"In Brightest Day..."
Archive: Ask first, please.
Fandom: DC, modern comicverse. A month or two after the "Mageddon" storyline, preceding "Tower of Babel." Act XII mirrors JLA 42. Also takes place after the JSA "Darkness Falls" storyline. Immediately follows Part 2 (story and picture here:
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics, no infringement intended or money made by use. Thanks much to Smitty for contributions to Alan's segment!
Act XI. Legacy
She'd meant to go looking for him, but without warning a green glow appeared in her apartment late in the afternoon the day after she'd spoken to Dinah, and there he was. Unexpected? Definitely. Rude? Well...maybe a little. But he'd pulled the same stunt with Kyle, she'd heard; and besides, seniority entitled him to a certain deference.
He waited patiently while she shut off the shrieking proximity alarms, as if the technological bells and whistles were beneath his notice.
"I'd heard there was a new Lantern. Nice to meet you. I'm called Sentinel."
He cut a hell of a figure. He'd been mystically de-aged, she knew, and in reality he was closer to Jim Gordon's generation than hers, but he was still really...blond.
Down, girl, she thought to herself, and tried not to giggle in his face. "I'm Barbara Gordon." Then, though she hadn't meant to, "We've spoken before, Mr. Scott."
He raised an eyebrow at her use of his name. "Oh? I'm sure I'd recall that."
Telling was almost as much fun as the sly satisfaction she'd gotten out of the secret in the first place. "You wouldn't. It was very convenient to have people assume I was a computer program."
He stared at her for a moment. "Oracle? You're Oracle."
Sentinel looked thoughtful, then nodded. "That makes it easier. You're already familiar with the superhuman community, which will considerably lessen the handholding stage. In that case, I'll spare you the speech I gave Kyle. Does this mean we're to lose the Oracle's considerable assistance?"
She grinned. "Flattery, I love it. And I'm arranging for Oracle to remain online. With luck, the transition period should be minimal and you all won't even notice the switch."
"In other words," he said, eyes glinting through his mask, "I'm not to share your identity nor the fact that our trusted associate will soon have a different face under the electronic façade."
"...well. Yes. But I'm curious-- what *did* you say to Kyle?"
He shrugged eloquently. "The usual. The history of the Green Lantern Corps. Coast City. Power and responsibility. I'm assuming you know these things already."
It struck her that he hadn't commented on the wheelchair, had barely seemed to acknowledge it. And he'd taken the idea that she was Oracle in stride. "I do. Thank you for the vote of confidence."
He went on, tone remaining neutral. Reserving judgment. "Of course, knowing all our secrets is hardly the same thing as fighting super-villains face-to-face. Are you prepared for that?"
The fact that she had been Batgirl was, frankly, none of his business. "Is anyone ever?"
He smiled humorlessly. "Touché. Nevertheless, it remains an inevitability of this profession."
"I understand that. I'll be working with the JLA to get battle-ready."
Sentinel nodded. "That's a good start. We all face our own trials under fire. As Green Lantern, I'm sure you'll find there to be...unique challenges."
Barbara smiled at the understatement. "I'm not entirely thrilled with all the space travel Lanterns seem to do...but I'll deal with that if it's necessary."
"I'm sure you will. Each wearer of that ring--or any other, for that matter, has found his or her own methods. I'll be very interested in seeing yours. In fact..." he regarded her thoughtfully. "I'm curious as to your perspective, especially considering your familiarity with your predecessors."
Gee, professor, she thought wryly, I didn't study for the pop quiz. But she'd already given that a lot of thought. "Each of the previous Lanterns--Earth's Green Lanterns, at any rate, I haven't met the others--seem to exemplify one quality or another. Hal... Hal was known for being fearless. Because of who he was and what he accomplished, everyone assumed *that* was the quality the Guardians were looking for. But that's not quite it. It's more to do with strength of will, and the willingness to use the power without being overwhelmed by it." She paused for a moment, thinking about how to phrase it. "Hal wasn't afraid of the ring's power, and that fearlessness defined him. You...seem to run off of pure self-confidence."
Alan smiled faintly. "That's a kinder word than 'arrogance,' which I've often been accused of."
Barbara shrugged. "It's not arrogant to know your capabilities, as long as you know your limitations as well. It sometimes seemed..." she hesitated. "Your vulnerability to wood, Hal's to yellow-- those 'controls' always seemed so convenient. More like a *reminder* of weakness than an actual constraint."
"Hm. Go on." His tone gave away nothing.
"I'm not familiar enough with John's tenure to comment. Guy..." She snorted. "Guy isn't the introspective kind. I think it was just another kind of power to him. But Kyle...Kyle was different. He embodied *imagination.* He was aware of the ring's full potential but chose to channel it differently than either of you did. A self-imposed control, rather than one from outside. If you look at it another way, Kyle's strength of will was in *not* using all of that power--until he had to." She looked down at her hand and the emerald ring resting there, quiescent energy waiting to be shaped. "He was so brave, Sentinel. Kyle wasn't like you or Hal. Neither of you had any hesitation with the idea of being super-heroes, it came so naturally to you. He had to work at it, every moment."
Alan's voice was very quiet. "And what about you?"
"Me." She looked up again, feeling a wry smile cross her lips. "It depends on which 'me' you're talking about. But my whole history isn't important-- what matters is, after I was hurt I chose to remake myself. I've been accused of arrogance too, but my abilities, my skills kept me going. I can do this, and it's not based on imagination or...confidence, or fearlessness. More like sheer bull-headed stubbornness."
"So with all this 'stubborn' willingness to use the power and your theory about control--where is yours?"
"You mean, aside from the collective suspicious eye of the heroic community?" It came out a lot more flip than she'd intended.
His tone remained serious. "Yes. Aside from that."
The answer came slowly. "The fact that Hal wasn't afraid of this power...might have been his biggest weakness. For all your confidence, even you gave up being Green Lantern after the war, because with the world changing so fast it would have been too great a temptation to give it a *push* here and there." Alan merely nodded and she went on. "Kyle's own artistic focus was his limitation, in doing what was necessary and no more. I have your examples as guides and warnings and--to be frank--a considerably more constant reminder of my own limitations than any of you had to deal with." She waved at her useless legs.
Sentinel considered her silently for a moment. "Is that enough?"
She started. "Huh?"
"You said yourself, you haven't the outwardly imposed limitations Hal and I did. Let's dispense with false modesty and agree that your mode is closer to ours than to Kyle's and his self-imposed limits. I don't have access to that level of power any longer, since my abilities are now internal and limited rather than ring-based. You're aware of what happened with Hal. And you'll forgive me for being blunt, but with the transportation capabilities of the ring, never mind its powers of matter-creation, not being able to walk isn't much of a constraint. As intelligent as you obviously are, there isn't much that can stop you. If you put your will to it."
Barbara met his eyes steadily, refusing to be intimidated. "It's up to me to stop myself. Like you did."
"Yes," he said without dissembling, "it is."
They were both quiet for a moment after that. Bruce and Dinah had made the same point in different ways, but only Alan had been direct enough to say it outright. Dinah trusted her implicitly and Bruce was blinded by guilt; Sentinel saw the power he once held, and the potential she had. It was, she thought, a hell of an implied compliment. And an implied warning, too, that he'd be watching. Which was fine with her. She knew all about watching.
"One more thing." He was smiling, a real smile this time. "Don't forget to have fun. And don't be afraid of it. I think we all know that a little bit of healthy caution is warranted. Ultimately, it's not whether you fear--" he cast an keen glance at the computer equipment filling every part of the room, "it's whether you persevere."
Barbara nodded slowly, thinking of the times when she *hadn't* persevered. How she'd found ways to avoid dealing with the subjects she found uncomfortable. Her relationship with Dick, she thought guiltily. She firmly resolved to eliminate any opportunities for Alan to question her perseverance. No, she corrected herself, opportunities for *her* to question her perseverance.
"I need to get going," Alan was saying. "Molly is holding dinner for me." He paused and gave her a last appraising look. "I'm glad to have met you, Barbara. Don't hesitate to call if you want to talk further. You have my number."
"Thank you, Sentinel." She watched the green fire surround him, noticing how much less structured it appeared than her own aura, a similar power from different sources. The precision of the Lantern's ring was a direct result of the Guardians' own ordered natures. Alan's power, as she understood it, was closer to magic than science. But he would still be a valuable resource for training and guidance.
The energy shrunk down to a point and vanished, taking Alan with it. Showy, and no doubt done for effect, but it made the desired impression. And since she couldn't do the same thing with *her* ring, perhaps it was meant as a subtle lesson as well. Limitations and potential...and she couldn't explore either of them here in her tower.
"To the moon, Barbara," she grinned to herself, and let the green energy take her out and upward.
Then she had to make the call, the one she'd been putting off, because in some ways it was even more significant than putting on the ring in the first place. She'd *made* Oracle. She *was* Oracle. But there was no way she could be Green Lantern and Oracle both, which meant someone else needed to take on the mantle. Even as she called up the number she had to smile about that, because it was true: Oracle had become essential to half the world's superheroes solely through her diligence. They'd come to depend on her--on it, rather, because Oracle wasn't supposed to be anyone at all.
But no computer system could replace the value of a human mind when it came to the inevitable split-second decisions, and she was hoping the man she'd tagged for the job would agree.
Barbara placed the call directly to his work computer, making sure the security protocols were in place. On his screen, the tiny Oracle icon would have begun flashing.
It took a few minutes before the camera on his end clicked on and Ted Kord's face came into focus. He kept his voice low. "Sorry, I was finishing up with a client. What's up, Oracle?"
She opened the video link so that her face-rather than Oracle's mask-- showed on his end. "No emergency, Ted, but I have a question for you."
He blinked at her image. "Okay, shoot."
"I was wondering what you were planning, career wise, for the near future."
Ted looked puzzled but played along. "Not to put on the old blue spandex, that's for sure. Blue Beetle was fun, but...I'm no Batman. I'm not saying I didn't make a difference, but I can do *more* with Kord Industries. We're doing some new research, the stuff we were talking about before, nonlethal restraints for law enforcement and--"
"I've got another suggestion."
Ted paused. "I'm listening."
He listened. When she was done, he whistled thoughtfully. "Hm. Not much of a job offer. Ungodly hours, erratic pay, few benefits...."
"But you get to save the world on a regular basis."
"There's that." He grinned. "Let me think about it."
Her monitor beeped again two minutes later. "...Okay, I'm in."
She laughed. "That was quick!"
Ted shrugged. "Saving the world sounds more useful than dreaming up security systems and what-all." He paused, looking amused. "So do I get to learn Batman's secret identity, do I, huh?!"
"I'll leave that to him to tell you. Don't hold your breath." She thought for a moment. "No reason you'd can't do the job from Detroit."
"Good thing. Gotham's a nice place to visit--" he grimaced. "No, it's not that either. Sorry, Barbara."
"No offense taken. We'll just have to work out a way to coordinate you with the Bats. The JLA's easy to link to from anywhere, but I don't want to leave the guys hanging. And Canary, too."
"...right." Ted looked like he was starting to have second thoughts. "You know, I haven't got your memory, and you've been, well, crucial to all of those people. Are they going to trust *me* to do this job?"
"You already know Dinah, you've worked with Batman before--"
"He thinks I'm a clown." Ted sighed. "Not without reason. Booster and I did get a little out of hand during our League days."
Barbara looked him in the eye. "I don't. I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't think you could handle it."
"That's very kind, but--"
"Kind, my ass." Ted looked shocked; she smirked. "It's an unforgiving job, Ted. It's days without sleep and hours without so much as a bathroom break and long minutes wondering if the information you've just dug up has saved someone's life, or if you weren't fast enough, or it wasn't the *right* information. But you also get to be at the front lines in all but the physical sense, and I *know* that Oracle has made a difference."
"You make it sound so appealing," he said dryly, but he'd started to smile again. "All right."
She smiled back, at least half in relief. "I'm glad. And there are definite compensations. I've got some amazing new VR equipment I haven't had the chance to install yet, it's yours if you want it."
Ted snickered. "Ah, yes, the way to a man's heart: new technology." He glanced off to the side. "Listen, Barbara, we'll have to talk more later. I have another meeting."
"Okay. Let me know when you're ready to set up. Thanks, Ted." She signed off, feeling strangely reassured. If Ted was nervous about the job, it only meant he'd concentrate harder on doing it right. He really had been her first candidate for Oracle. If he'd said no...well, the list of possibilities was a short one. Jean-Paul Valley had the technical expertise, but suffered far too much emotional instability for the stress involved. Any accomplished hacker might handle the pressures, but couldn't be trusted with the secrets. And the one person she thought was *absolutely* perfect for the job already had more on his plate than he could handle. One day, maybe, once he was done playing Robin--because she didn't believe for a second that he meant to be a costumed hero forever--Tim Drake might be gently persuaded to take on the Oracle's role. Ted would do a fine job, she was sure of it, but Tim's natural instincts made him even better suited for the post she'd created.
At some point in the future she'd have to convince him of that. In the meantime she still had work to do, like the backlog of noncritical Oracle's tasks she'd allowed to build up while she'd been 'playing' with her new powers, and preparing lists of files and protocols for Ted. Oracle had been her whole life for the past five years...but now she had other priorities.
Oracle had been a safe place to hide from the world, too. Green Lantern didn't have the same luxury. In accepting the ring she'd agreed to more than simply wielding a new kind of power; she'd agreed to a new kind of *life.*
But she'd made that kind of adjustment before. At least this time, it was of her own choosing.
The JLA signal beeped, summoning her to her first mission. And go figure, it wasn't a super-villain or another invasion from space. This...
This one was *weird.*
The Atom had been called in to assist surgeons in removing a cancerous tumor from a young boy's brain. It was supposed to be a standard procedure, at least until Ray Palmer investigated the "cancer" and discovered a thriving, microscopic race of intelligent bacteria. The bacteria had developed a flourishing civilization whose heavy industry was actually poisoning the "world" around them. The larger lesson wasn't lost on the JLA. But they could neither stand by and let the boy die nor allow the doctors to obliterate the bacteria without exploring other options.
As Oracle, Barbara would have heard about this, shaken her head unbelievingly, and filed it under "bizarre cases." As Green Lantern, she was part of the team that entered the boy's brain to negotiate with the bacteria, having been miniaturized via the Atom's technology.
She would have been more taken aback by the surreality of the situation, except that immediately on touching down she had nearly fallen. Her legs, supported by the now-ever-present invisible aura, buckled under her as if the ring had decided to stop working. She focused desperately and caught herself before she fell. Wally glanced over at her questioningly, and she shrugged to distract him. "You realize we're stepping on this kid's *brain*...."
He made a face. "Thanks for reminding me. Ugh."
Shortly thereafter they were taken before the creatures' council. Barbara listened, impressed as always by Superman's force of presence, while he explained the situation and asked them to cease their destructive industry. Predictably, most of them didn't take the suggestion well. The guards surged forward to attack.
She tried to form a shield and collapsed to the ground like a puppet who'd had her strings cut.
Stunned, she glanced up to see Superman being tossed aside with ridiculous ease. Wonder Woman was slammed against a wall by an energy beam. Flash was moving at barely more than human speed. Atom couldn't risk increasing his size and was quickly being overwhelmed by his attackers. Barbara summoned her own willpower, concentrating fiercely, and the ring sputtered in response, forming nothing but green quasi-physical slime. In short order they were captured, and the bacteria-people dragged them all to a bare prison cell.
She'd *known* this would happen. Helpless. On her first mission!
The creatures took Superman away to be questioned further. Barbara and the others spent the next couple of hours learning the limitations of their reduced powers. She found that if she concentrated on nothing else, she could keep herself mobile. Otherwise, the ring produced quantities of formless matter and little else.
The others, equally frustrated by the diminishment of their abilities, didn't seem to consider her situation any more acute than theirs. But it *was* different, and there was no denying it.
She was beginning to reassess her potential value to the JLA when Superman escaped interrogation with that aid of an ally and returned to the cell help them escape. By that time their powers had begun to return, their bodies adjusting to the time and size differentials, and she was able to both ward off the oncoming guards with a wave of unstructured green energy *and* keep herself from falling. By that time civil war had broken out within the city, damaging the boy's brain further and thereby triggering the automated surgical laser to destroy the tumor-city. With the rest of the JLA, Barbara helped to evacuate the city of its inhabitants before the laser flashed down, obliterating it completely.
Mission accomplished. Sort of. A boy lived, a civilization died, and the only ones who knew about it were the JLA, the kid, and a couple of surgeons. It made for a depressing note on which to begin her new career.
But most of all she was angry with herself, for being caught so off-guard. As Oracle she'd become accustomed to having multiple back-ups, redundant systems in case one of the computers crashed or caught a virus. The same principle should apply.
Fortunately, she knew precisely how to amend that. She accessed her database and placed the call.
"Hello, Scott Free? This is Green Lantern. --yes, the new one. I'd like to ask a favor...."