Breaking Down

by spitfirepanda

Chapter 13: Trials of Conquest

“Are you sure about this, Joan?” Spitfire said from her seat in the garage’s rest area. Most of her team was out on patrol, helping Strongarm follow a lead on the Kobra Cult. Sideswipe had driven Joan and Welshi to the hideout in Gotham moments before. They brought dire news, and Spitfire had immediately offered the assistance of the Wonderbolts. The three leaders now sat in deep discussion with their Cybertronian friends.
“I am not sure of anything, right now,” Joan said. She had tried many times in the last few days to see the future, but the shadows and the buzzing had proven too much. Now it hurt even when she wasn’t using her psychic powers, though Welshi and Joan both attributed this to strain. “I walked right into Lex Luthor’s web. It couldn’t have happened any easier had it been foretold. I should have seen it coming but I didn’t, just as I didn’t see the Wraith’s hand in the affairs of this planet. My visions of the future are… failing me!”
Welshi and Spitfire shared a worried look at their friend’s distress.
“I’m no psychic,” Spitfire said, carefully. “But you’re just one person. You can’t possibly catch everything, even without this strange interference you’re experiencing.”
“I have to!” Joan said, angrily. “This world is on the brink of destruction! Billions will die if I fail! Our world is in no less peril!”
“I know, but getting upset won’t solve our problem. Neither world is dead, yet.”
“But it’s been weeks and we’re no closer to a resolution,” Joan replied with a tired, frustrated sigh. She put her head in her hands. It was pounding from her failed attempts at looking into the future.
“Perhaps you should return to God’s Breath and relax, a bit,” Welshi said as she put a comforting hand on Joan’s arm. “You’ll feel better after some rest in the palace.”
“Perhaps,” Joan said, as she considered the tempting offer. “The Slowking would welcome my assistance in the study halls, but I’ve made an agreement and I’d like to honor it before I leave. I’m also worried about our Porygon. Their situation is quite serious, as was the news they delivered. Our response has been swift, but we no longer control the computer mainframes in Lex Luthor’s mansion.”
“You have the Wonderbolts at your back, Lady Joan,” Spitfire said, resolutely. Fleetfoot and Soarin saluted behind their captain. “No matter what happens, that won’t change.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that we will need your strength,” Joan replied as she rubbed her temples. “Especially since my foresight is blocked by that terrible noise, and the shadows that make it. I fear for the other psychic-types when they arrive.”
“Could you describe this noise, Lady Joan?” Ratchet said as Undertone, Jetstorm, and Slipstream offered trays of hot tea and oil to the group.
“It’s an insectoid buzzing, but there’s something mechanical about it,” Joan said. She thanked Undertone as she took a cup. Her hands shook as she recalled the feeling of future gazing. “Something feels wrong about it. Then I see these shadows that I believe are the source. They appear as small, dark shapes in my visions. I don’t feel it now, but I haven’t used my psychic abilities for several hours. I’m not sure I want to try. That is the best I can describe it at present. I’m sorry.”
“Psychic abilities are rare among Transformers,” Ratchet said, his rough, wizened voice trailing off slightly. “I’m afraid I don’t have enough information to help you.”
Joan got the feeling he was hiding something, but she couldn’t tell. She thought about reading his mind, but like the psychic-types in the world beyond the city, the psychic-types of God’s Breath weren’t in the habit of reading the minds of their allies without permission. Nor were they fond of reading futures or pasts without permission. They most often read their own fortunes, if they chose to read fortunes at all. Yet she had been reading the minds of humans daily since her arrival, whether her targets knew it or not. As Joan shook off the desire to read Ratchet’s mind, it struck her just how much she had been veering away from the customs she had been raised with.
“I will accompany Lex Luthor on this mission,” Joan said after a minute of reflection. “Though this may well be a trap, I agreed to help because I wish to protect the people here. I would like all of you to be ready to take action once we have an idea of what’s going on. Luthor knows I am not of this world, and most likely knows of the rest of you, as well. I feel obligated to help solve this ‘Wraith’ problem, if I am able. When we are done, I will return home and request guidance from the princesses.”
“How do we go about this then?” Spitfire asked as she took a sip of her tea.
“Our enemy is clever,” Drift said, sagely. “He has discovered your secrets, and ours. Though, I don’t believe he knows the extent of our power. I have spent time near several human military bases recently. Some of them were responsible for testing experimental technology. I may have an idea of what we are in for, should this be a trap.”
He went on to explain that the humans were rebuilding old infrastructures that had been decommissioned in the past. They were employing tactics that were highly secret and very questionable. The group needed a diversion to bring this trap down around their enemy’s heads, should the need arise. Joan volunteered, and Drift developed a plan centered on her role in Lex’s stakeout.

Metropolis was beautiful at night despite the thunderheads looming on the horizon. People continued to walk the streets and enjoy themselves, though they were fewer in number than they had once been. Many people were choosing to stay home when they could, rather than venture outside into potentially unknown situations. The mass abductions and alien attacks transpiring across the globe were taking their toll on society. Trade was slowing, and some countries were turning into police states to try and get a grip on the situation. Even through the painful interference, Joan could feel the fear and anxiety building within humanity.
The Justice League, once powerful and whole, was now a shadow of its former self. Those heroes who could survive in the vacuum had traveled into space to help deal with the fallout from countless civilizations fleeing their homes. Still vastly undermanned and facing an escalating invasion of sentient ships empowered by some dark substance, the space faring heroes couldn’t monitor every ship that came through. Alien threats slipped past their blockade daily, and made their way to Earth as members of a desperate alliance.
The heroes who were left on Earth were forced to deal with a myriad of problems. Opportunistic villains and an increasingly coordinated alien presence had punished the heroes, injuring many who served. The Justice League was strained to breaking point. Law enforcement was beginning to take the brunt of the daily assaults as wounded heroes were forced off of the battlefield. Even in the United States, the military was stepping in to fill the void with new technology and tactics. Joan had done her best to aid these people while keeping herself hidden, but it hadn’t been enough. Now she had the chance to take the head off the beast, and perhaps give Earth a reprieve. At the very least, she knew that she would learn something valuable from this event.
“They’re solidifying into a cohesive fighting force,” Lex said from his vantage point in the hotel room. They were in one of his many business establishments, standing on the fifteenth floor. Joan and Lex were alone, looking out the window together at a small shop in a recently evacuated suburb. “Their headquarters is in one of my buildings. I blame you for this, personally.”
“Oh?” Joan said, with mock surprise. “How is that?”
“You disabled my security systems all across this suburb,” Lex said, his voice tense with suppressed anger. “I don’t know how you made such an advanced set of viruses, but that little stunt allowed these beasts into my home.”
“I sense your desire to protect Metropolis. I respect that, Lex. I have things I must protect, as well. Which is why I have been so secretive. These beings slipped in under my watch, and for that I am truly sorry.”
“So, are the others in waiting?”
“Yes, just as your soldiers are in waiting. What caliber weapons do they wield?”
“Fifty cal,” Lex said with a proud grin. “Though, it’s not the size of the bullet that matters, it’s what’s inside. What do you think it is, Lady Joan? Can you see it?”
“I could, but I’d rather you tell me.”
“Your visions have become less… descriptive lately. Is there a reason?”
“There is something terrible on the horizon. It hurts to peer into the future by myself. But to be honest, I’ve had enough of future gazing for a while.”
“Ah, you’ve reached your limits, then,” Lex said with a smug grin. “I suppose it can’t hurt to tell you, my soldiers are shooting max-grav-photon-emitters and bullets packed with miniature black holes.”
Joan raised an eyebrow at this, and Lex’s grin widened.
“It’s a technology created by our government using something they called ‘The Machine’,” he continued. “These weapons were designed to bring Superman to his knees. This machine was sent by the Wraiths, along with their warrior. Our government created marvels with it, yet they were lost when the machine was destroyed. I have rediscovered this wonder and given it to my soldiers. Due to their potential for collateral damage, only two people on this battlefield are trusted with them apart from myself. That will be enough.”
“The government paid handsomely for this technology, I presume?”
“They did. Our alien adversaries believe they have us outgunned. They are sorely mistaken.”
Lex affixed Joan with a confident stare, as if he had just declared checkmate in a game of chess. Joan didn’t have to read his mind to know that his words were directed at her, as much as they were the Wraiths in the building below. She returned his grin with one of her own as she held out a hand and willed a small black hole to form in her palm. She maintained it and shielded it with her mind, protecting the outside world from its gravity well. Shadows moved on the edges of her vision whenever she used her psychic powers now and the painful buzz returned, but it was worth the pain to see Lex’s smug smile wiped off of his face.
“I am the strongest of my species,” Joan replied as Lex watched her hand with clear discomfort. “Yet all of my kind can create black holes. I can simply do it more easily than the others. The creatures I serve are even greater. You are still outgunned, Lex.”
“I suppose we’ll have to make better arrangements, then,” Luthor grumbled. He turned his head away, pretending to look elsewhere while muttering to himself. Several minutes passed in silence, then a ringing came from Lex’s suit. He pressed a button on his collar and spoke.
“Status report.”
“We’ve found somethin’ weird,” said a silly, singsong voice from the radio. Joan had one in her ear, given to her by Lex to help her coordinate with his security contractors and his unnamed allies.
“What is it?”
“You’ll see!” she said. Then the line cut off.
“Who was that?” Joan asked.
“A government clown,” Lex said, his voice tight and frustrated. Tremors shook the building as Lex looked down at the holographic radar projected by his gauntlet. “Prepare yourself. Whatever they found is coming our way fast.”
“I sense no life from it,” Joan said as she rose into the air.
“If you’re going to display your power anyway, why not drop that little illusion?” Lex said as he followed suit.
“I will not reveal more than I must simply to satisfy your curiosity,” Joan replied. “I told you, I have things I…”
The building exploded before Joan could finish her sentence. She caught a glimpse of a dark, blue humanoid with streaks of red pouring off of him as he tore through every floor of the building with ease. Mechanical implants stuck out in places, dripping with some strange, purple substance.
“He’s coming straight for you, Joan!” Lex yelled from somewhere nearby. Joan instinctively teleported to a different part of the street, and watched as the creature blew through another building. She saw it as it searched desperately for its victims in the dust and debris. Its body was skinny and emaciated. Its mouth was sewn shut. It looked dead, yet Joan had a feeling that wasn’t the case. It sniffed the air, turned toward her, and charged again.
Joan raised a hand, gritted her teeth against the pain, and wrapped the Wraith in her psychic might, stopping it in its tracks. It fought against her, struggling to free itself, its hands several feet from her throat. Each time the creature twitched it inched closer. Joan winced in pain as she fought against it. She looked to her side, and saw Lex watching her with an inquisitive smile on his face.
“You’re gauging me, aren’t you?”
“If your kind become our enemies, it would do my allies and I good to know your limits,” Lex replied. “You’ve already proven to be quite dangerous.”
“Then it’s time I tagged you in,” Joan yelled as she redirected the emaciated Wraith at Lex. She released her grip on the alien and it zoomed forward, colliding with Luthor at high speed. He caught the creature, but was driven back. The monster’s mouth forced itself open despite the metal cables holding it shut. It struggled to bite Lex, but he held it at bay. Then came the sound of a gunshot from further up the street, and the creature screamed in pain as it was knocked sideways by an explosion that erupted from its side.
“Careful, you fool! You nearly hit me!” Lex yelled.
“I don’t work for you, Luthor,” said a rough, male voice through the radio. “I’ve just got your toys.”
“We’ve got ‘em too, criminal,” came a second male voice, this one clipped and official sounding. “More are coming, Mr. Luthor. That’s not the only one.”
“It’s also not dead,” Joan cried as the thing charged her again. She grabbed it with her mind, more easily than before, and slammed it against the ground with enough force to make a crater. It moaned, and stopped moving. Joan smiled down at her conquest before looking up to congratulate Lex and his team for a job well done.
A vision of warning suddenly crossed her mind. She saw a large, blue fist hitting her with incredible force. She was so shocked at how easily the fortune came to her that she paused for a moment, her eyes closed. When she looked up she was met with the fearsome face of a second Wraith. Its fist collided with her stomach. It felt like a Machamp had just hit her with all four arms at once. Her illusion failed and she was slammed through a skyscraper.
“Huh,” said the silly voice from before. “I saw it comin’ with my binoculars, why didn’t you, Ms. Psychic Pants?”
“She did see it coming, Harley,” said a second woman over the radio. Her voice was firm, commanding, and confident. “It’s been so long since she’s had a vision without pain that she didn’t know what to make of it for a moment.”
“You are… Amanda Waller?” Joan said as she teleported out of the way of another heavy strike. She ducked under the Wraith, her mind running franticly to predict its movements as well as the actions of the humans she was working with. The future was coming to her as easily as it always had. She couldn’t explain it, but the buzzing and shadows were gone. She teleported again a moment before the Wraith’s second fist came for her face, and reappeared above it where she slammed it to the ground with a powerful Psychic attack. The monster’s body crashed through the street and into the sewers below.
“What more can you tell me about myself?” Amanda Waller said, her tone measured and calm as if she were giving a test. Joan peered into the past, but the buzzing returned with a vengeance. She fell to her knees on the ground and gripped her head in pain. She used Wish as she forced herself to her feet. The Wraith she had just knocked down was already crawling out of the rubble, and its eyes were locked on her.
“I don’t think she can tell you much of anything,” Lex said through the radio. There was satisfaction in his voice, mixed with strain as he fought a third Wraith. More were coming out of the shattered building. Explosions sounded as Lex’s mercenaries hit the Wraiths with round after round. “I can see you now, Joan. The true you. My little psy-disruptor works like a charm, it would seem. It was nice of you to take that suburb from me, really. You may have caused this little mishap, but at least we know how to deal with your kind. Having you stay in a reliable location was quite convenient for the testing process of my new invention.”
“What is this?” Joan said, angrily. “Who are these people you’re working with?”
“We’re the people humanity calls on to protect society from the threats the Justice League doesn’t want to face,” Amanda said, through the radio. “We’re the result of the human race looking to the sky and seeing flawed heroes. So we turn to our own kind, be they meta-human, sorcerer or skilled soldier. We even take a few non-humans from time to time. Sure, they may be murderers and thieves kept in line by force, but they get the job done. You see, despite the presence of the League, the people of this planet have been forced to face our problems, and we’ve learned from it. We’ve developed the technology and tactics to deal with it without the supers, if need be. My organization is mankind’s answer to the adversity we’ve faced. Your friend just hasn’t been here long enough to know it.”
“You… were monitoring us…” Joan groaned as the mechanical buzzing continued. It was so intense, so ingrained in her psyche now that she was beginning to imagine words formed out of the noise.
“You poor, naive fool,” Lex said, the smallest hint of pity in his voice. Joan saw him hovering in the air, the defeated Wraith gripped firmly in his gauntleted hand. A hole had been burned in its chest where its heart should be. “So long as you’re in Metropolis, you march to the beat of my drum. I found your computer viruses and deleted them, though I allowed you to think they were still active for a time. In their effort to continue to carry out their programming, they damaged my cameras sufficiently enough that I could only gather audio of you and your allies, but that’s all I needed. Your world must be so simple to produce creatures that are so easily tricked.”
“With her abilities neutralized, we can bring her in,” Amanda said, turning her attention back to her troops. “Hurry and mop up those things, Deadshot. Then we can move onto ‘Madam Joan’s’ allies.”
“King Shark, gather the target and fall back,” Deadshot said, the sound of gunfire echoing in the background. Joan stumbled forward, her head spinning and her temples throbbing. She heard gurgling, and the sound of bones snapping. A minute later, a strange, bipedal creature walked up to Joan and grunted as he reached for her. Her vision was so blurry she could barely make out the shape of him. He looked like a Sharpedo with a torso and legs. In his right hand he held what Joan believed to be the Wraith she had injured before. It was limp, and part of its chest had been bitten out.
“My psychic power isn’t my only ability, nor is it my greatest asset,” Joan said, as the monster grabbed hold of her arm with his free hand. Her eyes began to glow with fairy light, and she hit Kingshark with a Moonblast that shook the entire block. “And I didn’t come unprepared!”
“We know of your friends,” Amanda responded, a bit surprised but not worried. “Though we didn’t know you could do that. Harley, status report.”
“I found some sweet cars, Waller,” Harley said. “They’re just sittin’ here. You sure these things are aliens?”
“They drove themselves there, Harley. We’ve got it on tape. Fire at will.”
“Roger!” Harley said. Joan heard the woman cock her gun over the radio. Then she paused. “Hey, look! Ponies!”
The sound of Harley’s wonder was interrupted by a series of pained grunts and a thud.
“Harley? What happened? Harley! Report in!”
“Begin plan B,” Lex Luthor ordered his mercenaries. Three confirmations came through the radio as his team leaders responded. Then lightning struck in three separate locations with such ferocity that balconies and rooftops exploded.
“S-sir,” one soldier said. Joan felt pity for him, and couldn’t help wincing at the sound of his teeth chattering through the static of his damaged radio. “Th-thunderstorm… coming!”
Lex roared with anger before landing in front of Joan. They stared at one another from across the street. Thunderheads formed overhead, and the wind began to pick up.
“Send in the tanks and heavy armor!” Waller yelled. “Deadshot, grab Harley and get out of there!”
“The one called Harley is currently in our custody,” Drift said, his firm, disciplined voice a little too loud over the radio. “We are moving forward with the second part of our plan, Lady Joan.”
“Thank you,” Joan said. The ground shook beneath them. Cries of rage and hunger came from the basement of the building where the Wraiths had emerged.
“So, it appears as if there were more creatures than the ones we faced,” Lex said. He turned to watch as another hole was made in the street. A Wraith erupted from it, its body wrapped in a Leech Seed that sapped its strength as waves of Razor Leaf attacks cut across its body. Dozens of thorn, tipped vines grabbed hold of it and pulled it back down. The beast cried as it struggled, but I was overwhelmed.
“They are my friends, in case you’re wondering,” Joan said as Moonblasts erupted from the crater to strike four other Wraiths. Welshi and Applejack led the Liligant and the twelve Fairy-types that had come to aid Joan as the underground battle moved into the sewers.
“I wonder how many more were down there? Why would their species leave them there, in that condition?”
“That is a good question,” Joan said as she forced herself to stand straight. Fire burned in her eyes as she considered her strategy for taking Lex down. “My friends and I will answer it later. For now, we have a score to settle, Luthor.”
“What sort of creature are you?” Luthor said, his hands behind his back as he slowly approached. He was arrogant, as so many in his station in life were. “You are psychic by nature, yet the power you displayed against Kingshark earlier wasn’t psychic at all. At least, one would imply this based on your words.”
“I am a fairy,” Joan said, her voice harder now as she read his movements. She walked to her left, raising one of her arms in defense of his immanent attack.
“You put on such a brave face for someone who is about to be taken to a lab and dissected. You might survive the operation, if you’re reasonable enough. Cooperate, and you might even survive relatively intact.”
“I refuse to believe that people like you are the pinnacle of humanity.”
“That’s just a descriptive title my fans have given me to show their adoration. It may be true, but it doesn’t mean anything without action. I prove my superiority to the world every day, not just because I should, but because I can. Now come, Joan. You are injured. Your friends will be crushed by the United States military, even if they survive the Wraiths. With my psy-disruptor turned up to maximum, your psychic powers are too painful to use. Make this easier on yourself. Come in quietly.”
“Just a moment ago, you asked why the Wraith species would leave their own kind unattended in such a terrible state,” Joan said, her voice sincere and pleading. Despite the pain he had inflicted on her and the threats he was making, Joan wanted to try reasoning with him one last time. “Is that not the question you and your government should be answering? Is that not more important than attacking my friends and I, who pose no threat to you? What would the public think if they knew this was how you treated those who would be your allies?”
“Some of them would agree with our motives, some wouldn’t care. Some would stand against us, but they are outnumbered. We decide who to attack and when. We decide who is our enemy and who is our ally. Heck, the government doesn’t even trust the Justice League most of the time, but we’ve talked enough.”
Without another word, Lex charged. Joan dodged under his glowing blue power fist and rose into the air. The power of his psy-disruptor was such that she could barely keep herself afloat, despite using so little of her psychic powers. She fired a Moonblast at Luthor’s back, sending him crashing into the ground near one of the craters she had made. He turned and fired plasma bolts at Joan from guns mounted on his arms. She predicted this and avoided them, losing sight of him in the process. Even without her ability to see the future, she was still a highly trained and experienced warrior.
The machine gun fire stopped as she approached the ground. She landed, searching the street for any sign of Lex. As she began to search the sky, she felt another tremor under her feet. It was small, but growing quickly in intensity. Joan dodged sideways as a massive beam of light erupted from the ground. It was too big, and her right side was engulfed in raw, destructive energy. She passed out, just for a moment, and when she came to Lex Luthor held her by the throat.
“I don’t fight for honor,” he said, cruelly. “I don’t fight for my friends. I fight for my species, and I will go to any lengths to win.”
Joan felt a tingle all over her body as he spoke. She smiled brightly, causing Lex to stop his speech.
“What is it? Do you see something surprising so close to your death?”
“I see nothing but darkness in the future,” Joan replied. “Even without my foresight, I can attest to the bleakness of our situation. It hasn’t changed in the past two years. But for right now, at least one wish has come true.”
Then, in a flash of light, her wounds were healed. Lex’s eyes widened in shock, but that was the only reaction she gave him time for. She raised a hand to Lex Luthor’s chest and fired a Hyper Beam at point blank range. Luthor’s torso was engulfed in fairy light and he dropped her. She landed on her feet and noticed that Luthor’s suit had taken the brunt of the assault. The outermost layer was cracked and broken in places, one of his gauntlets was torn off, but the suit still appeared functional. He remained standing, panting heavily, blood pouring down his head from a gash caused by the flying debris of his suit.
“Tanks, provide suppressing fire!” Amanda Waller said through the radio. Twenty tanks lowered their barrels, preparing to fire on the Mega Gardevoir. “Lex, if you can still fly, get out of there! Head West and we’ll get you!”
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you, Lex,” Joan said. She looked to the West and saw a black helicopter hovering in the air below encroaching cloud cover. “I’m guessing that’s where Ms. Waller is? My friends are already prepared to bring it down, just as they will bring down your tanks.”
Explosions came from the south, where the tanks sat ready to fire. Frantic shouts and cries of shock came through the radio. Lex and Joan turned to watch as three tall robots cut apart each tank with expert precision. Drift, Strongarm, and Sideswipe spared the humans, but not their vehicles. Waller swore over the radio, and the wind picked up higher.
“So, the vehicles were mechanized life forms,” Lex said, his face calm and analytic despite the situation. The helicopter tried to flee as two funnel clouds twisted out of the sky and forced it to the ground. Equine silhouettes disabled its engines with sharp kicks and ruined its fuel compartment before disappearing in the clouds. “What’s controlling the weather?”
“Why did the Wraiths leave several of their kind here, in this terrible condition?” Joan asked, ignoring Lex’s question. “I feel that’s a problem we will have an answer to quite soon.”
Just as she finished speaking, an angry, red portal opened in the street to her right. Joan and Lex turned once more to watch as a force of Parademons flew into the streets of Metropolis.