by 'rith

Archive: Ask first, please.
Canon: SPOILERS for Flash #197-200.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.
Grateful thanks to Carmen for the back up, as always.

Because she is who she is, Barbara Gordon is among the first to hear what is happening in Keystone City. When the first report of explosions in Keystone cross her monitors, she patches into the Flash's JLA communicator. Standard protocol. Wally is too busy to acknowledge the soft 'ping' of her signal, but he knows she's there, ready to help. And that's how she knows when civilians have been saved, when Jay Garrick is pummeled by an invisible force, and when the villain announces himself with the name of a dead man.

As far as the Flash is concerned, it's the worst of all possible names. All other traffic goes on standby while she reaches for the switch that connects her to anyone willing to hear.

"Oracle to all points," the Oracle's voice and text messages reach to heroes across the Earth, "Professor Zoom has been spotted in Keystone City."

Few villains merit a general alert to the super-heroic community. But as the Flash's nemesis, Zoom has earned a special place on the threat scale. He goes for the *personal* attack, rather than widespread destruction, and no one has forgotten what he did to Barry Allen.

Wally speaks a terse code phrase and Barbara opens her mouth to argue, then bites her lip. It's his prerogative, and his call.

"The Flash has..." frustration permeates the Oracle's computerized tone, "...ordered a lockdown on Keystone."

'Stay out,' it means, the universal signal from one hero to all the others. Batman's constant protocol in Gotham, Superman's in Metropolis when Bizarro shows up. 'This is my fight,' or 'You'll only get in the way.' Literally true, in a battle taking place too fast for even superhuman eyes to see.

[Bart Allen rushes at the man in yellow and is swatted away like he's...useless. Like he doesn't matter. As he goes sprawling across the rooftop he sees the man grab Linda and take her away and he thinks: I should have tried harder.]

Barbara listens as Wally speculates and makes the corrections as needed, because despite the lockdown the battle does, in a way, involve them all.

"New data." Her Oracle's voice is clipped now, tense. "Not the original Professor Zoom. A new one. Preliminary reports indicate..." a pause, "he's *faster.*"

Faster than the first Zoom, who had matched the Flash speed-for-speed, which means--

Another explosion through her earpiece. The police backup, overmatched from the start, has been disabled. And Zoom has a hostage.

This time, she waits to relay that particular update. Because *this* is every hero's worst nightmare, their loved ones in danger, and she's reluctant to remind them of it. Particularly in this case, when the battle might be over before she can speak.

But it isn't. Wally and Jay attack as one and are rebuffed with terrifying ease. They're talking too fast to be heard but she records everything and has her computers play it back as text across her screen, slowed a hundred times. Vocal recognition programs run automatically on the one she doesn't know, searching for a match, but before anything else can happen she hears a cold, cold voice.

"She is a jewel to you," Zoom says, almost in real time. "A rare diamond you leave out in the open instead of locking in a vault."

Linda, defiant: "I'm not an object. I won't hide from anyone."

And Zoom: "You're a target. You need to go away."

Barbara's hands clench uselessly on the armrests of her chair even before another explosion, the loudest by far, blasts her eardrums. She hears Wally scream even over the noise

[Zoom snaps his fingers and the world around Linda Park-West explodes into concussive sound. She is hurled backward by the blast, falls crumpled to the ground, all of her other hurts inconsequential to the first trickle of blood down the inside of her thigh.]

and Zoom again, clearly, through the speed talk: "It's only a matter of time before she dies."

No, Barbara thinks helplessly, no, you bastard, whoever you are, not Linda, not today. All of Keystone's hospitals are already on high alert. Doctor Mid-Nite is on standby, despite the lockdown, if he's needed. It's the damndest irony that for all of the power Oracle can call on, the gift of more-than-mortal healing is the most rare. The Amazons' purple ray no longer functions, Shondra Kinsolving's abilities are permanently locked within her shattered mind, new JLA recruit (and someday she'll find out where Batman found the woman, but not today) Faith and her 'healing hands' are off-planet, Raven is about as unreachable as anyone can get.

None of them were available six years ago, either. Most of the time she tries not to think about it, but she's far too aware of what kind of havoc superhuman powers--or even simple, ordinary bullets--can wreak on too-human bodies. Miracles do happen: Bruce recovered from his broken back and Clark came back from the *dead.* But Barbara is still sitting here, and Dinah only recently got her powers back thanks to a villain, and Linda....

Linda doesn't need panic, or grief, or misplaced anger. Linda needs clear-headed and focused *help* and that, as much as anything, is what Oracle was made for. Even if she can't arrange for a miracle.

Less than five minutes have passed since the first attack.

Now Wally is pleading with the doctors at Keystone General, frantic. "What can I-- What can I do?"

Nothing, of course, as they wheel his wife away. A moment passes as he talks with Jay and Bart, and Barbara is about to say something, anything as a gesture of support when that cold voice speaks again. More speed talk but the content doesn't matter because the battle's begun again, too fast to follow. There's nothing she can do, either, but because she needs to *know,* she accesses the surgical bay comm.

"Oh, God," she breathes, forgetting that she's on an open line. The doctors are saying....

Because she is who she is, Barbara had an inkling of this, too. Like the reporters, she noted Linda's recent multiple visits to STAR Labs. Her need to know hadn't extended to hacking Linda's medical file--barely--but there'd been no evidence of illness, and Wally had been so *cheerful* lately.

On her network, dozens of voices clamor for a report. It's as much as she can do to speak the words without screaming.

"He's-- Zoom went after Linda West. She's badly hurt. She's in surgery now." She holds back the rest. There are times when Barbara wishes she had more of a gift for self-delusion, a more pronounced streak of optimism that might allow her to hope that it isn't true. But Oracle deals in facts, in cold data, and the doctors' assessment is all too clear.

[In Philadelphia, Jesse Quick glances down at the sheaf of papers in her hand, her company's future, and lets it fall unheeded to the floor. "Wally needs me," she says, and speaks her mantra, and is gone.]

The whole world will know soon. The reporters outside the hospital are already speculating. Nothing is secret, nothing is sacred. It's only by virtue of her resources that she's the one who hears it first.

She ignores the uproar of shocked reaction and hears as Zoom reveals his identity. He's ranting, clearly insane

[Wally West stares, horrified, at the man who was, IS his friend, now transformed into the avatar of his deadliest enemy.]

and then she hears Zoom tell Wally precisely what he's done. Precisely what Wally has lost.

More fighting. Their precise location is impossible to track even with the JLA's satellite link; somewhere far to the north, then the southwest, then sudden damage reports from Seattle. In the slowed text on her monitor Zoom seems, if possible, more psychotic than before. He screams in...rage? Frustration? There's a few seconds of silence (an eternity, in the Flash's world), and then Barbara hears Jesse Quick's voice.

Zoom has apparently vanished, for the moment. Jesse helps Wally see to civilian casualties while Barbara calls Keystone General and tells the receptionist to hand the phone to the older gentleman in the distinctive hat. The JSA has been slower to integrate her systems, and besides, she doesn't think Jay would ever allow a technological 'enhancement' to his battered and beloved symbol.

Because he is who *he* is, she doesn't bother to mask her voice. "Mr. Garrick, this is Oracle."

"Hello, Oracle. What can I do for you?" Despite the worry, the current crisis, he speaks with characteristic courtesy.

"That's...my offer to you. Sir." Batman would raise an eyebrow at her, but he's not here now. "Anything. Just say the word."

His voice holds a somber sort of reassurance. "I agree with Wally's assessment. Maintain the lockdown. Keep the rest of the world safe. That's the best thing you can do for us right now."

She'd known that before she called, but had to offer nonetheless. Jay seems to understand that. "I-- We will."

"Good." Jay's tone is very gentle. "I'm sure Wally appreciates your being there. We all do."

"I--" she starts around the tears in her throat, but Jay interrupts, again with that kind, firm graciousness.

"Wally's here. Stay online through his communicator, Oracle, I have a theory you might want to run some projections on."

It's make-work, she knows, because as fast as things are happening there's no *time* for analysis, merely action. But she agrees anyway and a few minutes later she hears him relay his hypothesis about Zoom maneuvering with time, rather than speed. Even so, Wally's still the only one with any chance of stopping him.

[In a safehouse in Denver, Iris West Allen clasps her hands over the ring she wears around her neck and prays that the repeating tragedies that plague the Flash legacy fail, this once, to replay themselves.]

Wally speaks, very calmly, into the air. "Oracle, I'm beginning my run. Tell the others to brace, we're likely to go global."

Her voice catches on her response, whether it was "Good luck" or "Get him" or something else, and it doesn't matter because he's already gone. Oracle makes the announcement, knowing that her colleagues everywhere feel just as helpless as she does.

"Flash is in pursuit. All points, prepare for sonic-boom damage and do not, repeat, do NOT try to intercept. They're moving too fast."

They are. Thanks to Jesse's mantra Wally evidently has the speed to access Zoom's time distortion. From the outside, the damage seems instantaneous. Belatedly, she tracks their path: Kansas City, the Atlantic Ocean, Rome, China, Metropolis, Central City, across the bridge to Keystone again.

Later, she might hear more fully from Wally exactly what happened in the handful of seconds of their final battle. In real time, it's finished in the space of an eyeblink. Zoom is caught in an endless loop of his own time distortion, frozen in a single moment. It's almost poetic.

Barbara is in no mood for poetry.

Oracle says: "Zoom is down. Threat nullified. Collating damage reports." And dear God, she has to be the one to tell them before they hear it through the media, because the reporters waiting outside the hospital have just gotten the news and are already scrambling for their microphones. "Linda was pregnant with twins. The injuries-- Linda lost the babies."

"Give me an open line," Clark says into Barbara's ear, sparing her the need to go on.

Superman's voice reverberates down Oracle's link to all listeners. "We've suffered a terrible blow today to one of our own. I'm sure all our thoughts and prayers are with Wally and Linda. Give them space to grieve, but let them know we're with them."

[From the 'cave, Batman sends a message that appears before Oracle's eyes only. "Contacted Cold. Has agreed to suspension of hostilities from all Rogues in Keystone under threat of permanent crippling of health and career altogether."]

"We're with them," Oracle repeats, and it is as much an order as a prayer. "Oracle out."

But it's not over. Reactions filter in from the world over, and she's the center point for the shock that's still resonating through their community--and because the reporters have made their announcements, through the general populace as well.

Dick calls, saying he's left work early, pleading family emergency. He offers to stop by the Clocktower but she sends him on to Manhattan to be with the Titans. They need him more than she does, now.

She had only recently become Oracle when Superman...died...but in some ways this is worse. Clark is more human than most, as his teammates know, but to those who only see him from afar he's a symbol, an icon. Flash--*Wally*--has been the people's hero. Ummasked, he shares his life with them (sometimes more than he wants, but that comes with the territory). They *know* him. Every single one of them listening understands the horror of what he and Linda have lost today. It's a personal tragedy shared with the world, and she can see the phone lines and chat rooms and Internet forums overloading with the need to express the grief of it.

She's not ready to share.

When Wally goes in to see his wife, Barbara shuts off the connection.

Some things even the Oracle doesn't need to witness.


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