Cassie: There’s a certain kind of symmetry to all of this. I’d call it a loop, but I think it’s more correctly a spiral. Things are the same, there’s a pattern, but it’s also gotten so much bigger at the same time, and not over a very large span as far as dates go. Once Upon a Time, when Conner’d introduced me to a friend of his from school, the nerd that he thought could give me some information in the history and myths behind a little dream trouble I’d been having. Not so little, honestly, and I hadn’t really expected to be able to get a whole lot of help from any normal sort of classmate of his. Turns out, Tim Drake’s pretty much anything but normal. Sure. He’s not half Kryptonian, or half God, but you can be extraordinary in a lot of ways other than superpowers.
This time I’m not sitting in his lap, because there’s only so many seats in Conner Luthor’s convertible. An experience that might actually have been more mortifying this time around. This time around, I know that he knows I’ve got super powers. This time I’m going around as Wonder Woman, and this time I know that he’s Red Robin. Batman’s protege. Only Batman’s gone, and everything around us feels like it’s starting to spin faster, and faster up to something. Like turbines starting to power some sort of horrible machine.
Or maybe it’ll be a good machine. Like. I don’t know. Air conditioning. Or renewable energy for the cities on the coast. Like that wouldn’t immediately draw some crackpot to try and destroy it.
The Metropolis Historical Museum was a good meet-up for any number of reasons. One, my Mother works here and I’ve got plenty of excuses to be in the building. Everyone there knows me, and doesn’t really ask anything other than ‘How are you today, Cassie?’ when I’m there. Two, it’s got things both Tim and I find interesting and it’s vaguely on topic given the ultimate discussion that the three of us need to have today. Unless Conner decides to skip out on the boring talk and just join us for fun and distraction later. Three, it’s less likely that said boyfriend is going to immediately eavesdrop if he thinks there’s a potential for boring, moldy old artifact nerd talk to be going on. In case anything needs said that we don’t want him there for.
“I feel like I should point out this was his idea, and not mine. Not that I’m not happy to see you erm. Face to face. I just know you’re busy.”
It’s enough after school that I’ve changed clothes, gone is the plaid skirt and sweater set that I get to pretend is necessary now that it’s getting cooler outside. One hand that had been shoved in the back pockets of my jeans as I’d looked at a plaque I’ve seen a million times, lifted to wave at Tim as he joins me.
Tim: The look on my face says that I don’t believe Conner Luthor could have an actual idea without Cassie putting the seeds of it there. But I’m just about as polite about my thoughts as you might imagine. Nothing short of telepathy is going to get them from me if I don’t want to share and I’m not particularly talkative on that subject. My face says a whole lot though. Disbelief, mixed with outright skepticism. With a side order of, ‘Yeah, right.’ All of which translates in to… “Mmm.”
“A little busier now than I was before, funny enough. If you can believe it.”
Unlike our previous meetings, I haven’t come with the explicit purpose of getting Cassie out of her boyfriend’s line of sight. She’s right, Conner asked me to come. Sort of. He’d called my cell phone and after what happened with Dinah? I hadn’t answered, just in case he was going to be telling me that he was on his way to level Gotham. Instead I’d gone in to surveillance mode, followed by dubious mode and then full-fledged ‘What the literal fuck’ mode when I realized Conner Luthor had taken to texting me. Inviting me to Metropolis was one thing, but doing it without prompting? Difficult to believe. Especially when it came with the overture of distracting me from my loss.
Don’t get me wrong. I befriended Conner Luthor because I was assigned to by my Father at the time. At first, I’d considered him little more than a target to be brought down. As I got to know him? I still considered him a scum bag, but I came to realize much of it wasn’t his fault. More and more, I’d come to realize that Conner was a blank canvas. What was on that canvas would be drawn by those closest to him. Those with influence upon him. I’d taken that as a real opportunity to try to save him. At first. Then it became an effort of, if not saving him, then saving the world from him. Saving her from him.
“Nnngh. Actually, his idea. Was that I meet the two of you at his Apartment, at Luthor Tower. He seemed to suggest that I should bring a change of clothing and small bills. I assumed for strippers, given his proclivity for trying to embarrass me and given that I figured that would be how he tried to cheer me up.”
Even if this is being delivered in relative deadpan, I’m aware that everything with Conner is not what it seems. The guy was, in all likelihood, set upon this path of his by the girl (nay, woman), standing next to me. He was therefor left on a life raft without a paddle and had to come up with his own ideas for trying to cheer up his nerdy friend, that lost his dad. I’m surmising that Cassie wanted a touch of authenticity, therefor chose not to direct his entire planning. Leaving us right where we are. Which is precisely not at that apartment. Yet.
“Since we’re alone, I should apologize. That rambling message that I sent you? I should have called, but I knew you were dealing with your mission. So I sent the message, just to make sure you got the whole story. Once our satellites caught Con heading to your position in Fawcett City, I knew he was likely to open his mouth. When that happens all the wrong things come out in the best of times, this was slightly less than that.”
While we meander around the Museum, for now, I’m fairly low-key. Despite dressing nicely, I’ve come without the tie. It gives the impression that I’m not quite the nerd that was implied. I’ve been letting a certain Krav-Maga master help me with my fashion sense lately. But once we’re far enough away from the main concourse, there comes a flick of my wrist in truly eye-catching style. Which is the purpose really, catching Cassie’s eye so that she’ll see me tap the screen before the watch emits a laser-light grid all around the area nearby.
“White noise generator, with a video distortion screen. No one can hear us and while they can see us standing here, they won’t be able to clear up a picture well enough to read lips. Or actually identify either of us.” A really long winded way of telling her that we’re free to talk and that’s what I do straight away. “Bruce left me controlling interest in Wayne Industries. He wanted me to keep the company going, moving forward. His three… sons… each have particular skillsets and apparently he thought the brains part was mine.”
“He wasn’t wrong,” and with that statement, you can see exactly why Conner Luthor and I got along as school mates, “But. We’ve made no progress at all on his murderer. It’s a bit frustrating. We’ve got the best analytical minds. Unlimited resources. No stone is unturned. Yet, every single one of us has come up empty.”
“That being said. It seems that you’ve had far better luck. Actually, all of my blonde friends seem to have all of the luck lately. I still can’t believe Dinah came home alive.”
Cassie :”It was. Hand to…”
God. There’s a pause, and a purse of my lips, before I lower the hand that I’d just been lifting. Gesture to go along with the saying, that I can now add to the list of many other things that just seem weird or off to say out loud now. Knowing what I know about the world and myself. I’m going to have to invent a substitute or go all in on the irony I guess. It is true though, it had been Conner’s idea. In… a sort of related sort of way. It had been a comment meant to embarrass me at the time, and I’d encouraged him, which had brought us to… this. It wasn’t that far of a trip, I suppose. Not with the kind of resources those two have. Or. Y’know. Superpowers.
“I wish I could say it’s hard to believe but. Given my week? I don’t doubt it.”
Clucking my tongue at Tim’s description of where he was originally supposed to meet, and his guess about why that could be. Though the way my blue eyes roll says that the expression is much more for Conner’s plan, which Tim was probably exactly right on, than for the fact that he’d think my boyfriend capable of such a thing. He is. Capable. Very.
“It could have been to go down to the Carnival. It’s almost Homecoming, you know. Pocket change for the booths? Roughly equal to my entire year’s allowance?”
No, yeah. It was probably for strippers. Might be why someone was trying to talk me into putting on a dress, which I’d ignored and gone with jeans and a teeshirt. I have to wear a skirt to school all day. I’m damn well wearing pants when I have the opportunity not to. Shrugging my shoulders at his apology, I let my eyes wander over the little glass cases, the pictures on the wall, the murals that depict increasingly ancient things the further we get into the building itself. The parts that I’m more interested in for sure. Recent history hasn’t had the time to percolate and get good. And by recent I mean the last thousand years or so. Maybe someday I won’t feel that way.
“It’s okay. I made sense of it. And I’m glad you left it, because he did do a really horrible job of telling me what happened, while using a really guilty tone of voice. I didn’t exactly react well. There was kind of a fight about it. Not a big one, I mean… you. Don’t really need to hear about any of that.”
I’m rambling a little, and not about any of the important or really pertinent facts but… it’s just nice to have him here. And not just a projection. Lifelike as it had been, there was just something that wasn’t the same about it. Part of me also knows that was leading towards me confessing how surprised I was that given the chance and operating on his own without my supervision or even my ability to know what was going on? Conner’d chosen to do something good. Multiple somethings good, in trying to help what he thought was a helpless meta and also. Y’know. By not sleeping with her. That’s not something I should feel. I’ve been trying the whole time I’ve known him to see the good in Conner Luthor, underneath all of the …well. Everything.
“Fawcett City was… a weird day and place all around. Were you aware that there was such a thing as Giant Crocodile-Man bank robbers? I went down there to meet Freddy Freeman and basically stuck my head in a hornet’s nest. Which is actually what led to Conner’s idea about inviting you out of the dark for a day.”
Metropolis, our shining city of Tomorrow. I suppose the ‘dark’ has got multiple connotations now as concerns Tim and Gotham City. I’ve waited to start on the crocodiles and crazy crap until he’s thrown up his screen. Though he’s used similar tech around me before, he just didn’t make a point of letting me know it was there until after the fact. A cue that it’s go time to talk about more ‘mission sensitive’ material if I want. Folding my arms across my chest, it would probably be easier to look at any of the many things surrounding us, but instead I tilt my head and eyes towards my companion.
“Maybe that’s the problem. That you’re being analytical about it. What if it’s not something that makes any logical sense?”
I’d say that’s not his brain works for sure, it’s not normally how mine works either but Fawcett had been a little…eye opening. And not just for the incredibly hamburgers. I’m very rapidly, and rudely, starting to learn that not much in the world is how I thought it was. Or even how it ought to be. It’s really not that hard to believe that can happen in Gotham City, too.
“I don’t know about that. I’m trying, though. I got more questions than answers. And. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised about that. Her being alive. Not the q and a bit. There’s a kind of easily defined list of things Conner doens’t react… well… to.”
Tim: Yeah. Still not buying it. Maybe Conner thinks it was his idea, but I’d need to have witnessed any such plan rising from Conner’s brain to believe it for real. I can buy that he’d come up with the idea of my being here. Even distracting me with Strippers or Cassie in a skirt. What I can’t fathom, is that Conner is the one who realized I was gone in the first place. Or that he would even recognize that I might need distracting. The motive had to come from Cassie or something in that immediate psychological profile. Maybe my intel was out of date about Conner in some regards, but not this. I just don’t buy it. I’ve had no means to sink hooks in any deeper than I had and when I had, I hadn’t been able to get them in deeply enough for him to think about bringing me out of a funk. Much less noticing I was in one.
Giving her a non-committal response to her allowances, allows me to skip past any consideration of the carnival. “Homecoming? Are you two going again? A little bird recently told me that she’s been booked to sing for you. No, I mean you personally. At your party.”
It doesn’t happen all that often, even less of late due to our lack of meeting in person, but I actually make contact with Cassie for once. First in putting my hand upon her arm, then by carefully squeezing the point just above her elbow. A pressure point, but not utilized in an effort to cause pain. More of an exercise in getting past her near-invulnerability to make her feel the touch at all. Followed in turn by a shake of the head that is slight, but stern.
“Don’t. Do. That. You can talk to me about anything. Conner too. I want to be here for you, both of you. I can’t do that from across the pond, if you stop talking any time you think it’s something I don’t need to hear about. Besides, Cass, really. Hearing about you two. The normal stuff? Actually, that really does help me forget about killer clowns, claymation murderers and mind controlling top-hats.”
That touch lingers for once too. Even more unusual, really. Touching Cassie is a lot like touching wildfire. I’ve always worried it might catch ablaze and turn in to something different. Or just catch ablaze because I’m being heat-visioned from across the City. Either way this time? This time I’m making a point. Maybe more than one point. She’s not even said her thoughts, but I speak to them out loud like I am the telepath. I’m not. I don’t even have an app for that, but I’ve been having the same exact thoughts and I can see in her eyes that her logical brain was processing them the same way. if only from different angles.
“You’ve done something. Accomplished something. No, wait. I don’t want this to sound so form, like you planned to change him. You didn’t. I’m the planner. You just do things. Seat of your pants things. No plan. Caution to the wind. All because you think it’s the right thing to do. And it worked. Because you don’t. You don’t plan. You don’t plot. You don’t do anything that would give him reason to doubt. All you do is encourage. See the best in people. Act upon what you think is right, be damned the consequences. And. Once again. It worked.” Just slightly pausing, I want this to have a heart-beat’s moment to sink in before I say the next words. “Dinah Lance told me she thinks you might be actually reaching him. She thinks he might be inspired to actually be Superman, so long as he never loses faith in you.”
“That ties in to why I actually came, Cass. I missed you. Even him too, a little. Mostly when watching those horrible sex-toy informercials on the tele at night at Dinah’s bar. They remind me of Con-L. But. I came because after what happened, after what Dinah said. I’ve come to a decision. The only way -I- can ever help you influence him for good? Is if he knows the truth and sees that I’m willing to trust him. I’ve got to make an investment too, if I want him to truly trust me like he does you.”
Despite having said this, I’m weighing what Cassie has said about other things too. What did I know? A lot. Bruce kept a smorgasbord of files on every meta-human he even got a wiff of. He used his contacts, his wealth and his resources to amass a database. Brother Eye. That he used to track, catalog and investigate potential targets of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Bruce was late to the game against them, but he never trusted Luthor. Bruce and the original Superman knew things were happening and were working to oppose them. Other events got in the way, kept them from taking action. Now Superman is gone and Bruce is dead. Now we’re all that remain and I’ll be damned if we lose for no other reason than someone was too lazy to read Bruce’s notes.
Or because I become too much like Bruce to share what I know, when the time is right. “The Crocodile Men have surfaced in Fawcett City before. Not in great numbers. There was one in Bruce’s files that worked out of that area for a creature called Mister Mind and the Monster Society. This was way back, like in the Justice Battalion times. Mister Mind is a space worm. The Crocodile Man was an alien too. Called a… Punkusian? I think that’s how it is pronounced.”
“Outside of Fawcett City, there was Sobek and Killer Croc in Gotham. Sobek stands out to me, if only because of his lineage sharing a sort of connection to your’s? Sobek is a lesser Egyptian diety. Crocodile God, actually. Though in reality, he is more demi-god than God. The Egyptians just do not have demi-gods in their pantheon, really.”
What she says about my problem, my case, not making analytical sense? That is something I’ve only marginally been considering. Even then only because of something, god help me, that Stephanie said. Which in turn tied in to something Damien had said. Neither of their comments, on their own, held much weight. But when I was mulling things over, a thought came to mind. I’m just not ready. Yet. To even speak the thought out loud for fear that giving voice to it might make it true, whether or not I’m able to prove it. Then what happens? My friends and family would think I’m nuts.
“Numero uno, is being shown up. I.E. having his eardrums blown out.” Once more I pause, but this time is not so much for effect as it is for me to push myself in to finishing. “She went there planning to distract him. Even if that meant letting him haveher. She was not only willing, but able and ready to keep him from following you. You’ve not met, yet, but Dinah is everything in Conner might take leap at. Tall. Leggy. Blonde. Stacked. Agile. Sexually Liberated. He turned her down. I mean, he made it clear that it was an option. But only as a means of saving her.”
“Cassie. He didn’t screw around. Actually, it kind of sounded like he was only even going to sleep with her. If that’s what he had to do to get her to let him save her. And then when she attacked? He lost his shit, but reigned it back in. He talked to Dinah. Told her thinks I spent a year trying to find out. He was educating her. So that she would be equipped to deal with what might come for her. And he was doing it, to explain himself.”
“Honestly. If I didn’t actually know you, Goldilocks, I’d think you were mind controlling him and I’d be pissed.”
Cassie: “Maybe? I mean. He hasn’t actually asked me. Boy likes to assume things, and you know what they say about that.”
He assumed I’d be his girlfriend for a while, too. Even when I repeatedly insisted that it was not, in fact, the case. One of the few put my foot down types of moments in our relationship history. I think we both more or less got what we wanted in the end, it just took a little bit to get there. The mention of a party gets a look of confusion, then irritation, then confusion again to flicker across my face.
“Well. I don’t know anything about any party. Let alone about me throwing a party. Booking a band sounds like above my paygrade. And tastes, so I guess that’s also one of his grand schemes that he hasn’t bothered to ask me about.”
Tim draws my attention to his hand, and my elbow, with that touch mostly with the fact that he’s actually applying some pressure. More than he’d probably want to apply to anyone else, except maybe in a fight or restrain kind of situation. My skin’s not so dense that I don’t feel contact, it’s just more difficult to make me feel pressure unless there’s a lot of it. Or, apparently, unless you know exactly where to put it.
“Ugh.” That’s going to become my go-to fill in for ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ or any other deific exclamation I might feel the need to use. “Gotham sounds like a literal nightmare, you know that? Like. I’m pretty sure I’ve had that one, after some iffy pizza before bed.”
And it wouldn’t be the worst dream I’d ever had. My own imagination isn’t nearly as terrible, it turns out, as the thoughts that might be implanted there by other influences. Or at least, it didn’t use to be. Part of me wants to think that he’s joking, or exaggerating, but the rest of me knows that he isn’t. Not just because of who he is. But because I’ve been paying a lot more attention to Gotham City ever since I was told that I needed to stay out of it, and one of my best friends was going into it to try and sort out a mess.
“But I won’t put the brakes on the ‘girl talk’ anymore. I think that’s what that was. I can’t really say that I’ve ever had much of it before.”
I’ve got friends of my own now at school, ones that aren’t part of the Conner imposed clique of Cheerleaders and Other Bitches that was apparently necessary to establish myself in the pecking order as someone of note, so that no one would really look deeper at who I was. But I don’t exactly have heart to hearts with any of them. Even the ones I trust not to be horrible backstabbers. When you’ve got secrets like I do… I won’t say it makes it hard to relate. Just hard to want to open Pandora’s Box, so to speak.
“And here I was just hoping to avert a teenage murder and mayhem spree. This is much better. And. Also probably not the place for sarcasm. I wasn’t trying to though, really. To change him. I was just being me. Which isn’t hard, I just… don’t exactly get many people I can do that around anymore. Not completely.”
At first it was just my Mom, until superpowers. Then it was Conner. And my Mom again. Now that tiny little circle includes Tim Drake. Wayne. I haven’t missed that it was only because of who he is, though. Knowing that he lives on that other side, too. With secrets, and games that are so much bigger than what the rest of our classmates are ever going to have to deal with. Unless they’re also superheroes (or villains) and we just don’t know yet. The commercial reference makes my cheeks flame a shade of pink, as I pull my elbow away from the reassuring touch, while shooting a look that says ‘ugh, I hate you, shut up and I’m not dignifying that with a response. Oh wait, that was a response.’
“The truth? Like. The truth truth?” The reclaimed arm, and elbow, comes up in a pantomime across my face of some vaudvillain hiding behind what is surely a very shiny cape. “Wow. That’s. Surprising. But if you do, please make sure to tell him how I figured it out. Before you actually told me. I really don’t get to be the one that’s right on anything outside of moral issues most of the time, and I think I could probably ride that one for a decade or two.”
But under the horsing around and joking I’m doing right now, I also think that he is right. Conner may like his friend, maybe even actually missed him a little, too. There’s an entirely different layer of a person though, underneath ‘Conner Luthor.’ At first that was just NOWHERE’s Superboy. Under that, it seems like there’s a Superman forming. I have to believe that having more people besides just his girlfriend there to help nurture that? Well, it can’t hurt. It’s not something I think I would have everbeen the one to bring up though, and I’m a little startled that he did himself. If. That’s what he meant in the first place.
“Well, there was a whole pack of them this time. Robbing a bank. I’d barely showed up in town when the place exploded. Freddy actually beat me into the building. Rescued hostages while I …shamefully mostly got dogpiled. And bit. Things actually dented me.” Pushing up my sleeve to show the row of already yellowing bruises that wrap around it from the short time spent in the Crocodile’s mouth. “It was mostly a cover while someone tried to pilfer the vault below. Not for the money, but for an amulet. She was trying to use Freddy’s power to resurrect Osiris. I didn’t really get what was going on, or what they were talking about, but I kind of am guessing that wouldn’t be good?”
I know my mythology. Translating that into actual existing beings, energies and life is another matter. It’s one thing entirely to know a story. Another to cope with the reality and what it means when transposed on top of your own world. Scrubbing fingers through my hair, my expression is frustrated. With who I am, where I apparently came from, I feel like I ought to have been a whole lot more prepared for this crap. That I ought to have had someone to actually teach me all along what was coming. I guess it’d be easy to say Freddy’s Fawcett Hornet’s Nest wasn’t a place I should have been sticking my nose. But. Gods and Monsters. It’s apparently my jam. And my heritage.
“Man. Good thing I am a demi-goddess, or that might make me feel a little inadequate and jealous. As awful as it is to say about him, I’m pretty shocked he didn’t jump all over that. I mean. I’m glad he didn’t but… Yeah. Shocked. I wish I could say I was doing it on purpose. My life would probably be a helluva lot easier if I could. Not one of my superpowers though. I mean. That I know of. I only figured out I could break the sound barrier a couple weeks ago.”
Tim: “Hopefully I didn’t ruin the surprise on the latter,” though I’m shrugging in such a way as to suggest I’m not really apologizing either. “I’m not overly thrilled with Con’s presence in Dinah’s life. Not even because of who he is, but because she’s stayed under the radar for so long. Now I feel responsible for what comes next.”
“Even if ‘next’ is just a kickin party to send you off to College with. Seriously, for once you might want to let him pull this off. My anxiety for Dinah aside, he seems to be putting his great ability to plan evil things, to work on planning something good for you. Now that you know about it, you can probably even curb him away from beer bongs and not-so-beer related bongs, being there.”
At the moment of eye contact I’m quick to release her. I wasn’t touching her to cause harm, just to get her attention. And. To make her realize that I’m capable of making her feel my touch. If I want. If I were Bruce, I’d be doing that as a means of some sort of covert threat. But I’m not Bruce and it would be a lie for me to try to say I’m not doing it to remind Cassie that she can lower her guard with me. That I’m Human, but anything other than simple or ordinary.
What I’ve told her just now about Gotham isn’t even the half of it. That’s the cliff notes on the abbreviation for Gotham. Killer Clowns, Claymation Beasts and Mad Hatters are the off-night stuff. Honestly, that’s not even the strange ones. I’ve not even talked about the guy who ages with the seasons. Molting his skin away during the winter and being reborn every spring. Gotham City isn’t a Nightmare. It’s what a Nightmare becomes if you put it in to a sack full of kittens and jostle it around for ten minutes before throwing it in a pool of water. What comes out might have fur on it, but do you really even want to stay long enough to see the results?
“You can always be yourself with me.” This time I actually catch myself hesitating, so I push forth with saying more. “One of the first lessons Bruce taught me was the psychological hardships doing what we do will bring with them. I’m talking about that moment when you realize you’re not sure which side of you is the mask. Are you Wonder Woman or Cassie Sandsmark? Of all the things he taught me, that’s the one thing I can say he kept nothing back on. He made sure that I knew the answer was actually neither. I’m not really Tim Wayne, multi-trillionaire adopted son turned next Bill Gates. I’m also not really Red Robin, the vigilante with a penchant for breaking people’s faces. The reality? Is that both of those names have parts of me. The real me? Is somewhere in the middle and only the truest, most important people get to know the real me.”
“The funny thing is? I’m not sure that entirely works for you. The psychology of it, I mean. Because you are actually Cassie. You hide the best things about yourself. Choosing to be seen as something much less. When in reality? The moment you put the ‘mask’ on, you let people see the real you.”
While I’m listening to her recounting the tale of her Bank Heist foiling, I’ve made an effort to confirm for her what I meant. Only instead of mimicing her cloak over the face thing. I’ve taken my hands and put two fingers across the upper and lower portions of my eyes. Forming a small, makeshift, mask of my fingers. The same sort of mask that I wore the first time we met via hologram. Though I’m saying very little more, it happens to be because I myself wasn’t sure that she ‘figured it out’ before I told her. She seemed to know that something was amiss, but did she know who I was? I’m not so sure about that. She did, however, suss out that I wasn’t really there in her Mom’s office. Leading me to wonder if my holographic technology wasn’t up to par. But concluding in short order that Cassie was actually smarter than most people give her credit for.
Much. Smarter. Scary smart. Must be in the genes.
Surprisingly enough most of what Cassie says isn’t triggering any immediate ‘What the Fuck?’ reactions. Just a very quick leap to query, “Be very specific on how you answer this next question. Was this woman trying to use Freddy’s power or was she trying to -take- his power to use? Did she have any powers of her own? I’m asking for a specific reason, of course. The reason Freddy was one of my missions for you, is because Bruce believed that after his predecessors untimely demise, that his abilities.. plural.. would pass to another. Just not directly. Bruce found some obscure references and texts in the League of Shadows’ vaults that suggested a series of trials. Which could be completed by anyone who could prove themselves worthy.”
“Bruce believed that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. was aware of that too. They’ve got mystics on their payroll, but that’s another topic entirely. Bruce was worried that if Freddy’s predecessor couldn’t be recruited, that they could eliminate him without fear of losing his power-set. Because they could inject someone else in to these trials and steal the powers of the Gods for themselves. Effectively doubling their chances of success. Because either they recruit the next champion, make their own champion or kill the next and start the cycle again. That’s yet another aspect of all of this. N.O.W.H.E.R.E. has been around for a very long time. They think now that Con’s dad is for life.. they’ve got as much time as they want to collect… all of you guys.”
“Honestly. -I- think that’s why they’re indulging Con about you. It’s getting Luthor good press. Keeps Con in their pocket. Allows them to keep playing the long game. Every minute Con does their bidding, is longer they have to perfect his replacement. Make sure the next clone can’t rebel. While they work on that, Con is out doing their work willingly. To protect you. Leaving us with a proverbial ticking clock…”
“As for the Resurrection… first time I’ve got to say this… above my pay grade. There are many ways to resurrect someone. I’ve recently researched it at length,” to bring Bruce back, but that goes unspoken for now behind a melancholy look. “There may be information to be had in Brother Eye, but I didn’t know until now to look. All I can tell you is that every instance of resurrection that I found? Ends very badly. Either for the one resurrected or the toll that must be paid for it. Death gets her pound of flesh regardless.”
With this final moment of pause, I take a step towards on of the exhibits. Using the space to take a moment and phrase what I’m about to say properly. “I’ll look in to the theft and see if I can find out if anything was actually take. But there is one thing. According to Bruce’s notes, Freddy will have to endure a trial for each ability he shall inherit from one of the Patrons.”
“However. If someone else is completing these trials too. Then as they garner the favor of a patron, they’ll be brought in to direct conflict with each other. Eventually they’ll be competing for the final blessing of … well… your Father. Except that it won’t be a ‘worthiness’ test like you or I might think. Zeus’ blessing doesn’t have to go to someone Heroic. It’s gone to someone very much the opposite more than once. From everything I’ve read, Zeus might take Freddy’s rival besting him as a sign that the Earth needs to be… scorched? I’m talking Noah’s flood here, Cassie. Biblical End of Days, stuff.”
“Oh and for the record. Interesting fact about Fawcett City. Most of the original buildings in that City were build on clay foundations imported from Greece. Including the bank, if I recall correctly. Which, by the way, I always recall correctly.”
Cassie: “How did she? Asking for a friend. Or a future friend. No, really I’m just a little curious. Conner told me the mystery hot blonde’s grandmother was the O.G. Canary. I got the impression the current Black Canary was pretty… potent. NOWHERE likes to get their hands on basically anything and everything as far as I can tell. Yeah, the ones that I’ve personally met have been a lot more… what’s the word I want without sounding like the ego’s talking… versatile? I mean. There’s Conner. Me, they clearly wanted, M’gan’s a telepath and shapeshifter and Raven’s well. Raven.”
Was that a little yicked out shudder of my shoulders right then? Yeah, it was. I know I should try to get along with her better, she did do me an enormous mind saving kind of favor, but girl’s just creepy. And I think a lot of that is on purpose. Then you add in the magic, and how strange that is. She’s who I would probably be talking to right now, in a perfect world but I just don’t trust her not to rat me out. She’s hard to get a read on. All of them are. As to whether or not they like their situation or they just work for the group because they have to.
“But clearly the original Canary was more than enough to get interest.”
A member of the original team. When they were superheroes that fought for our country in World War II, before everything got a lot less overt and people had to start worrying about something besides Nazis and turned their fear and outrage inward on the people that had helped win that war in the first place. It’s something you learn in History class for sure, but not something that you really consider all that much unless you’re in my shoes maybe. Is that what people like me should be doing? Directed conflict, pointed by the hand of politicians? Or is it better left to the morals and judgemnet of those with the powers. I don’t think either option is great or perfect. Look at NOWHERE. Look at Metallo.
“Thank you, Tim. Really. And I definitely hadn’t missed the fact that with the superpowers came hiding. Acting like someone that I wasn’t even before they turned up. I was so mad at Conner for pushing this whole… public hero thing on me. I wasn’t sure I wanted that ever. And definitely not now. He and my Mom had just finished practically brow beating me into planning for college. But maybe it was the best thing. I mean. It got you to open up. It gives me an outlet where I actually get to feel like… all of me. And then there’s the change in Conner.”
I guess the honest truth is, the Cassie that Tim met wasn’t really the real me. I don’t elect to put on that mask like he does. I didn’t make a conscious choice to fight for the people that can’t fight for themselves. Well. Actually. I guess I did. Kind of. Conner made it for me, and I’ve embraced it. I can’t choose just to not be what I am. The powers. Maybe Tim actually can’t either. He’s no longer just one or the other. The pantomime that he answers back with makes the corner of my mouth twitch upwards, and then a little bit further as I start to laugh.
“Seriously. It’s going to bug the crap out of him that he didn’t know something like that and others did but. Clearly you and I trusted each other better with those cats out of the bag. People he can trust are in pretty limited supply.”
I don’t vocalize the part where it would make things a whole helluva lot easier on me, too, instead of having to invent reasons to sneak off and exclude him. Which I don’t necessarily like to do anyway. Conner’s clearly down for making up excuses to spare people from NOWHERE’s immediate attention. Simply not following me or listening in in the first place is even less work for him. Which I have a feeling he’d appreciate. Maybe. I’m still pretty stunned by the whole event as it is. Tim’s request for precision makes me pause, pursing my lips as I think through what he’s actually asked.
“She was trying to get him to use his, I thought. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been both. She was strong. Like me strong. He called it Strength of Hercules. Launched him across the vault like a dart. He called her Isis. With the Osiris shenanigans I assumed the Isis. I was getting this really familiar vibe, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then there was a whole lot of lightning and I kind of guessed that was why. I just still don’t know if it’s because she had that power to summon, or because he wasn’t happy about what was going on. Storm was already gathering by the time I got to Fawcett though.”
I know what happened to the first one now. It’s not something I’m really going to bring up or talk about right now, because what’s happening currently is a lot more pressing. Especially with Tim’s supposition which I don’t actually think is at all wrong.
“So I need to move faster. I can’t do these trials for Freddy. I can help him if he needs it, or asks. Hope he’ll be… up for helping me like I think I’m going to need, but I think I’m going to need more for what I’ve got in mind. I assume you’ve got more files for me, and I may just have to start multitasking.”
Just. Not so quickly that they catch onto what I’m up to. It’s a delicate balance, a thin wire. Acting fast enough to make a difference before it’s too late, and yet with enough subtlety that they don’t send it all crashing down in flames around me. Or hurt anyone I care about.
“So maybe that rival’s her. She seemed a lot more fixated on the resurrection, and his being there just seemed convenient. I don’t know if she really even noticed, or cared, about me. Scorched earth… I’d like to avoid. But seriously? Imported from Greece? That seems like an awful lot of unnecessary and weird work. And I’m sure that means it also means something important.”
Tim: “That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked it,” now I sound like a salesman or a magician. The question is am I going to pull back the curtain on the trick or not? Honestly, I’m a little too pleased with the answer that is about to come. “Let me just start to answer you by saying this: Everything with N.O.W.H.E.R.E. seems extremely complicated, daunting, and more than a little convoluted. The reality is so much simpler, that it’s almost criminal.”
“We have to start at the beginning. With the Justice Battalion. When the War ended there wasn’t a lot for them to do. Before the War they’d been mostly hiding. Some played a little street vigilante role maybe. But nothing public. These people were different and feared the public’s reaction. After the War they got an immediate heroes welcome home, but that followed by a time where these people were… well.. Soldiers that came home from a terrible, terrible War. They were damaged goods. Some more so than others, but the public couldn’t really differentiate. I mean they could, but at what price? So this caused the creation of the original group called N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Created by the President, at the time, founded by a covert agent who’s name has been somewhat lost over time. Somewhat.”
It’s at this point that I offer my arm to Cassie. We’re here. We’re acting casually. But there’s no way to play that part if we’re just having story time. I’m making it look as though we’re here together. Looking at the works of art. Anyone who sees us directly would have no reason to study us closely. Add to that, I’m not going to talk overly loud about the rest of this. Even with my tech to keep Conner out of this discussion, I can’t be sure we’re not being psychically monitored. Or rather, Cassie isn’t being monitored. For now at least, there’s no reason to keep tabs on little old non-Meta me.
“What we know is that the original Justice Battalion, along with several other off-shoots that had started to call themselves a ‘Society’, were all brought in to the group. They weren’t co-opted. They weren’t coerced. Each one of them was offered some sort of deal in exchange for their cooperation. A couple of them out right joined. Others agreed to retirement. All of them got both paid -and- thanks to some extremely good work by Jay Garrick, Doctor Mid-Night (who’s costume my last one was based on), and the original Dinah Lance, they negotiated some extremely good terms for their agreements. In the case of the Black Canary for example. She was able to keep herself and her entire family line off of the books. So long as they never work in direct opposition to the Project -or- National Security.”
“Actually, this entire story kind of comes full circle. Because it was one of the original members who contacted Bruce. Enlisted his aide and supplied him with much of the information that I’ve been sharing with you.” Pausing for just a brief moment, to actually look around in a way that suggests that I might actually be worried my tech isn’t going to work for what I say next. Odd, that -this- would be the thing to cause me anxiety for. “That’s also why Bruce made our generations Dinah leave Gotham. I mean. Sure it helps keep the crazies down to a managable level. But he knew she’d eventually catch on to his machinations and if/when she did, she’d want in. She can’t help herself. She has to do good. So he sent her away, to keep from her breaking the rules her Grandmother agreed too.”
Did it get me to open up? I’ve been giving that a tremendous amount of thought lately. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what she says is true. A good bit of me thinks I took the chance on Cassie because I was feeling some unearthly connection to her. A draw that was as much attraction as desire to protect. Whatever the case may be, perhaps it is best left unquestioned. Left for her to think the best of that decision, lest she lose some of that trust in me? For that, I think, might be a question that rises above my current pay grade.
Taking in what Cassie has said, I have to mull it over. Good thing that I’ve given her a great deal to think about myself. I know a good deal of book information, but the practical points are all theory as far as I know. Cassie did just supply me with a touch of information that I hadn’t know. M’gann is a shapeshifter? I’d known she was psychic. I even knew she’d been posing as Cassie’s best frenemy at school for a time. It hadn’t actually occurred to me that she didn’t actually look that way. Begging the question of, what does she look like? That’s also a question for another time.
“If I understand the Trials our new friend is going through correctly. Then if she had one of the powers? It makes her a rival. She can take them from Freddy, by killing him or compelling him to give them up. In either event she’d be considered the ‘Winner’ and be granted those powers to herself. Which makes the lightning all that much more curious. More so than you’ve even thought. I’m under the impression that all of the powers can be gathered in any order. Except the final one. Zeus.”
“Ergo. If Zeus made an appearance before one of the champions was ready to face his challenge? Then someone was either cheating or twisting the trials in to something other than their intended purpose. Either of which is extremely curious for any number of reasons. No matter what the case is. Our friend clearly has a Rival and it would be in our best interests to help him locate the trials he needs to complete as quickly as possible. While also remembering that he’ll eventually need to garner the ones she has.”
“…and that brings me to this Isis. Osiris. Are we talking about the legit Goddess Isis? Or is this someone claiming it? If they’re cheating and Zeus is angry, have you considered that this is actually the best opportunity you’ve ever had to talk with him? He might need an agent here on Earth to sort this out for him, if for whatever reason, he can’t intervene directly.”
“Heh. You know so much about world History, but you don’t really focus here at home much do you? Fawcett City was originally intended to be a sort of…Olympus on Earth, kind of deal. Paradise. All of the original buildings in the City are enchanted. Very powerful magic. Strong enough that people like Dr. Fate and Raven? Never. Ever. Go there.”
Cassie: I have a feeling, as my ears hear those words ‘and I’m glad you asked,’ that if he were able this is where he’d flip over some gigantic dry erase board with elaborate diagrams and flow charts that were already prepared for just such an occasion. Probably with a dramatic flair. More appropriate I guess is the fact that I’m half expecting a wave of the hand to spray out an array of holograms depicting all of that. Given that I can follow along without one is fortunate, and helps to temper my disappointment. I guess he’s busy using that arm to offer it to me as an escort. A gesture that I spend a half second too long looking at in confusion, before really understanding what he’s going for and looping my hand around elbow.
“Your last one? You’ve had multiple?”
Not really important, or even all that pertinent but hey. I’m curious.
“Because she’s leggy, hot, blonde and incredibly sharp. I’m guessing also lethal, but the smart part is what led to the moving out. And she’s back now to… help with everything in Gotham?”
An easy assumption to make. Well. Both of them are. There’s a string of similarities that forms, with what little I knew of Batman that everyone else didn’t already know. What I know of Tim. What I know of the Black Canary, and how things seem to bubble up towards the south in Gotham City. That also tells me a few things about Tim that he hasn’t mentioned himself except in passing where he talked about Red Robin and his penchant for breaking faces. That means Tim can fight. Probably fight incredibly well for someone our age. Or any age. It’s almost an incongruous picture with what I’d always thought of him. But hey. Most people don’t think I could bench a tank with ease, either.
The truth is, Tim’s got more information and understanding of this than I even hoped he would. And I expected quite a bit from him. Guy with the answers, and all that. I can’t help thinking I should have known so much of this myself already. That these powers, this body, should have come with some sort of instruction manual like Conner tried to claim my suit had.
“Like. Maybe taking the power to resurrect another God, instead of being any sort of champion. She looked like an old woman. But there was something off about her from the get go. And then it was like you could see that she was really someone else entirely. The Crocodile men were scared stupid of her, when I didn’t even seem to ping their radar as more than slightly combative chew toy. And they kept talking about an ‘Aunty Minerva.’ Either there’s more than one, or there was a whole lot of coincidence and godly names getting thrown around for one person.”
And Minerva, or Athena, and Isis weren’t really parallel areas in their respective pantheons. There’s an almost helpless shrug of my shoulders, and I spread my free hand in front of me. I don’t know. I really don’t. And I don’t have a good excuse for my not knowing when I probably should.
“There’s knowing all the Ancient history, knowing what the stories say was responsible for what, and who was who. And then there’s wrapping your brain around the fact that one of them came down, did your Mom, took off and hey all those stories? Long lost millennia old relatives I never knew that I had. I have considered it. Not the part where I’m dumber than I ought to be… the trying to talk to the absent half of my family tree. I was debating the sanity yesterday of flying up into the sky and screaming at some clouds for a while. I was never even mad at him before. Before the powers. Before all of this. I never even thought about him. I wasn’t even curious.”
Maybe that stuck in his Godcraw. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard jack. There seems like a certain sort of sense and likelihood from everything I know, that I’m going to have to be the one to make that move for that reason alone. Or maybe, like Tim’s said, they just can’t act here on their own accord normally.
“So maybe I should go do my screaming in Fawcett then. And get another hamburger. Freddy showed me this place that was pretty spectacular.”
Tim: There is a look of surprise on my face. Either I hadn’t actually thought Cassie would catch on to what I had said or I hadn’t meant to say it. In either case I’m in for a penny at this point, so… “Before I was Red Robin, I was just Robin. I became Batman’s partner for a time. I hold the distinction of being the only person who figured it out. All of it. Who Batman was. Who the original Robin was. I approached him, instead of him approaching me. He actually turned me down originally, but later… he took me in. Gave me a place, a time and the ability to do something with the gifts that I was using to … well… fuck everything up.”
My parents? Are dead. But then again it seems everyone’s are in Gotham. The difference between them and I, is that I killed mine. There’s no lone gunman, no Clown Prince or acid to the face mobster. I did it. By trying to be Batman, as a twelve year old and bringing that element to my house. Well. Maybe I didn’t pull the trigger, but my actions brought about their end. One by one. It is my fault. And though I can’t speak about it, even with her, it’s also what drives me to find out what took my … what took Bruce from me too.
“While I was gone, I went by the name ‘Oracle’ for a time. Played tech support for my father and his people. Then when I came back, just before he put my on the task of meeting Conner, he’d picked another Robin. His real son. I resented it at the time, but I needed to be something else. Someone else. Maybe it’s silly, but even if I was still -a- Robin, the name Red Robin has a lineage. It was a mantel that I could have lived with.”
“You’re on the right track, I suspect. If this ‘Isis’ was trying to warp the Champion’s Trials. To pervert them in order to harvest the power in order to resurrect someone? That would certainly allow for Zeus to intercede. Which, in all honesty, brings up another point. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m betting this means you still haven’t spoken to your Mother. Okay? Fine. No more harping on it. If you are knowingly choosing to ignore a resource. Especially one with a direct line to your father, I’m not going to question you. I just want you to know, that despite really liking you. Really believing in you as a person. And really thinking you’re ready to do what we’ve got set in motion? You’re like a total idiot for not speaking to her. Do you have any idea what I’d give to talk to Bruce one more time?”
“Anyway. As your Mom would no doubt have told you, should you have asked. You can’t just shout at Daddy Dearest and get an answer. Nor can he show up and give you a hug or buy you a pony. Not so long ago, actually. A couple of human slash god hybrids. You’d call them demigods. Almost obliterated the world. Zeus forbade the Gods from directly partaking in this world. He took Olympus and set it apart from this world. His own rules cut him off from you. There are only very specific instances that he can commune with this world. One of them is through the Trials. Another is the Rock of Eternity. He can be summoned, under certain circumstances. My understanding is that these are laws and that he obeys them himself, to set forth an example. Meaning that these are rules that could be broken, but breaking the law has consequences. So it’s likely that he doesn’t.”
“Aunty Minerva doesn’t ring a bell. But if the Crocodile Men were agents of Sobek? Then it makes sense that they would fear Isis returning to power. Even more fearful of Osiris being restored. With those two dead, Sobek is a free agent. If they’re restored he’d indentured to their service.” Tapping my temples in the universal sign for ‘see, smart kid.’ “I wasn’t the one sleeping through Advanced Historical Mechanics class. That’s your boy toy.”
“Now. You asked me for more cases? I’ve got a few. There’s the one you didn’t pick from before. I’ve also got a special case for you, but it’s one that I don’t want you multitasking on. Not out of worry that you couldn’t handle it, but because I’m pretty sure once you pick up the file you’re not going to -want- to multitask any more.”
At the tail end of this bit of our conversation I’ve taken to guiding our tour. Strangely, in fact, given that Cassie knows this place infinitely better than I do. But she would, therefor, know to avoid a portion of the museum that is shut down for renovations. Marked as such, you’re not supposed to proceed beyond the barrier. As luck would have it though, the field that I turned on before is also quite enough to allow us to move beyond and in to the next chamber. A sign on a nearby wall reads ‘The Khandaq Collection’ and says it is on loan to the Museum from the Gotham Museum. Wonder how that happened exactly?
Once beyond the prying eyes of those who might wonder we’re off too. Beyond the scope of those who might think I’m taking some young lady off to get handsy. We’re in to an area that reads a whole lot more like Egypt than somewhere called Khandaq. Sculptures. Pyramids. Sarcophagus. How it that Cassie has never seen any of this?
“I arranged for this exhibit to be loaned to your Mother, through an intermediary by the name of Alan Scott.”
Cassie: “Do you still? Resent him, I mean?”
So chances were, Tim would have figured so much of this out on his own. Without Bruce Wayne’s guidance. I guess the truth is that he did, because he didn’t have much guidance at all. But then, without Bruce Wayne he wouldn’t have been in Metropolis most likely. He’d be in Gotham. Living an entirely different life than the one that he has now. It’s hard to say that I’m glad he figured out that whole Batpuzzle, because it’s brought him a lot of hurt and suck in his life. But it’s also clearly brought him a purpose, and also let me meet one of the best friends I’ve got. I guess it’s kind of like something I’d said to Conner yesterday. He didn’t want to apologize for the way we’d met, because he wasn’t sorry. It brought us to here. I realized a long time ago I’d forgiven him. I just didn’t ever say it. It wasn’t ideal, maybe it wasn’t even good, but we’re here. And I like here. Even the parts that I don’t understand, or that I feel like are spinning out of my control.
At least, that’s how I felt two days ago. Today? I’m feeling pretty good about my life, the universe and everything. At least, right up until the moment when I’ve got someone that I can respect as a mental peer telling me that I’m an idiot and just generally making me feel like … well. An idiot. An awful, awful idiot. Bringing an almost immediate nibble to the pit of my stomach that I’ve come to identify as anxiety. I don’t know if that’s what it really is. I haven’t been anxious about much of anything for most of my life. There hasn’t been a reason to be. I just don’t know what else it could be, and it seems to fit this situation at least. I start to unhook my hand from his arm and draw away, but I stop myself and replace the hand, settling instead for looking away. Back at the exhibits and just following where his arm goes. I’m not sure if I want to defend myself, or apologize more. So I just settle for quiet and letting him continue on with what he’s got to say.
But seriously. The last time he told me to talk to her was like. Two days ago. Three I guess. Before Fawcett. Then I was -in Fawcett- for the day. Then I was back here, and she’s been at work and I’ve been at school and … Don’t be awful, Cassie. He probably thought he had tomorrow to talk to his adopted father, too. My only real interjection for the time being almost an aside.
“He doesn’t actually sleep, really. He was probably just tuning into something else going on ten blocks away. I guess if she wasn’t fully there it’d explain why they felt okay in just bolting. The leader got away. Conner said the rest of the Crocodile Men reverted to just men once they were back in NOWHERE-land.”
Four of them anyway. Minus the one that didn’t survive depowering. And the one that didn’t survive an act of an Avenging Superboyfriend. I perk up to a little more attention when the talk is about someone else though. That’s easier for me to go in on.
“No more multitasking because it’s that good or that bad?”
I don’t recognize where we’ve ended up, and since I wasn’t paying that much attention and on autopilot walking that shouldn’t be surprising. But I know this museum as well as I know my Mother’s house. I know what part we’re in, but this wasn’t here last time. It’s all new, and not knowing about a new exhibit is strange. On loan from the Gotham museum. Heh. He doesn’t actually even need to explain that this is his doing. I’ve assumed as much, even before it’s confirmed.
“Generous of you, I’m sure she’s pretty jazzed to have something new to pour over. I assume this is also related to the subject at hand?”
Tim: “I don’t think so, but recent events have forced me to reconsider a third time in as a many months.”
The moment that I told Damien that I would put on the Cowl, I realized that maybe I -do- resent Bruce just a little. He’d known. The Man knew everything. If I was five steps ahead of everyone else, he was ten. So I can’t believe he set things in motion and then somehow just failed to notice that Dick didn’t want to be Batman. Damien isn’t ready. So the one thing I swore would never happen, had to happen because it was the only way to save Damien’s soul. And through that save Bruce’s real legacy. His son. Does that mean Bruce sacrificed me to save Damien? His adoptive son put to the torch for his real blood son? Hard to deny that I resent that idea right there, for sure. I’m still working out the rest of it though.
“If the person you saw was actually Isis, then you weren’t just seeing an attempted resurrection. You were seeing another after it happened. Because Isis is long dead. I would postulate therefor, that this ‘Aunt Minerva’ was perhaps nothing more than a Host for Isis’ spirit perhaps. Maybe even a temporary vessel, if she was smote as you seem to think. If that is actually the case, then I’m afraid you’ve got a larger problem. I’ve got more than just book knowledge about ressurections. I’ve experienced it myself. So I had to learn everything there is to learn about it. If this was really Isis and she was in some sort of Host. Then someone -else- put her there, because that’s the only way it happens. Meaning, Cass. That not only do you have Isis, potentially resurrecting Osiris. But you’ve got someone else, who brought Isis in to the fold.”
“Which brings me to why we’re here. We’ll talk about the other case in a moment. First…”
Now it’s time for a little razzle dazzle. Unhooking her arm from mine, I touch the wrist gauntlet and turn on the lights. Along with them is a pure hard-light interface that begins to transform the room in to a three dimensional holographic projection. This is not the work of any small transformer phone. The entire room has been turned in to a sort of ‘Holo-Deck’ through a means of hard-light projectors put in to various points all around the room. Is this the real exhibit or something I’ve set up? The smirk suggests that it is the latter.
We start with my drawing her attention to one of the miniatures of a Khandaq pyramid. “A very long time ago the Gods. Not merely the Gods of Greece or Rome, but the Gods. All of them. Decided that it was too dangerous to continue mingling with the Mortal World. Each of the Pantheons pulled back behind the veil. Some went to other worlds. Some to other dimensions. Others stayed but… essentially live as mortals. However, the Gods derive a portion of their power from Worship and Adoration. From belief in them. Not all of it, but it certainly bolsters them. That’s why Zeus is the God of Gods, where as Festus from Louisianna has a hard time buying a cup of coffee. Festus is a Bollywood Movie, Zeus is Star Wars.”
“Since their prominence springs out of belief from their followers? The Gods decided that they must continue to foster belief in them. Reverence. Honestly, they also recognized that not all of the Gods or Demons would play by the rules. So the hedged their bet and created a Champion.” Here is where I earn back my money. When the walls begin to come alive with the holographic projection of ancient Egypt. Where a single man rises through the ranks of ancient slaves. To become first a powerful gladiator. Then a General and eventually a Champion. “This is Teth-Adahm. Your history books won’t talk about him much. We’ll get to that. The old man there, in the image next to the Pharaoh Ramses the second? That is a man known by a single name.”
“Now. Look at this,” a touch of my gauntlet, a twist of a holographic dial and the image we’re watching transitions from Ancient times, to… “Fawcett City. Bank look familiar? Yeah. Same one? This is footage from the cameras there. Take a look at the date-line. Mhm. That’s why we’re watching this in Black and White. This is from twenty years ago. That’s Mr. Shazam there. Opening an account. With a safety deposit box. Here’s his first -and- only deposit…”
“Yeah. I know. Maybe if I’d had more than a couple hours, I could have figured out why we lose the feed right as he takes whatever that is out of his coat and puts it in to the box. But I’d say it is safe to say that he is the cause of that. But wait, Cassie Sandsmark, there’s more.” Once more I’m making adjustments to the device’s controller. This time we’re looping forward. The images begin to return to color, but they’re less cartoony. No more ‘holographic images of the past’, nor is this black and white footage from an ancient camera system. This? Is just a few weeks ago.
I’ve stepped closer to one of the points in the Holographic display, to draw her attention to the group of men outside the bank. Seven of them. To the untrained eye they might seem to be casual loitering punks. But I happen to know they’re a bunch of goombas casing the joint. Each one is taking a point. They’re marking points of entry. They’re taking notes of weak spots in the defenses. Another stays in the car, which never parks. It circles around the block time and time again. I’ve seen this before. He’s pacing the lights. Planning the ‘getaway.’ None of this matters really though, other than for Cassie to see that Conner was right. These guys weren’t Crocodile Men just days before the robbery. Men who were casing the place like real thieves would. Except that none of the men seem to be going inside to get a lay of the land there. These guys were perfectly normal. They probably didn’t even eat people.
What I wanted her to see? Is the point where I push the ‘pause’ button on the gauntlet. When we zoom in to see a frail old woman. A very familiar frail old woman making her cane-assisted way across the street toward the bank. People give her a wide berth. Whether because of her obvious age or out of some, weird, sense of respect. Everyone, except one man. Who seems to be on a casual stroll and walks right in to the path of the elderly woman. Nearly knocking her over. ‘Oooh. Sorry Miss Minerva. I didn’t see you there.’ The glare she shoots the man might well be made of daggers for all it matters, but they part company with barely a moment’s brushing against one another. She continues on her way, in to the bank… which is when I push the pause button again.
Another second or two of dialing in the exterior cameras. Correlating traffic cameras, security cameras, even cell phones from those nearby. Fawcett City has few things, but I needed just a second. One small blip of a picture to show her. That moment when the man bumped in to Minerva. “Here. See his hand? A trick any master of sleight of hand could do. He put something in her pocket… that’s curious, but this is more so. That man. Look at his features. The slant of his nose. The way his skull has a concave bent to it. The way his brows slope downward. Don’t ignore the color of his skin either. That’s not sun kissed skin, that sun beaten. Weathered.”
“I think he’s the man you’re looking for, Cassandra. Or rather, if he’s what I think he is? There’s a good chance he might just be looking for you at this point. That is why I agreed to come to visit.”
Cassie: “…that sounds kind of ominous, Tim. What happened? I’m assuming you don’t mean…this…”
A vague gesture of my hand to take in the room, me, him, I guess the world as a whole. But he hasn’t exactly mentioned his adopted brother much before so I don’t think it’s related to anything but maybe family trouble. Or Gotham trouble. My overall impression of Gotham is that all of that is his personal family troubles.
Temporary vessels? So that’s a thing, huh? That’s something I come very close to saying out loud, but I don’t really want to bring on another round of ‘well, if you’d talked to your Mom, Cassie…’ So that’s kept to myself. I can connect the dots to what it ‘means,’ though. If someone implanted Isis, it had to be someone with access to a lot of power. Maybe they know she’s trying to wrangle in her long dead Godhusband, or assumed. If a couple demi-gods wrecked junk what would a couple full fledged ones do if they get their power back? Who would want that to even be a thing?
“…yeesh! How much earlier than me did you get here?”
Lets face it, if Metropolis’ Museums had this kind of tech they’d surely be using it before now. Just think of the kinds of things you can do with it. Backup displays of important and irreplaceable artifacts, simulations of ancient civilizations like what’s springing up all around me right now. My now free hands are shoved into the front pockets of my jeans, as I turn and move around the holograms, peering in closer here and there. I keep to myself, also, that I actually prefer Bollywood for Star Wars. Blame my global upbringing. Or maybe that sometimes it feels like Star Wars is a little too close to home lately. So is the image of this Teth-Adamh actually. Because despite him apparently not being in history books, I recognize him, and it’s an entirely different sort of gnawing in low in my stomach that I feel. Maybe this is anxiety.
“Shazam. That’s a name I know. Both Freddy and the woman used it. Her like she recognized it in him, him to say that yes, he is Shazam.”
I’m coming to the rapid conclusion, something that I’d already suspected but is being confirmed, that this guy’s got way too much time on his hands. Not a bad thing, since it’s being used to my benefit right now but this is a lot of prepared material. I guess I don’t know if he’s going to school in Gotham or not, or if he even needs to. If I could have already graduated by now, Tim definitely could have if he wanted. Maybe he already did, and he was only in Metropolis for the meeting, assessing and greeting. Or alternatively he just doesn’t sleep. His making up an ‘excuse’ of time makes me let out a snort of laughter as I lean in closer to the image he’s showing me.
“Well. We can’t all be perfect, I guess.”
But wait. There’s more. Clearly he’s channeling his historic facts salesman vibe to the Nth degree. The images from a few weeks ago have me tilting my head though, curious. And then suspicious. I may not have spent an awful lot of time in Fawcett city, and a chunk of that it was mid disaster of a bank explosion, but it was pretty easy to pick up a few things. Like how people just didn’t loiter like that around the bank. Not one person. Not multiple people. They didn’t even come in through any of the places they’re watching. They came in through the sewers. Maybe they didn’t know they were going to be giant Crocodiles at that point, though, and had to adjust their plan for subtlety’s sake.
“That’s her. From the bank.”
He’s right though. He clearly slipped something in there. What was it? Something that triggered something latent in her? Or brought on the change like Tim mentioned before. My attention had been drawn to the hand, the reverse pick pocketing, but when I start to look at the rest of the picture of him, there’s a sharply inhaled breath through my nose as I lean back like I’m afraid the man in the picture might rear up and bite me.
“I think he already was. A year ago.”
Back when I was struggling nightly with an invasion force inside my head and in my dreams.
Tim: “Oddly, it isn’t that I don’t want to discuss it. I do. I think it might be good too. But. The thing that happened, isn’t really my story to tell for once.”
What has been happening with Damien is his life. His story. My part in it has come as a hopeful savior. In order to discuss it, to tell Cassie about it? I would never to give her information on Damien. Not someone we’re working to recruit or to take down. My brother. I would be giving her information that isn’t mine to give about my brother. For some reason that seems wrong to me. No differently than it always seemed to tell her Conner’s secrets. Such as the original trip to Fawcett City for him, that Bruce kept in the files. Certain things should be coming from other people or at least spoke about with their permission. Talking about them might be best thing to do, but it feels wrong to do it.
A little snort of laughter is her answer, “I arranged the exhibit exchange after our last phone call.”
Yeah. Preplanning. Kind of my thing. There’s a reason that Bruce brought me on to the team, even after turning me down more than once. My brain got me (and my whole family) in to a lot of trouble. With Bruce’s help, I’ve been able to keep things in check. To start thinking about things in a more linear way, with a mindful eye towards potential fallout. That’s what I lacked before. All the brilliance for planning, but none of the practical training to anticipate the results of my plans. In the past, I would have known to plan out only so far as to accomplish the goal in mind. Send Cassie to Fawcett City. But now? I knew enough to know that she had a fairly high degree chance of success and that after that she would need to put the pieces together. Or even if she failed, -I- would need to do that with Conner. Basing it not off of his heroism, but framing it as Revenge for Cassie’s demise.
Wow. Tim. You’re a real bastard. I know. Hence my concern that I should, actually, have some harsh feelings towards what I’ve become. “Your friend isn’t technically Shazam. I think it’s more like a codeword or something to turn on his powers. Unless something has changed, that Bruce wasn’t aware of it. Or it happened after he ….”
“Ah. So there’s your connection then. Aunty Minerva? She’s Fawcett City’s Falcone Carmine. The Crime Boss,” one hand comes up to beg off any jokes. “I’m serious. Nothing in Fawcett City happens without her permission or knowledge. If it happens with the former, but not the latter, there’s normally hell to pay. Those goons are her Kids or her Kid’s kids. Keeping the business in the family assures no one is ever a snitch.”
“Unfortunately. Despite all this wonderful technology from Wayne Industries, I can’t enhance the video any further. Whatever he put in to her pocket, we can’t see. He was moving too fast for their antiquated cameras to follow. It literally happens between frames of the video. He’s fast. Really, fast. Maybe the fastest I’ve eve… wait, what?”
For the very first time in all of this, I’m caught at least marginally flat-footed. Forced to turn away from the projections and give Cassie my full attention. “You know him?”
Cassie: “It’s okay. Believe me. That’s a feeling I know.”
So, hey Conner by the way did you know that your good buddy Tim is a costumed vigilante that knows like, everything about you and where you came from? Yeah, he’s also like. The Charlie of Mission assignments. My life is pretty much full of secrets that aren’t mine to tell, and the ones that are mine I can’t exactly blab to anyone about. Which leaves Conner. Tim. Mom. Secrets were never my thing. Lies especially not. But there’s just some things you can’t tell.
“Watch out. If my Mom finds out you can get things done and moving that quickly she’s going to try and make sure you do it again. And again.”
The amount of redtape and effort that it takes to do anything with a museum’s artifacts, especially when it comes to any sort of transfer is a nightmare. I know firsthand from watching my mother deal with it, and from listening to her ranting and raving on occasion. It’s not her favorite thing, that’s for sure, but she’s always liked field work so much better than a desk job. Which is why, honestly, I don’t really fault her for gearing up to get back to it. I’m just still a little bit cranky at the timing, and the way that the whole thing reads. Even though I do actually understand. The correction on Shazam and what, or whom, it might be just gets an ‘ah’ of understanding. Not because there’s not more that could be said but.. the downturn that’s inevitable at talking about Bruce Wayne’s death brings it up short. And it’s not the most pertinent thing at hand anyway.
“I guess that makes me feel moderately better for turning them over to NOWHERE. Also explains the suits.”
When Conner had talked about the transformation, part of me had been scared they were normal, regular people that weren’t criminals and that two of them had been killed when they weren’t acting under their own power. Maybe they had been, then. Well, clearly they had been. Tim’s just shown me their casing the joint. Told me the weird old lady’s back story. People who already had the predilection for the sort of crime that they’d committed that day only… aimed. Targeted to get something specific out of that vault, and then maybe something worse from there.
“I’d say she doesn’t look like she’s super strong there, by the way he bowled into her but…”
But he’s incredibly strong. Even if she had the Strength of Hercules and could just reactively use it (not sure it works that way, entirely), there’s every chance that he was stronger. I’ve also been cut off more by Tim’s actions. Not by what I was thinking about saying. I don’t think in all the time that I’ve known him, I have actually seen Tim surprised by anything. Either he covers it up really, really well or it just doesn’t happen all that often. I’m actually inclined to believe it’s more of the latter.
My face colors, it starts with pink and gets increasingly more to red and the closer it gets to that, the more my eyes drop to the left and down. Unable to entirely bring myself to looking at my friend. It’s not that I’m embarrassed because I forgot to bring up something important, that I didn’t know would be important. It’s the resurfacing of memories that I’d mostly pushed down. Seeing that image on the screen had been one thing. Having my genius detective friend tell me he’s probably looking for me? They’re not happy memories. They were pretty horrendous and my expression is a lot more ashamed than it is anything else, before I clear my throat and push on.
“Last year I was having a lot of… problems with someone invading my thoughts. Maybe it was two someone’s. Dreams I guess is the better word. Anytime I wasn’t fully awake at the worst point. He was in them. Called himself just Adam, though.”
Tim: At the exact moment that she explains what she meant by that, I take another step in her direction. Call it compelled, call it the need to protect. I’m half-way across the exhibit floor before I realize that I’ve moved. Then remembered that if this girl needed physical protection, I’m the least likely to be able to offer it. Hey, I’m not entirely out of my mind. I know my limits and this is one of them. Just short of fully approaching her, I bring myself to a stop and start to work on the wrist-mounted gauntlet again.
Our scenery changes one more. Reverting really to the earlier vision of the world as it was. No, this isn’t some time-stolen image. I haven’t figured out time-travel yet. This is a recreation based upon likely generation of how Ancient Egypt appeared during the time period. Nothing more or less than you might see on the History Channel, I’m just bringing it to life with Wayne Tech. Back back back, until we’re centered around the legions of people cheering for their Champion.
“Okay. When this man was the Champion. He was a hero of pretty epic proportions. He and his ‘family’ protected the world as they knew it for years. There is no concrete information about what happened, but we know that one of his family members perished when the King Tufu made certain demands. Demands that put Teth-Adamh in to a position of using his powers for something other than protecting. He began invading. Once he started down the dark path it for ever dominated his destiny, so to speak. He went dark. Real dark. Real fast. So much so that the Gods themselves wished to revoke his access to the powers.”
“That’s also when things went from bad to a hell of a lot worse. Teth’s wife… was a woman named Isis. Bruce’s files are unclear if that was the actual Goddess or someone with the same name. Either way, she caught on to the ‘plans.’ Anyway. She did something. Made some sort of deal with Shazam’s wife? Daughter? Something like that. They bargained with the Egyptian Gods. When Shazam sought to revoke the Champion’s powers, the Greek pantheon’s blessings were instead replaced by those of the Egyptian Pantheon’s. Yeah. Fucked up and weird.”
This is also where I pause, if only for a moment in all of this to once more take a look at Cassie. Her glowing blush, the reaction to what we’re discussing. Each new way she reacts is being examined for dissemination later. “You’re wondering, if this isn’t in any of the History books then how would Bruce Wayne know this. Even if he’s the greatest detective that the world ever knew. How the hell would he and therefor I, know any of this.”
“Dinah Lance. Not my Dinah. Her Grandmother. In the forties, that team was somehow time-displaced. They landed in Ancient Egypt during one of the many ‘Lost Periods.’ They met Teth-Adam there. He was still a Champion then. They were there, to see Teth return to his homeland after the invasion. After he’d assisted in something that he hadn’t morally agreed with. To find that his homeland had, in retaliation, been invaded too. His wife. His family. All of them dead. It changed him. Hardened him. He served Egypt for a thousand more years, before Shazam was able to banish him somehow.”
“The information we have is from while the Society was there. What they could find out, research. Everything after they left is rumor, legend or lost. I don’t know how bad he got, nor what he did to pit him directly against the Wizard. I just know that it was bad. Bad enough that the Wizard arranged for Khem-Adamh… Black Adam… to disappear. That whole time period disappeared from History.”
“If he’s awaken, which clearly he is. Someone woke him. Perhaps who ever it was that invaded your dreams?” This time the pause is different, I’m thinking, even speaking more to myself than anything else. “Everything is connected. All of this. The Society is bound to N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and they’re tied to Conner. The Society is connected to Adam. Who’s connected to your bank robbery. All of those threads circles around a single event.”
“You. And the point when you gained your powers. You’re at the center of all of this, Cassie. Someone or something big was either awoken with your powers or was waiting for them to awaken.”
Cassie: I recognize the movement that’s happening in front of me. Not because I’m some excellent reader of minds and body language. I’m not even completely watching him at first until I realize that he is moving. It’s because last time both of us were physically here together was when Tim asked me to meet so he could tell me he was leaving for Gotham City, and to let me know I needed to not only keep out, but to definitely keep Conner out. When he told me that his Dad was dead, and I’d gone from drinking my chocolate milk to hugging him faster than I could think better of it, and definitely faster than he could stop me. Super speed. I’m no Freddy or Conner but still. Tim doesn’t have superspeed. And so his superbrain thinks better of the motion halfway here.
I actually kind of wish he hadn’t stopped himself. But I’d never told anyone about Adam. I wasn’t really sure there was a second influence before, and it stopped along with the rest. Jamming my fists a little more firmly into my pockets, I purse my lips and focus in on what he’s showing me. It’s a lot easier to fill my brain with than what was threatening to crowd in right now.
“Weird is kind of the buzzword lately, isn’t it? I thought I was getting a handle on weird, and now I’m learning there’s like 80 different extra layers of it underneath.”
I feel like I ought to have more to discuss with him on this, but as he’s said himself. He’s got knowledge here that no one else really should and at least this I can’t be blamed for not having recommended conversations before now. Time travel. You can practically hear the unspoken ‘yet’ on that one. Because the world needs wrinkles in time on top of everything else.
“My not so educated guess? He thinks he’s above them. Maybe he is. And if someone else dredged him up… who or what that could be is a freaking scary thought. But I don’t think it was my other stalker. That was more…opposition than cooperation. He wasn’t the only one looking for me.”
I don’t know who that could be. That could have brought him back. So many, all at once, and I wonder if maybe it’s not a person but more something. Some building event that’s just…cracked the world so to speak. Opened that box and let all the monsters back out into the universe. A hand comes out of my pocket to rub the side of my face. My temple. My plans, which had seemed so big and reaching in scale are starting to seem like they were chump change in comparison to what’s actually at play here. This time, I don’t repress the agitated sound that comes out of my throat.
“Alright, alright. I’ll go talk to my Mom. Guess you’re stuck with Conner and the Strippers. Er. Carnival. I’ll meet up with you guys in a bit.”