mortal compatriots. It seemed rather that they-

Abruptly, a mental scream echoed through Bruce's mind, forcing him to grab a balancing handhold as the monitor womb turned topsy-turvy to his senses. Batman gasped, blinking at white hot figures swarming his vision, reaching out with flaming intent. Another writhing cry twisted through his mind, and he felt his heart in his throat as he recognized the telepathic voice.

J'ONN!



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