Desire walks the corridors of her own empty shell, approaching his empty heart. For Desire is not the filling of the heart, but the hollow ache within it.
Some people see today as a time for lovers to come together. Others see today as just another day. And others see it as a time to yearn for what they lack. As couples move through the world before them, many of those without a partner Desire someone to share their lives with.
Desire was there when the first Valentine was imprisoned, marrying young couples in secret despite the Emperor’s decree – after all, single men make better soldiers than married men. And Desire fuels a need for an army. And Desire draws young couples together.
Desire was there when the Christian church absorbed the fertility rites of Luperci into a Christian celebration of love. St. Valentine’s Day is much more chaste than Luperci ever was – and chastity feeds Desire.
He is there today, of course. Looking out on the worlds, to taste herself in hidden empty hearts.
He is everywhere there is Desire. And she smiles.
To Ralph, of course, this means more presents!
Specifically, more presents for Allanah!
This year she's even old enough to begin appreciating them. As it is, the main room has all of the accoutrements for a proper Hannukah, plus there's a wrapped present for each day along one wall for Allanah, plus a few for Sue - as many as he could get her without her complaining too much. Oh, and a couple extra presents for Allanah for those days that Sue might forget that he already gave the toddler one that day... or that she might look the other way for a couple moments.
This, of course, says nothing of the fact that most of the closets are full of Allanah's gifts for Christmas, and all the decorations are neatly laid out in their boxes so they're all set to go up the very second one holiday passes and the next begins.
And then there's the traditional sweets for each holiday. Sugary pastries and candies and cookies abound. the only saving grace being that the bouncing baby seems to have her father's metabolism. Otherwise, she'd probably be shaped like a little beach ball by now between the daily allotment of sweets that her mother allows and the few Ralph manages to sneak her here and there... and there... and there.
Ralph himself has his wheelchair all decked out in tinsel and lights. He's occasionally walking a bit now, but the chair is still his main means of getting around. Likewise, he's been rather insistent on wearing a bright purple Santa hat everywhere he goes.
Oh yes, Ralph loves the holidays.
Every year, the superhero community gathers... no. It isn't a community.
It's a family.
The Justice League. The Justice Society. The Titans are always invited, as well as heroes who work solo. The Outsiders. Last year, it was at the Watchtower.
This year, incredible smells are rising from the kitchen of the JSA Brownstone.
Joan Garrick is cooking.
(All news stations currently airing footage of the Cuba invasion suddenly cut to a live feed with the caption 'Live in Cuba'. On the video screen...well, the costume of the man suggests that of Kobra himself. The face of the man in the costume, however, should be recognized by the world as none other than Dr. Light.)
"Citizensss of the world. I am Lord Naga, ssssoverign ruler of Cuba.
'Many of you may have thought me dead, murdered at the handsss of Black Adam and his band of thugsss. I did, in fact, die...and have arisen again by the grace and will of Kali.
"Since my death, many of the world's so-called heroessss have opposed the plans of my organization - loyal followers whose role was to lure the world into a false sense of sssecurity.
"Your sssecurity is now at an end. Cuba, a once strong land that has grown as old and decrepit as it's leader, is now a ssssoverign nation under my direct command. You were told of this by my second in command, Slyther. And yet you still chose to defy my termsss.
(The camera pans over to show Sand Hawkins, Brainwave, and Caleb Zukov on camera, all surrounded by armed guards...then moves back to Kobra, with Ibn Head now being shown, trapped and bound inside a light construct.)
"The Justice Sssociety of America. The last ones to oppossse me before the ruler of Kahndaq...aided at the time, by the way, by the man called Brainwave...murdered me in cold blood. We have video proof of this...affront to our ssssociety."
(He looks at Ibn) "I've been told that this man...also among the adventurers...is a man of ssssome importance. To me...he is nothing."
(Ibn is unceremoniously thrown off camera by the light construct. Seconds later, Brainwave appears on the screen.)
"Thisss one, however, shall be tried in 15 minutes under Kobra law for aiding and abetting Black Adam of Khandaq in my murder. You will get to witnesssss this affront first hand, should your nationssss choose to air it."
"In the meantime, the 24 hour deadline that the United Nations has to accept my sssoverign rule has now shrunk to one hour. If we do not have confirmation that this has been done...well, we're well aware of the Green Lantern playing guard dog over Florida. Cuba is useful, but hardly the only ssssuch area. We will simply leave, take Cuba's nuclear sssstockpile WITH us, and obliterate the island and all of its inhabitantssss...which currently include the United States military stationed at Guantanamo as well as these fine representativessss of the Justice Society."
"You have one hour. Choosssse well. So speakssss Kobra."
(The programming of most networks will find themselves pre-empted this morning at around 9:45 AM, as their various anchorwomen - the ones that handle the big news - will find themselves in front of their customary desks. Each of them tends to provide variations on the same theme...)
We have preliminary reports coming in that the country of Cuba has been invaded by forces whose nationality and allegiance remain, at the moment, unknown.
The invasion begin at approximately 8:15 this morning, as preliminary reports coming from Havana, the nation's capital, briefly began to sound alarms before all communications were cut from the entirety of the island, including the naval base located on Guantanamo Bay. Attempts to secure satellite surveillance of the area have been fruitless for all but the first 90 seconds of the attack. This is considered to be an unnatural radio silence. An inside source has also stated to us that there is currently no communication with the naval base as well.
There has been no preliminary comments from any arm of the American Government since the fighting was reported to have began. What we do know is that no source available to us has been able to gather any information as to who has invaded, or how they got there, as no standard form of transportation to our knowledge was used. Additionally, it is not believed that any form of nuclear or biochemical attack has been perpetuated at this time, although given the circumstances this is currently very hard to corroborate.
As many know, Cuba has been a longtime key strategic position due to it's relative proximity to the southern seaboard of the United States...
Allanah's asleep. Ralph is reading. Plaz is not up here being Plaz. The Earth is a big, beautiful quiet blue thing under the watchful eye of her here on the moon.
"Sue to everybody...How's life?"
Back in her Gotham apartment, Dinah Lance tosses her duffel into the bedroom and checks her voice mail. It takes a while for her to get through them all. Afterwards, she sighs and makes herself a pot of coffee. Time to return some of those calls.
"Hey, it's me again. Where the hell are you, girl? Call me!"
"Dinah? Are you pissed at me?"
"It's Zee. Again. *squeek! giggle* Geez, Arthur! Hang on a second! Hey!*click*"
*whispered, the sound of a shower running in the background*"I'm taking my life in my hands here by calling you right now. CallmeCallmeCallme!"
"By the way! Happy birthday!"
The camera view splits in two, revealing a short blonde. A short distance behind her, a small local coffee shop near the von Gruenwald Tower is cordoned off with police tape, along with part of the street.
"Yes, John, I'm right here in the aftermath of what was a peaceful afternoon for many office workers on their lunch break until that peace was shattered by what seems on its face to be a Mob-related shooting. Just hours ago, police say, Helena Bertinelli, famed in the Gotham underworld as a Mafia princess who broke the back of the Mob late last year, was sitting here with rumored recent beau Jason Todd when a sniper fired three times at him, killing him in front of dozens of witnesses ... "
A blurry shot of Helena Bertinelli, an EMS blanket around her shoulders and blood smeared like some kind of warpaint on her face, takes the place of the reporter for a moment.
"The police are treating this as a professional hit, possibly in retaliation for her actions last year. Jason Todd, adopted son of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Wayne himself has been unavailable for comment, though a spokesperson for the family urged the media to please respect their privacy during this difficult time -- "
Wally's team is still up to bat with a score of 5-0 in their favor and only one out.
She sighs, making to push her hair out of her face only to hit herself in the nose with that stupid mitt.
"...o deus ajuda-me..."
She took one look at what was going on at the grilling station and decided she wasn't that hungry. She knows where Wally's been.
She instead choses one of the good beers that brunette chick who looks kind of familiar brought, and bides her time.
Her neighbours are complaining now. How can they sleep with all that ruckus, night after night? Why doesn't she put a stop to it?
Not that they're complaining to her. They may not suspect, but few can bring themselves to raise their voices at Thessaly. There's always something about her that makes them uneasy.
More than Thessaly's presence here, however, is the trace of one far more sinister. One who delights in games, who sees the world as its own chessboard.
A chessboard, though, where everyone's naked and every move only strengthens the orgiastic intensity.
It's a presence familiar in its source. Too similar. Like that of the King of Dreams.
( Judging from the man downstairs, she has little difficulty guessing which sibling this is. The only unknown is why. )
Washington DC -- Supreme Court Justice Alistair Kennedy struck the latest blow against mandatory minimum sentences, telling congressional lawmakers Wednesday that required jail terms are partly responsible for much of the prison overcrowding problem in the United States.
Mandatory minimum sentences, many of which are focused on convictions for drug crimes, were first enacted at the federal level in 1986 in the hope of putting away drug kingpins.
But street-level offenders comprise most of those jailed under these sentencing rules.
Longer sentences from such mandates have boosted prison populations, especially at the state level. To cut those populations and prison costs at a time of tight budgets, some states, including Michigan, have abolished rules requiring minimum jail time.
During testimony Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee, Kennedy was asked to comment on statistics indicating for the first time that some 2 million Americans are behind bars.
"When the guilt determination phase and the sentencing is over," Kennedy said, "the legal system loses all interest in the prisoner. And this must change. Winston Churchill said a society is measured by how it treats the least deserving of its people. And two million people in prison in this country is just unacceptable."
Kennedy went on to explain the downside of mandatory minimum sentences in some circumstances, telling lawmakers, "You'll have a young man, and he shouldn't be doing this, but he's raising marijuana in the woods. That makes him a distributor. And he's got his dad's hunting rifle in the car, he forgot about it and he wants to do target practice, that makes him armed. He's looking at 15 years.
"An 18-year-old doesn't know how long 15 years is. And it's not so much the sentencing guidelines, it's the mandatory minimums. That's the problem," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said it is up to Congress and the judiciary to address the problem. Asked outside the hearing room whether he really believed Congress would re-examine mandatory minimums, Kennedy acknowledged the political difficulty for some congressmen in doing so, telling reporters, "It's the soft-on-crime issue."
Martin Johnson, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that new mandatory minimum sentences were part of the Amber Alert child protection act, and said, "Congress hasn't lost its appetite for mandatory minimums."
New York's Governor is warning of more trouble ahead for the state's prison system if overcrowding is not eased -- quickly.
( Continued on pg.12-Overcrowding )
Also noted was an aborted explosion in Boston. Review of surveillance footage suggests this was an attack on and abduction of Lady Quark by persons unknown, organization unknown. Additional analysis pending.
In Bogatago, blogger reports indicate that junta activities in La Ciudad de Salinas have reached alarming levels. Reports are being forwarded to Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and....
So the government did the only thing it could do: Put him in the most minimal-security prison they could find until discovery's finished and his legal status is resolved. The place is ridiculous. He could walk out, grab a beer and come back and no one would care.
His lawyers say he'd be released to his own custody if they'd let him, and even if he fights to be prosecuted tooth and nail, he's not going to be here more than a week.
Palmer sighs. He's trying to do the right thing here. The system's not making it easier.
But it's visiting hours, and the guards say someone's here to see him.
"The Witch Queen will be destroyed before she rises ... Ray Palmer will never live to lead the Justice Battalion."
In a swift succession he trains his ray on Firestorm and Joto.
"The future begins here."
It turned out to be quicker to salvage parts and rebuild the chronometric tracker than it was to repair it, so that's what he did. And most of the data's been restored ... enough to get a fix on Dr. Palmer's coordinates. At least he thinks so. No time to really experiment, although the diagnostics are all checking out.
Don't be the guy to strand half the JLA in another dimension, Choi," he says to himself as he rockets up to six inches again and takes one more look at the cosmic treadmills. He's got two of them here -- the only two extant -- and it only took him a moment to realize that the old Flash was just as much a genius as Ray Palmer. Because, wow.
The Dibnys and that Stranger dude will be back soon, and some of the JLA are going with them for support. Now if only the knot in his stomach would go away. He should be ecstatic, but instead, he's overwhelmed with the urge to not blow it.
He stares out the window into the night, and for a moment, he can read the strands of destiny tied up in the stars -- His, June's, Jean Loring's, Ray Palmer's. So many lines converged at this point. How could it be anything but catastrophic?
"So what's the difference?" he asks to the unresponsive sky. "What chooses whether we're heroes or monsters? Do we make that decision?"
He turns and looks at the comatose June Moone.
"Does someone else?"
He runs his fingers through her hair.
"Can you feel it, June? One way or another, it's coming to an end."
Ok, Faust's knife, a cut in the sofa, unusual signs of destruction, and the body, the shrinking method...
So far, he's sure the Enchantress teleported in. That would explain surprise. And she has the means and motive. So she teleported in, and used a single telekinetic attack, all one directional. He tried to defend himself, she was behind the couch. So he returned to normal size to have the reach, and cut the couch with Faust's dagger... which means he was prepared to use something effective against magic... odd bit of preparation there.
Unless he knew. There's the vision... there's the odd clues, the message on his brain. And save... 'her'? Her who? Jean? Was he trying to attack her, really, or just convince her he was?
So if Ray somehow knew things in advance, as its starting to seem, then they need to track down not just who and how... but when.
He jots down his notes, and then starts looking up the people he thinks he'll need to answer his questions to start filling in the numbers.
Over the coms : "This is Ralph Dibney, if anyone is still available on medical staff, can you please carbon date the remains of Ray Palmer. Also, if the Flash is available, I could use a hand with something here."