Stately Wayne Manor, such as it is. The old girl has seen better days for sure. Everything has just been a constant struggle to keep up. It all started with Bruce’s death. A lot of talk has been about Batman’s death, but that’s the catch in all of this. Batman didn’t die. Bruce Wayne did. He was killed in what most people outside of our little family believe was a random act of violence no different than his Mother and Father. Gunned down on the street due to the symbol he’d represented in the City (and the world). While the Foundation was left to Tim, the Manor was left to me. We’d all wondered what exactly Damian was left, but Alfred had told me long, long before Dinah approached. That it was written that way to make sure each of the sons knew what they were inheriting. The Manor held the Cave and as such that went to the son who should inherit that legacy.
When I got here, I’d spent six months more or less holed up in the library. Most of the staff were let go. Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with the sheer volume of the investigation I’d begun to do in to Bruce’s passing. The Cave was Moth-Balled, because I simply told the lot of them that I wouldn’t do it. Then came the backfire of all the Cave’s technology, followed by the Ninja, then the physical attack on the Cave… we’ve scarcely had time breathe. Much less repair it all. Even still Alfred manages to work miracles around here and so despite there being a literal litany of people sitting in the Manor’s sitting room? It looks homey. There’s a fire lit. Everyone has food and drink.
The role call is a who’s who. Timothy Drake in a suit that I’ve seen only once before, has made himself at home in a seat near the fire. He’s got some sort of holographic display up, apparently still working on his task. Despite being in full costume, neither he, nor Stephanie Brown are wearing a mask. Spoiler seems to be also be distracted by that Gameboy contraption of her’s and I’m surely not the only one who has missed her nervous glances at the grandfather clock tick-tick-ticking away. Then there’s Cassandra Sandsmark and Conner Luthor. They’ve apparently put their ‘work clothes’ on since I saw them less than an hour ago and look completely ridiculous in this old ‘Gothic’ styled home. The pair of them are bright anyway, but you add the glow of a fire to them and it makes Wonder Woman light up the entire room. Last but not least is Dinah Lance who is just in front of me when we step in to the room fashionably late and Alfred Pennyworth who is serving food and drinks to everyone in attendance.
We took the liberty of actually getting ‘dressed’ for this occasion. Figuratively and literally. Though given the tone of this meeting, I’m not sporting the far more comfortable skin of Nightwing. I’ve come in the cape and cowl, the former of which is currently swathed around me like a cloak. I feel only slightly over-dressed sporting the Cowl, given that seemingly everyone else has dropped the pretense of not knowing one another. It just feels like a moment when there needs to be a reminder that this is literally my House. That we asked everyone to gather, but there is a pecking order here and is a burden that I wear. But I will wear it.
“Status report Robin?”
“Let’s cut the Robin and just go with ‘Drake’ for the moment. I’m working on a new moniker.” Tim barely looks up from the Holographic interface to correct me, but when he does there’s a small ‘gulp’ at the sight of my nonplussed gaze. “Right, okay then. This thing you’re calling the Vault, is something we’ve all known existed. None of us actually knew the form it took. Bee tee doubleya, by ‘all,’ I mean those of us who have lived in this house. For example during Dick’s time here there was a vault below the Cave where Batman would house his foe’s most dangerous tech that couldn’t be left to Police impound for fear it might end up in the wrong hands. During Damian’s time as Robin, the Vault expanded to have it’s own holding facility because during the No Man’s Land period there was no law, no jails or arkham. It was during my between his time and my tenure as Robin, that Bruce installed the current upgrades. From what I can ascertain they were put in place to deal with Parallax, should they be able to take Hal Jordan alive.”
That projection he’d been working on is literally cast out in to the middle of the room for all of us to see. It’s filled with dimensional images and video for us to see as he speaks. Data, blue-prints, schematics. The names of the engineers are all different. No one person built this, it was designed by hundreds of people. Bruce just took their engineering and put it together.
“During the assault on the Cave, the attacker intentionally botched an attempt to gain access to the cave through a systemic reboot of the security system. Whomever it was had 15 seconds of time during which the security was down. This sounds totally reckless now that we know there were actually captives down there, but the security isn’t what is holding those people. It’s the Kryptonian crystallis system. It bends every single form of energy that I can even postulate and confines it to the cubic cells. So the person who did the attack knew this and therefor needed 15 seconds to take whatever they took from the Vault.”
“This is where Dick needed Barbara. She was able to trick the Brother-Eye system in to believing that those cells were being violated. That also sounds miraculous, until I realized… she didn’t have to hack the system. Once she was able to physically locate the over-rides, she simply took Bruce’s form and unlocked the Vault. This is where it gets sketchy, because I’m still not sure what the hell she was doing in the cell with Dinah’s Brother. And I’m not sure why Dinah’s Brother… let’s just ignore that Dinah doesn’t have one… was actually down there, but he is and has been for at least a year, possibly more.”
Each time Tim stops speaking he shifts the Holographic projection to -show- us stilled images of various portions that he is describing.
“Here’s where we really get in to the weeds. You asked me to fact-check everything. I did what I could in the time allowed. Alfred is somewhat clean. Despite assisting in the build, Alfred was completely locked out of the system about a week before Bruce put your Brother down there. I’ve cross-referenced everything, Bruce went to Rapid City about three days after he locked Alfred out and he then sent Alfie on a vacation up to his cabin in New Hampshire to see his daughter… another relative I wasn’t aware of, might I add… this correlates directly to several other trips Bruce has made to Rapid City over the years. I believe he’s been planning this for a very long time.”
“Thank you for the briefing… eh.. Drake, but you left at least one thing unanswered. Is the Martian safe to let out of the cage?”
This clearly makes Timothy uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. He shares a look with Cassie and Conner, but I’ve got no idea what it means or why he does it. The three of them know one another well from while Tim went to school with them, so perhaps the three of them all knew M’Gann in some form or another?
“There’s no definitive test that I can, which would give us a credible answer. The person in the other cell isn’t using a standard form of mind control that we’re used too. It’s possession. Which in a non-mystical sense, is a form of rapid mental domination on a genetic level. Since she’s a shape-shifter, there’s a chance that she simply re-wrote her DNA as fast as he was making changes. There’s an equal or even better chance that she didn’t or at least not all of what was done. From the files, there have been tests done on Dinah’s Brother over the years, as Bruce attempted to reverse the effects. There’s been a lot of success, but the key hurdle is that if one cell of this ‘Vertigo’ remains in the system, it eventually multiplies and re-takes the host.”
“So we can’t let her go.” It’s best, I think, if I say those words because then perhaps the Supers will understand the gravity of what is being said. Except then Tim makes that noise he does, when he’s the smartest person in the room.
“Well. One test was actually a success.” His throat clears again and he gestures to Dinah. “Well. During the original encounter Dinah’s team had with this Vertigo thing. They were able to free everyone else from it’s possession, when she … uh…”
“Killed him. She killed him, Red. Which brings us back to the question I asked before they got here. How the fuck is he alive, if she killed him?”
“According to Bruce’s notes. Nowhere re-animated Kurt Lance, in order to harvest the virus. Vertigo was seen a more humane method of putting a suicide in the field, then implanting bombs in to their brain. Don’t worry. They couldn’t control it. So they scrapped the idea and started cloning real heroes to be programmed…”
“Where does all of this information leave us?”
“You’re not killing Megan.”
“Suddenly a little blood on your hands is a problem?”
“There will be blood, but it won’t be Megan’s if you guys go down that route.”
“I didn’t suggest we kill her, you didn’t let me get that far. I was going to say… we might want to think about re-killing Kurt Lance. I’m not clear on the ethics involved in killing someone who’s technically already dead. But…”
“… if killing is wrong, then it’s just wrong. I’m sick of you people constantly changing the rules. Either Killing someone is okay or it isn’t. Black and white. Right Cassie?”
“Now Cassie’s opinion matters to you? You’re half the reason this entire problem exists.”
Ahem. “Master Drake, Mister Luthor. Would either of you like a cold drink perhaps?”
Dinah: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time here since Bruce died, and I came back to Gotham City. I was working with Tim, and we’d been operating out of the Nest instead. The only times I really actually came up to ‘the house’ was to yell at someone. Or for Halloween. I briefly considered turning up for this exactly as I’d already been: in even more disheveled workout gear than I’d had on the last time, but Dick’s pulled out the big Bat gun, and we probably need to set a tone. This had needed to happen regardless, I’d taken Conner seriously after that train, but it was already abundantly clear to me that ‘my’ problem wasn’t just going to be ‘my’ problem. There were targets for NOWHERE to take aim at beyond myself, and as it turns out ‘my’ problem is a whole lot bigger than I actually anticipated. One side of it. There’s different repercussions for the second. Admittedly, there’s three more attendees than I’d actually planned on…
Either way, even in my full gear, I’m the most underdressed person in the room, and I don’t even mean in sheer amount of skin showing. This of course doesn’t bother me, but Spoiler’s clearly gotten an upgrade over what I last trained with her in, and is still playing her stupid game while looking anxious about being here, and Wonder Girl’s costume is a great deal more spangly in person, or maybe that’s thanks to the firelight throwing a reflection on it. I couldn’t even actually guess what the fabric is, and I spend enough time trying to that she notices, and pointedly looks away.
“…well that’s a little obvious for a starter, but we’re all friends and fam here so…”
I’m mostly talking to myself, he’s giving his report and relaying information is Tim’s thing, particularly if he gets to reveal something he’s figured out before anyone else has. No mocking or judgement there. It’s what he does. He’s good at it. Sometimes he even makes sure everyone actually understands the magnitude of what he’s saying, but fortunately for even us plebians this is mostly English. And I have questions but they’re not actually immediately relevant to our issue and this problem. The logistics of how Kurt’s been eating down there for God knows how long, for one thing. Standing with my arms folded across my chest, I start to make the observation, circling back to what Dick and I, and Tim and I separately, had already concluded about the intruder, and the points that this proves.
“So the attacker had to know there was a Vault, they needed to know exactly what was in said Vault, know exactly how to get to it, and know exactly where to go in it to retrieve whatever it was that they were after, while also either covering their trail to get into the Cave, or preventing all the systems from detecting them in the first place. So either there’s a speedster involved or. Is. Your father alive?”
Holy shit, she speaks in whole non-stammering sentences that don’t only involve her speaking up in order to charm an audience, or trying to contain Conner from whatever his current moment of ridiculousness is? Maybe I’m a little harsh, since I had literally no experience with her up until today, and given that Tim’s a genius, albeit a teenage one, and Conner’s smart and observant and doesn’t strike me as the tie himself to one person unless they were actually pretty special type… I’ll admit I’d kind of figured maybe they both only thought she was so great because she’s yet another gorgeous, well built blonde and they were both in love with… her… While I was boggling over Wonder Girl’s observation, and the sincere concern that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the big problem, and more Bruce being not so dead, the conversation had carried on to what we’re really here to discuss.
And it has moved on to the two of them fighting. This isn’t banter, or bickering. There’s answers to questions I had myself, but those are about to get glossed over in rapid fashion. Conner had told me, before we got to Rapid City, that I’d blown Kurt’s head up. Off. Distinction that doesn’t really matter. It was clearly intact. And he is clearly in there, in some part, because I saw those memories. Steve Trevor had spoken to him since. Do I know for certain that it isn’t Vertigo aping my brother? No. But either way, I’d wondered if perhaps the reports filed, that Conner had access to in order to tell me the information, might maybe have not been entirely accurate in the details of how things fell out on that last mission.
It is very clear to me that they’re not fighting about M’gann, or what we’re going to do with her, that subject is just what they’re using to air some other bits of hostility. Cassandra’s expression has shifted from concern, to thinly veiled dismay as she watches her friend, and boyfriend, going back and forth like a ping pong match, until she interjects about the same time Alfred does.
“Stop it. Both of you.
Then there’s me, casually examining my fingernails, even though I don’t typically paint them and I’m wearing gloves that cover them up anyway, with a tone of voice that is so light and airy that it probably sends up red flag danger warnings in half the people in the room’s brains.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re just casually throwing out murdering my brother as an acceptable option here, and circle back to the part where we don’t kill people. Even when they’re insufferable asshats that arguably deserve it. So what are our productive options on scanning the Martian for Vertigo? And what are we going to do about your other friend in the meantime?”
Dick: “We have a couple of theories with regard to the answer of that question, Wonder Woman,” applying a deep emphasis on the term, to in turn make clear what I think of the two kids bickering. “At the moment we haven’t been able to firmly determine if any of them are correct. I will say most of our current theories run in line with ‘Yes.’
Let’s just be very honest here, the best thing I’m doing right now is what Batman does best. Loom. Also I’m listening to the group in order to mentally take stock of them. Most everyone here I know, if only on different levels of varying degrees friendship. Unless you count Superboy, in which case I barely know him. He was Tim’s assignment and I’ve had no chance or cause to interact with him until recently. I’m particularly interested in the bickering and how it’s put down, but that’s for another time. We have problems that are for the right now variety and like clock work Canary cuts right to the heart of it.
“Here’s the thing, and I’m loathe to admit this but, our current systems aren’t advanced enough to do a full medical scan of Martian genetic codes due to their malleable state. In fact that’s actually the luck of the draw on how she was able to be in the Cave at all. Due to the Brother-Eye system being one of the ones taken out a couple months ago when the Cave systems got hacked.” Realizing almost immediately that some in the room don’t have that information, I can see Tim actually scramble suddenly. He doesn’t like having to correct himself and I can tell it bothers him even more to do so in front of Conner. “Back before Christmas, the systems that my Father originally created and that we’ve ran on for years, were all hacked. Legitimately hacked. To Di–Batman‘s point, that’s one of the problems with our theories too. If our Father was alive, he wouldn’t have needed to hack the system to disable it. And if he were going to simply invade to get something from the Vault, then he wouldn’t have needed to do something so obfuscating as hiring someone else to hack the system either.”
“Meaning, that we’ve been under attack from multiple angles for the last year. One of our theories, in fact, is that Bruce faked his death to go to War with a secret cult-like organization based out of Gotham, but with global reach. I’ve got reason to believe they’re actually behind the entire ordeal in Kahndaq, in order to get their hands on Nth Metal.”
“Which is ironic, because… wait for it…”
“… ugh … it’s like a game show. Tim’s going to cut to commercial and we’re going to have to listen to Freakshow talk.”
“. . . did they design you specifically to be an asshat? You smug piece of…”
“… cheese and wine … are available for those whom are old enough to partake. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a table in the children’s dining hall for those whom are not…”
“Bleh. Fine. The irony? M’Gann unlocked everything when she did what she did. I was able to compare Bruce’s most previous inventory to current inventory. Two items are missing. One piece of Kryptonite. One Nth Metal dohickie that was titled labled ‘Absorbascon.’ Seriously, I don’t have a good enough imagination to even make that up. I half thought Spoiler read the files before I did.”
“Absorbascon is an item that was stolen from Nowhere about three years ago.” My eyebrows lift right up, but before I can say a word, Conner’s putting his hand on Cassie’s leg. “Came from the same place I took this materia from. Nowhere has a vault like the one you’re talking about, in Metropolis. It’s full of items they’ve recovered, but either couldn’t make work or didn’t think actually did anything useful.”
“That’s comforting. Everyone has a vault of secret W.M.D.’s in their basement.” If I’d come as Nightwing, I’d be rubbing my nose at the moment. “So this item that is missing from our Vault, is the same metal that I believe the ‘Court of Owls’ is creating World War III over. Now the sample we actually did have, that we weren’t even aware of, is our stolen item. Lending yet more credence to the theory that Bruce is alive.”
“However, while this is all very well and good. We’re here to discuss impending doom by way of this ‘Raven’ individual. How are we going to avert that?”
“There is one thing.”
“See? Commercial break.”
Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to say it because… “… if Conner was to go in to her cell, there’s a chance he could use his enhanced visual accuity…”
“… to read her genetic code. Assuming he’s fast enough to do it, smart enough to read and understand it, there’s a chance that even if she’s infected he could utilize his extra-sensory ability…”
“… to remove the infection. If he’s not any of those things. We’ll have a Martian and Kryptonian infected and in our basement.”
Dinah: Cassie’s eyes widen over the confirmation of what she’d gathered herself from all of this, and you can almost read a momentary excitement there as she looks especially towards Tim as if to say, ‘but that’s amazing, right?’ only to half a second later realize that maybe it’s not in the current context and situation. Then it’s right back to paying rapt attention to the information being relayed to all of us, with a tiny perfect wrinkle on that forehead of hers, while leaning in towards Tim. Ah, Christ, is all I can think with a roll of my eyes, no wonder Dick said this girl’s a problem for our Boy Genius. If I were doing that move, right there? There’d probably be more tits hanging out, but otherwise it’d be to stroke an ego (so I could ultimately crush it) and make him want to impress me. Flirtation 101, maybe even remedial level. Except nothing else I’ve seen about her makes me think she has a fucking clue what she’s doing, so either she’s really, really good, and maybe also gaming Conner or…
There’s a momentary lapse in order to shoot a displeased look at Conner for his interruption, Stephanie who’s been silent for the longest time put together ever, actually looks up from her game long enough to spread her hands in a ‘what the actual fuck?’ gesture at being called out. That’s about the same time that our eyes meet, in the middle of her coming to an observation all her own as eyes flick back and forth between Tim and the ‘new girl.’ Then she’s pulling the hood of her costume up over white blonde hair, and sinking a little lower into her chair with that gameboy and… she just slipped an earbud into her ear.
“Unless your Father, or someone else, had already removed it after his last inventory. If it was someone else, they still had to know it was down there in the first place, though, and still know where to look so if it wasn’t Batman… the original Batman, then either they got that information from him voluntarily or…”
“Or he’s breadcruming us again, which my brain almost cannot take on right now,” one eyebrow is lifted, the other squinched down as I can’t not focus on the complete and utter lack of reaction from either Conner, our resident half-Kryptonian, or his girlfriend, to the revelation that Bruce had Kryptonite and it’s also missing, but that’s something I’m intentionally not calling their attention to. Tim and Conner’s bickering is making me want to box their ears literally, they might be kids, as Alfred has pointedly called out, but they’ve got to be better than this right now. Clearly I’m one of the old ones now, getting annoyed by all of the childish… “Spoiler. I know this is all a little above your pay grade, but if you’re going to be here pay attention. Conner, Tim, anyone at this point… what does this Absorwhatever do. Or not do usefully enough for NOWHERE to care much about it?”
“Uhhhm, so we were kiiiind of in the middle of something when the systems triggered before,” So help me, I’m going to uncork on the easy target in the room if she intimates in even the slightest that we interrupted Tim passing the time with… “And while I totes get Batman’s concern about things that go boom in people’s basements, because there probably was a bunch of them that we haven’t really figured out what they do yet in my Dad’s the last time we were there, and right now we kind of have someone we were interrogating tied up in the living room, and I thought he was waking up but… I mean. Probably fine. Yelling in the neighbor’s house is like, typical errrrryday in the Narrows…”
Twisting a purple gloved hand, she flashes the game machine’s screen at me long enough to sheepishly display what looks to be a Junior Detective Version of a Tim Drake project spread, rather than any actual video game. Huh. She looks at the momentary surprise on my expression, pauses for a moment like she’s waiting for an apology, realizes she already knows that sure ain’t coming and then with a snap of bubblegum I hadn’t even known she had until this second, goes back to work.
“…yeah sooo I’ll just let you real superheroes go back to your reality TV debate club and…
“Ahem. Conner’s regularly been able to spot the changes in M’gann’s cells before. It’s why he uses his x-ray vision on people, posing as someone else isn’t precisely a new thing for her, so it’s necessary to check sometimes if…”
“…haha yeah sure that’s why he does it…”
And now the girls are getting into it, too, judging by the way I just practically saw Wonder Woman’s hair start to puff up like an angry cat, whether it’s over being interrupted, or someone calling Conner on what we all sure wanted to say on at least a teensy tiny level, I actually get a flash of that something ‘else’ that Dick had talked about and that I hadn’t wanted to admit the girl might really have… no. Wait. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise, and as I shift my weight the building static in the air becomes clear.
“Enough.” There’s force behind that word, not enough to damage the Wayne’s Home, but definitely enough to set the chandelier to tinkling, and everything to rock just a little bit, not to mention be felt. Stephanie’s mouth snaps shut, Cassie cringes in a way that answers the question mark in the file over whether or not her senses were improved with her physiology, and I move on after planting my hands on my hips and squaring my stance. “We’ve gotten all your input, so if you can’t fucking behave like the heroes you want to be, and that we need present and working together right now, then you can get the fuck out and Batman and I will make a unilateral decision that you’ll fall in line with or… get the fuck out.”
There’s a pause for response, or getting the fuck out, but mostly it’s to see if anyone wants to sass me so that I can demonstrate exactly how accurate I can be with a small angle scream.
“Is there anything, or anyone else of use in the basement, because I don’t actually want to risk having to lock up Superman down there, too, especially on the heels of what we just did yesterday, and what we know, but unless there’s a solution to deal with the Magical Psychopath that’s potentially going to be here any minute, I don’t really hear any other viable choices from the peanut gallery.”
Admittedly, he might fare okay after what Steve Trevor said about Vertigo and people with/without morals, but allowing anyone we can’t control under the sway of that entity is less than acceptable.
DIck: This is why I’d come here in the Cape and Cowl. As Nightwing, I’m one of them. As Batman, I’m above it. Someone whom can actually speak with authority, if only because the Cowl conveys it upon me. Even if I truly am just one of them, the act of just being Batman, being accepted -as- Batman, means that I hold some manner of sway. The trouble is knowing when to use it and when to listen. Right now the in-fighting is not exactly helping us with the immediate problem, but in the long term (assuming there is one) I am getting so much information about all of the people in this room that I won’t need to rely on second hand accounts anymore.
Dinah knows everyone in this room better than I do. She’s experienced, tough as nails and as far as I can tell every single person here respects her. Even the Demigod that barely knows her immediately went silent when Dinah began to explode. I’m impressed, quite honestly. Though she certainly aided her efforts to be heard by making her voice impossible to be denied, didn’t she? Every tool, in the toolbox.
Wait. Stephanie said they have someone tied up in her Father’s apartment? Well okay. That’s going on to the ‘list of things we need to discuss.’ Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with many things of late, it has to further down the list than ‘Hell-Child coming to Unleash Satan on Gotham.’ If such a threat is to be taken literally, of course, I’m admittedly not sure I entirely buy in to all of that. If that’s the case then why hasn’t this person been unleashed before now?
“Honestly, X-Ray vision does have other benefits, but the reason I scan everyone I meet? Is because I spent two years having no idea if I was talking to a real person or someone they cooked up to have M’Gann test me with me. Half the time? I still don’t know, if I don’t check.” The Superboy’s tone is very different, after Dinah’s explosion, than it was just a few moments ago. Did she bring him down off of the constant bickering or was it Cassie coming to his defense? “Canary’s experiencing it herself, right now. Nowhere replaced Mayor Queen, in Star City. It’s actually part of the protocols, which were created for a good reason. To stop public panic when someone like ‘Green Lantern’ gets corrupted, like with the Parallax situation that Tim brought up. It’s just been…perverted and abused.”
“Good people lose their way, Son. Thus the saying about the road to hell, being paved with good intentions.”
As much as I’ve been ill-impressed with the Superboy, I’m impressed that he has the ability to speak so clearly about this Nowhere group that he’s been working with his entire life. I’ve met the boy four times and each time has been slightly different, but they follow two different themes I’m starting to pick up on. Conner Luthor is Brash, Spoiled, Educated clearly, but sterotypical of today’s millennial culture of entitlement. So much so that his whims seem to change every couple minutes. Each meeting with him in costume has been a stark contrast. He seems dedicated, albeit it to the idea of being Cassie’s Hero, thoroughly trained, highly skilled and holding of convictions that aren’t entirely in line with my own. At least he has them. One of those two personas is fake, I’m just not sure which one.
Then there’s Cassandra. Her interactions have me the most curious. I’m told we’re banking on her to be the ‘control’ on Superboy, but she doesn’t seem to fully understand the power she holds over him. More especially the power she holds on every teenage boy that sees her. Properly harnessed she’d have them all eating out of her hand as surely as Vertigo’s mind control. So then what do we have with her?
“I think I can answer your question about the Absorbawhatsis. The reason that Nowhere was in possession of it, is because it was ‘rumored’ to hold mystical properties. The legend was that it allowed the holder to link with a people, not just one person but an entire culture for example, thereby absorbing their entire civilization. The wielder would then be able to think, act, speak… just like a member of the culture. A perfect tool for an Alien invasion, which is what Nowhere believed was in the works when the item was originally discovered. A race of avian-winged people were seeded in to the Earth Culture. They used the stone to learn the culture and blend in. Admittedly, once again, the original intention was good when your Grandma’s people took the rock. Over the years though, the thinking was that the item might be able to be of use when replacing people of interest. The rock didn’t quite work the way it was hoped for, so it was stored in the artifacts vault to be kept safe but not used.”
“Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. My current theory, is that Bruce got his hands on the item for use in recovering your Brother’s mind, so that if cured of this Vertigo possession, he’d be able to reconstitute him. But if he could get it to work… he’d be able to infiltrate this cult of owls thing.” This is the first time so far that Tim has seemed less than totally hostile at his supposed best friend. Apparently it took Dinah screaming and Conner to say something intelligent to accomplish that goal. Alternatively… he’s responding to the way Cassie leaned in his direction to soothe him? “As to what you asked me, Dinah, there is two other people down in our vault. I don’t believe they’re going to be of much assistance with the Raven-issue, but they are something worth noted for our other situation(s).”
Up until this point I’ve been specifically ignoring Alfred, because he was doing the routine he always dives in to when we have guests. Serving those in attendance with food, drink, while attempting to only chime in when there were points of contention that needed to be cut off. He normally does not actively participate in the meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings before and he rarely speaks up to offer real input, unless questioned directly. This should be… interesting.
“If I may…”
“You have something Alfred? Go ahead. You have the floor.”
“It occurs to me, that we are focused on a stop-gap for this Raven situation. Master Wayne. The original, Thomas. Doctor Wayne. Used to say frequently that we were constantly chasing symptoms for Gotham’s illness, but rarely treating the disease. To such a point, I might add, that perhaps instead of risking the contagion on young Kon-El for the purpose of simply checking on our melted friend. Perhaps if the risk is present anyway, we should instead deal with the disease.”
Cowled head tilts to the side, waiting for Alfred to continue. I knew this would be interesting, the old codger is making a show of it. Even now he’s acting as though he doesn’t know precisely how to use Tim’s holographic systems and it’s some sort of difficulty. Which in turn has Timothy treating the old man, as if he needs help and assistance. Coaching even. To find the exact image he’s looking for. The image we eventually get? Is the room Dinah and I charged in to, where we found Barbara and Vertigo locked in their battle of wills.
“Master Drake, what is this item here. On the floor of the cell. I believe I know it from somewhere. Could you jog my memory.”
“It’s a high school projector, Alfred. Precursor to television. Moving Pictures. You know?”
“Tch. Just so Master Drake, but … I’ve seen that specific one before. Clark gave it to Master Bruce, before he left.”
“Huh, that looks familiar to me too.”
“OOokay. Um…” Now Tim is actually working the controls on his wrist. “Phantom Zone Projector. According to the Manifest, it’s a gateway for a kryptonian prison dimension.”
“It’s position in the cell, suggests that Master Bruce positioned it as a failsafe, should the crystal cell begin to fail. When Marbara, our prisoner made sure to disable it immediately.”
“You’re suggesting that we open the cell again. To get that device. So that we deal with Vertigo directly instead of risking Conner on a Queen’s Gambit? Bold chess, Alfred.” In all of this back and forth, this is the first time I’ve actually turned entirely from the rest of them to look at Dinah. “You asked for other options, that one sounds viable.”
“Actually. There is one other option. Two actually. We could keep talking, but once Raven’s gets here all bets are off on which of you survive. We… could let Cassie smite him.” Okay. I think I’ve just ‘goggled’ for the first time in my whole life. Truthfully I can’t tell if Superboy is enamored with his girlfriend or believes what he said is an actually viable option. But thank god for the cowl, otherwise I might just have rolled my eyes hard enough to make my head lull. “Her Lasso. It’s strong enough, that I can’t break it. And I’ve seen it conduct electricty. She’s got Zeus’ bolt.”
“Negative. We don’t get to godmode this one, unfortunately. The last bit of information I’ve been waiting to pass on? Kurt Lance. His meta-human power is augmentation. He can bolster or remove meta-human powers completely. You touch him with the lasso, he turns it off. We don’t know how it works, the touch of the lasso might act as a conduit to turning off Cassie’s powers too.”
“Key-words, Tim. Meta-Human. She’s not Human. She’s divine.”
“Half-Human. So I’m half-worried we’d lose our Wonder Woman.”
“Alright, I think we’ve got a number of options on the table, but I think only two of them address the most immediate concerns. We need to choose between sending Superboy in to check on his friend. Or. We need to make a play for that projector device. Ultimately, we’re talking about Dinah’s Brother, so the decision to use the projector or not, is going to be up to her.” A hand raises out from beneath the cloaked cape. “I understand that everyone has a piece of the pie at risk here. Which is why you all were invited to give input, but we’re going to start with Dinah deciding if she wants to send her brother to this ‘Phantom Zone.’ If she doesn’t? It’s pretty obvious to me that Conner is willing to give option 2 a try.”
Dinah: It’s really only the fact that I just forcefully course corrected the group’s entire conversation that I don’t latch onto what Conner’s just said with all of my pent up hurt and vitriol. Clearly, it’s not pushed down as completely as I had thought, in the face of chasing my answers and what I’d actually learned in that hunt. I had thought I was going to find evidence of the things that NOWHERE has been doing, had been doing for years apparently, that there’d be something I could use to make them hurt in a very permanent fashion for what they’d done to Oliver. Only Rapid City had been opening a can of worms, and taking the wind out of my sails to use all the metaphors at my disposal. Coming home to find out Barbara had gotten a similar treatment? I don’t think any of us have really gotten to fully process that one yet. It’s only hours old, and there’s been a whole lot of ‘bigger problem’ in that very short time.
Conner is now, suddenly, very much more the Conner I know and actually like quite a lot, so I let him finish instead of launching into a hiding because he’s the best thing I’ve got available to lash out at when it comes to NOWHERE. Given he saved us in a very real and needed way on that train, and what he’s actually said, it’s clear he knows there’s some issues with the way things are being done in the organization. It’s also a reminder that even their own are subject to ongoing and submersive mind-fuckery. I suppose you don’t need to play nice to keep your loyal soldiers when you can just surgically psyche-rape them though. That combination makes me personally inclined to let the Martian rot down there…
“Unless Absorbascan only fully works for the people that created it. My lasso wouldn’t function in any meaningful way for them, neither would the Golden Fleece, which is how they both ended up in NOWHERE’s junk drawer, and Conner was able to ‘gift’ it to me…”
Did she just point at her leg, next to where Conner’s hand has been, when speaking about the Golden Fleece? First off, I’d laugh and say that’s a fairy tale but when you’ve got a supposed, actual, demi-God and child of Zeus sitting across the room from you, you have to start opening your mind to trying to accept a thing or two. I suppose that would explain how damn sparkly that suit is, but I just assumed spandex and sequins. I am fairly sure that Spoiler has rolled her eyes underneath the cover of her hood, but… that could also have just been the firelight bouncing off Wonder Woman’s getup.
“You know, if Bruce Wayne is ‘dead,’ and he is infiltrating the Court of Owls, then he can’t very well be doing it as himself. That’s a whole new round of branching potential paths, from supporting evidence to him having already taken the item, to not very well being able to just waltz into the Batcave and let himself in like he owned the place…”
Even I can’t help it. Christ. There’s just too much going on, and all of it is just connected enough that it’s easy to lose the thread we’re currently chasing, to diverting off on a tangle that’s surrounding it and intertwined. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I shake my head hard, back and forth once like I’m clearing it out. I’m actually grateful to Alfred for chiming in when he does, and I contain any remarks about him now asking permission to voice his opinion, and also leading Tim by the nose water. Who then drinks.
“Mmn. Makes sense. Also explains why Vertigo wanted me so bad.”
There’s my clarification on exactly what ‘tuning fork’ had meant, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental creativity to understand that maybe that means Waller had been right. That maybe she either wanted both parts of that world breaking equation under her thumb. Or that she realized recently Kurt was in the wind, and wanted to control at least one, prompting them to no longer be content to just let me be. This projector sounds like a solid option, honestly. Clearly Bruce, despite having a long time to find a ‘cure’ for the problem hadn’t managed it and we all know the man was like a starving dog with a bone when it came to things like that. For good or ill. The pragmatic core of me already had squared up to the fact that there might not actually be one. If I really had killed Kurt, and they brought him back and Vertigo was still there, maybe there really isn’t any Kurt left. Just what Vertigo wants people to think. Steve Trevor had gotten to tell me a little about its tactics, but I’m still coming up with too many ways this might not work.
“Huhwha? Okay, but I’m about maxed out on data for the month so just don’t… yeahnookayright. You’re right. More important. Probably…”
I don’t have mine with me still. I didn’t bother to hunt for it, or to look even a little, because literally anyone that would try to contact me that I could spend the attention on right now was already at Wayne Manor, and God knows she’s going to have hers right there. It’s also been upgraded from the cracked screen model that had looked rather like my phone that I’d seen the last time. Which actually doesn’t stop me to probably many people’s surprise from flicking in a search, pulling up a number and starting a call.
“Put the Sheriff on. He is. Side table. Look behind the mountain of empties. Just give him the damn phone.”
Cassie has gone from looking at me like I’m insane for choosing this moment to reach out to someone not in the Brain Trust currently discussing the fate of the world on a short, incoming hormonal timetable, to her gaze moving back and forth between Conner and Tim. It might be one of the first times I fully understand the debate going on in her eyes, while I wait for the bartender to do what I’d told him to. She can’t decide if she wants to rear up at someone daring to suggest she might fail at doing something, or over someone trying to boss her into doing something that wasn’t her idea first.
“I am not going to kill someone. Especially not with the Bolt, that’s not what it’s meant for, and not when there’s other options. Maybe we could talk to Raven. Explain and…”
The surety and conviction in her voice has melted when she begins to talk about Raven because clearly even she knows that’s not going to be much of an option.
“Well, hey handsome. Quick question. Say a feeler might have creeped its way out of Pandora’s Box. If we remove the Box from the equation, does it become a new box or just… poof?”
The truth is, I already know the answer to what Dick’s asking me to make the ultimate call on. There’s just a variable I can’t risk. I do actually believe I know the answer to my question, too, because if Vertigo was simply able to shift itself to a different infected person then I’d have to guess that its influence in World War I. And World War II. And among Team 7. Would simply have hot potatoed around without end. But there’s no point in throwing my brother through that portal to another dimension, which apparently Bruce just had lying around down there, if the Martian will still remain infected and festering just the same.
Dick: Of all the things I’ve been surprised with this evening? I think seeing Conner lean over to ‘nudge’ Stephanie ranks in the top three. To all appearances the two of them didn’t like one another. I’d have even said they were about to be at each other’s throats about a second ago.
“Don’t be so nervous. Dinah included you. Even if she was just taking your phone, she didn’t kick you out. You’re in now.” Okay. No, I was wrong. That is the most surprising thing that has happened all evening, because I think every single person in the room just stopped what they’re doing to look at the man in the S-shield. I think that’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on Superboy’s face. “She’s hard on people, so the weak ones run away from this life. It gets kinda crazy sometimes. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Until you explained the gameboy.. ‘you were the weakest link. Now … she likes you. You’re in.”
Huh. The pinch hurt significantly. So I’m not dreaming. There is still a very good chance that this is the one of the Circles of Hell and that I’m just working my way through them. Pretty sure I took the detour through the circles of Lust and Gluttony. What’s possibly the worst part about this though, is the look on Timothy Drake’s face. It’s a mish-mash of pure confusion, which is a foreign emotion on that boy’s face, and a sort of shock that he’s apparently choking on. Other than Dinah talking on the phone, Conner’s commentary is met with momentary silence until Alfred drops a spoon to the floor. The Butler meets my gaze and mouths the words, ‘Eegads, I didn’t know the lad had two braincells to rub together and start a fire?’ Much less the ability to tamp down his own ego to say something like that, even if he knew how or recognized that sort of depth in Dinah.
Steve Trevor is apparently not at the strip club. Surprisingly enough. As it so happens the girl with Harley Quinn’s voice is only to happy to give Dinah his personal number though. She knew enough about the Sheriff to lead the girl on the other end to think she’s one of Steve’s girls apparently. Though it takes her an extra call, she does get to ask that question.
“…evenin’ gorgeous. Seems like you folks made quite a stir up here in my quiet retirement community. Dealing with the aftermath of a blood bath instead of my usual Beer Night. Thanks for that. Uh… okay. So you got more involved after all huh? Kind of had a feeling you would. Short Answer then: When we first encountered Vertigo, he was in another body. Weak and withered. The entity was still strong enough to overcome all of us. We were all infected. All of us. When the entity moved in to your brother… killing him freed all of us. That’s why you did what you did. Does that help, sweetheart? Because I hate to throw complications at you, but Nowhere was just here. Deathstroke took out… well… someone’s going to need to do a lot of countin, because I’ve never seen people cut in to this many pieces. Nowhere sent in some big gun. Next thing I know fire and rescue, the National Guard and every cop in the state is being called. There ain’t no air force base anymore. The News is reporting it as some sort of munitions storage muckup, but… I’d call it Act of Deathstroke.”
Dinah: Even if I weren’t on the phone and somewhat distracted, I would be the person least surprised by what’s actually going on in the room right now. Up until a few days ago, or was that yesterday? Christ, I don’t even know at this point and I probably should because it would indicate the last time I actually got to take a shower or a fucking breath… up until that point I had only interacted with Conner one on one. Apart from anyone else, with the exception of him tossing Deathstroke off my roof first. The Conner I’d seen tonight was very much more what I think Tim’s probably gotten all of the time. At the train, it was to the other extreme. Also.. ouch, when did I become that transparent? Oh, wait. He’s just like me. He’s also right.
Saying I like her might be taking it a bit far, but I’ve clearly misjudged her for being nothing but a ditzy try-hard. I wasn’t aware she knew how to run any of the systems.
“Not on purpose, believe me. I was all set to let that one go for the good of mankind, but it managed to rear up and bite me in the ass as soon as I got back to Gotham. But yes. That does help. It’s what I thought, but old age… rusty-slash-erased memories… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” I blanch because that’s on me in small part. I don’t have the sort of complex that lets me assume all of the guilt for Slade, but his being there at all was on me. “They made him. I’m probably asking for more of my own if I say that’s kharma, and with this week I just don’t need that… thank you, Steve. I’d apologize for disrupting your superhero strippers, but… better go. Second Armageddon of the night to avert, sure you understand.”
I’m pacing a little while I talk, because the energy and anger I’d been trying to mostly contain for the rest of the discussion in this room needs somewhere to go. I’m in ramp up mode. The end of the pep talk, where you’re about to go out on the mat and show the world what you’re made of, and probably deliver some serious hurt to someone in the process. Maybe that’s just how it goes for me… Spoiler’s looking from the handheld computer, to Conner’s limb that touched her, up to his face, and back through the circuit again. An expression not unlike mine when I noticed the utter lack of comment about the missing Kryptonite by literally everyone in the whole room, of suspicion, while Wonder Girl looks more surprised by Conner’s little heart to heart than she probably should. Shouldn’t this girl know him the best?
“Who are you and what did you do with Superdouche? But uh… thanks? I think? Are we like…”
She doesn’t get to finish wherever she was going with that, because I hang up my call and launch immediately back into Team Bat Huddle, returning my attention to Dick.
“Do it. The projector. Tim, you said the Martian deactivated it, how do we turn it back on?”
I’m backing towards the door, clear body language of just wanting to get this done. Over. Now. Because despite knowing it’s the only and best option, I don’t want to have the time to put any amount of thought into it, or what I’ve just made the call to do.
Dick: “Duh, totally.” Superboy is offering Spoiler the fist-bump of doom. This can only mean bad things and I’m not sure I like any of the possibilities. At least they’re not fighting though, so that’s a plus. Added to the two of them, there’s the hush that has fallen over everyone else as we take in the spectacle. Dinah may have actually gotten with her antics, what she didn’t get with her lecture.
Me? I think I’m the one who needs a drink at this point in life. That’s just going to have to wait, because it’s clear that Dinah got her answer. We make eye contact, she nods, I understand. I just don’t think I like it, even if I truly meant what I said. It needs to be her choice, that doesn’t mean I want to see her deal with what she’s about to have to do. Furthermore I know exactly why she’s started barking orders, because if she takes the time to think this through she might allow emotion to override good sense.
Is it a shame that I’m the one in the room that is actually thinking it might be better that way? I can’t help it, but I feel like we keep coming to cross roads and the choices are just between which decision is the better of two terrible options. As I’m watching everyone, deep in though it would seem, it’s surprising to me that Tim hesitates over Dinah’s question. Was he not prepped with the answer or was he not expecting that decision? His face says the latter, but it’s the way his hands haven’t started moving that is the real tell.
“I-I.. u-uh, well…”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“… she did. I mean, Megan did. I just.. I haven’t had enough time to…”
A very slight, almost imperceptible incline to my head is given toward the Superboy. I hope Dinah sees it. Timothy doesn’t know how, because he didn’t have enough time. Any normal person in this room wouldn’t be able to either, but Tim is struggling to actually say the words out loud. What did he have? Two hours total time. We were gone to get food, a motel, and an attempted interlude that got interrupted. Had to rush back here to avert the ‘End of All Things’ and by that time Tim had gotten an exorbitant amount of information. Alfred had to lead him through even taking notice of the projector and that tells me all I need to know.
“Don’t worry, Red, I’ve got you.” For the second time in as many moments, Superboy does something I’m not expecting. There’s this gently pat on Cassie’s leg, then he’s rising to his feet and the look he’s got is something I’ve not yet seen. “M’Gann could work your vault, because she’s been in my head. I think I can turn that thing on for Canary.”
Dinah’s making her move and I’m not that far behind her. What I’m seeing behind me is something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a handful of minutes ago. The dynamic shifted when Black Canary stood up to the children in the room bickering. They listened to her. Stephanie did so out of fear. Conner seemed to do so out of respect. Tim’s change in tone seemed to come more out of insecurity than anything else. Over all the change was obvious and note-worthy.
One by one everyone is following Dinah down to the Cave, but I’ve stopped at the doorway to await Wonder Woman. “You were right about what you said. You’re not going to kill someone, it’s not what you’re meant for. You’re going to talk to this Raven person. We have to stop treating them as if they’re all evil. If the Martian is important to her and she thinks we are the bad guys in this? She has every right to the same plan of action that any one of us would take if our loved one was taken captive by the bad guys. It’s exactly what started this entire scenario, Canary charged in because they took one of her’s. Now this Raven is charging in for the same reason. The whole viscous cycle needs to stop.”
“That’s what you actually are meant for, Wonder Woman.”
I can see out of the corner of my peripheral vision that Conner -and- Timothy have stopped on their way down the hidden stairs, behind the fireplace, down to the Cave. Each of them, for much the same reason, wanting to know what I’m saying to the apple of their eye. I don’t care if they hear me. In fact I sort of hope all of them catch it, because I don’t stop at her.
“You’re not going to be alone, Spoiler has been learning the computer tracking systems. Using the Wayne satellites, she’ll guide you to Raven. Penny-One will be tactical control on all three operations. If anything goes wrong with any of the three points he will keep everyone apprised.” That leaves Tim, Dinah, Conner and I to deal with the remaining elements. The bat-cowl’s brows lift slightly for just a moment, as I see Cassandra’s face scrunching up. “Ah, you thought he’d always be by your side? That’s great in theory, but it isn’t how this works. If the two of you are going to be a team, there’s going to come a time when each of you needs to trust the other to do what needs to be done. If the two of you are meant for this, for each other, there’s going to be a moment when you know you can count on each other, even if you’re not side by side.”
“He’s Superman right, Wonder Woman? He can handle this. So can you. Stop fidgeting and get moving. Spoiler, stop blushing and peeking at the Dinosaur. All of you. Get to work or get out of the way.”
Dinah: Stephanie is halfway into returning the offered fist-bump by sheer reflex, when she realizes what she’s doing, pauses, shrugs, and then finishes it, pulling back her hand with a little finger waggle action and Jesus Fucking Christ save us, it has begun. Truly. This is how the world actually ends, provided it doesn’t manage to do it in the next hour or so.
“Tim. It’s okay. That was an ‘in case you know,’ not an ‘I expect you to already have this for me.”
I realize that I did, however. Expect him to already have this for me, because I expected him to know based on the sheer amount of intel he’s already had to offer, despite arriving after us. He always does, talk about a little bit of unfair pressure, coupled with the drive he’s got to prove himself that we’re all well aware of. That, and of course mind control, are what led me to badgering Dick into putting on the cowl in the first place. After all of this, I’m going to have to do some damage control and that’s not something I have ever been good at. No. That’s not the right words, because that implies using kid gloves on him, which won’t help either. A heart to heart.
Conner’s rising, and then volunteering, has me twisting my head slightly. In. Down. It defeats the purpose of this strategy entirely, in not exposing Superman to M’gann and potentially Vertigo. It’s exposing him directly, instead. There’s too much I still don’t know about this foe, and too many questions from my limited experience that I can remember with it tonight. We’re already on the move though, there’s that momentum and I can’t stop. If I stop I’m going to second guess this, even though I know in the end I’ll ultimately make the call of whatever has to be done, we’ll just waste time that we do not have on the way.
“How long do you think it will take to get it back on, Conner, and do you know what we need to do once it is?”
I say we because it’s not about to be just him going into that cell. Cassie looks surprised that Batman’s hung back in order to talk to her, and not just to herd everyone else where they actually need to go, and the fact that the two boys have hung back to watch her means that… the rest of us have to as well. Or maybe it’s just me… and so I keep on walking.
“Um, well. In this case…,” she doesn’t finish stating her opinion on Raven and whether or not she’s actually evil, but it’s visible in her posture when she goes from Cassie to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get to have an opinion on whether someone’s completely horrible or not and have that dictate the right course of action. “I’ll find her, and try to reason with her. If reason doesn’t work, I’m probably the most magic resistant option anyway.”
Which is where it gets above my pay grade, so maybe I shouldn’t have mocked Stephanie before. Who’s still looking more than a little surprised about being called on for anything in the first place, but she’s already bee-lining for the Big Boy computers, and surreptitiously pulling up the face mask portion of her costume. She could probably claim it’s for comms, but I have a feeling it’s to hide any blushing. The dinosaur. Seriously? Cassie is shaking her head at Dick, lowering her voice even though she knows fully well Conner will hear her regardless.
“That’s not it at all, and I know he can, because he’s amazing and knows what he’s doing, even when I don’t think he does. So does Tim, who I know I can always count on for the right answers. Believe me, the only one I’m worried about in this equation is myself, but I do appreciate the pep talk. Really. Spoiler? Show me where to get a comm, and then point me where I need to go.”
The girls get working on their portion of the project, Cassie telling Stephanie what to look for, but not without turning for a moment of eye contact with Conner. I’m fairly sure I saw her lips shift but definitely couldn’t hear the ‘I love you, please be careful,’ or even make out enough of the movement for words.
Dick: Regardless to what anyone thinks? Tim doesn’t like that Conner has to save him in this. His face is a mask of displeasure even after Dinah excuses him too. I don’t need to be his brother to see that he’s taken this as some sort of hit to his ego. Which I’d already known was fragile but I didn’t think it was eggshell fragile. The guy did amazing work in a short amount of time, but not being able to answer Dinah on the one thing she’s actually requested? It seems to have definitely hit his confidence. I’m not seeing the boy who took pot-shots at Conner anymore. In fact he looks a lot like Damian, broody-kid phase.
“Not long at all, Tim’s picture had a lot of detail. I’ve been studying Krypton’s language since the V.R. and I’ve been working with the technology to try to fix my suit. It looked like he broke the stand, not the projector itself. Honestly, I think from the image I think it’s going to be a matter of point and shoot.”
From where I’m standing, I can only see as Conner puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and nudges him down the stairs. I miss the look between the three of them, because I’m focused on Cassie for the moment. Once we make it down the stairs with the rest of them, I’m pointing her in the direction of the armory. Alfred seems like he’s headed that way to make sure everyone has what they need anyway.
Conner’s big ‘thumbs up’ at Cassie tells me that they two of them communicated even further, but once again I’ve missed one side of it so I’m without context to know what he’s responding too. Something about him is different right now than it was a mere five minutes earlier. He’s taller. His shoulders seem broader. The kid is always confidence, but this is different. I can feel him going the opposite direction mentally from Tim. While Tim’s confidence was shaken easily, Conner’s has been bolstered by Cassie’s confidence in him and Dinah’s acceptance of his help once more.
Once everyone else had their orders I’ve made a bee-line for Dinah. With my eyes drifting from Conner to her, then back again, I’m asking the unspoken question of why she’d be okay with the Kid going in there with her brother, but not in with the Martian. I mean, I get it. At this point both options equate to him going in, I’m just not understanding what made her pick one way over the other, if both choices risk the Kryptonian. But part of backing her play, is not questioning her in front of the others openly. I put the choice in her hands, she’s made it.
“If it’s point and shoot, then let I’ll take the shot.”
“No offense, Bats, but I could be in there and aiming before you blink.”
“Maybe that’s true, but I’m faster than you think and I won’t miss.”
“You don’t know Kryptonian.”
“I’m a fast learner.”
The way Conner is chewing on this, I can tell he wants to be helpful but he’s at War within himself. His expression says that there’s a sense of wondering if putting up a fight about this is just due to his own ego. The poor kid is wondering what’s the Heroic thing to do. All that intellect and a question of whether to be selfless or a good soldier that follows the chain of command has crippled him. No, he’s definitely not the Superman that I knew. Maybe he could be, but he isn’t yet.
“If Stephanie is on comms, Conner and Dinah are with you two. What am I doing?”
“Upstairs. When Dinah was asking about the options. You hedged. You said there was nothing in the Vault that would be helpful. You were overly specific, which means you knew something that you didn’t tell us. You also hedged when it was pointed out that the missing items could have been removed after the last inventory.” There’s a very hard edge to my voice right now, but I’m doing my best not to destroy my youngest brother. Not when I’ve been watching him self-destruct for the last hour. “You also didn’t jump to confirm when I suggested that Bruce stealing the Nth metal was confirmation. You’ve been trying to convince all of us that he’s alive this whole time, but you didn’t jump on that confirmation at all.”
“I’m fairly confident, that you’re holding the absorbascan and the kryptonite, Timothy. It occurs to me, therefor, that you believe one of those two things could potentially aide us. Once Dinah and I are both in mortal danger, I’m working on the assumption you’ll make the right choice.” And, I’ve just told Dinah that I also believe he was willing to not say a word, so long as Conner Luthor was the one in danger. I did tell her that something was wrong with him. “Shall we?”
Dinah: The truth is, I’m not okay with Superman going in with my brother, or more specifically Vertigo. The boys had voiced concern over Cassie getting depowered, and if that were even possible, but Conner has literally not once in his entire life that I know of been without those powers, that his girlfriend by all accounts only actually acquired a year ago. His answers regarding the projector only cement the fact that it has to be Conner in some form, however. None of the rest of us can read Kryptonian, I’m historically and categorically terrible when it comes to anything more advanced technologically than googling a phone number, or working my VCR.
With Cassandra gone to get her communicator, and Stephanie already working at the computer, I turn my attention from our two boys, and back to Dick. What had started with an almost imperceptible shake of my head in response to what expression, clear enough, I can see beneath the Batman cowl. My plan, at the very least, solidified even more by the back and forth going on. Conner’s the fastest of us by far, there’s just no comparison in scale, but he’s also the most easily lethal and we don’t truly have any idea of how quickly Vertigo can infect someone. I’m inclined to think ‘not that quickly,’ because we saw M’Gann fighting him and she may very well have been for some time. Ignoring that example because none of us are highly skilled telepaths with the mental defenses that likely go along with it, there’s my own experience yester… no, today, which might just have been him toying with me. That leaves me Trevor’s description of the influence on the whole team.
I’m still not taking chances, though. I’m also not adding my judgement on top of the weight of Dick’s, because his is more than sufficient for one, and ganging up on Tim won’t do him, or the rest of us, any favors. There’s United fronts, and then there’s also making sure to shore up all your sides.
“What kind of music do you like? I’ve been working on this thing to weave in a playlist and…”
Oookay, I’m going to ignore what looks like freshman attempts at Teen Girl Squad Bonding Time beginning as Cassie’s returned with her comms, and Spoiler actually bothered to stop her from taking off long enough to check and make sure that they’re working, despite us being in the Batcave where I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run that kind of test in… ever. It’s Battech. It just works, doesn’t it? I’m about in as much of a state of ‘I don’t even know what to make of you’ as I am at Tim’s behavior. So instead of coping with any of that, I tune back in to Channel Dick, and his ‘shall we.’ Moving once again towards the entrance to the sub-sub-basement.
“Not both of us. Me. It’d be bad tactics to expose both of us at the same time. Superman is the fastest, and most immediately able to operate the projector, especially if it’s not just point and shoot. If Vertigo gets hold of him, and with Wonder Woman gone, none of us would be able to put him down as long as we’d need to.” And before anyone tries to vocalize that they have Kryptonite in order to use in just such a horrible occasion, I say it again with as much emphasis and iron as I can manage. “None of us.”
Because it won’t work. Why it won’t work, I couldn’t say, other than it would make perfect sense for Lex Luthor to have made absolutely sure to breed any weakness he couldn’t be sure he had control of, out of his personal Superman. Conner’s ego might have prevented him from reacting outwardly to the mention of it before, but Cassie Sandsmark is far too earnest, far too heart on her sleeve, and far too concerned about her friends. And boyfriend. There would have been something to read off her.
“I’m going in first. Whether it’s Vertigo, or Kurt, or both of them, something in that host wants me.” How’s this for battle face that I don’t even crack wise or saucy about that too easy opening. “I’ll be the distraction, then you come in, Big Blue. Ten seconds should be enough. If it’s not just point and shoot, then you need to get out and seal us in until it’s working. Even amplified, my sonics shouldn’t be able to do anything sealed inside.”
I don’t really mean to relegate both Dick and Tim to thumb twiddling, or maybe door closing, but it really can’t be both of us, and there’s no reason for Vertigo/Kurt to toy with Batman, rather than just outright moving to take him over. We also clearly can’t just leave these kids alone, no matter what attitude improvements we’ve seen in the last few minutes. I finish up with a much lighter wink for Dick, than the no-nonsense, this is the play expression I’ve had up until then.
“Lets go. Maybe you should put on your old Robin mask just in case though…”
Dick: As soon as Dinah has finished speaking, both Tim and Conner are looking at me to see if I’m going to argue with her. In a way, I think they’re ach trying to see if the two of us are in lock step like we seem or if we’re going to bicker the same as everyone else. They picked the wrong day to look for cracks in this current partnership. Especially since Dinah has very sound logic to what she proposes. I’m not offended; Conner made much the same argument. I don’t know the language and if it’s anything more than a broken tri-pod I’ll be useless. Leaving us back to the double bad option of picking between which room to expose the Kryptonian too.
“Wait. Was the kryptonite for me?” Maybe the Superboy is smarter than I’d believed. His face is saying that he’d been considering arguing with me about going in, but after Dinah spoke about no one being able to put him down there’s an obvious shift of the gears. “Oh, that’s awesome. You guys had a plan to take me out.”
…w.t.f. is going on? …where &^%$ am I…? Is he.. he is… this mother &^%$ is hugging Batman and Robin.
“You’re stabbing me with the kryptonite right now. Aren’t you?”
“…is it working?”
“If you poke a little lower, we can talk about the first thing that pops up…”
“I hate you.”
A second later, I’m free of the grip. Not by Conner’s choice either. The cape is mostly for show, but it has filaments meant to be used in case of needing an escape. We’ve been in more death traps than you can count. I never thought I’d have to use them to escape a bear-hug from an adolescent Krypto-Clone, but here we are. This is the world we live in. ( Unless I really am dead in the next room. Which I may be starting to hope for. )
The Superboy releases Tim and squares up to Dinah. All of his antics aside, he seems to have a business face. I can see the cold-blue gleam in his eyes and a moment later he’s speaking carefully, “Four cells. Multiple armory caches. All shielded from view. With the cave itself also shielded, I would never have known these were here if I wasn’t inside the cave. Man, you guys are sick with all these overlapping securities.”
“I can see the surface technology. This vault of your’s is the same as the arctic base I’d been working with. Tech is the same. What you’re seeing is actually a form of Kryptonite, in a way. If you consider that kryptonite is just a meteorite cast off from Krypton’s explosion. This Vault of your’s is actually a kryptonite alloy, which Star labs calls krystallis, but is actually just a blending of two or more forms of kryptonite. You’ve got a virtual rainbow of it here. Synthetic though, this was all grown here. Probably in the base I was just talking about in the arctic, if what you said about how old skool bats got this.”
Everyone. Me included. Is standing there looking at the prattling teen, as he talks and talks right after Canary said they were ready to move. My look to her is yet another unspoken, ‘Are we sure about him?’ But before I’ve done more than glance the kid straightens up, rolls his shoulder… is he limbering up? I didn’t even know they did that.
At my side ‘Red Robin’ is tugging on the mask for his new suit and I’m a little surprised to see that it’s not a Domino Mask. In fact he’s wearing a full cowl, just like his original Red Robin costume. The colors are all wrong though. If everything else hadn’t cemented it for me? I think just seeing the radical colors on this costume, the gun, the knives… I’m pretty sure this is close enough to Red Hood right here, than I’m comfortable with Tim doing.
“We can talk about any mask you want, after this is over. I’ll open the door….”
Without anything really being handed to him for a duty, Tim’s moved behind the rest of us. There’s nothing for him to shelter behind, so he’s focused on making himself small. Crouching down and preparing himself to watch and help in any way he can. That is the Tim Drake that I know and I’m happy to see that, regardless of whatever else is changed about him, he’s still ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Dinah: I’m not surprised about anything that happens after I finish speaking. Not Dick’s lack of argument, because he promised to back my play so long as I wasn’t being a dumbass, and I know I’m not being a dumbass. There’s this gut feeling that you learn to recognize and go with. Calling it a feeling of peace is wrong, because there’s never any peace in the moment leading up to danger that you plan for and can see coming. Rightness; where you know that, barring something you had no knowledge of, your course of action is the correct one. It’s probably more difficult for most people, when they’re not 100% sold on their own skills and experience, because then you second guess. With everything that we’ve gathered about our problem, and our foe, and the tools at our disposal this is the best strategy I can come up with.
Short of asking them to find the scorched Earth failsafe backup #3, that I am equally sure exists in the maze of plans that was Bruce and his methodology. Me, I’m settling for two backup plans in Dick and Tim. I’m also not surprised that Conner put two and two together after my emphasis on their not being able to stop him, or that he thinks it’s great. The hug, though. The expressions on their faces. It’s so ridiculous in this moment that I can’t help it. I let out a short, singular laugh. It’s all I allow myself, with a shake of my blonde head, I’m turning back towards where I know the door is. I’m listening to what Conner’s saying but I’m also ready go. Right now. I want this over with before anything else manages to go wrong or complicate matters. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at Dick, carrying the motion over into lifting arms overhead, interlocking my knuckles and stretching.
I miss ‘Drake’ in his full glory since I’ve already turned my back on the group, stepping up to the wall.
“Stay out of view, as much as you can.”
Once the door’s open, I’m striding through, all ballsy and brash as ever with my arms folded across my chest to match the glower on my face. On the surface it’d probably seem like sheer idiocy to enter a room that I just had to flee a few hours ago, against a foe I hadn’t been able to dent. But then, I am the same person that at fourteen demanded to be taken with a Black Ops team, because fuck you. There’s nothing physically defensive in my posture, just emotional in those folded arms.
“Tell me. I want to know why.”
The honest truth is I do want to know. It will probably eat at me, when it shouldn’t, but I also know I’m a professional at pushing aside emotional ‘crap,’ even when it’d be better for everyone involved. Especially me. If I could square up and face it like I would a regular fight.
Dick: “Back so soon? Couldn’t stand to be apart any longer, eh?”
The one thing that our heroes didn’t do before enacting this plan of their’s? Check the monitors. Dinah steps in to Kurt Lance sitting upon the singular piece of furniture in his room. A cot. Which is more a slab, built not to move. It occupies the center of the room, without any padding or anything that can be removed. In fact the entire cell is much the same thing. With only the projector and tri-pod as the exception. It’s a strange setup in fact, one that Dick is just now taking notice of. Last time the door was open he was fixated on closing it, not looking inside.
“Tell you why? Why what? Why am I here? Why your brother? Why do I want you, specifically you? Why do the flowers bloom and the sky rain?” Kurt’s expression, his mannerisms, they’re all so very laid back. He’s not concerned. Not about Dinah, not about the open door. He’s simply not concerned. “There are so many things you might be asking about. Is it dealer’s choice then?”
Even as he’s speaking there’s a blur. Blue/Red flashing in from outside. Dick Grayson is one of the few heroes that worked with the original Superman. He isn’t surprised at what he sees, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Dinah’s old enough to remember Superman, but did she ever work with him directly to see him in action? Even Tim, several feet back from the door and out of the immediate line of sight, takes a short breathe that signals his surprise. He’s seen Conner in action, but only in the form of sports where there was definitely some holding back.
“Let’s start with why him? Why you? Let’s be rather forward shall we? You and Your brother are one atom that has been split in two. Through him, your power could crack entire worlds or turn them in to a paradise. The two of you, when joined are Gods.”
It isn’t the blur that clues Kurt Lance in to what is happening. Conner is moving too fast. He’s viewable, but his actual actions are nothing more than a blurry after-image. Affording no one the view of what he’s actually doing. Dinah, Tim and Dick know only because they’re aware of the plan. Vertigo’s view is that of what Kurt Lance can perceive; a gust of wind, the blur of blue/red and then… the projector being moved.
“It won’t work.”
“But that isn’t what you’re asking is. You want to know why the tone was such as it was. You want to know if there’s anything left of your brother or if he’s been perverted to the point of no return.” Spreading his hands there’s a conciliatory open gesture that is what you might do if you wanted to show the authorities that you’re unarmed. “Symbiotic. That is the nature of my bond, to a Host. Kurt has always wanted you. His desire for your connection drives him to fight for control. He’s struggling right now, but it’s been too long now. He’s spent years accepting this fate.”
Click. Click. The blur of Superman has slowed completely. In his hand is the projector that they’d been discussing, but as he works the kryptonian technology it does little more than sound as if it is a car that turns over, but doesn’t ignite the fuel that would turn it on. “I did say it wouldn’t work.”
“What say we start over, shall we? What is your name, sweet boy and what can you do for me?” Vertigo barely glances in Conner’s direction and ‘Superman’ starts to feel the invasion of his mind. “Be civil, Dinah. There’s no need to scream. There will be plenty of that later. When we’re alone.”
“…nnh…” To his credit, Conner doesn’t drop the device or do some dramatic grab at his temples in a vain attempt to fight whatever it is that’s going on. His hands are moving so quickly that even in slow motion, later, when they try to review the footage they won’t be able to clearly see what sequences he’s even trying. “… bleh.. not cool at all man… stranger dangerin it’s worst form…”
“Have you realized that I have no intentions of leaving? The moment I saw your pretty little Martian’s mind, I knew her friends would come to reclaim me. You think if I wanted out, that I would just stand here and let you throw me around the room?” His gaze shifts back and forth to Dinah and Conner again, back and forth. Once again Dinah is going to be flooded with the memories of her Brother’s life. Not -her- memories, Kurt’s memories. His impressions. His feelings. His take of how each memory was to him. The loss of loved ones, the love and protectiveness of Dinah. “Oh, I know what you were asking now.”
“Why did the Dark Knight pull me out of that little hole in the middle of no where? Do you think he did it to save your Brother? To save you some great heart-ache? Perhaps that was his original intent, but it took only a handful of times in this room for your great detective to come around to my way of thinking. Just as your Kryptonian will and the Martian. Then their friends.”
It’s at that very moment that a tiny little red dot appears upon Kurt Lance’s forehead. The creature’s eyes lead Dinah and Conner in order to look down the little hall for the first time. Following the infrared light to it’s origin. He showed no interest at all in Dick Grayson the day before, whom was clearly visible just outside the door, but there’s clearly interest now.
“From what I gather this world is already on the brink of War, it won’t take my Pestilence long to give them the little push they need. I looked upon him and behold, a pale horse. His name that sat upon him was Death and Hell followed with him.”
Dinah: “You’d like to think that, I bet.”
I try to meet his laissez-faire attitude with one of disdain, which isn’t all that hard, even though there’s warning bells sounding loud and clear in the back of my skull already. The tone, and mannerisms, are all supreme confidence which you’d think shouldn’t be happening in the middle of a prison cell. This is an old being, probably ancient, who has been from host to host, inciting their wars and spreading their influence. I’d really meant why Kurt had wanted me, though all the other answers will work, too. I’m just trying to distract, and there’s a high probability regardless that anything I’m told either isn’t real, or is tainted.
Do I buy into the potential? We just sent out a half-God to run interference in the skies, but the word is so frequently used to designate power in relationship to the masses. Titans, as the name had started to slowly stick for Wonder Woman and her friends. My head cocks in confusion when he tells me it won’t work. Joining as Gods? Making a paradise which I fail to see an application for, and I’ve tried to be fairly creative with my powers a time or two. He’s moved on to what I had really meant though, before his assertion about ‘it not working’ makes sense. If it were point and shoot it should have gone off by now, and my eyes widen as Conner’s zipping around, which I’d felt more than seen as wind moved my hair, stops.
“Civil? Oh you really don’t know me at all…”
Conner is used to having his head screwed with, used to not trusting what senses tell him and resorting to the backups of others. He’s told us this already. I’ve only heard him make a noise that sounds even vaguely like discomfort once before, and that was after I’d point blank screamed in his ear. It’s starting, and he’s still trying to work the machine, splitting his focus between the mental assault and getting the machine to work. Which might never work. Then the memories are back, the images swimming in my head and behind my eyes, and I … am not used to this sort of mental intrusion. I don’t have memories of my own, they were taken from me, or in this case precisely and surgically altered. I’m seeing things I remember, things I know happened, but from a different side. Trying to be a brave little badass, and distract and bolster my family through my mother’s cancer, and her death. Loss after loss, and attention that focused more, and more narrowly on the remaining relatives, even as my power and confidence and body bloomed. Kurt’s reactions to all of it.
Fucking villains and their monologuing… the further we go in those thoughts, the more the emotions and impulses behind it makes my chest tighten, and stomach turn. I’m reliving a different angle of literally everything in my life I’ve ever buried, along with things that were exorcised and it’s overwhelming. Everything is swimming a little when I open my eyes though… I don’t actually know when I closed them in the first place. He’s just looking back and forth. Back and forth between myself, and Conner, talking about Bruce. Talking out his ass. Or. Is he? What if it was never going to work? Oh, Alfred. It was him that pointed out the machine in the first place. Led the horses to water. What if Bruce orchestrated his own death not to infiltrate the Court of Owls, but to try and escape this? Or even worse, what if he didn’t?
I’m already shifting before I see that little red dot, before everyone notices it and traces it visually back. I was moving forward, I’d been trying to not block the projector before, but now I move closer to that cot, trying to interfere with the view of Conner working away at lightspeed on our Hail Mary that may not ever work. I feel like I’m swimming in my own mind, except at the moment it isn’t. When we all look at that little laser spot, though, the no rises up in my mind. I focus on that clear, and hard. He’s already in here, I feel like I’m filling up, and instead of letting my thoughts go even a little to how to end this, I fixate on the ones that I usually wouldn’t. Instead of debating how to do this, because Conner’s predecessor and I had done this before, but screaming at Kurt earlier tonight had done basically nothing, so why had it worked then? I focus on the loss, and the hurt, and the trauma, and not on ways to get in close enough. Not on whether or not I can get Vertigo to let me wreak havoc. Kurt’s thoughts I’ll get lose in, I think, so i’m left with the things that are mine to claim, and hold onto tooth and nail, and they’re dark, and they hurt, but they’re mine.
My eyes are watering, nausea and the echo chamber of emotions that my skull is right now making it very easy to do, actually I probably couldn’t help it even if I was trying to avoid looking affected. Not thinking about how I refuse to put that little red dot, and what it means, on my friends. No longer putting myself just between Conner and Kurt, but now lurching closer, trying to block that shot with my own body.
“Kurt I’m so sorry. I should have protected you better then. I won’t let them…”
It’s the first time out of both encounters that I actually try to touch him, fingers reaching for his face, even as I turn my face towards the door, letting out a shriek that mostly strafes the wall, rather than making it through the doorway, absorbed by the material like it had been before.
“Hnnnf… these walls..”
Dinah: Half of a lifetime of memories, answering the question so many moody teenagers ask in literature and film: would anyone even notice if I was never there? The differences are at the same time slight and gargantuan, threatening to change everything I thought I knew about myself, and enforcing it as well. Was it a kindness to make me forget him, and everything about him? Yesterday, it was easy to offer the benefit of the doubt. Right now, even queasy as I feel, I think I’d answer in the opposite. I am not sure any of it was done with any of my well being a concern. Not all of it. Being alone, fighting through everything alone, and dealing with or ignoring my shit alone had been my always. How I’d always done it, as I lost person, after person, until I was the last one standing, and told myself I was okay with keeping it that way.
Those eyes. It’s jarring, and sedately beautiful all at once. And then I’m swallowed up, in what redefines a Eureka moment, showing me exactly how small minded, how this moment and not the big picture my thinking had been. Despite what I might have claimed about my massive ego, how grossly I’d been underselling my potential and the ways that I thought my power could actually work. So this is what it’s like. Having senses so lit up, and on fire, so much input from so many things all at once and it takes me a moment, or I suppose a fraction of a moment, to realize that this is all happening at once. Stacked one on top of the other in a cascade that I would have missed. Then it’s not so hard to imagine exactly how far I could go in order to disrupt it. All of it. How that could snowball, or how it could all be stilled and stopped.
The gun firing, despite me now being between it and the target. The accusation of one brother to the other. The single-minded effort of the hero beside me to complete the task he’s been asked to do. Music that should be out of place, but at the same time… then I realize I’m not actually seeing any of this with my eyes, but I may as well be. It’s all so clear.
My apology had been in that moment a ruse, words spoken to provoke a specific reaction, to let me get close.
I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.
Did I really make a choice? He did. He chose to sacrifice himself, not seeing any other way, he had that feeling in his gut of rightness, in the face of everything that he knew, and what he could count on the reactions to be. That my choice then became to either let his choice accomplish nothing, or to do that one unthinkable thing. That thing that we don’t do, as has been said over and over tonight alone, and so many nights before it.
In that second, I’m springing from the floor, the touch of my hand to Kurt’s face becomes tackling him onto the cot, out of the trajectory of that incoming bullet. The decision that I’d already made two seconds ago suddenly seems so much more tragic in the wake of what I’ve seen, and know, the emotionless pragmatic tactic of last resort has become, in an instant, the same one that half of my life was shifted in order to save me from. And here we are all over again, because someone couldn’t leave it alone. Had to play God, and do things that were not meant to be done.
I don’t have to scream, though I desperately want to vent that rage and frustration and hopelessness on the world, instead I am for once in my life. Twice, I suppose. Doing as I’ve been asked to do. Pressing my lips to the side of Kurt’s head, with a whisper just for his ear.
“Never again. I love you.”
That’s all it should take, the sound, the vibration, the tiny delicate parts of any ear that amplify those inputs and send them to a brain, the simultaneously most incredible and resilient part of a human body, and the easiest to disrupt, to break, to damage and to still.
Dick: There is beauty in power. In fact scholars have said for eons that the beauty of it is at the core of the psychology behind why it corrupts. You’re taken in by what you see or perceive and each time it becomes easier to do so. As you take that power in to yourself, whether it be physical power like metahumans or political power or even emotional power, each time it becomes easier to look at. This in fact diminishes, you constantly chase it because to see that same beauty and feel it the same way you’ll always need more. The perpetual hunger that leaves you spinning in a never ending cycle of chase, attain, diminish, chase, attain, diminish… on and on until you’re sickened by the every lasting dizziness of trying to attain it. A sort of Vertigo.
This may be the first time that Dinah has experienced that sort of power to her own personal knowledge, but she now knows it’s happened before. She knows that the power came at a great cost. Her Brother’s life in sacrifice to the creature that threatened them. Not just them but the world. He died a Hero, even if that loss of life came at the hands of the person he cared most for in this world. History has a way of repeating itself. Whether by natural design or unnatural machination, it seems to come in cycles. So many things in our world are these vicious cycles that we indulge in, unable or unwilling to break them, so we endure them again and again.
It isn’t the sudden movement that obscures Kurt’s little spark from those eyes. If anything the creature revels in her choice to save it’s life. Somehow seeing it as a defining moment when Sister makes the same choice as Brother. Each accepting it as the Path they shall walk. Never suspecting that even as they land, flattened upon the simple cot, that her next words would be the undoing of everything it knows.
“..N-no.. you c-can’t..”
She can. She does. The words echo through the body of her brother in such a way that there is no time for salvation. The Kryptonian even still struggles with the intrusion. A cell adjacent from this one even now hears the screams of the Martian who objects to her Master’s demise. Blood trickles from the Kryptonian’s nose, as the Martian comes apart literally at the seams. With Kurt Lance remaining hole only for a moment. That half-purple hue that covers his unnatural form dissipating as the creature seeks salvation in Dinah herself. For one single heart-beat, Kurt Lance and Dinah Lance are linked by his hands clenching her forearms. Her lips pressed to his ear. Her words echoing through the entire cell, through the entire cave.
As attuned as she is to the sonic vibrations of everything (not just the cell, the cave, the mansion or even just Gotham City), she can hear almost hear her brother’s power shifting. Denying Vertigo access to the power he might need to escape this fate. Like a tuning form that is hit with the right harmonics becomes a magnet, so too does Kurt Lance pull in to himself all the power he had been enhancing. In doing so, it leaves Vertigo bereft of it’s chance to leap from one body to the other. Even in this moment of great heroism, there is only so much a Human can do with someone like this. He did not exaggerate his position in the cosmic balance of life and death. That clarity in Kurt’s eyes that shines with fresh wet tears for Dinah starts to fade…
As Kurt Lance’s last breathe sounds like a whirlwind in her ears, she can actually hear the emotion drain out in it. The Fight is over for her Brother. Vertigo was wrong. Kurt had never given up. He’d been waiting for this opportunity and his last breathe is a thank-you to the one who freed him. A final spark. Ignition. His death does not echo in Dinah’s ears, because she is consumed by the sound of life beyond the walls of the Cell or the Mansion. Out there. Everywhere. His sacrifice, her sacrifice, allows that the start of every life to begin with a single breathe. A baby is born.
Moments later the reconstituted form of Kurt Lance is torn asunder by the vibrations that ripped every atom of his body apart from the concussion force of five words. Molecule by molecule he breaks apart until there is not even dust left behind.
“Oh. Tweety.” Shockingly enough there’s no joke made about the projector not working. Nothing to be said about his big Hero Moment equating to a Richard Pryor joke. Even the name he uses, is not in jest but the same term of endearment he’s used repeatedly since they first met. “… you’re clear. He’s.. gone. There’s not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake.”
It’s as if Kurt Lance and Vertigo never existed.
Dinah: This life, that we debated if it even mattered since he had already been dead. That I’d tried to wall myself off from since the moment I even learned he existed. Tried to deny the reality of, and then once I had to accept he’d been real, tried to keep myself impartial to. That wall’s had cracks from the get go, little feelers creeping in, little inklings, and a collection of what ifs. Each and every scrap of the history that I learned, what we’d done, what Bruce had or hadn’t done, what they might have meant. Ordinarily I’m the first person to kick someone’s ass if they complain about fair, or what they deserve, but it’s not fucking fair. I know what I lost. Know what I’ve been missing. Feel it in every little bit of my being.
And in the world around me, because the other prisoner is shrieking. More sound that I can feel. Sense? It’s everything and nothing all at once, from Spoiler’s gasp as she wheels her chair around, to the water dripping further back in the cave, feet scraping pavement in Metropolis and beyond. That wail of confusion and intrusion of the baby. It’s everything and everywhere, and at the same time as I’m feeling it all, and then it’s gone. Leaving me clutching my brother for an eternity and an instant all at once, I want desperately to close my eyes and not watch, but I can’t do it. The relief and release is even more deafening than M’gann, or everything else, and I hold on until there’s nothing, and I’m trying to wrap myself around… nothing, which looks a lot like assuming a fetal position on top of the cot.
Not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake. I know he’s trying to comfort me, to tell me that I’ve done it, that it’s over. What my brain’s telling me is he’s gone, like he never existed in the first place. Like they never had. And now all I have is knowledge of what he experienced and felt, and lived, and what we did. Twice. Yes, there’s what we saved, too. But in the vacuum of what could have been, of all that power, the connection, left clinging to nothing, I’ve never felt more empty in my entire life. It’s like my throat’s caved in, and… oh. No. Wait. That’s just the sensation that comes right before the single sob that escapes before I realize what’s happening and choke it down.
Crush it down. Push myself upright with one hand, while the back of the other brushes harshly across my eyes, and cheek on the return trip. Swing my legs over the cot and get my ass moving towards the door.
“Good.” It’s not. It is but it’s also not, and I force my mind onto that ‘is,’ and tackling the next phase of this problem. “Check on your friend. What’s the situation with Raven?”
Dick: For whatever it’s worth, Conner makes no effort to console Dinah. Just those couple words which were not meant exactly to console, but to educate her that the sacrifice made was not in vain. Though he is often seen, due to intentionally giving the impression, that he is clueless? If anything shows that it is quite the opposite this is it. He knows what she just went through, because it’s coldly reminiscent of his own battle with Billy Batson not so long ago. The Boy doesn’t make any effort to impede Dinah, but he is also not leaping to obey her command. His attentions instead turn back to the projector that he spent the entire ‘Battle’ working on.
Outside the cell awaits a single person and it isn’t who Dinah’s likely expecting. Tim Drake’s new costume looks positively unforgiving, in comparison to normal, but the mask is once again out of place. “Things got a little … odd … out here too. As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman found over Gotham Harbor, near the Iceberg. She was trying to use magic to find M’Gann, but Wonder Woman interrupted her.”
“The two of them have a small bit of history, but things were tense for a moment. Whatever you just did? Right at the moment you did it? Raven’s Human Side took control. Cassie was able to talk to her. She went the Honest route and Raven’s human side believed her. She called off the search, on the condition that we present M’Gann and Conner to her for proof they’re okay and not prisoners.”
Ordinarily Timothy might not be so bold as to touch Dinah when it’s clear that her mood is foul like this, but there is a level of recent familiarity that he seems to believe gives him a little leeway. So it’s his uncovered, bare hand, that catches Dinah before she can pass him by. Through all of this he’s seemed very angry, but in this one singular moment there’s clearly concern written on those youthful features. “Dinah, don’t do the thing where you flick a switch and shut the lights off.”
“Dinah,” my voice calls from just up the stairs, outside of the infernal vault. “You’re going to want to see this.”
By ‘this,’ I mean the sight of Alfred Pennyworth. The Butler did it. Literally. When she finishes the last step, it’s pretty difficult to not see and know exactly what happened. When the whole plan was forming Alfred had gone to the armory, presumebly to pass out the various gear we’d need. Like the comm-links he passed to Cassie and Stephanie. None of them had even taken a second to think about him. He wasn’t given a specific task other than over-sight, the same task he performs every night as ‘Penny-One.’ Tonight he was apparently intending to take an active role and even now he looks quite guilty about the whole thing.
In one hand I’m holding the Butler’s shoulder. In the other I’m holding what looks like an old vietnam era long range rifle. It’s been retrofitted with a new age scope and laser sighting. Judging by the knot on Alfred’s jaw, there’s been some sort of violence that resulted in his disarming. The Bat-Cave is actually about as quiet as it’s ever been. Even Spoiler is silent right now, despite the hand she’s got to her ear piece, she seems to be listening to both sides of what is playing out.
“You shouldn’t have had t’ do it a second time, Miss Dinah. I wanted t’ spare you that pain, even if it meant losing another one of my kids to this bloody insanity.”
Dinah: I’m grateful that he leaves it where he does, and Lord help us all, doesn’t point out anything else that he might have noticed in the last few seconds. Maybe he was busy with the Kryptonian puzzle box project, or maybe he’s a friend that happens to be an awful lot like me. Striding out of Kurt’s … the… cell, I’d expected to see the looming Bat, and instead there’s Tim. Either that all took longer than I thought it did, or Dick had hustled somewhere else, which seems… strange. Like the rest of the last few days, that had felt like it both just happened, and was a lifetime ago. I suppose, as my perceptions and thoughts go, it actually was.
“All the boys love her, and the girls love to hate her. Sounds like a tune I know.”
It sounds a little harsher than I actually meant it, but still without bite, because my tone’s a little too flat for that as I make my offhand observation. It’s a little forced, in an effort to at least talk, and respond rather than letting myself think about anything else. There actually was a demon half? Maybe this really is all above my pay grade, too.
“Okay may be debatable for the Martian, but hopefully we can make her understand that wasn’t our fault… Mostly wasn’t our fault.”
Business as usual. We’re just all moving on, and going back to business as usual. Is that a mantra in my head, or internal disbelief? Are we going to pretend that I didn’t just kill someone? That they didn’t all just watch me do it, and that it’s not preserved ad nauseum in security systems, and backup security systems? Which would be worse. Getting a pass, because Kurt never was, and won’t be remembered, or having guilt not just coming at me from an internal angle? Maybe this is why we don’t do ‘it.’ I’d thought about it before now. Before I knew about my brother, or my past. About whether or not I’d be able to cross that line if it had to be done, and I’d always thought the answer would be yes.
Which it was. I just didn’t know to expect…this. Tim’s hand on my arm pulls me up short, and my eyes move from the passage ahead of me, and the stairs, over to his face. Shit, it’s like he knows me, or something.
“I have to. Just for right now, Tim.”
Except they’re not off, it’s more like the shades have been pulled and there’s a lightswitch rave going on inside that I can’t make quit even though I’d really like to. My voice sounds raw to me, like I had actually been screaming for hours instead of the single short one that wouldn’t have been enough to even fatigue me a little on most nights. One of those partyers is screaming ‘liar’ at me, even as I clear my throat and lay a hand on top of his. Anything else I was about to say diverted by the sound of Dick’s voice from up the stairs. Guess he didn’t get all that far after all. Following the sound of it, up and out of one hole into the much bigger hole above, until I stop with a foot on each stair and look at the tableau in front of me.
Eyes move from the gun, to Alfred and back, to the timing of the sounds I heard which gets a little hazy but his admission is plenty of confirmation for what might have happened if Dick hadn’t intervened. If my switch wasn’t flipped, I’d have demands, and accusations to screech right now, whether he deserved to have that pointed at him or not, but it’s done with, and I instead just speak an absolute truth.
“I had to. That wouldn’t have stopped him, Alfred.”
That first bit might selfishly be more for me than him, and if he hadn’t been interrupted I don’t want to think where that would have gone. I don’t have to. It’s over, but I’m trying to carry on as if it’s not. Like there’s one more problem. Something else to go on and face. That next task so that I don’t have to stop, which means I finish my trek up the stairs, sparing a hitch in that gait to lay a hand on Alfred’s other shoulder, before I’m headed for the computer terminals.
Dick: To say that there’s a lot going on would be an understatement. We have Alfred Pennyworth, trying to take the sin of murder off of Dinah’s shoulders. There’s Tim who seems to be floundering, under the accusations and distrust of the family around him. Not more than a handful of steps beyond him is Conner Luthor, who’s seemingly grown up ten years in two hours. Though to hear Dinah tell it, that was always there beneath the surface. Even now he’s trying to scoop his friend off the floor of yet another cell. If only to deliver himself and her to another ‘cosmic’ threat level female that calls herself the Raven. If you’re with me this far, then you get to take a look at Stephanie Brown, who’s currently having team girl-power with a Demigod. Oh and the Demigod? Just saved the day out there, with nothing more than honesty and heartfelt convictions.
I know better. Because I was here, in the Cave, playing at being the witness to everything I was able to ‘See.’ The entirety of what happened inside that Vault, played some role in what happened outside of it. Like the other cosmic shoe being dropped. Except this time. For once. That other shoe didn’t get to hit the ground. We managed to catch it before it caused yet another ripple in the pond.
Though Conner and Tim, each in their own way, seem to be allowing Dinah to deal with all of this in her own way? I move over to stand behind her. In much the same way that she’d done in passing Alfred, I put my hand upon her shoulder, but no sooner has it touched her than it’s squirming in to allow my fingers to touch her’s. The other hand is used to draw Dinah’s attention to what Spoiler is working on. Like I’d said before, the girl was taught how to work Timothy’s drones. Even now she’s got them at work tracking, analysing every move that Raven and Wonder Woman make in Gotham. The two otherworldly teenagers seem to be simply hovering out there, over the Harbor, idly talking about who the hell knows what.
Actually, I know exactly who knows what is being said. She’s sitting directly in front of Canary in the big chair, but she doesn’t seem to be offering any insights at all. In a time like this, the fact that Spoiler is not crowing about the sky falling or really talking at all? Tells me the only real bad news right now, is that there is no next thing on our plate just yet.
I’d heard what was said in that Cell right before I left to deal with Alfred. I also know exactly how it played out after that too, because the shot was taken before I’d even known for sure it wasn’t Tim doing it. Had she not moved Kurt Lance, it would have been Alfred that took the shot. It would also have not worked, just like she said. The Host couldn’t just simply die, it had to be destroyed without a trace left before. Nothing could remain or it’s simply possess something new. The plan had been to tuck the thing away in a true Kryptonian Prison, the Phantom Zone, but plans rarely last beyond first engagement. What transpired inside the cell, is not for anyone else to judge, I don’t think.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone else is avoiding it for that very reason. My free hand raises up and for the very first time in the presence of any of these ‘Outsiders,’ I draw the cowl off my head and let hand lose at my back. The other hand gives Dinah a gentle squeeze, maybe the hint of a tug. Everyone else is tip-toeing. That’s never been my calling card.
“I’d offer to taze you, but I left my escrima sticks in my hobo pants,” the tone of my voice is just about the softest I’ve ever allowed it to be with Dinah Lance, and I know she may not wish to let the others see her in a moment of weakness, but I still offer the slightest tug to tell her she can come closer to me if she wants. “We should….”
“…. and then Tactile Telekinesis!…” Swoosh! The Superboy interrupts us, and is gone before anyone can even acknowledge him or the Green Skinned girl that he’d been carrying. The next time we hear his voice it’s over the comm-signals on the main computer. The kid is fast, I’ll give him that, for all the good it did us. “… Spoiler picked out a theme song for us… that makes us legit. Next step is business cards, Megs and Titan Branded Blow-Up Dinosaur Sextoys. It’s going to be glorious.”
As quickly as that soft moment had been offered to Dinah, I’ve reached down with my free hand to pinch her side enough to get her to jump. “Hm. Apparently, I’m not in Hell. Or Dreaming. I was hoping it was you. But, no. We’ve really got a Super Man, that wants to franchise blow up dino sex toys. I’m too old for this.”
Dinah: “That explains so much…”
Bless him, he’s trying, and he’s doing it in the exact right way for me to be completely unable to not respond. It wasn’t that I don’t appreciate what each of the others had done for me. Conner with his no judgement, matter of fact assurance that it was really over. Tim asking me to not shut down, which comes along with shutting out. Alfred, who we were all so mad at a very short while ago, trying the only way he could to shoulder the burden for me. Then there’s Dick, with the cowl off, and the unspoken offer. Well. Maybe not so unspoken, even if it’s interrupted, about when I lay my hand on top of his on my shoulder.
“…see? What did I tell you? You can’t not hear about it.”
I do want. Some little part of me, deep, deep down wants exactly what is being offered. But inside I feel like this vast, open nothingness. My universe was literally expanded to the universe minutes ago. My senses filled with everything, literally everything, until all the sudden they weren’t, and in the vacuum of that, I gave up the brother I’d lost for the third time. No amount of ‘it had to be done’ that I may say out loud, or to myself in my head, makes that feel any better. Maybe if I was a fucking monster it would, but I’m not. I guess that’s one of the consequences of being one of the good guys.
“That one wasn’t even yours, it’s not all about you all the time, Superjerk. Settling on an anthem after one option? Blegh. You’re the worst. There’s so many other options…”
Spoiler’s eyeroll, which I don’t see so much as intuit rolls her head back, and then swivels her chair in a complete circle from the momentum of an arm thrown across her face in an entirely melodramatic fashion. Carrying on like nothing out of the usual is going on, in a tone that makes it sound like she’s having the time of her life, like nothing just happened, and I can’t decide if I want to just latch onto that and go along with it, or punch her for having the audacity to be okay. Still probably the easiest target in the cave, but at least she’s not just the convenient distraction for Tim that I’d mentally filed her as up until now.
The pinch actually does take me by surprise, and I shift my weight quickly, twisting enough to grab his wrist before I really realize what I’m doing. To my incredible credit, I pull up short before I try to snap an elbow or anything unpleasant like that. Which I probably couldn’t manage with him in the batsuit unless I really tried.
“I don’t know, you could have fooled me.” Alright. That was out before I could stop it, and is a little more on point for how I’m actually feeling than I ever intended to let past my lips, and I let out a soft cough, before pushing on. “I knew I should have gotten my lawyers working faster on trademarking all of their names. Admittedly, intimate accessories wasn’t the merch I was planning on peddling, but when in Rome…”
The words are very Dinah Lance on the surface, though the sarcasm hasn’t quite made it back into my tone, and I fix my attention on the monitors and try to make sense out of what Spoiler was actually doing, because it looks like too much information to be just monitoring the SuperTeens. The harbor, the Narrows, I’m pretty sure that is someone busking on a corner.
“Why on Earth would we need business cards… We’re not making blow-up dinosaur sex toys. We’re not making any form of sex toys. And I actually sort of liked the last track better. Can you play that one again?”
They really did, actually, have music playing over their comms the whole time, didn’t they? At the risk of sounding like the eggplant menace in the chair, I can’t even with these guys. Though, at the same time I can’t help feel a small hint of relief at how easily and suddenly that all seemed to come together. Spoiler’s clueless optimism and Wondergirl’s naive view on how the world should work. Except maybe Stephanie’s not actually as dumb as she acts, not unlike a boy in blue I know, and the jury’s still out for me on Cassie.
“You and me both, Dick. You and me both.” I blow out a breath of air so hard that it rustles the hair hanging near my face a bit, and I straighten my posture. There was nothing for me on the monitors to latch onto needing ‘doing,’ and I just have to keep going. “I need a drink. And probably to let Sheriff Trevor know that…”
No. I can’t. I can’t do this right now. I need to leave.
Dick: She’s right. You can’t actually not hear about this strange ability that our Superboy has. Tactile Telekinesis. For just a moment I’m lost in thought, memories back to a different time but the same place. I’d been the one sitting at the computer where Spoiler sits now, Bruce behind me dark and brooding. Alfred to the other side trying to foist fresh tuna sandwiches off on the two of us. We’d been talking about the news. A ‘Hero’ had made headlines that evening when he caught reporter Metropolis that had been ejected from an airplane. Topping that, he’d later caught the entire airplane itself. The three of us watched the footage multiple times. We’d zoomed in. There’d been software analysis. I’d settled on ‘Holy fucksticks, that’s cool.’ While Afred had told me to watch my language, Bruce had commented that it was strange how Superman’s had not caused the friction of motion to peel Lois Lane’s skin off. He’d hypothesized that Superman had some sort of field that must extend his invulnerability from himself to others…
Bruce. Always thinking. Always working out the problems, before anyone else even knows they are problems. He’s alive out there. Possibly never died, but at worst he’s been re-animated by the Lazarus Pit. We’ve spent the last couple weeks thinking the worst. Believing that the Man we loved may have set all fhis in motion as nothing more than a crucible of tests to force us to do what he needed. As if he’d treated us as nothing but pawns. Even now when we know it is likely that he was not under his own power, all of those worst fears are valid because all of them are things we each know to be true about him. He would absolutely do every single thing we believed he had done.
That makes the truth a harsh reality. While he is innocent of the crimes, he is not so innocent of being the architect of our believing him capable. His Methods would never have allowed us to deal with this situation. None of the trust or friendship that these kids are showing, the hope in spite of what we just faced, would be there because Bruce would never have fostered it. I’ve never been more certain than I am, as Dinah starts to talk about needing a drink and to make a phone call, that I’ll never be able to be Bruce’s Batman. It’s also made me just as certain that the world we live in may not need a Batman, but if it does that Batman has to be a different one that it’s known up until now.
““I didn’t say it was mine! Our’s.”
““Spoiler’s got a point, though. We did only hear one option…”
““How are we going to work the Brand, if we don’t have business cards? M’Gann likes the blow-up merch idea…”
““… I’ve already ordered cards, they should be at the Tower …”
“What was the last track? I was busy being mind fucked, without a reach around…”
Dinah’s movements are such that if I were anyone else, this were any other time, I’d be surprised at how she reacted. How fast or potentially lethal she reacted would be impressive. As it is, she’s barely secured my wrist, when I twist my hand inside of her’s and have her forearm. We’re still standing like that when I watch her eyes bolt across the screen. The need for a drink, the call to the sheriff, those come a second later when she starts to turn to leave, only to realize someone hasn’t released her. On my face is a look that says so many things. The deep blue eyes are filled with understanding. The set of my jaw speaks of determination. Even the way my head inclines, speaks to the fact that I’ve got a promise to keep.
“… whoah whoah whoaaaaah… who said you’re the Leader, Tiny Tim? You don’t even have a code name right now.”
“I picked the team. I’m building the base. I even bought the business cards…”
“Nope. Sorry. Wonder Woman’s the boss of me. Freakshow picked the theme song. Those are way more important than monetary interests. You’re not the only rich boy here.”
“… wait.. Spoilers on the team? Does she want to be…”
“See? You don’t even know who’s on the team. Wondy’s the leader. Spoiler’s the Deejay.”
A step is taken, by me toward her. Another step brings me close enough to Dinah that she’s the only one that is going to hear what I have to say. Even though what I say isn’t even something private. “You said it, Di. You and me.” My head turns just enough to bob and direct her back to the computer screen. “Spoiler, was that a Bank Robbery on the police scanner? Send the GPS to the Batmobile. Canary and I will handle it.”
“Oh and Stephanie. Tell the Titans to get out of my &^%$ city. Now.”
Dinah: “But what would we even use business cards for…”
“Here, I’ll start it again, but there’s more with way more epic beats deeper in… Really shouldn’t rush the entrance music picks though. Just sayin’.”
I think my eye’s actually starting to twitch. It could also be the corner of my mouth attempting to make an upward turn that the rest of my body is in complete and utter opposition to, however. It’s hard to deny that this feels… better, though. Listening to them yammer back and forth at one another, but the tone’s so utterly different this time in comparison to where they were at a very short time ago. Clear and present reminder of how very little it takes to spin your world on its head, how one moment, one choice can make all the difference. We don’t actually get to hear the track, or at least I don’t because I’m not wearing a communicator. I can see that she’s done it, queued back up Cassie’s re-request of Young Volcanoes, but it doesn’t impede the comm chatter or come across any of the inputs. For specific ears only, apparently.
“Shouldn’t we get Flash and Shazam’s…
“God bless you… er… well… clearlyalreadydonetalkaboutunfairmeasuringstick… gesundheit!”
“..what? No, I wasn’t sneezing. Shazam is his name.”
I don’t get very far when I turn to spin on the ball of one foot and head for the vehicles to commandeer, brought up short by the grip on my arm as Spoiler’s snort of laughter echoes across the cave and she mutters to herself about who comes up with these things. It was probably not meant to be said out loud. Putting my shoulder into it, I give another tug to try and keep on going, but when that doesn’t work either I turn to face him, and Dick’s face says so much, and so much of it is what I don’t want to see right now. The kids are all apparently bonding over terrible music, and I want desperately to do exactly what Tim asked me not to do. Shut myself off, so I don’t have anything to lose like I always claimed was the case. The set of my mouth is irritation, but my eyes are almost pleading to be let go.
“I’m going to remember you said that, Con-L.”
“I’m kinda dealing with my own thing, but I guess if you guys need… wait do you not want me on the team…?”
“Dick, I don’t want to be the Black Canary right now…”
I haven’t tried to retreat as Dick comes in close, and talks under the back and forth. He’s not going to let me run. Despite one of the most honest things I’ve said since coming out of that cell, I already know he’s not going to listen. Not because he’s not listening, or doesn’t respect my need to shove this all down and compartmentalize like a fucking champ, but because he’s going to make me get back up on that horse. I’m making an awful lot of horse metaphors for someone that’s never been on one, but… everyone knows the gist of them. So I can fight, and push away, and go get drunk… where exactly? I’m probably still wanted, and there’s a pack of superteenagers hovering over the harbor making a spectacle of themselves. I justify to myself that the problem with the law is what signals my surrender, and the tension going out of that arm before I reverse angles and move towards the Batmobile.
“Totes is! There’s another one they haven’t been told about yet, too. Hey! Batleader says, and I quote, get the #$*& off my lawn, losers! Don’t make him come up there! …maybe not those exact words but… you get the point. Amscray! …but I’ll keep sending the tunes…”
Christ. Maybe I do need to punch someone after all.
Dinah: If you can believe it, city girl like me, I have actually been camping before. In an actual forest, with a tent and a campfire, and everything. All in all, it was a pretty wet and miserable experience, which I had been unable to complain about even once, because Oliver had intimated that he should probably go solo, since I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Ass. The whole thing had been unnecessary, since we could likely have hiked out to the place we’d needed to be, handled business, and gotten back in a single day. He probably didn’t have the stamina for that, though. Which I may have intimated heavily myself once we were there.
I can handle uncomfortable and non-ideal sleeping conditions, though. I’ve been an accomplished daytime sleeper since high school, and the thuds and voices from my bar don’t keep me up at the apartment in Gotham. I trained under sensei that delighted in tormenting students and putting them off their game. All in all, the Nightwingmobile is not the worst place I’ve ever tried to rest, and after the little train compartment I’m finding nearly anything at all feels damn roomy.
Leaving Rapid City hadn’t been much of a problem, on account of them having to deal with Deathstroke at their highly secured, secret base. Finding a place to stop after what wasn’t nearly as exciting of a day for me as it had been for Dick was convenience more than availability. Just because NOWHERE’s off our asses for the moment doesn’t mean they’re not still watching out, and friend or not even I don’t want to require a Supersave twice in one week. The drive probably would have been faster if we weren’t on side, back, and nothing roads, but the view’s not half bad here if you like flat, flat nothing and the occasional weed that’s taller than the other ones.
There’s an over exaggerated stretch, as I’m reaching arms up and over my head. Outwards as I curve my back and let my head hang for a moment.
“Ahhh. So this is what non-toxic air is like. Do you have any more hobo clothes in there? Fishnets at any kind of stop seems to have gotten me the looks that say I probably could’ve rustled up some cash for a hotel after all…”
The lack of physical money wasn’t actually what was keeping us out of lodging with a real roof and walls, because I’m positive he’s got some stashed somewhere on him. On the road, off the road, is less likely to have some random, well meaning, law abiding citizen decide to be ‘helpful’ for the authorities.
Dick: Even if it’s DINAH LANCE and her nameless sidekick NIGHTWING that made every headline across the country? I’m not going to just abandon her. Not only would that probably play ill on any future scoring chances, but… she still hasn’t answered my &^%$ questions. I’d love to know why we went to all this trouble only to have her pull me out of there before I could get access to whatever that was. I know what I saw, but what I saw didn’t make a lot of sense. It’s left me driving. Driving some more. Driving even more than that.
While Dinah slept. Snoozed. Cat-napped. What do you call it when the girl next to you seems to all appearances unconcious but can recite every lyric from the last song that just played. Even if it was Achy Breaky Heart remixes and Southern Baptist Church Music. Because Bible Belt and even a multiple thousand dollar radio can’t find another channel. Picking up enough signal for a good playlist off any sort of internet is a chance equal to that of hitting the lotto.
I’ve had to remind myself more than a dozen times so far; Someone would recognize Dinah if we went mainstream. It happens to be a problem that I’ve been pondering as we move towards home, but there are a lot of factors involved that I’m not entirely sure I follow or understand. Why do they want Dinah so much being chief among them. That’s a question that I obviously get, because I do too. I’m just not sure I understand why they want her when they have a superman, alien shape-shifters, wizards and matter re-arrangers. They seem to create their own Deathstroke, Huntress or Superman even, every other weekend.
“The Hobo clothes were actually authentic. I gave a guy a diamond tipped dart for them. He’s probably having his first good meal right now.” Like we could be having, if we didn’t apparently do all of this for nothing Side-eyes are a way of things right now, but at least the view is better from my seat. “That last stop left me wondering if maybe we couldn’t have both earned some hotel money.”
“There’s actually cash in my utility belt. When we stopped to load up I grabbed a handful of the freeze dried bat-bucks. Just add water… instant go-bag-cash.”
Dinah: Complain more, at least he’s got a secret identity to default to. Which I don’t even begrudge him, truthfully. I made the ballsy choice long ago to depend on not much more than makeup to protect myself, mostly because I didn’t care to protect myself. If Dick Grayson is all over the headlines engaged in vigilante behavior then lets face it, that shines a spotlight on every other Wayne, adopted or otherwise. Suddenly Tim’s backing of the tower they’re building in California gets even more scrutiny. The various strange behaviors of Damien would become not just acceptable filthy rich eccentricities.
I think I might honestly just begin to assume that all of these Billionaire Playboys are actually vigilantes. Every single one. The Waynes. Queen. Luthor.
His comment, coupled with the weight of the sideways look that I don’t even have to be facing him to see has me lolling my head over onto my shoulder to look at Dick, mouth twisted in wry amusement, as I reach over and pat his cheek.
“Yeah, yeah. Like we could be having, too. But then we wouldn’t be having this excellent team bonding road trip. Maybe we should have loaded a few more people into the ‘Wingmobile and really made a go of it.”
Someone would probably murder Damien before the night was through. Or he would have killed someone for looking at him like that one fella had been checking out Dick. And Stephanie. Because she wouldn’t shut up, she might be the first to go, and I say that as someone who’s only ever interacted with her in a form where it’s perfectly acceptable to hit her when she’s obnoxious. It was, after all, how Grant trained me. The fact that he didn’t manage to throttle the banter out of me should probably be telling of my efforts on Spoiler. If she’s got one thing going for her its stubborn inability to quit when she should really, really stay down. Reminder that I may owe her an apology… which isn’t really my thing to do. Speaking of…
“I’d settle for knock-off imitation. Or nothing but that might actually get more attention. I knew we should have just gone back to the truck stop in Rapid City. Fleeced them for all their money… oh, shit, really?”
The laughter that’s creeped into my tone is probably a dead giveaway for the ridiculousness I’m about to propse.
“…any water? Do you have more of them? Can I pop one in your mouth and take out bills like you’re an ATM?”
I may be running on leftover adrenaline, disappointment, tension and not much real sleep right now. Combined with the entire situation we’re in, I may be reaching a bit for anything to keep the levity to a certain level. Namely because I owe Dick an explanation, and I’ve been trying, while pretending/attempting to sleep to put my thoughts together in the best way. I’ve felt second guessed a lot, and I know that isn’t his fault. He knew I was compromised when I didn’t, even if I feel now I would have made many of the same choices.
“Look. I’m sorry for the no explanation, seemingly pointless trip it… while it wasn’t a dead end, it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I got answers but… they weren’t what I thought they’d be and it kind of knocked the wind out of my crusader sails.”
Dick: “Dinah.” Uh, oh. Bat-voice. Danger, danger Will Robinson, danger! “Let me say this clearly; Hard. Pass.”
“About calling it the Wing-Mobile. I’ll put the pellet in my mouth,” comes the offsetting wryly delivered punchline. “So long as I get to choose how you then earn whatever comes out of it.”
She is not the only one with a sense of humor. I’ve been doing this even longer than her. Banter, I mean. I still remember the teen that barely said two words before breaking knuckles on a heavy bag. Humor is my thing. Not always good humor, but humor none the less. I’m not the only one who worries that the Cowl is going to rob that aspect of my life from me, but for now I’ve been able to maintain thanks to so many openings that Dinah and Damien, not to mention our lives, provide me.
There’s a long look afforded to her once she says something serious though. “Was that you admitting that I was right and this wasn’t all about someone tinkering with your head? Because that sounded like you veiled one unicorn, inside of another unicorn. In which case I just got a two unicorn apology, for the price of one unicorn.”
“What did you think the answers would be? And why do you now think the answers you did get, don’t measure up to those expectations?” Two days ago I wouldn’t have reached across the console to lay my hand on her knee, but today I’m actually thinking that might be the ounce of reassurance I can offer that she just might appreciate. “Before you left Gotham, the only thing you knew for sure was that someone stole something from you and used you when you were just a kid. Now you’re free of the Hatter, you said you got answers and we know now that Nowhere has some sort of designs on you specifically. None of that happened, if you didn’t leave Gotham.”
“Actually, I think that I was wrong about this from the start. I think it was the exact time for you to make this play.”
Dinah: There’s a moment where I think that somehow I’ve managed to break some rule of sanctity about pellets and putting them in his mouth, or maybe I’ve found the limit by triggering some long not spoken of trauma, so when it’s the nickname for the SUV I let out a snort, before leaning my head back against my seat, and kicking my feet up on the dash, eyes forward once again. I even let him leave his hand on my knee. Pushing it off would seem a little hostile and until something else springs that trap, we’ve been being nice. And, truthfully, the contact is nice. A different kind of nice.
“Well, what else are we going to call it? I made a judgment call that Dad Van was probably not sexy. And I wouldn’t go that far about the unicorns or the apologies.”
That wasn’t all what it was about, was it? It had certainly been made personal, and maybe the mode by which the news was delivered set it all up to be a whole lot more sinister. It has to be pretty awful if Deathstroke brings it to the plate, yeah? Bruce running the whole thing down ahead of me, apparently, and still opting to make it go away hadn’t helped the initial impressions either. Would it have been better if he’d just told me? You know, it’s easy to say yes. To blame someone not here, in a conversation that I can’t have.
“I thought I’d done something terrible, and I want to say I could deal with that, but not knowing the circumstances, or how much choice I had in it… maybe after Hatter that made the wound a little more raw.”
Folding my arms, and then bracing the tops of my angled thighs might almost be a vulnerable position if it weren’t for the set of my jaw, though the expression goes wry once more as I keep going.
“I thought maybe I could at least get some good mileage out of it, if I could stick it to NOWHERE where it would really, really hurt with the answers. But turns out I was just a big damn hero, who sticks her nose wherever she wants to stick it, who made a choice that I probably would make all over again tomorrow, brain chip or not.”
Which actually is a relief. That’s one of the things I’ve had to mull over since we bailed on Rapid City, in the middle of explosion.
“So, I guess it wasn’t a pointless trip. It just wasn’t the point I’d planned. Besides. I gave a living legend half a lap dance, and you almost accidentally unleashed Armageddon on the world because I asked you to, frankly it’s another day in the life, huh?”
Dick: “I don’t know what we’re calling it, but I know what we’re not calling it. This isn’t even my normal car. It’s from a safe house in Montana.”
With an exasperated roll of the eyes that almost makes my neck pop from the weight of it, I’ve let Dinah have her fun at my expense. As we’ve gone along, I’ve started to recognize my role in this dynamic. It’s ever changing, but essentially I’m the release valve on the pressure that Dinah’s built up for herself. She can handle the pressure that others exert with no help from anyone. That voice in her head that ultimately leads her to either throttling Russians on the streets or drinking herself comatose at home? They’re different. One of them I can help with, by not being overbearing. The other I can help with by getting out of her way.
“Dad Van. Just remember. These old jokes are going to haunt you when we start calling you the Silver Canary.”
From the conversation I’d listened in to, partially, added to what she filled me in on, during the trip up to Rapid City, I know topically what Dinah thought. Killing a brother would be traumatic to anyone, but to have it be the first time you’d found out about the existence of one also being the moment you found out that you killed him? I honestly can’t even imagine that well enough to empathize. I had to just harness the power of seeing my family die, to just lend my understanding of loss to her. Not that Dinah needed or wanted, but I’d wanted to let her know it was there.
Which amounted to a very quiet trip to Rapid City. The opposite of this return trip. Thankfully, because if I see another beet farm or corn field I’m going to give serious thought to pushing the big red button under my steering column. Hopefully none of that reaches my voice, “I’m not angling at a fight, but I want you to remember that the fight we did have was about why you needed to go ‘Now’ instead of ‘Later.’ That reason was a personal one. You had a hole in your life that you needed to fill. Dinah, you got those answers and came out of it without a scratch.”
“Finding out that you are, were, exactly who you and I, and everyone else, already knew you were? I put that in the win column,” so says the needless reassuring squeeze offered to her thigh, before I borrow one of her words to make a point. “Besides. While you were giving a lapdance to a World War One Veteran, I was looking at the strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“In the basement’s basement’s basement, which hasn’t had it’s air vents scrubbed since you were wearing a training bra. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t think I’d find some swanky blacksite prison. That only had one cell and that cell had all of the amenities of the Wayne Mansion.”
“Hermetically sealed, Wayne Mansion. Real Charles Mansony stuff. Made Arkham look like it did during No Man’s Land. I don’t know what kind of Armageddon was living there, but he was living high on the hog.”
Dinah: “What, they don’t all have names? And you say we, but it’ll probably just be you.”
Frankly, if I live long enough to be doing this while going silver, it might be a big enough tick in the win box for me to just roll with it. If my grandmother was any indicator, it’ll be White Canary, also no one dared call her anything but her original name. That I heard anyway, but I had no idea she was so… active. As long as she was. In hindsight I should have, because you don’t retire from this kind of life. Not for long, or not well. Ordinarily, that would be a flippant comment I’d make out loud. About dying relatively early. In the wake of everything that’s happened this year, and everything we’ve jointly learned as a group, I just… don’t.
“I feel like in the interest of the whole continued goodwill and getting along thing we were doing, that I should point out that anytime you start a sentence with ‘not trying to fight or anything buuuut…’, it basically says you know it’s fighting words about to come out of your mouth. Kind of like if I were to start what I’m about to say next with ‘not to say I told you so, Dick, buuuuuut…'”
The entire thing has amounted to a very strange month of my life. Knowing who I am has never, and I mean not once in the history of ever, been an issue for me. I had strong role models in every single aspect of my life, and beyond that a cocksure personality that would probably have existed even if I didn’t have the skills, and looks, to back it up. But I did. Which apparently made me the ball of fun I was as a teenager. Finding out you’ve been shifted, though, finding out there was a part of you, an important and traumatic part, that you didn’t even know was there? I suppose it’d probably rock most people at least a little bit.
“Half a lap dance. Pretty sure I could have funded the trip if I ponied up the rest of it. I was almost better looking than the real Black Canary they had working in there.”
His fingers pressing into the muscle of my thigh is weirdly reassuring and… no. I don’t suppose it is weird, that’s probably a normal gesture between people who are close enough for the touch to not be something else automatically. So when my arms unfold quickly and I grab the hand that’s touching me, it probably seems like it’s about to be forcibly removed but I hold it there.
There’s a pause, the hand not on his coming up as I pinch the bridge of my nose for a second, letting out a breath that sounds more like a hiss. Much like Slade using me to hunt down much more easily the thing he was after, and it had all clicked into place while I was ‘interrogating’ Steve Trevor, things that had been said in that conversation tumble into place with what my companion’s telling me about his adventure.
“Fuck, I’m really not on my game. A prison. An actual prison.”
And my brother doesn’t blame me. Not didn’t. Christ. He’s still alive.
“What you were looking at, was where NOWHERE thinks an entity called Vertigo is being contained. Bruce have anything on that?”
Dick: “No. They don’t.” Side-eye again. Wait for it. Damnit. “Okay. Tim and Bruce named more or less everything. Not me. Them. I never bothered learning their name. Bat-Boat. Bat-Mobile. Bat-Plane. Robin-Cycle. It wasn’t really a complicated naming convention. Then you started adding in things like two, three, four…”
If one didn’t know better they might think that this was the sort of thing that would drive a young Dick Grayson to drink. They’d be right. It did. A bar in Bludhaven even started numbering my martinis. That’s one of those things we don’t talk about. Not even with the shrink. The Bartender with Blue Hair once started making vroom vroom noises as she slid them to me. I had nightmares that night…
Que disappointment at being rebuked on the simple reassuring touch that hadn’t even been romantic… in five, four… blink. Blink. Maybe not. This is starting to feel like one of those eureka moments that I’d have with Batman. Okay. Maybe not exactly like those. There was a lot less hands on his thigh. Much less hand-holding. But… the same sort of ‘Oh, oh ohhhh damn everything just clicked.’ The problem is, I’m not sure what’s clicking in to place.
Then she asks the question and I’m moving on muscle memory. Tapping the edge of my sunglasses, to activate the car’s onboard computers. While in stealth mode it looks like a real car, but Dinah’s right in that it’s far from that. The fold out super-cycle in the trunk confirmed that. A couple seconds later there’s mechanized sound of the dashboard’s fold out screen that would ordinarily only be a backup camera for other vehicle. Us? We have the Nest’s backup systems putting us in to the Brother-Eye back-up system.
“Brother-Eye has some encrypted files on Vertigo, but they’re on the actual mainframe for the Bat-Computer. Unless Barb made headway in getting back in to the system, we don’t have any way to see the files.” Tilting my head back to her, I’m having my own little moment of recognition. Daamn. “During the League of Assassins being in Gotham. They attacked the Mansion in their search for Talia. While they were doing that, someone else used it as cover to attack the Cave. That’s what caused Alfred to lose control of the Plane that crashed and nearly killed you, me and Damien. In the long list of ‘shit gets weird.’ The attack on the Cave was either not very successful, if the intention was to steal something. Because all it succeeded in doing is putting the Brother-Eye Mainframe in to lockdown. We don’t have access to any of Bruce’s myriad of ‘Secret Files’ he had on Nowhere or various meta-humans that he kept. We still have all the computing power and software. None of the historical data.”
“Alternatively, it was very successful. Because Alfie thinks the whole thing was meant to lock us or someone else out.”
Dinah: Sure they don’t, and three… two… I know the way he’s looking at me, when denial won’t do the trick because he knows. And there it is. You’d think at least SuperGeniusTim would have better names for all the assorted accessories and doohickies, but maybe he was going direct and simple for the plebs. Whether this particular vehicle has a name, beyond Montana Safehouse SUV #2, gets a whole lot less important in very short order. Dick’s got a look on his face that I imagine is at least somewhat similar to the one on mine, when something clicks things that you hadn’t thought about, or at least hadn’t thought about from a very specific vantage, into place.
Not only are those ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ moments, but they’re even more frustrating because you did. Just maybe not back when you should have, or when you were in a place to pursue the trigger a little more directly. He’s moving, enough to get The SUV to reveal some of its hidden goodies, and I’m leaning in again to look at it. Unnecessary, because it’s more than clear even fully upright in my seat, but there’s this intensity to feeling like you’re right on the edge of something. Wave. Rollercoaster. Discovery.
“And here I just thought he was sick of Damien’s shit and we were acceptable collateral damage…”
I am actually listening to Dick, though, the commentary is more of a soft aside to myself than any remark meant to seriously derail what he’s telling me. Like the fact that Barbara’s back in Gotham, something I didn’t think would happen anytime soon, let alone in the Batcave. Explains why she was in my ear relaying messages. I would be wanting to talk about that if this moment were a little different but maybe I’m a little caught up in ‘me’ and ‘us’ for the moment.
“So are we still working under the assumption that it was Bruce? Why hoard all that information on literally everything and suddenly decide people who might have access shouldn’t? Trevor said that he had the basically the exact same conversation that I had with him, with Batman. Now, that could have been just the NOWHERE portions, but it seems like it would have been hard to compartmentalize what I did in Rapid City, without bringing up Vertigo. It’s not him he’s keeping it from, I’m sure he’s got it up in that steel trap head, and if nothing else in the Cave Crew has changed to suddenly warrant lockdown, then that takes us back to the someone else. Deathstroke knew I’d be able to get stuff from people he couldn’t, I assume that’s the real reason for him telling me what he did. Which I did, because I couldn’t help myself, and… I’m hoping he didn’t have nearly as much fun as we did in Rapid City. ”
But it’s probably not Slade he was hiding anything from either. So that goes bigger picture to what we’ve been toying at the edges of.
“So that brings us to the enemy we don’t know, that’s well connected enough to get its hooks in a project like Team 7. Steve said that Vertigo is an entity that inhabits people. As in more than one at a time. It was responsible for world war one. And two. It was contained until the Parallax event, and then Team 7 was sent in. Who we already know were facilitated by this group at one point. The good sheriff moved Vertigo, which he said NOWHERE doesn’t know….”
So either they’re not friends anymore completely, or its someone else, or…
“At this point I’m just going to keep outloud thinking like …ugh… Spoiler, because clearly I’m not putting all these thoughts together in the right order just in my head.”
Dick: Somewhere between ‘So are we still working’ and ‘outloud thinking like Spoiler’, I’ve all but pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road. Because I’ve afixed Dinah with a look that screams ‘What the hell?’ This is actually a first for me. I’ve never had her go on such a tangent of outward thought in the entire time of knowing her. Hell, half of my problem with Dinah is getting her to talk in the first place.
“First. I’m going to remember that you compared yourself to Spoiler. For literally ever. You had me turn on the computer. So it’s also recorded and backed up to like nine hundred systems.” Playful banter? Not going away. Not when she’s managed to start my wheels turning. “I’ve been so focused on you and everything else that I’ve put everything in Gotham on the back burner… holy fish sticks, Dinah.”
Without a hint of reservation I lean over and just outright kiss her. She’s fast. I’m faster. I’ll live with whatever consequences come of it. “Twenty-ish years ago Bruce puts on the Cowl and goes out as Batman. Gotham had been off-limits, because it’s Heroes like your Gran and Alan Scott retired there after the last World War. They brokered a deal, that kept powered metas out of the City, in exchange for making it a haven. Since Bruce wasn’t a Meta, but was clearly doing meta-like things… it put Nowhere at a bit of an impasse.”
“Once Bruce’s crusade began, anything that stood in it’s way had to be dealt with. He starts building contacts in D.E.O. and Nowhere… leading to your Gran. A few years later, you show up on his doorstep. He had a few new sons, but no daughter… plus a debt to your Gran. Like with me. Like with Tim. Even with Damien. You had a mystery around you and Bruce couldn’t not pull at the threads. He went looking, as he always did… and I’ll bet you a new shiny diamond tipped dart… he found out about Team7, had that conversation with the Sheriff and helped him move your Pandora’s Box.”
“I’ll bet you another dart, that he connected Pandora’s Box to you and one day you’d personally need to know. Hence having the info prepped, but set aside for you. He didn’t drop it… he intentionally left it for you to do what you do. Knowing it’s lead you there. Just like he knew I’d never let his death settle. Knew that Tim would never believe he actually died the way he did. I’d even bet, he factored in that Damien would lose his utter shit after losing his Father, if he also might lose his Mother. But he needed a Lazarus pit, to bring himself back. Because to fool the real bad guys, he needed to actually die.”
“All of which ties right back in you, Dinah. If this Vertigo is what you’re saying, he wouldn’t want that Court of Owls that he’d been researching to have it.” The next kiss is for the joined hands, it serves as a chance to swallow and wet my lips before I bring up one more thing. “The only problem I’m having here. Is that if all of this is even in the ball park of correct. The attack on the Cave doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’d have wanted us to have access to those files. I mean.. if I’m sharing Bruce’s head-space here… then there’s only two reasons I can think of as to why I’d sabotage the cave.”
“One, he knew you’d follow this to it’s ultimate end game. Which would trigger backlash once Nowhere realized that Pandora’s Box was gone. Meaning the info in the files probably contains the location of your Pandora’s Box, so he needed to render it inaccessible to keep the ‘Bad Guys’ from getting it. Or the second option… is that Bruce simply doesn’t want us to know the location. Which in itself means either one of us can’t be trusted.”
“Oh. Oh, wait. Shit, shit, double shit. There’s a third option. Damnit, I hate it when I think like Bruce. If this were me, Dinah. And I wanted to re-unite my daughter with her brother. Wanted to send her on this whole chase to rediscover lost memories. I wouldn’t drop it suddenly. I’d make sure there was a happy ending, so I’d damn sure keep Pandora’s Box somewhere I knew was the safest place on earth. Like.. the so super-secret vault that even Superman can’t see in to it and none of my partners, including Alfred, can even get in to.”
“…and I just asked Barbara to come home and hack it open, because Tim’s left the reservation.”
Dinah: “If you ever tell her that Act Like Spoiler was a momentarily legitimate plan, and that I did it, I will find the most creative way to castrate you that I can imagine, whether that’s figurative or literal. And I’ll do it twice.”
When did he pull over? I realize I’d begun staring at nothing, while ostensibly looking at the display on the console, and talking out loud. Or rather spitting out a stream of conscious thought so that if I missed something else, Christ Almighty, maybe he would pick up on it. We’d said before how many fucking times, joked about it, been half serious about it, but what if it was all the same thing? One neat little package, wrapped up with the same bow.
I don’t even get to rib him about the fish sticks comment, because first he’s kissing me. Which, as I’d already learned in the cramped train compartment is a pretty enjoyable experience. Then, before I get to respond to that in any manner at all he’s A. Stopped. And B. Moved on with his own ramble of verbal detective diarrhea. Blue eyes just get bigger. And bigger. Parts of this I think we’d guessed at, because it would only make sense. Bruce’s death. Talia al’Ghul just happening to be available and prepared with the Lazarus Pit. Then her Father being even more displeased with her than one would have thought.
“…you’re really free and loose with those darts…”
Still really can’t help the stray commentary. Even when he’s in the middle of all of this and…
“Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s all a neat, convenient package because somehow Bruce managed to make it that way.”
I don’t even understand how, and by all accounts, most especially my own, I’m pretty smart and clever. But it just makes sense, convoluted and ridiculous as it all is step by step it works. If I was rubbing the bridge of my nose before Dick kissed me, and connected all the dots, now I’ve got my fingers pressed to my temples like it’s all that’s keeping my head from exploding.
“I didn’t ask where Trevor moved it, because I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want that to be a secret I had to keep, but then I realized after you talked about the prison cell that it’s not a what, but a who…”
And that who is my brother. Was my brother. Who I didn’t really kill, just helped contain with Vertigo, and maybe NOWHERE thinks that’s not the case. Either because Steve Trevor got to ‘write’ that particular history, or maybe because the part of NOWHERE that’s actually trying to do good for this world doesn’t want just anyone to know the truth.
“…so maybe you better call her and tell her to stop…? Christ. I’d ask why on Earth he’d want us back together, but apparently once again I was right when I told Tim that despite his emotional constipation, Bruce clearly knew we were all better that way.”
Dick: “It’s also. Fucking twisted. Jesus, fucking, Christ, on a stick. Twisted.”
“This is exactly the kind of crap that man does. It’s why I left in the first place. Half the time it’s a test, to see if he can trust you. The other half of the time you’re left in the dark, twisting in the wind, because he doesn’t trust you.” This rambling little bit of rant is brought to you by hard feelings. They’re apparently sponsoring this episode of Dick Grayson wants to punch his adoptive Father in the mouth. And ends only when I realize that I’m ranting about three cubic inches from Dinah’s lips.
Oh. Um. “… kinda free and loose with castration threats too, good to see you’ve got my best features on your mind …”
Right. So I’m back to my own seat, not even realizing that I’ve just cleared my throat for like the third time in as many seconds. “Because we’re better together, D. All of us. Tim was right about that too. Look at it topically. None of us are the total package that Bruce is, but as a team. Working together. We’re more than the sum of our parts.”
“Hold on,” my free hand is touching buttons, gliding across the console in order to call Barbara’s commlink which ends in a warble. She’ll see me selectively going commlink to commlink then. Alfred is next, then Tim. Even though I know Damien’s out of the City, I go with him. Before finally settling on Stephanie. “The wishful thinker in me is hoping we’re so far out in the sticks that we can’t get cell service. Because otherwise that’s not ominous at all. Right?”
In what is the first time I’ve released her hand since she initiated that contact, I pull my hand away so that I can set the Wing-Mobile in to the not-stealth mode S.U.V. settings. Outwardly plating starts to coat the exterior. The engine sinks inward and the vehicle drops lower to the road. On the interior Dinah gets a whole lot more technology in her vision as it converts in to what she’s seen a hundred times inside the batmobile proper. Unfortunately we’re not driving the sports car version of this vehicle. We’re in the all-terrain one. Dinah’s already seen the backup bike in the trunk and now she’s seeing the wheels swiveling up in to jet turbines.
“I did tell you it can’t be the Wing-Mobile. Because it literally doesn’t have wings, Dinah. Don’t. I see your dimples. You’re about to try to say it’s an ‘Ironic Name,’ I swear… Bad-Dad will lose his shit.” As the engine is literally warming up, I stop in mid-teasing rant to turn just enough that this time around it’s a little more than side-eyeing her. “Hey, D. I just… I know it’s not the right time to say this but… we should actually take a night off and …
“Holy. Shit. That night. When I was spying on you and Slade. He said he didn’t know who contacted him about coming to Gotham to clean the whole Lazarus pit up.” No, that isn’t at all what I’d been about to say, but as more chips fall in to place I’m almost reeling over the complexity of it all. “Bruce could have hired anyone to take out that Pit once Joker got involved, but he brought in the one person who had history with you. The one person who would have reason to think you could help him take this journey, connect all these dots…”
“I think if Bruce isn’t really dead. I’m going to kill him..”
Dinah: He’s definitely right about that and, I think, everything else as well that’s come upon us in this thunderstruck moment. I might call it awe instead, but I can’t help wonder if Dick’s at least feeling a little bit of the dismay that’s threatening to creep in like it is for me. He was, after all, the first child. The test subject. I’m sure not judging him as he goes on his tirade because Lord knows he’s entitled. For all the things Bruce was for me, therapy inducing wasn’t one of them, but I also never lived with him and had a foundation outside of being a Bat before he came into my particular picture, along with the rest of them. As he goes, there’s this tension because I want to return the favor from the train and kiss him. Calling it a favor might be a little too saintly, because it would most definitely be as much for me, I don’t actually want to interrupt because maybe he needs to get that out, as much as anything else. It’s like magnets, pulling to connect, and squirming to get there.
Then Dick’s sitting back against the driver’s seat again, and I don’t have to fight that temptation quite so hard anymore. It’s also easy to let my eyes obviously drop to his lap, and let out a single snort of laughter.
“Mmn. Don’t know if I’d say best, but definitely memorable.”
But then, we didn’t exactly do much more than start, did we? Definitely a first for me, and maybe that’s the cause of some of that tension and frustration, but I think it has a lot more to do with the general situation. All of it. Being on the run, or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been holding hands for probably longer than I’ve ever held anyone’s, and it’s a shockingly intimate gesture for what little sexual energy should be there. That’s broken as well, as he goes on with fiddling with the vehicle’s functionality, trying all the com links.
“The pragmatist in me is too strong to suggest that maybe Alfred’s busy with something else, and everyone else all at the same time. Realist would say we are in Middle America Nothingville, but given that you guys probably have a handful of satellites to prevent just this kind of thing…Maybe Barb accidentally crashed the system. Sounds like something I would do…”
Any one of them could be busy, but all of them, all at the same time? Even Spoiler? The fidgety, itching for a fight tension I’ve been feeling is zinging between different energies, and now it’s swung squarely back from interpersonal, to a need to get moving towards action. All of it is adding to something wrong. The comms. The vault. The Court and the timing. Maybe because the cynic in me could easily spin all of it two ways, this big picture. Bringing us together, or neatly having us out of the picture.
“Neither do you, Bird Boy.”
Fine, doesn’t want the ironic comment that I was definitely thinking, but now I’m leaned away from him, to watch the transformation of the car through the passenger window as much as I can. Good Lord, it’s like they can’t help themselves. This is exactly why I don’t let Tim touch my bike. I end up looking back over my shoulder at him, an almost wistful twist of my mouth.
“Yeah, we could probably use one at this point…”
No rest for the wicked, or the weary. I think I know what he’s trying to get at, not the general damn, we work way too hard and are putting up with way too much bullshit and deserve a night off, but we should set aside time where we’re not distracted by… everything. Thoughts of any of that, and almost my immediate need to try and play it off, get obliterated by what he’s just twitched into place. And one blue eye squints down to almost closed as I grimace. Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick indeed.
“The one person who had an assortment of brain chips, that were incredibly solid breadcrumbs that would have had to have been overlooked in the very, very thorough surgical procedure that was erasing that chunk of my past, by someone who went to a lot of trouble to remove all other evidence…”
My Father never mentioned a brother, nor did my Grandfather. There were no pictures. No stray memorabilia. Nothing. Despite my general state of emotionally walled off and unavailable, I’m actually pretty sentimental. I love old romance movies, and the pictures and keepsakes were the only thing I kept from my childhood home before I sold it. He probably knows even more surely than me that Bruce didn’t overlook things. It was a pretty big shock that there was any sort of shadowed enemy in Gotham, mostly because he always seemed to know everything.
“…fuck, I don’t know if I’m impressed, horrified, or with you on the form a line, I’m gonna kill him. When I met Superman the first time, he was shocked he didn’t know who I was, even posing as someone with much less power than I’ve actually got. NOWHERE databases the shit out of everything like someone else I know. I thought it was my Grandmother’s doing at first, but not anymore, so it had to be Bruce. I don’t think they’d just let her erase that from their intell. Waller was apparently under the impression that I could crack the world with a little help, and Trevor said that my brother was, more or less, that…help…”
Ah, fuck. The Earthquake. I steer my thoughts sharply away, though a bit of a cringe still manages to escape my control.
“Fucking Machiavellian bullshit. Dick, I don’t think twisted is enough for it.”
Because Bruce went to an awful lot of trouble to protect me, or keep this from me, to ultimately still have it available and brought out for answers. But with the ‘answer’ being apparent Armageddon in his basement, the timing of it makes this feel a whole lot less of a favor for me, and more like a tool that was in that giant Battoolbox to be used when and if he needed it. I hate being used. Probably even more so when I don’t see the point. Why lead us here? Why choose this?
Dick: The two of us shift gears almost faster than the vehicle we’re traveling in. A once sleek black S.U.V. fit for any high roller’s cross country trip, it now rockets across the farmland sky on four rockets that were once the tires. More hover-craft than rocket, the lack of wings also means a lack of altitude, but that’s a good thing when you want to stay off the radar of a government that’s hunting for you. At the same time it means we’re no longer concerned about roads, allowing us to take the shortest route possible. Nearly a straight line.
As we travel I’ve made an effort to contact anyone who has an active commlink to our systems. None of them have answered. There have been no red alerts sent out though, which leaves the possibility that nothing is actually wrong. That the two of us are worried about something terrible that isn’t actually happening. There’s enough to lead us down that path, but I’m still holding on to the hope that everything in our world didn’t just go terrible wrong. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t have to be the opening of this Pandora’s Box. The Cave and our allies have seen their fair share of attacks recently. Not to mention Tim and Stephanie were off the grid before any of this. And there’s also a very real possibility that our antics have sped up the timeline with Nowhere. We could be facing a completely different threat than the one we’re racing home to confront.
I just don’t have that sickly feeling about this possibly being a Nowhere move against us. As much as I know about them and their resources, I have a hard time believing they could completely cut us off from someone like Tim or Barb. Add in to that, that I fully believe if they were moving against us that I wouldn’t have an open line available to the Tower in Coast City or Wonder Woman where ever she is. Nor would Dinah be able to just pick up a phone to contact Roy or Superboy. This all just feels targeted and close.
It’s only the people who know about the Cave or are connected to people who know about the Cave. That alone has me pressing down upon the accelerator to such a point that we’ve been getting warned about exceeding structural limitations for about the last half hour or so.
Entering through the underground grotto is the fastest way in to the cave. The problem at hand is that we don’t exactly know what we’re rushing in too. Nothing is visually amiss as we clear the shadows of the long cave entrance. At the mouth of the grotto there is a disguised entry, that functioned just like it’s supposed too. Parting open, then securing behind us as we passed through. Once the S.U.V. opens to allow us exit, next to the far more iconic and actual Batmobile, everything is a bit of a mess but it’s been that way since the attack a couple weeks prior. Alfred has clearly been working on putting things back in order, but there’s only so much a guy can do with a giant penny, massive dinosaur and over-sized Joker-card. These things will require a bit of assistance of the heavy machinery sort to put in place and he’s been left largely alone without anyone to badger in to helping.
It doesn’t take long to discover that things aren’t exactly as they seem though. Just up the cat-walk my eyes go to the figure slumped over the keyboard at the massive computer. Clearly unconscious, the form of Alfred Pennyworth is poised to push the ’emergency’ call button that would have sent out an alert to anyone that had the same commlinks I made an effort to call on our trip in. I’m about three steps in to rushing to the ageless caretaker when my eyes fixate on the computer itself in front of Alfred.
A grizzly sight if I’ve ever seen one and it leaves every drop of blood in my face draining out. I’ve never seen the room in the image, but I’d know the red head anywhere. She stands in front of a man that I recognize only from the files I’d gone through with Dinah. Barbara and Kurt Lance are having some sort of stand-off. I’m not sure it really classifies as a stand-off right now though, as it’s pretty clear that Barbara’s under some sort of great strain. Her whole body is trembling with effort.
Though I want to check on Alfred, I know immediately that I’ve got to check on the readings for that monitor. “Shit. Barb broke through the lockdown. The entire vault system is off line. Everything about this is above my pay grade in programming, she turned off the security systems… before she went in. Maybe she thought it was boobytrapped…”
“Either way. She’s all that stands between your brother or whatever he is and freedom.” Jerking my hands away from the keyboard, one goes to Alfred for a pulse and the other points Dinah to previously hidden stairwell beneath the lined rack of Batman and Robin costumes. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, but it’s bought us a little time.”
Dinah: We’re not alone, there’s other people to reach out to. I suppose that’s what Tim had been angling at with his recruitment drive. If I really wanted to rib him, I’d blame him for all of this since it started with me running interference for him in Metropolis. That wouldn’t be exactly fair, though, because that was actually, it looks like, coincidence. All of the rest of this had already been set into motion. Plus, I’d like to know he’s okay. When it comes to my non-super contacts outside the cave though, I wouldn’t call in Roy for this. Not with his daughter, and my advice to him to try and lay low after Oliver had outed him to the authorities along with the rest of us.
For someone that’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, who drives her own motorcycle, and any car, like she has absolutely zero regard for her own safety or mortality, it becomes pretty clear that I don’t enjoy this particular ride. I’ll try to pass it off as nerves about what’s waiting, or whether we’re going to get there in time or not, but I’ve never liked being out of control. I didn’t like it when Conner flew me, I could really do without going this fast, hurtling across farms and white knuckling it when there’s a barn within a hundred feet.
And the warnings really didn’t help. Because after all of this? Fireball of a crashed, unidentified flying object doesn’t sound like the way I want to go.
At first, when we arrive, I notice the shambles but it doesn’t look recent enough to be ongoing. Who knows how long it’s been a wreck down here, I haven’t actually been back to the Batcave proper in years, I’d been spending my time in Tim’s hidey hole. I think Dick and I both have the same idea, which frankly says a lot about Alfred’s place in all of this, and I make it a few steps further than him before I skid to a halt because he has, and I must be missing something. Then I get my first look at my brother. Or what used to be my brother. Maybe I should have inquired a little more heavily and directly about this Vertigo, but once it was made clear to me what it was, I was out. It seemed like the kind of thing I didn’t want to/need to know about, and that knowledge could be a liability.
“Bruce made the thing, it’s a pretty sound bit of logic.”
If she went in, though, what exactly happened to Alfred? Kurt’s down there, I suppose he got out when the system went down. She had no way of knowing there was a cell with an actual living, breathing person in it I’d also assume. All I need is that pointing finger though to send me into motion again, questions or not. They can be answered later. What exactly is Barbara going to do against this thing? She’s a badass in most circumstances, but otherwise what exactly is she going to do? Bolting for the stairs, I don’t so much take them as use them as landing pads for leaping down the stairwell, I’ve got no concept of how big this vault is, but hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find my way. Running on my toes, fast as I dare without sounding like an incoming herd of horses.
Soon as I find them, soon as I’ve got eyes on Kurt, I’ll be screaming. No time to warn Barb to cover her ears, so she’s just going to have to forgive me. This Vertigo took almost all of Team7 back then, all at once, and I can’t allow time for it to make another go at rounding up a gang.
Dick: The Cave itself is cavernous, so it’s pretty natural to assume the Vault itself will be too. Dinah’s moving quickly, but nothing really keeps her from seeing that the staircase opens in to what off-sets all the darkness of the Cave, with white-walls that belong more in a hospital. The Vault is a single floor, that opens from the stairs in to a singular hallway with only one door. What Dinah doesn’t see or can’t possibly know is that the hallway she’s dashing through is crafted with kryptonian technology in mind. The walls aren’t white, they’re krystaline and reflect back the light that hits them. In this case the light is white, because that’s the simple human lights themselves. If she had time to stop and think, she might ask herself ‘What’s the purpose?’
Making the ‘Vault’ even more odd, is that if the door hadn’t been open at the end of the Hallway, she wouldn’t have even known the opening was there either. The door itself is the same krystaline structure and just as smooth as the walls themselves. Meaning that if you didn’t know what you were looking for or some way to peer past that krystal construct, you’d have no way to find the door itself.
Perhaps all of that is for another time? Because Dinah is fleet of foot and rushes headlong in to danger, doesn’t she? Other than the Video and some decade old files, she hasn’t seen the man she rushes toward in person for a very long time. He’s taller than she by a handful of inches and he’s got a rich almond color to his hair. Perhaps a sign of his entrapment, but it’s nearly as long as Dinah’s right now. Above and beyond that is the color of his skin a faint purple hue runs along exactly half of his flesh, with one eye nearly matching the color of Batgirl’s cape if she were wearing it. There’s no ominous greeting, no villainous monologue. In fact there’s simply no acknowledgement of Dinah at all.
Kurt Lance seems entirely focused upon Barbara Gordon. The two are locked in some sort of stair down when Dinah rushes in. Giving Dinah about a heartbeat to take in the room itself; four white walls. A singular bed in the middle of the room. Off to one side is the singular piece of equipment in the whole room, that looks like an archaic projector you’d use to play old home movies with. Nothing else. No medical equipment to keep him sedated. Nothing that would suggest he’d been locked up or subdued. A nearly empty room.
That’s about when the screaming starts. Because unbeknownst to Dinah and I, that’s the moment that Barbara’s Martian mind was cracked like an egg and started to spill out her nose, ears and tear ducts.
Dinah: I expected state of the art, maybe not unlike what Dick had talked about from South Dakota. Everything is too shiny, too polished, and it doesn’t look at first glance like any kind of building material I’ve ever seen. I’m not exactly spending a whole lot of time examining it, though, what with being in a little bit of a hurry. Maybe I thought there’d be more to it than this, with the scale of the Cave itself, and the equipment that’s above…not ground since the whole thing is a cave, but not in this sub, sub basement. I didn’t know it was here at all, Dick clearly did since he’d set Barbara to hacking into the thing again. Which she succeeded in doing, clearly.
I spend about as much time in taking in the sight of Kurt Lance as I had the walls and structure that make up the place. I wasn’t waiting for a greeting, and I’m certainly not rushing in headlong for a hug, or some tearful reunion. There’s enough important facts that I know. What this entity had done before. The lengths gone to in order to hide him and keep him contained, and the fact that the door is open. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t look entirely human, and is fixated on Barbara, makes this even easier for me. I’d already sucked in a breath before the screaming started. It might have jarred me a little if I wasn’t already set in my plan of attack.
Oh what the actual fuck! I’ll thank someone or something above for the years, and years, of fighting reflexes that keeps me moving even as …what is that?.. starts to come out of every orifice and hole on Barbara’s head. I have to get her out of here, which means moving, and trying to get close enough to grab her and drag her to the doorway while I focus my concussive sonics on Kurt.
Dick: What is that? That is Martian brain oozing out of apparently human orifices. Good thing she worries about that later, because Barbara’s screaming isn’t nearly as impressive as Canary’s. One of them is more like shrieking in pain, while the other is directing genuine concussive force upon a target.
There’s some impressive things happening right then. The first is how utterly unaffected anything in the white room is by the sheer power coming out of her lungs and across meta-human vocal chords. Canary has upturned cars and brought the Superman to his knees before, but the bed in the middle of the room doesn’t even flinch. One might wonder how comfortable a bed it could be taking such force without seemingly a care in the world, but that might explain why Kurt’s so grumpy. His back has to be killing him with that kind of comfort in sleeping.
Kurt on the other hand is the one thing in the room that -is- impacted by Dinah’s assault. Being hit exactly as Dinah might have wanted it to do with just about everyone else she’s ever attacked. It picks her ‘Brother’ up and hurls him across the white room, in to the opposite krystaline wall. Minus the satisfaction of a crunch. Actually. Minus any sound that would suggest the kinetic force being met with an unmovable wall.
Ah, but remember what Steve Trevor told her about her Brother? Tuning Fork. The power of her voice does as it should in that the concussive force tosses him like a rag-doll, but his whole body seems to soak it in. He should be down for a long time, with a hit like that, but he’s already pushing back to his feet. What’s worse is that as he does Barbara’s brain matter isn’t the only thing about her that starts melting.
That’s just about the exact moment that our ‘Hero’ Nightwing skids to a halt just behind Dinah, moving to take the bulk of Barbara’s weight off the Canary’s burder. “Sorry to interrupt the ‘Family Re-Union’ but when Barb took down the Vault’s main lock-down, she apparently took out the entire Brother-Eye mainframe to do it. Com-links and Tim’s drones are out too.”
“Oh, hell. He’s pulling her apart at the seams.”
“No. I’m pushing the reset button on this one.” Not that Dinah would recognize the voice, but it certainly isn’t her Brother’s. “She may prove useful.”
He’s only just getting himself upright when he began speaking. Kurt Lance is a bit taller than Dinah, but he’s not an imposing figure by any means. Especially not when draped in little more than a white hospital gown. The stark contrast of white cloth to purple skin really the only ominous thing about her brother right now.
“Dinah Lance. We meet again. My how you’ve grown.” As ‘Kurt’ speaks Barbara begins to go in to what can only be described as convulsions. Her skin on the left side of her body is beginning to take a hue similar to Kurt’s. Though the other side of her body is shifting to a sickly pale green. “This husk is feeling… moved… by how good you look. I can’t decide if it’s pride or want.”
“Did you bring me another?” A pair of mismatched eyes shifts to Dick Grayson and narrow. “He seems. Much. Less special than the other.”
“Whoah. I’m perfectly special enough… yeah, okay… your brother’s a mean girl too? It runs in the family?” The truth is Dick’s actually letting go of Barbara though and touching Dinah’s arm to tell her to do the same. The files say Vertigo possessed people and Barbara’s skin says she might be a victim. “D, did your lapdance include an instruction manual…?”
Dinah: It’s not any human blood that I’ve ever seen, and that’s the much more strange part of what I’ve just observed. The room itself being blissfully unaffected by my screaming? That actually makes sense in a prison that’s been playing host to a superpowered individual for an indeterminate amount of time. It must absorb it. I wasn’t intending to stick around in here if I could help it, but the only semi-satisfying result of the brunt of my meta-power goads me that little bit faster. When the rest of Barbara starts to melt, that’s about the time that I stop trying to forcibly remove her from the area.
That isn’t Barbara, and while I may typically be a hero, I’m about to pull a move not unlike pulling Dick from the base when Deathstroke started to attack it. This one’s a lot more rooted in self and world preservation though, and maybe a side of wanting to get away from this thing that was, once upon a time, my older brother. While ordinarily I am all about engaging in some witty repartee with a bad guy, especially one that’s giving me such strong creep vibes, the fact that we’re in serious trouble kind of curbs my fun a little bit.
“I’m going to let you go ahead and think on that for a second…”
I’m backing myself into Dick, and trying to back us both out of the room. I’d heard what he’d said about the system being down, Christ I hope there’s still a way to shut this door… I know next to nothing about things like this, technology isn’t my forte but Bruce Wayne liked to make contingencies with backups and backdoors and second backups. What was your plan for this, you overbearing asshole? It’d be thought with more love on any other day.
“No. Not it did not. Other than you get this shut again… and maybe get a blowtorch, and call Superman. Not Wonder Girl… and I’ll…”
Try to hold him here. He may not even be able to use that particular phone that’s apparently for the super secret club, but I don’t know. That’s something Dick gets to figure out while I do my level best to pin the man that was Kurt Lance in place, and hopefully disrupt him enough to not add me to the growing collection. That first scream hadn’t been terrible effective and I’m cursing, long and creatively, my lack of curiosity for exactly how we’d put him down and contained him the last time. I just have what Steve Trevor had said about when he woke up, and when he passed out, to gauge by. Knowing that that is not Barbara in there, actually frees me up to push a little harder this time. The walls absorbing the sound means I don’t worry about the waves bouncing and hurting Dick. Of course, it’s still loud.
DIck: “…I-uh I.. don’t think a blowtorch is going to work on these walls…”
That right there? Is your once and future Batman. Dick Grayson is not a stupid individual. Far, far from it in fact. However as near as he can deduce the creature in that room is melting Barbara Gordon. Whom Dinah is seemingly suggesting that they leave behind, while backing away from the door and the creature. The trouble is two-fold for Dick. On the one hand he knows the Canary, knows that she wouldn’t leave someone behind if she could help it. Add that to the fact that Barbara is literally slipping through his fingertips with no real ability to take hold on her to drag her along anyway.
You have to understand. Smart or Not. Dinah’s physically suggesting that Dick leave behind the woman he’d been engaged to only a year prior. The question is not whether or not to do what she’s intimating, but a measure of how long it takes him to actually get past the shock of it to acknowledge properly. A second longer, even, to actually act on it.
“Much less special.” Her brother’s eyes once more go to the growing puddle of Barbara Gordon on the ground between he and Dinah. Her shrieks have ended, but only because she no longer has a mouth. “Very curious indeed. What have you brought me, little Sister? It does not want to be erased but it also isn’t what it seemed to be.”
Dinah’s plan is sound and though Dick hesitated for a few heart beats, he’s moved out of the doorway. Albeit a little grudgingly. Once Dinah’s backed up enough she’ll see that he’s taken to curiously thumping and tapping the walls outside the cell. “Once, back when I was Robin, we took a trip to the Arctic. We met the O.G. Superman there. He took us to this.. snow fort thing.. the walls looked the same as this. It was some sort of sophisticated circuitry that was made of the same stuff as Superman’s home world. Everything activated with a touch.”
Oh yeah. Dick’s somewhat babbling but he does seem to be actually following directions. Assuming he’s right about how to control the door in the first place. It isn’t hard to see though, that he is splitting his focus to see what the hell is going on. He just did the math too and knows that he isn’t going to do a whole lot of good against that thing in there. No better than Barbara did, at least.
Kurt Lance on the other hand, has finally begin to move once more. If he fears Dinah’s attacks it sure doesn’t show on his face. His gate does hobble, if only a little, but that only gives him a movie monster like shamble as he rounds the cot-like bed in the middle of the room. A hand outstretched toward ‘Barbara’ seems to coerce her in to movement as well. Little pale green tendrils start to ooze out of Barbara’s remains in the direction of Dinah’s legs.
“Definitely want, though I don’t understand why. Your people are so frail. You would never live survive the…”
Dinah: “Not for the walls, that’s not Barbara.”
That is, or formerly was, NOWHERE’s shapeshifter. Maybe I don’t have a lot of concrete evidence to go on, but gut acknowledgement, coupled with thankfully my brain seeming to function at decent efficiency with the adrenaline going, tells me I’m probably right. Conner’d mentioned her before in an aside. And he’d also said that they don’t like eye lasers. Lacking those, I figure fire is the closest thing we’re going to get. Maybe a Batflare. It could serve the same purpose.
“Flare gun? Move.”
What you’ve got right now, is two of the most experienced and highly trained, you might even say overly so, vigilantes in the country and we’re left with desperately pawing at the walls, trying to close a door in the face of a shambling monster that is now making overtly sexual comments while wearing my brother’s face. It would probably be so much worse if I possessed the memories to connect him to. I’m backing my ass up as well, I don’t want shapeshifter anything getting on me.
There has to be a way to close it, or you’d think he would have gotten out before Not Barbara could have gotten down here, and gotten in. She also had to be able to find it, unless she knew something we didn’t, but that’s another level of subterfuge that I just can’t add into the mix right now.
“Mmmn, maybe you should have a seat, a nice little think and ask him.”
Clear of the door, I can to a degree join in, copying Dick’s search for any kind of point that will do what we need right now. Leaving the shapeshifter in there with him isn’t ideal, but neither is contending with both of them and so I launch another attack from my vantage just outside the doorway. Harder this time, more forceful, this isn’t a shout to knock someone down and away, but a longer held note.
Dick: As the search for the door controls continues, with little success, Dinah’s multitasking. It’s a very good thing that she’s very good at what she does. Because while she isn’t going having any luck with the door she’s blasting the snot out of the puddle of goop that’s in front of her. It does a very good job of pushing that back.
In fact Dinah is succeeding in pushing everything back. Her brother is forced to grasp the side of that cot to hold himself from once more being pushed all the way back to the other wall once more. Though once again, Dinah’s too good at what she does not to notice that it’s having a decidely lesser impact than before. Perhaps that could be explained by the simple act of widening her attack. Thereby lessening the impact over all? In either case that purple hue to Kurt’s skin is starting to darken considerably and overtake all of his flesh, not just the partial coverage it had been when she first saw him.
“An apt suggestion. Let’s ask him.”
That is when it happens. Those mismatched eyes focus upon Dinah herself. Not to attack in any way she’s ever been trained to fight. It’s not control he seeks. Nor violence that might come from an assault upon the mind. As she attacks him, he responds by opening a link to the pawn that he’s infesting. Dinah won’t be getting her own memories back. She’ll be getting a glimpse in to Kurt Lance’s. The only way she’s going to stop it, is for her to focus on denying that link… or making him have to focus elsewhere. Otherwise she’s going to have to witness it all. Every moment of Kurt Lance’s life that she doesn’t remember on her own. The Vertigo pushes that link, to find why the Brother seeks to touch the Sister quite so much.
To make matters even worse? Does anyone notice the puddle of goop is starting to not be quite so pushed away with the concussive element of her scream?
“…bloody ‘ell, can’t even take a nap…” Apparently it isn’t just Kurt Lance that shambles, because Alfred Pennyworth is limping down that long hallway at the pair of Dinah and Dick, with what looks to be a bottle of the Wayne Manor’s best whisky. No E. “…fookin kids…and their loud parties…”
English though he may be. The thing in his hand is decidedly Russian in origin. Molatov, specifically. Which he’s lighting as he approaches and only misses Dinah’s golden head by a hair’s width. “… fire in the bloody hole …”
Dinah: We’re not even going to discuss the fact that I’m basically batting at the air and walls surrounding the doorway like some catnip drunk kitten, while I split my focus. Screaming? Takes almost zero effort, but it does require me to point my mouth in the proper direction. Ordinarily, I can count on walls and surfaces to ricochet the force waves to a degree, but these clearly absorb everything that hits them. Then there’s racking my brain for every little nuance and remark that Steve Trevor had made about Kurt and Vertigo. Fucking idiot. Me. Not him. I should have asked more questions, but that seemed like a clear hands off, Dinah! sort of situation. How the fuck was I supposed to know that Bruce Wayne actually had a world ending Pandora’s Box in his goddamn basement?
He said he was like a tuning fork. What does that even mean? I do know what a tuning fork is, and what it does, I had a lot of music lessons growing up, to go with the literal horde of other instruction and teachers. Doesn’t matter how hard, or soft, or where you hit one, as long as you’re holding it by the right end it’s going to make that same, singular pure sound. The force aside, and the effects it has on the world as a whole, he’s really not personally doing anything but… absorbing it. It’s suddenly very much quieter as I stop, hands unconsciously going to my head at the intrusion as I back away another half step, and then another. I don’t want to know, and I certainly don’t want to see.
The immediate response is denial, trying to force my thoughts onto something else, to anywhere else that I can replay in vivid clarity. The train ride, and the intense moments in the compartment with Dick. The sensation of a fight. The taste of shitty rest stop coffee. The very welcome sound of Alfred Pennyworth’s voice distracts me, the relief that I feel, and it’s a very good thing that he’s actually a very good aim, because I don’t do much to get out of the way. Other than to throw myself out of the immediate path of the door when I actually understand what he’s said, and what he’s thrown. I land with a thud, arms over head and face to try and protect at least that from any backdraft of a fireball.
Maybe there won’t be one because of the room but I’m not going to bank on anything right now. I’m scrambling up to my feet again as quickly as I’d gone down, though.
“It’s absorbing anything I throw at him. Maybe absorb anything we throw… are BatExplosiveSedatives a thing?”
Dick: The explosion in the chamber is muted by the cell itself and it’s construction, but it wasn’t meant to absorb liquid. While the bottle pops when it explodes and the floor, walls, absorb that concussion, the liquid inside sprays everywhere. Oh and thanks to the wick at the end, it also burns. Liquid fire sprays everywhere. Which in turn has a couple effects.
It frees Dinah of the influence that was pounding upon her mind. The stream of memories stops almost immediately. One would wonder, how does he seemingly ignore the damage, if not the push, of her concussive blasts but simple fire harms him? It takes only to look in to the room to understand the answer, because it’s all about that fire hitting the goopy blob that was once Barbara Gordon. It would seem that by harming Barbara, while she is mentally linked to Kurt, it translates in to him feeling her pain too.
Alfred is as quick as he is sturdy, which is to say that he really isn’t either of those things right now. He’d no sooner tossed the cocktail through the door, than he too hit the deck. As it so happens, Dick Grayson turns from the wall, to brace himself between the two of them and that wave of firey explosion that Alfred unleashed. Stupid and Selfless to a Tee, but this time with good measure.
“Bat-Wankers, the lot of ’em. Next time I’m getting a good suit, Lucius is making mine out the same bloody materials.”
Ignoring his grumbling, Dick has already moved from protecting the two of them to assisting them on getting up. “We can’t just leave her in there. Barbara… whoever,… whatever that is? She’ll just become a pawn. We don’t even know if the cage will hold two of them.”
As soon as he’s got the two of them on their feet and moving towards that exit again, he turns back to the door itself. Big Damn Hero? No. He’s about a step in to going in after ‘Barbara’ when he sees another of the tendrils reaching. It just doesn’t seem to be going for him or them, like before. It’s going upwards, along the seal of the door. Right where Dinah had been reaching, tapping wildly, looking for some button to trigger the door. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s some inner voice telling him to take his change. But either way Dick does two things then. With one hand he grabs the tendril to pull as hard as he can. The other hand slaps, palm down upon the spot it seemed to be reaching for.
It’s a shockingly resounding success. Maybe the first one Dick’s had all day. Weak as she is from the fire, ‘Barbara’ weighs next to nothing and is pulled clear of the door like silly puddy. Dick read the moment mostly correct and his hand caresses the door trigger, just like ‘Barbara’ had been reaching for. It seals shut almost in time with the moment the goopy Barbara is pulled free.
“Dude. Kryptonian tech? When did we install a Kryptonian Sub-Basement?…. Spoiler… don’t touch the Dinosaur!”
Dinah: I’d been on my way to up and moving, but I don’t refuse the assist. We still have to get the damn door closed. We still have to keep this Apocalypse that was my brother, and apparently deep down wants me, from getting out. Once I’m up, and the assault has cut off, I’ve turned my back towards the door, hands braced on my knees as I lean my ass against whatever the hell these walls are made out of, and take a moment to just pant.
“You Batboys and your fireproof suits. Hff. Hff. It’s almost like this happens to you all the time.”
I’d bet the suit Tim made for me probably is, too, but I’m not wearing it right now. Good thing I don’t depend on gear for heroics, or I’d have gotten crisped. Even as I think the thought, though, I don’t doubt Dick would have still done the same thing even if he was wearing street clothes. Or nothing. This isn’t exertion, I can keep going, I’d be pretty worthless in a fight if thirty seconds of action took me out. Mental assaults are not something I’m used to feeling, or fighting, and to say that it was overwhelming might be understatement of the day. And it’s been a day. One that’s not even close to over.
“We don’t know that she’s not already!”
I know this Vertigo can possess multiple people. I didn’t know how, though I’d ruled out proximity or you’d think it would have already done so. My charity also doesn’t go nearly so far as Nightwing’s, I’m feeling a whole lot more better safe than sorry. He’s already going, though, and as I turn around to try to grab hold of Dick, I see what Dick’s seeing. He’s already there, and already moving and before I can make anymore bids for just leaving the other intruder she’s been pulled free, and the door’s shut. If that wasn’t enough of a feeling of relief, to go with the general lightheadedness I’m feeling, then there’s the all too familiar voices of ‘the kids.’ I sit my ass back down on the floor and let my head tip back against the wall again.
“But why is there a Dinosaur! You can’t have something like that and not expect people to TOUCH it…wait… what’s…is this a giant penny? What does it even GO in?”
Make that 2/2 of Robins that didn’t know this was here. Which leaves the man that always knows more than he lets on…
“Did you know this was here, Alfred?”
I might be sounding a hair accusatory. Or maybe that’s just me out of breath, or maybe it’s a tone of annoyance because I’m warily eyeballing the not entirely formed, quivering pile of Barbara.
“That is NOWHERE’S telepath. And shapeshifter. And cheerleader, apparently. Ring any bells, Red?”
Dick: Dick has gone from one thing to another with the customary grace you’d expect of a trapeze artist. Pulling ‘Barbara’ to freedom. Closing the door panel, if only because the goop was clearly trying to show us how. Putting himself between the fire and everyone else was just pure and simple instinct, the rest was calculated design. It’s as simple as that and he says so as soon as the door is sealed, “We can’t leave someone behind, Dinah. Not like that. If she’s still hostile we deal with it, but…”
“…but the fire did a number on her and she’s not going to be causing any trouble for the time being…”
“It doesn’t go in anything. Not since Batman and Robin dismantled the Joker’s amusement park in the Narrows. … seriously… don’t touch that. The Bat-Pogo stick is a little finik… don’t look at me. You got yourself on to that giant playing card, you find a way down.”
The elder statesmen of the Cave realizes, even as he’s speaking, that literally all eyes have turned to him. Nightwing’s. Canary’s. Even Timothy at the top of the stairs is leaning in to hear the answer to Dinah’s question. No one is joking, nor is anyone offering him an easy out that ordinarily might have been tossed out. Instead there is a very uncomfortable silence, as everyone simply waits. Pennyworth looks from Dinah, to Dick, then down the hall to where the voice of Timothy had come, before mopping a hand through his tussled hair.
“The lot o’ you givin an old man the third degree.” His shoulders go up, then down and with a sigh he finally answers. “Not like Master Wayne woulda found the time t’ build it ‘imself. That woulda took ‘im away from his mission. Drew up the bloody blue prints and left ’em on my inn table s’whot ‘e did. Ya think we hired a construction crew? It’s the bloody bat-cave ya ninnies.”
“Fairly sure Dinah was asking if you knew about the Vertigo creature,” jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at the now closed door. “How much of it did you know and why didn’t you tell us?”
“Mm. Master Wayne has had his fair share of house guests. Some that I knew, some that I didn’t.”
“Not that I’m trying to let Alfred off the hook, but just so you guys know that gelatinous creature down there is going to be able to reform herself soon. You should put her in to one of the the other cells down there.”
“There’s more than one cell?”
“Mhm. There’s six of them.” The look between Dick and Alfred has just turned in to something very very tense. “Seriously. Lock the Martian up now. Family Feud later. Spoiler can referee.”
Dinah: “And if she was playing host to Vertigo, which she could have been…”
There’s more to say, but I cut myself off, not because I’m trying to leave it dangling there for suspense, but because there’s really no point in arguing. How’s that for an indicator of where my mind’s at? Passing up a pointless argument with Dick, because it was pretty clear that GoopBarbara was trying to help shut the door and not attack us, in favor of redirecting myself. I don’t even roll my eyes or make an aggravated noise at the childish uselessness that sounds like Spoiler’s displaying upstairs. Oh, see. Maybe I wasn’t just annoyed by her because of the mind control.
“So, the answer is yes, you knew. All of it.”
Because a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed, if he hadn’t, and wasn’t trying to avoid lying to us. A ‘fair share of house guests,’ means they’ve come and gone. Plus, Alfred always knows everything. I didn’t need Dick to try and lay that out for me before, I already knew it. Batman might have been ‘Master Bruce’ but Alfred’s Master of the House and everything in it.
“And even when you knew we were picking and pulling at something that would lead us here, you still didn’t say anything.”
I know that the person I’m actually mad at right now is Bruce. Fucking Bruce. I’ve said Alfred’s loyal to a fault, because it’s the saying, but I think this might be the first time I’ve ever thought of it that way, and I find myself feeling actually quite… hurt. Usually there’d be a whole lot of piss and vinegar in that accusation but my tone is even, and a little a cold as I push myself up the wall, reach down to grab the best handful of our new guest that I can, and start dragging her towards… the flat wall. I already feel ridiculous, played, lied to, and I don’t really want to add anymore stupid fumbling on top of that.
“Then open one. Or point. And then do whatever computery magic it is that you do to get this shit back on lockdown.”
There’s a rather loud thud from up above us, a few moments before the purple clad Spoiler becomes the third person to do their own shambling.
“…what so I overestimated my boots’ shock absorbers a little… ummmmm…I’m good, I’d like to keep my head where it’s at thank you verrrrry muuu…ulp.”
Maybe I don’t have my murderous look reigned in quite so tightly as I’d thought. Regardless, the Martian’s getting put nicely into whatever particular box they open for me, because I don’t need Dick accusing me of being hostile towards the prisoners, even if they deserve it. And then I’m heading for the stairs up and out.
Dick: “How do we know she isn’t?”
Because Dick Grayson saw her reaching for the controls. He’d seen it the first time too, but like Dinah there had just been an assumption that they were going for an attack. Like Dinah, Dick chooses to just leave this alone for the moment. She’s technically right, of course. It just hadn’t seemed that way in the moment. He’d felt something, that detective’s intuition maybe, that just told him that Barbara was fighting it. Okay, maybe it isn’t Barbara, but the look on the screen when they’d first arrived told him that she was fighting the entity.
It doesn’t answer what she was doing in there, in the first place. Dick isn’t quite to that point in his working through the anger though. That’s still reserved for Alfred. Who is even now puffing up quite simply, Master Bruce felt that you, Dinah, had been hurt quite enough. He chased your demons round the world. When he finally found them… he realized they should be left where they were. Figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, they couldn’t very well be left with those insufferable prats. They mass produce everything they get their hands on. Imagine them with the ability to just make everyone love the President and ask no questions at all.”
As Alfred starts to rebuke the anger all around him, another door opens that was previously invisible to the naked eye. This one is just a few paces down the hall. Dinah’s getting a little help by that point from Dick who’s scooping his ex-goopfriend up in handfuls to assist in sliding her in to that empty white chamber. It won’t take much of a detective to see the anger radiating out of the former Boy Wonder.
“Master Bruce’s long-term goal was to find a means of extricating your Brother from his prison, in order to reunite the two of you… miss Stephanie would you kindly put those back where you found them. The Riddler’s puzzle box is not a rubix cube.”
“It looks like Kelsey, Barbara, whatever we’re calling her, did a great job with ‘fixing’ this Krypto-Vault. If I’m following her digital foot-prints right, I think that once she realized it was kryptonian she was able to work right through the logic programming to trick it in to thinking she was supposed to be allowed in there.”
Once Barbara is tucked away and secured, not only is Dinah heading up and out but so too is Dick. “Alright, Alfie. What I’m still not getting, is if you knew about this Vault and knew about the contents of it. Why didn’t you bring it up from the start?”
“Oh. Two reasons. One of which isn’t going to buy me any forgiveness. Master Bruce was quite convinced that once he was gone, the lot of you would need take this journey. Which, I might add, as maddening as it may seem, would appear to be correct.” The wisened old butler makes a last moment attempt of regaining his dignity before adding. “A fact that I became quite agreeable with. Once it became clear to me that none of you would take your heads out of your arses and just look at the mess we’re making of everything. Master Grayson, you tried to tell Miss Lance about her being programmed. Miss Lance, you tried to tell Master Drake that he needed to be himself and stop trying to be Bruce. While you Master Drake, took to pouting like Master Damien after a scolding.. and injected yourself with the Queen only knows whot. And might I add… that I did attempt to say that, that was not Miss Gordon? Because there is absolutely no way Miss Gordon steps in to this house, if you’re wearing that cowl. She feels the same way about it and you, as I did about Master Bruce and that damnable thing. She just had the temerity to put her foot down.”
“Something had to bring the lot of you t’gether and open your eyes. You’re all too bloody old to have your ears pinched and sat in a time out.”
Dinah: How on Earth Stephanie Brown manages to look supremely guilty when you can’t actually see 75% of her face is beyond me, but it’s a thing at the moment. She may also be the only one who’s both not mad at Penny-One, and listening to him without any sass, because the box is promptly put back. And then adjusted when it’s not close enough to the exact spot where she got it from. And then rotated a few degrees, all while keeping eyes on the Butler with a weird sort of awe. Me? Well. I’m less sass and more sharp and tart.
“Oh, yeah, very noble of him. Until he had a purpose to use that hurt for.”
I’m going to fucking kill him. Again. I’m not going to debate the logic, because I’m sure there was elements of all of what Alfred’s said. After all, he did know him the best of all of us. It isn’t those surface motives that I’m furious over, because I wouldn’t want NOWHERE, or anyone else, to get their hands on Vertigo. Either they don’t all know about him, or it hadn’t occured to them to use it as Alfred suggests or they would have known before now that it wasn’t in the box they left it. They probably do now. Plans, within plans, within backups to be trotted out when needed, would Kurt have just rotted away down there unknown forever if Bruce hadn’t run afoul of this Court of Owls?
“Lets make sure no one else can do that again, huh? It’s an understatement to say that thing can never get out.”
That thing, it’s easier to call it a ‘thing’ than my brother. I’m once again left with more questions that I both don’t want the answer to, and can’t help wondering regardless. The glimpses of a life that are still ringing between my ears. It’s already cost me enough, and the ramifications beyond that… I don’t care how supposedly secure Bruce thought his superprison was, someone’s already broken in, and the reason I hadn’t wanted to know where Vertigo was, was this is beyond me, it feels like too big of a problem to be buried in Gotham City. I don’t question whether or not Tim can. For one, I always assume he can do anything I can imagine with tech because one, I’m not that imaginative with it, and two. He’s good. I still don’t want to damage his ego so… again, maybe that wasn’t all the programming. Plus I’m not fucking mad at him.
I might be taking the stairs a little hard, but I’m still pretty jacked and ready to fight so… the conversation isn’t precisely settling me any. But to be honest I’m not in the mood to be settled. There’s elements of what Alfred’s saying that I can’t truly argue, especially after the rather eye-opening week I’ve had across the country. In true Dinah Lance fashion, however, I bypass all of those points that can be argued and go for the jugular of what I see is the problem.
“Road to Hell, Alfred. The manipulation’s gotta stop, maybe we do have our heads up our asses, but we can’t be a team if we’re all questioning each other’s motives all the damn time.”
Maybe I’m projecting. I think I’ve gotten the object lesson from The Nest and that sparring session a little too many times upside the head at this point, that anyone could be the problem. And we’re not even to dealing with the fact that we have a telepathic alien that belongs to NOWHERE in the basement, who knows what’s in the basement. We need to have a ‘family’ meeting, but Christ I am not in the head space to do that in a productive manner right this second.
“And before anyone accuses me of running off, and gets punched in the face, I have to go see if I can deliver the other half of a lap dance over the telephone with someone who will actually give me straight, pointed answers.”
Dick: “Weaponized emotions? The one class you showed up to on time, Miss Lance?”
It’s Dick’s turn to plant himself against the side of the white wall and just melt down in to a huddle. “That’s enough, Alfie. You made your point.”
“Have I? Because I think what you’re all missing here is the bloody point. Bruce needed… needs help and this was his way of asking for it. By providing each of you some aspect of finding yourselves and being better than him. Because y’ got t’ be t’ do what he couldn’t. His last gift was t’ make y’ all whole.”
“Right-o, on it chief. I’ll just sit here and play with the Kryptonian technology until I figure it all out.”
Dinah’s wrong about one thing. Spoiler isn’t the only one that isn’t angry. There’s a certain silver clad Drake that’s crackling his knuckles when she storms past that is just about the happiest boy in the world. She even got a very sincere salute. That’s one order he’s happy to obey unquestioningly. This is next level technology that has been here all this time? And Tim never even had a hunch about it? That speaks to so many things, the least of which is how good the tech is if it hid itself here of all places. Without Tim ever being the wiser.
“Do you need to borrow my Holographic imaging phone? Virtual Lap-Dances might just be the…“
Ronin: Ronin has extended her protection of the city. The way she saw things, she made a promise to herself and the deal she made with the Prince of the League of Shadows was only secondary. It was, in a sense, permission to extend beyond the neighborhood she had been guardian of. She wasn’t sure if that meant there would be no interference. There was always the possibility the clan of Bat would become territorial and attempt to chase her off. That would be a poor decision on their part but Cass also didn’t want to burn any bridges. A few broken noses was always on the menu but how she learned her lessons was much different than how others learned their lessons.
It was funny that her usual quarry was also found beyond the borders of China Town. Perhaps they had been flooded out by her stomping their activities and they had to spread further out. It also put them in risk of crossing over into other territories claimed by other organized crime families.
Just such a situation had just occurred, one of the Italian families crossing paths with a small branch of the Triad and a fight broke out. Ronin took it as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. In the chaos of blades, bullets and chains, she struck with her fists and her kicks. They should have thanked her, at least it stopped them from killing each other. Instead they needed medical attention as they lay strewn across the street groaning and crying as the police began to swarm across, some stopping to scratch their heads to figure out what had even happened.
From above, Ronin watched from the safety of the shadows. She wanted to see how many would get arrested, apparently some had some records of previous crime. Others were carted into ambulances, their careers of crime may be over or at least they will be out of the game for a while to recover.
Otherwise, the night had been quiet, even in the absence of some of the guardians. The weather was beginning to warm, the days grew longer. Maybe everyone was appreciating the welcome change of brighter and warmer days for just a bit. The little ninja knew there were bigger things brewing, bigger than the threat of this city, bigger than what she could handle. She couldn’t get many answers from the Son of the Bat though.
Steph: There’s no end to the number of things that could be done when you’re an aspiring vigilante in one Gotham City. We have more than our share of problems per capita, and while most of them aren’t of the violent and strictly illegal variety (y’know, those old tales like poverty, polution, I’m sure I could come up with another P if I really tried) there’s still a lot that most definitely are. I’m sure at some point, somewhere right now even, there’s someone railing about how if they fixed the Ps, the other stuff would resolve itself but it’s Gotham. Where you’ve either got Stockholm Syndrome, or are profiting off the people that do, so it’s a great swirling toilet bowl of gross. Why haven’t I gotten out? Unlike a lot of my classmates I do want to do exactly that. I’m only sixteen, and my parents wouldn’t be down with it.
One of them I’m actually trying to rebuild some semblance of a healthy relationship with. While lying and sneaking out every night behind her back. The other I’m trying to bust in a spectacular, go to jail forever and ever sort of fashion. Even though if I were to be pragmatic, I’d know that’s only a revolving door until someone worse than Arthur Brown needs the cell. This? Isn’t something I’m pragmatic about though, so much as consumed. He’s so D-List that it’s really unlikely for him to be up to anything really dangerous, but that’s not the point.
The violence that’s exploded on this particular block tonight? I don’t think I can actually blame on him, and that’s one of the reasons I’m definitely not interfering. The first being that I don’t want to get dead. I’m getting better, I know I am, and the suit that Tim Drake made for me makes up for a lot of the skills that I lack. But not enough to go wading into that particular foray with no real reason to do so. Especially once a… ninja (?? Oh great. More of those.. ) has gotten involved. The Batcrew liked to lecture me on doing things that were going to get me killed because I’m too inexperienced, but the truth of the matter is before I met them I rarely actually engaged in any fighting. I laid traps. I tipped plans to people who could mess them up if I couldn’t. I’m the Spoiler, not Lady McAssKicker.
And tonight? I don’t even have to do the hard work, because something’s got these guys riled, someone else is handling them, and in the chaos of the cops showing up with a crime scene like that to process? No one’s paying attention to the caped figure that’s gone in the back of the adjacent warehouse. Breaking in windows was my jam long before I had sophisticated lockpicks built into the fingertips of my gloves, and if anything now I’m even more cocky about the long drop to the concrete floor. Shock absorbers. Who knew, right? The Italians should have been in here. Probably playing Mother Hen and sitting on a shipment, that was bound for… who knows where. Which is why I’m here at the moment.
“Well, maybe if you’d invented better long range scanners sheesh…”
Talking to oneself is a sign of the crazies. At least, if that’s what you’re doing and you don’t have a little bird in your ear. It’s actually weird being out without him. But resources are spread a little thin this week, apparently.
Ronin: A noise caught her attention. Despite the chaos going on down below, the situation was under control and she began crawling like a spider along the edge of the warehouse roof. The more contact she had, the less likely she was to press enough weight on the metal to make too much noise. Then again, she was small, petite, quite capable of making it across without her lightweight frame making too much of a disturbance.
The signs of what happened to the window below here were quite evident. All it took was gripping the edge of the roofing material and pushing herself over, a slight twist as she made it past the broken barrier and then the drop to the floor below. She landed in a crouch, the blackened mask looking to the other figure with her head cocked to the side. Friend or foe? Costumed types could have been either. Anyone ballsy enough to wear a costume was also potentially dangerous.
She seemed to be yammering to herself. Words that the Ronin did not understand but she knew there wasn’t anyone else in the building to be holding a conversation with.
She wasn’t trying terribly hard to be stealthy but perhaps the sound of the young woman’s words masked the sound of the small ninja landing nearby. Either way, the purple-costumed girl just gained a shadow. Ronin just wanted to see what she was after, why she was here, if she would need to stop her too.
Spoiler: There’s a few rules when it comes to illegal activity, I assume that goes for anywhere in the world, but I definitely know it’s true here in Gotham. Any kind of activity that you should most definitely not have proof of happening? Has proof of it happening somewhere on both sides of a transaction, even if one, or both, agreed and/or insisted that it shouldn’t. Leverage. Bribery. Proof that no, you didn’t back out of your end of the deal. That’s what I’m after now. I already pegged the shipment I’m interested in, but I also already knew that it arrived in the first place. As I move past one unremarkable crate, in a row of other equally unexciting wooden boxes, I pause to run a finger under the lip and reclaim the tracer that I’d placed on it last night.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I didn’t forget…”
I’d totes forgotten. He knows it,too. I’d like to claim it’s more that he’s got a bajillion more tracers, so what does it matter if I don’t reclaim this one, but if I’m being honest? I’m just a little too jazzed about chasing down this particular lead. Red Robin and I have been working this case, my case, for what is starting to feel like forever. And its branched, and spider-webbed, and doubled and tripled back on itself until I’m not sure if we’re inept, my Dad is, or if it’s actually that good. More than once I’d been tempted to just confront him, try to provoke the patriarchal jerk into doing some villain monologue-ing and then be done with it. Only slightly tempted though. Because I don’t want him to know that the person that ruined everything he was working for was me until it’s already way too late to do anything about it.
When I start moving again, there’s a strange sort of pattern to my gait. It makes a lot more sense if you could hear the beat of the music that I’ve got going into one ear, and realize I’m dancing as I move deeper into the place, towards the cubicle that serves as an office. Canary would tell me I’m being careless, and punch me in the back of the something painful. Head maybe. Kidney possibly. All about the physical demonstrations, that one. But I counted how many were in here before. I counted how many were sprawled out there, and I’ve got an eye on the entrances.
Just. Not on the one that I used, and the music and the sporadic conversation has basically eliminated any chance I might have heard someone drop in that soon after me. Ducking under the desk, I push the hood back off my head which exposes blonde hair though the lower face mask is still in place, so that I can look up at the underside of it. Classic place to hide things. These guys aren’t exactly brilliant, or original.
Ronin: Another head tilt. All that the small ninja could assume was that the other costumed one was talking to themselves or somebody else through one of those strange ear things. She had paid attention to those details but didn’t really care much about it after that point. There was no sense or reason behind those conversations, behind those words. What was more interesting was the young woman’s steps.
Being the shadow she was, following behind a distance enough to be prepared for an attack, she couldn’t help but follow in the same movement. It was rythmic, light on the toes, following an unheard beat that wasn’t the own beating of her pulse. It wasn’t the beat of the steps of death and war that Cassandra was so much more familiar and intimate with.
They weren’t calculated movements either, instinctual, reactive. It was terribly foolish because there were points where the body’s center of balance and gravity was thrown off. All the tiny details of those movements that the ninja could read like a book. Details that told her this young woman wasn’t very professional or well-trained. There was a lack of discipline in her movements that allowed the Ronin to get too close.
The Thump on the top of the desk as Spoiler was under it, the gloved fingers peeking over the edge soon followed by the black mask, upside down and peering at Spoiler. The only expression that could be read was the narrowing of her eyebrows. What was she doing?
Spoiler: Thump. A noise, and vibration of the surface that is immediately followed by an answering thunk! This one caused by the back of my head meeting the side of the piece of furniture as I jerk back in surprise and alarm. A small flurry of action as I yank the single earbud I’d allowed myself out of my ear, and trip myself up on the edge of my cloak as I go in a direction other than the one I’d been intending to. Sloppy, stupid and soooooo embarrassing. Thank God Red Robin isn’t here to have seen that or… well, actually no. Maybe not. Because if I did actually allow myself to get cornered just now, worse than cornered since I can’t even go up, without backup? I could be in super-serious trouble.
Bracing myself on my elbows in some attempt to look a whole lot more laid back about this than I’m feeling probably doesn’t really work all that well. I don’t know who this is. I’m assuming semi-hostile to not because I could have been yanked out from under here. Or attacked. If that’s what she wanted. Cocking my head slighting to one side, my fingers keep on feeling under the edge of the drawers as I fail at nonchalant.
“Been here long? Dumb question, right? I mean. You weren’t in here when I got in here. Unless you’re really good at hiding which is totes possible. I guess.”
Please don’t be working with these jerks…
Ronin: Ronin could tell she was obviously caught by surprise. That was good, it meant she had been quiet enough, stealthy enough to not have been noticed. It was that or the young woman was simply too distracted by whatever she was after that she wasn’t paying much attention to her surroundings.
There was no response, nothing verbal to the greeting or the question. Again, it was coming off as rambling and the only thing she could really read from her body language was that she was embarrassed and rushed to get at whatever she was looking for.
The black-clad figure let out a soft sigh and merely gave her a little wave and watched. Was she doing something that was going to get her a quick palm upside her skull? Not yet.
Spoiler: “I’m good. I think. I mean. You’ll probably hear the gurgling and shrieking if I’m not…”
The lilt of my voice says I’m trying to make a joke, or light of the situation as I speak to the someone else in my ear, but the nervous giggle at the end of it says I’m really not fooling myself. Christ. Hopefully he’s not already on his way. I don’t need bailed out (yet) and I’m not exactly reading ‘hostile encounter’ right now. If anything, it’s a little like my first meeting with Red Robin. Only he’d actually been more aggressive. She’s just. Watching. Why is she just watching… it’s a little weird. And it makes me feel like this is some kind of trigger trap where I just have to make a singular wrong move and…
“Oh. Um. Carry. On? Was that you out there, then? With the ass kicking? I thought all the ninjas had cleared out of town.”
My fingers have actually found what I was looking for. A little catch, on the underside of the drawer portion of the desk. My dad has one juuuuust like this. Then it’s a matter of hooking my fingers under it, tongue poking out the side of my mouth though that’s covered by my mask, the brows knitting in concentration probably isn’t, and giving it a good yank. This thump is a lot softer, because it’s just a stack of paper hitting the floor to be gathered up in my arms.
“I’m gonna come on out if… that’s cool? Yes? Maybe?”
Ronin: She backed up, stretching one leg out to meet the floor with her toes before pushing herself off of the surface of the desk. It was better to be on the same level, and she was already moving to the side of the desk to avoid having the desk become an obstacle. More words. These costumed types were too talkative it seemed.
she brought her fingers to her forehead, bringing the hand down while pulling her two middle fingers in. She had been lucky in finding that the Son of Bat had known the language she had learned in her time away from the League. She didn’t know if the blonde would understand the ‘Why?’ she just signed.
The smell of blood would confirm who exactly did the ass kicking out there, at least it wasn’t her blood.
SPoiler: This is not me at my most graceful, even if I am moving slow in my glorified crab walk out from under the desk. It’s no small feat that I don’t tangle myself on my cloak yet again. Once I’ve got my feet under me so that I can rise somewhat warily, one arm’s got a manilla folder and the other is tugging the hood of my cloak back up over blonde hair. Mostly so that I can allow the heads up display to properly come up from the face mask. I don’t like having it on all the time, even if it does have helpful Stephanie, you noob, that’ll kill you! warnings from time to time. The hooded head cocks to the side at the signals she’s making, before I shrug my shoulders.
“Is that… sign language? Hrr. Sorry, I don’t understand. I mean, I feel like I barely understand English some days. American Education System. Whatchagonnado.”
My chatter is accompanied by my quickly spreading out the papers from the folder across the desk’s surface. Cargo manifests, with no rhyme or reason that I can tell as to where and when they originated. Almost none for this actual building, and there’s a momentary pause over one before I double tap the corner of it with one finger. This one isn’t what I thought I was looking for, but I don’t buy coincidence at this point either. Also… ninja girl still kinda creeping me out here even if she’s not attacking me yet.
Squinting down at another paper, I find what I was actually looking for. Record of the boxes I’d followed here in the first place, and I narrow my eyes with a grumble.
“Oh I’m going to kill him…”
Ronin: The masked figure stood silent, watching the young woman. There was certainly some barriers to communication. Ronin watched the girl’s hands flail about but it meant nothing. The only thing she could convey from her body language was some confusion quickly followed by some nervous babbling. Cassandra certainly didn’t expect everyone to understand. The fact she at least had one tiny outlet to communicate was a small miracle. It was how she got by after she had left her mother and the clutches of the League. It was how she connected with someone else besides the isolated few that had any interactions with her. Few spoke the language that was native to Cassandra. The subtleties of how the body communicated, a raised brow, a lip twitch, the way someone held their hands together or crossed their arms to self-soothe.
Something else caught her attention. Someone not quite as stealthy as the trained warrior. The sound of metal sliding against metal could be heard as a weapon was loaded, a round chambered.
Ronin brought a finger up to the mask around where her mouth is and then pointed to the ground. If the purple caped bandit was smart she would be quiet, she would stay.
The silence was broken again when Ronin swiftly gripped the edge of the desk to topple it over, sounds of gunfire followed along with the flashes of gunpowder being ignited in the darkness.
Darkness was the ally to the Ronin in this case. It allowed her to get out of harm’s way quickly, to maneuver around the obstacles of the warehouse to get closer to the gunman. Where there was one brave man with a gun, there were sure to be others to follow. To Ronin, it was just another target to leave in a broken and painful heap for someone else to clean up.
Spoiler: “Anyone know ASL?”
If my face weren’t covered, it’d probably be a lot more clear that I’m not talking to the dark clad girl (I’m assuming girl…) that’s here with me, because I’m talking out of the side of my mouth in a low mutter that’s mostly meant to only be picked up by those on my communications frequency, but if this girl can’t speak, or hear me, then I guess it wouldn’t much matter if I shouted or whispered. I’m only really side-eyeing her because while I’ve assessed ‘threat’ she’s also got a little smiley face mental note of ‘not to me atm :)? ‘ Plus I’m a whole lot more focused, now that I’m not feeling in immediate danger, on the paperwork in front of me. I found what I was originally looking for. Only then as I briefly glanced at the rest so that no one (coughTimcough) can accuse me of not being thorough, I started to notice other things. Familiar names. The export corporation we’d followed an unrelated van to. An importer who had a break-in that they didn’t ever actually report to the police. Now I’m shifting papers around on the desk’s grubby surface. Making invisible connector lines like I might on a wall with string or pen (or that the RedRobinPuter would do automatically but hey. Old school!), in my head.
There’s a nose of dismay as she flips over the desk and sends the papers I’d just started to order flying, but I’d imagine it’s probably lost to the immediate sounds of gunfire, which leaves me tugging my hood back up over blonde hair as I drop to the concrete floor of the warehouse, taking cover behind the toppled surface and scrabbling to recollect the manifests and logs. Ugh. I’m never going to be able to get all this back the way it was before I got here, now. And it’s not even my fault! Maybe if I wreck the furniture, I can make it look like the paper’s discovery was just happenstance, but for the moment? I’m a little more worried about the action going on around me. Or in front of me. One hand comes up to find the tiny switch which sends the heads up display into my vision, easily showing me what’s going on, even in this lighting.
The way this ninja girl moves, and fights, and it takes me all of half a second to know that I better hope she stays in the smiley face threat listing because I am pretty sure that I’d fare as well as I might hope against Dinah if she were actually trying to hurt me. There’s other problems anyway.
“On your left!”
Because I assume she sees the other one. She is facing that way, after all. Pulling up my knees, and with a soft grunt for Extra Power! I kick off one of the legs of the desk, flinging it end over end tomahawk style in the general direction of the figure to the left. General direction because it sails past to clatter against the crates behind him. I didn’t miss! That was on purpose.
Ronin: Everyone else, well, every other person that seemed to be in existence around Cassandra, seemed to talk a lot. It was the major mode of communication for everyone else that seemed to live outside of the world she grew up in. She grew up around silence. Few words were spoken to her and those few that were, she barely understood. She was raised to understand the non-verbal communication, the subtle movements. It was the only way she knew that the other young woman was just talking to talk and wasting oxygen in the moment of critical need of action.
It wasn’t the group of men that bothered Cassandra so much as the rounds of bullets that went flying through the air. The other woman was protected by the heavy old desk but Ronin was out in the open, dancing, using the shadow for cover inbetween t he muzzle flashes. Speed was her weapon, unpredictability her tool. Methodically she started to pick at them, one by one. She waited for those crucial seconds they were trying to get on a target or reload their rounds. It was those precious moments her fists and palm brought sickening blows to them. She was done playing nice. Blood was spit out, bones cracked. The groans of pain mixed with the gunfire until there was a crash to the side of her.
She knew there was a target to her left, she had already grabbed the man she was already on to pull him in front of her to shield him. It was the boxes that went tumbling. The contents strewn across the floor. Packing peanuts, bits of wood, stuffed animals. In the chaos, a few had ‘lost their heads’. The true contents resting within the guts of the stuffed friends. Bags of carefully wrapped drugs.
Ronin sneered beneath the mask, tossing the man to the side as she began circling the area, gathering the firearms and unloading them and disassembling them to the point where they were useless. An effortless dance of methodical destruction of the tools that could have killed them…and may have killed others.
She dropped the last bits of metal and plastic and pointed at Spoiler. The other motion was her bringing out her pinky and then holding it beside her face. She wanted her to call it in. To call the real authorities. The evidence was everywhere. It wouldn’t stop this particular group from importing the poison but it would at least shut down this location. It would get them moving and swarming like a hive of ants.
Steph: See. There’s not much action going on for me right now. It’s not that I’m not capable. I’m totally capable of a lot of things. I just also know that it’d be really, really stupid to get out from behind this solid desk, with the reinforced compartment in the middle used to hide the documents that are now scattered all around me. Not unless I want to get shot, because I’m more or less a sitting duck.
Also because this ninja’s totally got this, and far be it from me to like. Interfere. Spoiling is only my thing for the bad guys. Which, who knows. Maybe she is but she’s beating the living snot out of these guys that I know are bad guys. The sounds of the fight are a little strange to listen to when I’m removed from it though. I realize I’d started to get used to being right in the middle of it. I think I also know exactly how far I have to go. But that’s not new. Watching Dinah, or Tim or any of the reset and I know I’m better, but I’m also very aware I’m not best.
It’s over fast. Very fast. Like, I’m not exactly done using the built in digital scanner of my suit to scan the papers I want, fast. I could take them with me, but I don’t want anyone to know I was here. Know that I’m onto them though. That is probably out the window now. She’s pointing at me. And for a moment, my hooded, masked head swings one way, and then the other in a comical ‘who, me?!’ look around. Since now there’s no visible face to pick up any of my expressions from. Then my shoulders rise and fall in a resigned sigh.
“Uh, yup. Definitely Sure thing, Lady Ninja. Whatever you say. Don’t say. I… you know what I mean. I think. Soooo… I’m just gonna. Finish… with this… yup, yup okay. All done. Consider them called and … great job! You kicked ass! Took names! Maybe not that last part…”
Jabbering away, I’m nudging papers one way and then the other to finish the scan before I rise. I guess at this point I could take them with me. The police will probably scoop them up anyway. I just don’t think it’s wise to give this girl any reason to think that maybe I’m stealing…
Ronin: Ronin could easily tell the woman was distracted getting something else. Something to do with the papers that she had been gathering when the former League member had dropped in. For a moment she lingered, she wasn’t quite sure why but perhaps she hoped it would give the other a window of safety before the call was finally made.
It the loner an opportunity to survey the scene. No dead, the opponents were down but most were harmless in their currently pained and broken state.
The congratulatory gesture wasn’t missed. Her head tilted. This was hardly a large scale rescue or anything terribly heroic but it was a job done and a job she didn’t need a pat on the back for. She had been asked to expand her skills outside of her neighborhood and she was doing her best to keep up with the endless strings of crime and problems this city had to offer. With one of the guardians away, another had to take their place.
Ronin shrugged and turned her attention to the windows higher above. Not another moment passed before she was springing to climb the various surfaces and use the machinery like a pro parkour to get to the exit. Anything that was away from the main entrance, away from the sight of the authorities.
She was planning to take a different vantage point to observe. Perhaps someone was helping this group, someone within the ranks of the police. Or, with any luck, they’ll send someone long after the police had taken everything into custody.
Steph: Boy. Usually the only time I get an internal ‘shut up shut up shut up’ monologue going in my head is when I’m embarrassing myself in a conversation. Not having someone answering me verbally just makes it that much more clear exactly how much I’m babbling. Maybe because it feels like I’m just talking to myself, instead of to someone else. Except I am. And boy. I’m imagining so much silent judgement right now.
Or maybe I’m not imagining it! That’s also possible. So I’m not exactly going to stick around. GCPD has been notified. I don’t have to actually make a phone call for that, there’s a whole system and… yeah. Fancy suit, with dudes behind the curtain and all that.
“It’ll probably take them a few. This part of town is def not high priority so…”
I’m pleased to say there’s no fumbling for my grapple. Not that I’ve done that in a few weeks. Practice and all that. The paff of air is softer than it ought to be, were the gear not made by a supergenius with too much time on his hands, as the hook upwards, hooking on the edge of the window I’d dropped in from in the first place and hauling me up as I wave a free hand in the direction the ninjagirl and sprung off into.
I’d stay and chat buuuut… no chatting. Also police. Also a lot of likely to be grumpy criminals laying around on the ground down there. The fact that I have a pile of names I want to run down, now, also helps with my speed at getting to the roof and running my way back into the alleys and roofs of a deeper part of Gotham.
There’s a saying about Hell and a hand basket. The thing is, it doesn’t really every apply to Gotham, because one part or another of it is basically already always there. Another one about a fresh Hell. Again. Doesn’t work because technically none of this is fresh and/or new. Joker being a homicidal, creepy-ass freak? Bi-Weekly sort of engagement. League of Shadows has a ninja horde beef with someone? Semi-annual. Some D-List baddie has it in his mind that this is his moment? Normal Tuesday night. Or it was. Until Batman was gone and this weird sort of hush settled on the place. No one wanted to make a move, because no one wanted that spotlight of attention and blame. Apparently it was really just the eye of the hurricane settling over us. Because now? The rest of it’s rolled in.
And it’s like all the worst parts of every postal holiday, with none of the upsides all rolled into one. Complete with the forced spending of time with family. And like most of the rest of my life, I’m kind of helpless to do anything about it. ONLY I SHOULDN’T BE. For the first time, I’ve got training (some) and a suit (it’s still kickass) and all the gadgets and a circle of people that tolerate me that are much better at handling this crap than I am. They’re probably out handling it right now, in fact while me? I’m off the grid. Because I’m completely, and legally, on it.
Gotham City. Where the crooks are everywhere, and the legal system either is in their pocket, or wide-eyed and manically hopeful that this time… this time they’re going to have a poster child to use for their rehab programs and that this time, they’re going to have really made a difference. That’s me. Poster child and sacrificial lamb, because obviously a repentant criminal who’s seen the error of their ways, and is back on the straight and narrow should be able to appeal for joint custody now that they’re out of jail. And. Totes a good guy. Only he’s not. And here I am. Stuck with him just the same. One weekend a month. The first weekend since I caught onto the scheme (which was the last time I had to be here), and I fought with my Mom about it. Argued. Stamped my foot. But she’s got something going on this weekend, and doesn’t trust me at home alone apparently.
So. Daddy/Daughter time it is. Gotham’s imploding, but by all means… lets follow the Idiot Court’s orders. Great job, CPS. Kudos. Really.
I don’t want to be here, and I made sure everyone, and anyone, who would listen knew about it. Well. At school anyway. At home. I haven’t been able to get back to the ‘Batcave’ since the night Joker branched out into television programming, there was no side trips allowed by Mom between Mom’s place and my Dad’s. And seriously. Who has doors that lock from both sides? Oh wait. My Dad, the D-List not-so-supervillain. That’s who. On the upside, there were boxes of Eggo waffles in the freezer. Clear bribery. He gets better cable, too. Judging by the three hundred and counting flicks of nothing interesting that I’ve gone through, while silently counting down the time in my head.
Two more minutes.
Tim: There’s nothing on television. Nothing at all. Channel surfing is one of life’s little tortures. A good cable plan gives you hundreds of channels, but there never seems to be anything on. Until you finally find that one thing that doesn’t bother you. It’s not exactly what you want to watch, but it doesn’t make you angry having it on. For what is likely the nine hundred time this year. You know what it’s like. That one movie you liked the first time, but now you’ve seen it so many times you can recite the lines to yourself (or others if they’re in range of hearing). Sure, you don’t like it as much as you once did, but it doesn’t make your ears bleed putting it on.
One of the lines is certainly not, “Jesus. I never thought he would leave. That was painful to watch.”
Nope. That isn’t your movie Stephanie Brown. It’s the Boy Wonder. Who isn’t nearly as imposing when he’s not appearing out of nowhere dressed as a six foot bat that terrorizes the Gotham Underworld. This is a little bit of a different sort of impression. This isn’t even the same costume she saw me in before, when I first met her on the rooftops. This is version 3.0 of the Red Robin outfit. More in the style of a flight suit, less in the vein of ‘Scare you to Death’. It has some perks though, which was important for today’s outing. Between the stealth tech which turns the entire red-color scheme off, darkening it to allow for blending in to the shadows of her apartment and the technology that is woven in to the very fabric of the outfit itself? It shouldn’t be half as comfortable as it actually is. Nor as easy to move as it turns out to be. No cape to slip on. No horns to catch in closing doors.
With one hand, I flip what looks like a gameboy with a pok-e-mon skin to her. The other hand carefully remains at my side, even when I flip over the arm of the couch to crash down on it next to her. “Gotta catch’em all. Figured you might be a little bored. What with the whole mandated custodial visitations and such.”
That’s not entirely untrue, but it really doesn’t happen to cover the real reason I’m here. Instead of out there. The world out beyond the walls of this apartment is going to hell in a hand basket. The League of Shadows has descended upon Gotham. An alien space crafted landed in the harbor. Nowhere has arrested Dinah’s ex-boyfriend. Damien’s mother has been kidnapped by the Joker. It does not take a super-genius to know that I shouldn’t be here. Not right now.
“You’re one of the team now, Steph. Did you really think we’d let you disappear at a time like this without us noticing and looking in to it?”
Steph: The sound that comes out of me is about as far from ‘cool’ as one can possibly make. The combination of I just stepped barefoot on a slug and walking face first into a really big, really gnarly cobweb, with maybe a bit less disgust in the tonal mix. It also sounds suspiciously like a number at first, because I went from counting down the seconds since Dadmonster left the ‘condo,’ or what passes for one in this part of town. Row house is probably a better descriptor. Super narrow, which takes away from the multiple floors. Anyway. Not the point. He left, bolted the door, there’d been some carrying on about it that I like to think was pretty convincing given the looks I’d been giving the guy since I got shoved in the front door after school. He actually looked about as excited to see me as I was to see him, which had been a little confusing on my end.
If I was going to be stuck here all weekend, while everyone else was probably out dealing with the crapstick that is Gotham City right now? I could at least try to get some of my own work done. Not homework. I did that already. That was my method for ignoring Arthur Brown for the first stretch that I was here. When he finally left? I didn’t try any of the windows, or look for another means of escape. Unlike my Mom, and her very predictable shifts at the hospital, I have absolutely no way of knowing when he’ll be back.
Once I’m done flailing on the other side of the couch, and no longer threatening to tip over the armrest, I can properly side-eye the uninvited guest. Who has clearly been here a while, or I would have heard the window, exactly how long he got to watch the elegant ballet of two people who are stuck with one another and desperately want to be somewhere else…I couldn’t say. We’re just going to stick with ‘awhile.’ There’s so many options available to start my side of this conversation, probably something witty, or funny, or maybe we’ll just go with rude for scaring me like that.
“…how many suits do you have?”
Yup. Nope. Obviously and pointless. That was what we went with. I can’t help wondering if they do this all the time. The musical capes charade. Last time I saw him, he was Batman, and it kind of feels like some weird, mean practical joke may or may not have been going on at my expense. Except he was actually nice and encouraging with the black on. So…maybe the black Red Robin suit means I’m going to get something in between. Guess we’ll see. The hand that had the remote in it, before it went flying to who knows where in my spaz moment picks up the gameboy. Frankly. Looks a little low tech for him. Which means either that’s part of the joke, too, or it’s something else entirely.
“How do you know about… because you know everything. Right.”
That’s not even sarcasm right there. That’s just me honestly answering my own question before I flip the handheld game open. Even the things I thought maybe I still had as a secret have more or less gone out the window at this point. Which means somewhere there’s a whole lot written down about me, which isn’t that off base there was an awful lot of interviews with some really annoying social workers pretty much annually out there. Which I have no doubt they can get access to. All the boring bits about my life. This part? Probably wasn’t even hard to get to. Public record. And if you already know the name of Arthur Brown and Crystal Bellinger’s, formerly Brown, daughter the whole classified part doesn’t really matter.
“But um. Thanks.”
For the gameboy and…what he’s just said right there I suppose though I’m still looking out of the corner of my eye at him like Tim’s some weird bug. My face slowly turns in his direction as I talk though. I’m not entirely sure how to take that. I’m also very aware that if he was saying that with the Batsuit on, I would probably take it an entirely different way than my head wants to right now. Maybe it’s just my general mood, or some low-grade PTSD.
“I figured you guys were probably busy. But. No. I mean. It wasn’t exactly on purpose, I just don’t have the number for the Batcave. I didn’t mean to make anyone …’ Worried sounds too invested. Pick a new word, Brown! “Concerned. Wait. One of the team not like… sidegrade liability of the team? Gosh. I’d offer you a celebratory snack but I don’t have any idea how long that box of cookies has been in the cupboard. It was up there last time I was here and I didn’t want to touch it then, either.”
Tim: The look on my face tells the story of someone who isn’t the least bit phased by her commentary. Do I know everything? No, but I sure like people thinking I do. Most of the time. In this case though, Stephanie hadn’t known enough to conceal her identity when we first met. Not in a way that would or could stop me from looking in to her. Once I got her name, I was off to the races of finding out everything there is to know about Stephanie Brown. Not exactly an exciting autobiography, but at this age who of us can actually make that claim? Not me. Not until this last six months at the very least. Knowing who Steph is meant knowing her her life. Then finding out her Father’s identity meant having to dig deeper. I couldn’t bring her to the Nest, if she was a plant. That’s been tried before.
Fortunately for all involved, Stephanie’s disgust over her father’s faked rehabilitation? Is either Oscar Worthy or Genuine. Not many people can fool me once I’ve seen their face. “Counting the ones in my closet back home? I think twelve or thirteen. Unless we’re not counting the ones that include a tie? Then it narrows that number down to four. Though, I suppose one of those four is technically not mine. Never really was, but certainly isn’t now. So let’s call it three.”
Tapping the Gameboy with a finger tip, to bring her attention to it. “Covert Surveillance Computer. It plays games too. Geeze, you’re looking at me like I’m some sort of nerd or something.”
“While you and your Dad were playing the ‘Who can be more uncomfortable in their silence’ game. I was putting a microbe transmitter in to his Coffee. You should be able to track him with that,” pointing her in the direction of the disguised micro-computer. “The microbe isn’t powerful enough to show up on most forms of detection, but it should allow you to get a general feel for where he’s going, gone or when he’s coming back. If you have time this weekend, you should try to put some of the microbes on his cell phone or any sort of computers he might use. We’ll be able to hack in and see what he’s doing. Or listen to his calls.”
She’s giving me such a look, which she might think I’m missing but the fact is that I rarely miss facial cues. It’s one of the many little quirks that I’ve had for a long time. Reading people. They’re all like living crime scenes. Once you figure out the clues, you can know what they’re really saying. It tells a sort of truth of it’s own. Right now Stephanie’s face is a clouded mask of confusion, skepticism and her normal sense of generally being an open book.
Kicking my feet up on the inn-table and reclining back in a way that says ‘getting comfortable.’ That’s all a clue to the fact that I’ve got no other plans on being elsewhere. Not right now. At least. I’m half-way to putting my hands behind my head, when the rotator cuff flares with enough pain to leave me wincing. She’s not wrong, there are a hundred places I should probably be other than on Stephanie’s couch. But, after the Iceberg Lounge….
“They are busy, for sure. Right now you’re not the liability though,” rubbing at my shoulder, as I start to explain, honestly. “You might say I’ve been pulled from the starting line-up. Put on injured reserve. That wouldn’t be entirely untrue. But. I was worried about leaving you alone during all of this. I’m pretty sure I can beat your Dad up with only one arm.”
Steph: Oh, it’s genuine. So very, very genuine. My level of love and forgiveness for the man was pretty much exhausted when he went to prison the last time. On the upside, that time resulted in my Mom cleaning up her act. But whatever shred of positive feelings I might have been able to dredge up for Arthur Brown was drug out in the alley way and executed when I was here the last time and stumbled on this next, newest and greatest plot of his. Whatever it actually is. And that was a very small amount of feelings anyway. I’m not even pretending right now. I don’t want to be here. I didn’t understand why he wanted me here in the first place, and that made Tim’s theories about him and why I’d found those breadcrumb trails stick in my mind. Was it on purpose? And was it because he thought I’d be cool with joining the family ‘business’ or because he secretly wanted someone to catch him and with Batman supposedly gone there wasn’t anyone out there to do it?
I don’t think it’s the latter. As far as I could tell, he was seizing the moment because Batman was gone. Either way. I’m here, and this time? It was pretty clear that he didn’t want me here either. I bet because he has something more criminal he’d rather be doing than spending time with his teenager.
“Huh. That’s too bad. It was a pretty good ‘look’ on you.”
It certainly isn’t now? That’s kind of telling. Means someone else is probably wearing it, out dealing with all the usual Gotham crap, multiplied by four, and that’s why Tim’s here in my Dad’s house checking up on me. With presents. But I mean it. I thought he’d done a pretty good job as Batman, plus my time spent with him while he was wearing it? A hell of a lot more pleasant than the times he’s turned up in a version of what he’s got on now. Turning the device over in my hands, my eyebrows lift in an appreciative look while I let a low whistle out between my teeth.
“Niiiice. And you are kind of a super nerd, from my limited observation, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean. So long as you’re not using it for villainy. Sounds like a much more efficient method than count to six hundred Mississippi’s and pray. Especially since you made me lose count around four-eighty.”
I will most certainly be doing all of those things. And taking great satisfaction in it, too. Though the look on my face says I just spent a second or two contemplating where else he’s stuck those things. Invasion of privacy when it’s me. Justified when it’s against my Dad. I’d been wishing I had my suit, and all of its doohickies but there was definitely not any chance I was going to bring the thing here. I don’t even take it home, because I don’t want to risk anyone else finding out who’s under Spoiler’s mask. So the gift? Welcome. The ideas? I won’t even balk over them not being my own because they’re good. It still definitely doesn’t explain why I’ve got a Red Robin making himself comfortable in the living room, when I could literally see Assassins moving around out there last time I looked out the window.
The only person I’m really in any danger from would be Dad, here, and he’s gone for… a while hopefully. Staying off the streets and hunkering down is kind of a default mode a good and smart Gothamite falls back into in these kind of scenarios. But he’sRed Robin, and could probably have dropped off the hand held and left without me really having time to process that he’s here. I’m about to ask, when he starts to supply the answers on his own. Explaining the presence, and his wince. All makes total sense. Except maybe the worried part. Tim Drake was apparently from the Narrows, too, before he became a Wayne. He knows how it goes, then.
“…because you were worried that he would do something stupid, or because you were worried that I would?”
I’m okay though. Stir crazy maybe, but I was just waiting until I thought he’d been gone long enough to start doing some snooping. And then…subsequent freaking out over every little noise…Yeah. His way is better. With the tracker. And the nerd stuff. Harper’d love it.
Tim: Maybe there’s a momentary look at Stephanie that I couldn’t control. A pretty good look? I’m not sure how to take that really. Times like these make me think I should learn how to talk to people the normal way, instead of relying on deductive reasoning and logic to interpret their meanings. It leaves me a little clueless at times about the more simpler forms of communication. This leaves me thinking she’s trying to spare my feelings, but I already know the truth there. It truly is in the simple math of that problem.
“Do you mean it looked good on me, despite being six inches too short, a hundred pounds too light and about three Olympic weight lifter classes weaker?” Though I’m smiling, there’s a definite sense of displeasure in saying all of those things out loud. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to spare my feelings by holding off on the jokes. I never should have put the suit on, but.. y’know… the City needs the Batman. Not -a- Batman. The Batman.”
Some people don’t understand that. It can’t just be anyone in that suit. Hell, it shouldn’t be someone with the skills but lacking the personality either. Batman is the sum of the whole. You need to be smart enough to figure the job out. Skilled enough to get the job done. All wrapped up in the ethics needed to know when enough is enough. If you’re missing any one of those things, you’re just a guy in a suit. For better or worse, that’s what I was. Just a guy in the suit. Smart enough, sure. The ethics weren’t my problem. I lack the tools to do the job, the way that the Batman would do them.
While I’m mulling this over, I can’t help but notice that Stephanie is giving me the side-eye again. Her question is a good one, but I’m not entirely sure that I know the answer. At least, not entirely. “Let’s go with a little of both. I was worried that you’d do something to tip your hand and then he’d do something stupid that you’re not quite ready for. Yet.”
“I went through at least four alternative plans, before settling on the stealth approach too. There was ‘Batsuit, throttle Cluemaster while Stephanie swoons.’ That was my early draft plan, but … sidelined, y’know. Then there was ‘Wayne Foundation Scholarship’ plan, which involved showing up in a limo. But. Then I remembered where you lived. It was down to ‘Infiltration’ or ‘Wayne Foundation Internship’ plan. But you objected so much to being called Robin, that I was sure you’d turn down wearing a skirt and fetching me coffee during board meetings. Seeing your Face when your Father’s greed had him signing you up? Almost won out anyway, but I rolled some dice and voila… microbes, game boy and stealthy approach are what you got.”
Steph: See, now I’m the one getting weird looks. Like I’ve just said something in a weird, gibberish language and he’s wondering if I’ve been drugged or thumped in the head too many times. I’d say the latter could be a possibility, but brutal as Canary is? She doesn’t tend to leave bruises in places that will be visible at school, or cause lasting brain trauma. As a favor, of course, which she’ll spell out for you in the knocked you on your face debrief. I could have broken your nose and snapped your blahblahblah but… It doesn’t take a brainiac or ace detective to deduce that he doesn’t agree. I end up shrugging my shoulders, and not even making much in the way of the jokes.
“Okay, so you looked a little shorter but my only up close reference was like. Eight years ago so I just figured watching the ass beating, and the general state of Bat-looming made him look taller than he really was.”
Which wouldn’t really be that big of a deterrent I don’t think. Somehow, I doubt six inches of height and a hundred pounds lighter made that guy whose kneecaps he broke feel better about the situation. Most people don’t get close to Batman out there, and when they do it’s because they’re in deep, deep trouble. Or getting saved. In either case? Probably more worried about a lot of things, or grateful for them, than something like that.
“I’m pretty sure someone told me I shouldn’t have put on a cape and hood either.” Ahem it may have been you. Or everyone in the universe hypothetically speaking. “Hasn’t stopped me from doing it anyway. But. It did look good on.” Oh, God why Stephanie why. “And you were…different. Good different.”
I.E. Not a total dick. Dick that gave me a badass suit and signed me up for getting my ass kicked lessons, but…still kind of a dick. Interacting with him as Batman had been like a totally different person under there. Someone that made me feel like I could maybe actually do this. Though. Hearing what were definitely concerns about doing it himself, maybe a lot of that was projecting. I don’t know. Boy. I kind of masochistically want to hear the answer to that one, because vigilante self-esteem or lack thereof isn’t going to stop me from carrying out this vendetta of mine but… it was sure nice to have some for a little bit. It’d really suck to think he was only building me up to try and maybe do some of that for himself, too.
But as far as I was concerned, and for all that it mattered what I thought? Tim had been Batman. And I thought he’d been pretty good.
“Hah. Well. Luckily for everyone involved, it doesn’t take much acting to pretend like I don’t want anything to do with him, so we haven’t had any conversations about my fun, new extra-curricular activities. And he hasn’t startled me into judo chopping him in the throat. Yet. …kindahopingthatone’snotoffthetable … But this is the first time he’s left since I got dropped off.”
I feel like I should be insulted. I’ve gone almost a month without alerting the parent that actually knows jack about me. I can probably make it four days without putting up an ‘I’m Spoiler, and I’m going to GET you, my pretty!’ banner.
“Throttling is still on the table though? I bet I’d like it better this time than last time. Kind of would rather do it myself if we’re being totally honest. There’s so much wrong with all those other plans I like. Can’t even, though.”
Limo he eliminated himself, fortunately. Which is good. Because he knows all the reasons why that would probably have been a bad plan. Starting with ‘sore thumb,’ and ‘target for enterprising criminals.’
“You’d never get your coffee. I’d drink it. And it sounds like I’m out of the Robin gig anyway. Glad I didn’t get those shirts made. That would have been awwwwkward.”
Tim: “Bzzzt. Wrong, at least about some of that. It made a big difference. I couldn’t do the things Batman does. Not even close. I was compensating, constantly. Trying to hold it together like a magician, but being the Batman is a lot more than smoke and mirrors. Some of the people the Batman deals with are better than others. They’re intelligent, observant, and stable. Insane, sure, but they have the tools to exploit weaknesses. Two-Face would have caught on to all the things you did and more. Joker would have noticed in a heart-beat. Hell, from what I hear Penguin didn’t even believe it was the real Batman and he never even encountered me. So all he had to go on was second hand rumors and news clippings from Central City.”
What bothers me is that I know that I’m right, but I also know that Stephanie is too. Which is why I stop trying to prove myself right and accept what she’s said as her belief. She’s giving me what might be the only compliment that I heard about my amazingly short stint as the Caped Crusader. “I.. well… I know that the Batman was supposed to scare the bad guys, but at one time Bruce wanted the Batman to be about more. He saw it as a chance to give the City hope to believe in. I wanted to find that again. The City needs it, but so does the World. Our country is in a bad place. We don’t need our heroes giving our kids nightmares right now.”
“Oh. Uh. You didn’t mean… you meant I was different with you, specifically didn’t you?” Now I’m scratching at the back of my head a little uncomfortably. “Well. Uh. You see. I didn’t want you to be in this life. So I was trying to scare you away from it. But you didn’t scare easily. Or at all really. Then you made it through that first week with Canary and… you deserved a chance that Bruce never gave most of us.”
“Yeah. I mean. You’re barely skirting by in half of your classes. Who the hell would believe you won a scholarship, am I right?” When I flash the smile it’s because I’m giving as good as I’m getting for once. No somber, stoic Batman gaze that doesn’t react to any of her jokes. Just a quick return on the investment, with one of my own. “Yeah. So Limo was out. Scholarship was out. But I’m happy to re-evaluate the throttling plan. As long as we can negotiate. How about throttling is allowed, but only if you throat punch him with my half-full coffee cup, while wearing the intern skirt? If you can manage that I’m all in.”
Oh, I’d be laughing too. If it weren’t for the state of my ribs. Or my shoulder. One knee. Possible concussion. Yeah, no. I’m going to keep my belly-laughter to a minimum for now, thanks. “I wouldn’t cancel my order for those shirts yet, if I were you. But. Eggplant and Red Robin sounds like a dynamic duo of it’s own. Ugh. Nevermind. That just sounds like what one of those terrible fast-food joints at the Mall tries to sell for ten bucks a plate.”
Steph: “What do I know, right? I’m no seasoned, grizzled quadruple black belt that can do a Wuxi finger hold. Yet. I’m just one of the many non-criminal shmucks that happens to have the crummy luck of living down here. And believe me. I never cared how tall Batman was. Just that he was there. It is about more than making assholes wet their pants. It’s about people in the worst, most hopeless parts of Gotham thinking that someone out there cares what happens to them, and is willing to do something about it.”
Woah. Down, girl. I realize my tone is starting to get…heated. Impassioned like I’m about to go on a rant to outdo my infamous soapbox speech when the school couldn’t find money in its ‘budget’ to maintain the coffee machine in the cafeteria anymore. Seriously. We’re teenagers, not idiots, and we know how vending contracts work. Clearing my throat, I pull myself back before spreading my hands with another shrug.
“When I was little, I used to sneak out on the fire escape and watch, because I really wanted to see… uh. You know what, nevermind. I don’t need to tell you about that. But, erm. Yes. I did mean with me. I guess you could have been different with everyone, but…wasn’t there. Small frame of reference. I kind of get the impression that all of you got the disapproving looks and then… here you are anyway.”
Because something was more important to them, too. Than any head shaking or judgement that came their way. I don’t know the specific reasons. Not for a single one of them. I don’t really need to, though. The determination and dedication is pretty easy to read. None of them are doing this because someone made them, they’re doing it because they need to. For probably all kinds of different reasons, that amount to the same thing. Showing up. Kicking ass. Apparently getting their asses kicked sometimes, if lame-wing Red Robin here on my couch is any gauge. Lame-wing Red Robin who very nearly gets me to rise to his teasing bait. Skating by in my classes. Hmph! My life would have a lot more sleep in it if I were just skating by with my school work. It’s a good thing I’m probably done growing already, or all the caffeine I’ve been inhaling might end up stunting something important.
“That seems like a really complicated, super situational set of terms.”
And I’m pretty sure someone will throttle my Dad, hopefully me someday, without any sort of hoops or agreements to go through. I can even bypass the throat punches, satisfying as that sounds, I just want him in jail where he belongs, and without the satisfaction of succeeding in his plan. Whatever it might ultimately be leading to.
“….yuuuuum…. ahem. Sorrynotsorry. I’ve been holding that in like. For a month.”
Hopping off the couch cushion, the gameboy’s shoved in the front pocket of my sweatshirt, with a moment spared to look at what the channel surfing had actually landed on. Hallmark channel and its countdown to Christmas. So many sappy movies. So many unrealistic stories. So much of an awful train wreck and oh God I need to leave right now, it’s sucking me in… spinning rather forcefully back to facing Tim, I jerk my thumb towards the narrow staircase in the back of the living room.
“So. Uh. You feel free to watch Romance at Reindeer Lodge …GodwhydoIknowthat… if you’re sticking around. I’m going to go see if I can’t find any of the things the douchemonster doesn’t want me to see in here. He was both super in a hurry to leave earlier and super unwilling to leave me here. The leaving clearly won eventually. Not that I blame him..”
Tim: What does she know? Well, the irony is that she seems to know quite a bit. Maybe not how to hack the NSA. Probably not how to pull a finger print off a car door without a kit or tape. But she knew all about how to get information without having to go through the City Planner’s office. She caught on to her Father’s machinations. It took very little for her to see the patterns and piece together that Red Robin and Timothy Wayne have the same jawline. How much does Cassie know? Maybe a whole lot more than the rest of us give her credit for.
She’s strolling down memory lane when all of a sudden she stops. Now a smart boy lets her finish doing as she will and changing the subject, but I’ve never been accused of being smart when it comes to the Ladies. “… you really wanted to see the Batman? Funny story. I did the same thing. Except one night, I actually did see him. Robin too. It was something special too. Every second of that first meeting is emblazoned in my mind.”
“Of course, it had to be. Given than I spent the next two years of my life examining the memory from every angle.” Watching her, as she is watching me and the rest of the room, leaves me with a canted head, plus a whole lot of refusing to let that be the end of this line of talk. “The only disapproving looks that I ever got were from the Batman himself. See, I didn’t have what you have. There’s no skeleton in my closet. No dead family member. No criminal undertow that pulled me in to all of this. So when I tried to make this my life? I didn’t just get old no, Steph. I’m one of the ones who got told to get out or else.”
“But. I wouldn’t give up. I couldn’t. I didn’t know why then and I don’t now. I just couldn’t stop myself. There was something driving me to help these people. Help people like you. Do something better. Make the world nice for about thirteen seconds. Batman only took me in after I kept going, and going, and almost got my entire family killed. He saved them. Saved me. He looked me in the eyes and knew it’d happen again. But that he might not be there to save them next time. So he took me in, like I took you in. He did it to drive me to fail, to wash out. I never gave up and I see those qualities in you too.”
“Those qualities and half-a-case of snark, a side of shade and two spoonfuls of spite. She’s got Red Robin jokes. Swell. Remind me again, Eggplant. Where’d you get that first cape of your’s?”
Then she’s up and starting to what? She’s going to snoop in to her father’s things. Pfft. As if she’s leaving me here when she’s doing that. Someone has to oversee, to make sure she’s not overlooking something. Albeit with some very ginger movements and more than a little grumbling about how I’d just gotten comfortable. “So. No skirt. No coffee. No romantic movie. No throat punching. You’re really making this in to a terrible date…. Gasp!.. and now I know the secret origin of the Spoiler name.”
Steph: I don’t need to know how to hack the NSA, either. Didn’t need to know how to do a lot of things before the last few weeks, though. I just have the skills and attention to detail that living in a place like this makes you acquire if you want to get out of it on the other side with only a mild case of psychological trauma. I pay attention. I listen, even when it seems like I’m not because I’m. Well. Me. And I store away those things I’ve heard and seen for later, on the off chance that I’m going to need them. I’d brought myself up short of sharing some sappy/embarrassing childhood memories, so color me more than a little surprised when he steers that bull back around to share his own instead of just trying to get me to spill mine. Still. I’m pretty aware that my face is flushing a little at admitting it.
“Yeah. I really wanted to see Batman. Probably would have had better luck in that neighborhood if I’d done more than just…watch the moon for a silhouette like he was Santa Clause or something. I mean. It’s the Narrows. Odds were always pretty good for a showing.”
And then when I finally did see the Bat? It was in my living room. Happy Birthday to Stephanie! I realize he’s spelling out what makes him tick, his why, and despite being pretty open about mine, probably to the point of dead horse abuse, I hadn’t really expected to get his. So maybe it wasn’t the change in outfit that changed our interactions after all. Just. Situations changing. Seems I wasn’t completely wrong either, about the projecting. But at least it’s not in a bad way. I remind him of himself. I guess for most people, that’d be reason to try and bully someone out of something. Maybe doubly so if you weren’t sure if you chose the best path or not. I purse my lips for a half-second when he talks about his parents because… he says Batman saved them but he was adopted by Bruce Wayne. Which means something happened to them after that, at some point. You don’t get adopted by someone when your parents are still alive. Even if they’re awful.
“I borrowed it from school. Also I’m really only one spoonful of spite. Maybe one and a half if I’m cranky at my Mom. You don’t have to get up, whiner. Don’t let me keep you from your sappy holiday movie. There’s a bag of peas in the freezer over there, Mr. Made It a Horrible Date All On His Own. And I told you the origin like. The first time I met you. Wait. Why are we talking about dates…”
I rather intentionally start wandering off on that last question because. That was out loud where it shouldn’t have been and boy. All the mortifying things I ever said to ‘Batman’ I have a feeling are about to start creeping back up again. Clearly I need a do-over with the New Batman, whoever that is. He might not have outright said there was one but… connecting the dots that have been put out for me there. Not actually up the stairs, instead I’m ducking around into the space behind them, peering at the super awesome, and super seventies wood paneling on the wall.
I look behind me, of all places, to the tiny little nook of a kitchen. Take a step to the left so that I’m even with the sink, and then another forward until I’m pushing against the wall. There’s a give to it. I can feel it. It’s a crappy old building so that’s going to happen some even on solid walls.
“…Here. Do they all do this?”
I guess I could be asking about the hidden doors, which I’ve now located, and pushed open so it swings out of the way and reveals a staircase.
“…not the lairs. I mean. You have a lair. The insanity. Exact same things, over and over again, thinking that this time? Oh, man, this time they’re totes going to win?”
It’s not the same house that we lived in when I was eight, but this whole neighborhood is basically cookie cutter, cheap ass row houses, crammed together with no originality or variation. I watched from the sink in a different, but totally the same, building while freaking Cluemaster got Batman’s fist fed to him, basically where I’m standing now. Right outside the door to his secret ‘lair.’ Clearly there’s just some things he can’t be bothered to be original about. At least right now he’s living alone. Except one weekend a month.
Tim: “Truth is, if he knew you were looking? He probably avoided being seen. Bruce never saw himself as the Inspiration he hoped to be. He hoped, but he grew up not far removed from a generation of Heroes that took the blame for everything that went wrong.”
He then lived long enough to see History repeat itself.A fact that is never going to settle well with me. I mean, how could it? Whatever has happened to him, I have to carry the knowledge forward that Bruce never got to make the Batman in to the Hero he always wanted to be. Or rather, he never knew the Batman was that Hero. Clearly some of us knew differently. Two prime examples right here. But then we’re a product of the Narrows. Where Heroes come in the worst shapes and sizes, because normal Heroes get chewed up and spit out here. There’s no Supermen down here, is there?
My Parents survived my first little effort to become a Super-Hero. She’s right though. Eventually something happened. I should have known that it would. You can’t live this life and come out of it unscathed. Truthfully, I’d known that intellectually. I just didn’t understand that it might not be me, directly, that would pay the price for my choices in the end. Sometimes your weakness is the people you love, who can’t defend themselves from the enemies you make of the world around you.
“Truthfully? Yeah. Most of them do. You can almost set your watch by some of them. It never really stops them from being Dangerous though. They make the same choices, same mistakes, but there is always a wrinkle. They’ll spend their time in jail wondering about what they did wrong. So when they get out, they correct their one mistake. The really bad ones. The Jokers of the World. They’re the ones who really make it rough. Because they never do the same thing twice. Each time you encounter them, it might be the same old smile or joy buzzer, but it’s like you’re meeting someone new under the hood each time.”
By the time I’m done talking she’s found the lever for her Dad’s secret lair. I feel like I should be joining her, but I’m moving a bit slow for more reasons than one. “I did not make this a horrible date, I brought you presents and everything. I was all ready to snuggle in with Hallmark movies, cheetos and lime soda, but you’re all ‘Secret Evil Lair’ and totes ignoring my torn rotator cuff, bruised sternum, separated ribs. Multiple contusions and lacerations.”
Steph: “That sounds better than I just never saw him because he didn’t fly across the moon when I was looking up there. Also less like I was six.”
Though the truth is, even after I saw him up close and in person, I still kept looking. I’m not looking for a light switch. In my experience, these houses like to make you trek to the bottom of the perilous stairs before you actually get a chance to find one. Plus, even if there was one up here? I may pretty much hate my Dad, and he may pretty much suck at everything, but this has all seemed very much more… long game than anything else I know of him doing before. Not just a bank heist. Not just a jewelry store robbery. Not just smuggling something into and out of a warehouse again. it’d been all those things, like some elaborate sort of shell game and it’s enough to have me a little…paranoid. Or maybe the image of Nightwing zapping the hell out of Canary is still fresh enough in my mind that I don’t want to touch much of anything.
So I’m pulling my cell phone out of the pocket the gameboy disappeared into, and turning on the flash to check the landing. Technically a lot more care and caution than I use like. Ever. But it’s my Dad’s place. I’m the only one in here. I’m going to be the obvious conclusion to draw for ‘who done it’ if he noticed his stuff is messed up.
“…like Clock King…? Heh.”
I couldn’t help it. Really. Some of the loons in Gotham are just an incredibly special brand of…whatever the hell that is. The rest of the world? They get the grand and destructive sounding baddies. Here we get a range. From ludicrous, to insane, to oh God please never let me get within two blocks of that out in the dark.
“At my Dad’s house. Also that sounds completely awful and intriguing at the same time.” Clarify, Steph. “The cheetos and lime soda combo. Not the snuggling and romantic movies. Which I have never even vaguely considered. Ever. Nope. I offered you frozen peas. And sitting there while I do all the hard work.”
I assume he’s just teasing about the whole date thing. Over and over. See? Mortifying moments coming back to bite me, just like I knew they would. If there was any way to make me feel more brave about trooping down into the evil lair of doom? Clearly, this is the tactic to take.
“Seriously, what did you do? Try to chest bump a moving semi? How do you even get that suit on with one arm? Not. That I’ve been checking out the suit. And you in the suit and… I have my own suit, I know how hard they are to get on with two arms okay? …stop looking at me…”
Going downstairs now. They’re rickety, but not actually as bad as the ones that go up. I don’t know if that’s from lack of use to creepy (presumably) basement, or because he’s actually been taking care of them. He hasn’t been here that long, six months?Maybe? I admittedly didn’t exactly keep track of him, or where he was, until he’d interjected himself back in my life again. Rudely. I might add. Once I reach the bottom, I shine my light around the space. It’s. Rather disappointingly empty, honestly. No doomsday devices. No ominous flashing lights. A table with some chairs, which is I assume the one that was up here last time I came in announced. A stack of long, slim cases with handles on them. I’d been kind of hoping for something… concrete. Incriminating. At the very least his computer which isn’t down here, and it wasn’t upstairs. I already looked.
Tim: “Really? You have a whole Arkham Asylum and you zero in on Clock King? That guy is terrible. I mean, your Dad’s like an A-Lister in comparison.”
If I sound incredulous? It’s because I am. The reference to one of the Worst in the whole Rogue’s Gallery is enough to have me dropping the subject. Not to mention, dropping down the chute behind Stephanie. The good arm is all I need to let myself down in a landing that doesn’t make every bone in my body feel like it’s being broken all over again. While this isn’t fun, I couldn’t very well let Stephanie come down here and be locked away in some insipid death trap of doom.
The moment I’m on my feet, grimace not withstanding, a flick of the wrist turns on my suit’s spot-light. It’s enough to illuminate most of the ‘Evil Lair,’ and then some. It also has scanning technology built in to it. While it does it’s work, “You know. Some girls would think it romantic. Having a boy trying to rescue them from being trapped in their Dad’s place, under house arrest. Bringing them presents and keeping them from dying.. to boredom. Not you, no sir.”
Wah wah wah you were so mean to me wah wah, she says as he gives her a half-million dollar suit. The Batman? He takes her to a Sewer and a Police Impound, but nooo. I’m offering hallmark movies and super-computers. All I get is some frozen peas and a musty basement.”
How exactly do I answer her question anyway. I mean there’s the truth and then there’s the truth. Neither of which is really appealing, one of them is slightly more mortifying than the other. If only slightly, truth be told. The actual -thought- of what happened, makes me wince a whole new level of wincery. In for a penny, in for a pound right? She might as well learn something from my mistakes and oh were there a lot of them.
“It’s a long story, but the short version is that I threw myself down two flights of stairs. On top of a fully armed Ninja, while I was wearing a three piece suit. To protect a Female Dance troupe from certain death at the hands of Deathstroke, Penguin, his men and the League of Shadows. Let’s just skip the part where I did that, after disarming a missile and slipping one of Penguin’s bodyguards a roofie.”
“How was your night, last night?”
Steph: “Oh, c’mon! I was riffing off the set your watch thing… Jokes, Boy Wonder! Jokes! Or at the very least bad puns. Very bad puns. Seriously. You’re going to have to lighten up if this date thing’s going to continue…”
As traps of doom go? This one’s pretty uninspired. A let down, even. For all the secret door and hidden basement set up that should have led to something we probably didn’t want to stumble into, I’m starting to think maybe I would have been better off with lime soda and cheetos (…seriously, that flavor combination…). Luckily for Tim, I’m not looking at him, his mostly graceful landing or the resulting owie pain face that he makes because I’m using my own two eyes and the light on my phone which…gets dwarfed by his suit’s light, which nearly blinds me a half second later when I turn around to look at the source.
“Well, I’d order a pizza, but the door’s bolted, and assuming they even brought the pizza complicated instructions like ‘throw a rock at the window’ or ‘just hand it to the mostly friendly vigilante’ are probably going to make them not bother. Talk about not enough bang for that buck…”
I’d been hoping to get to at least claim some sort of discovery or progress for my weekend, because I assumed they were all otherwise out there. Busy. Fighting the good fight. Trying to weed out some assassins, and sort out the Joker situation, because lets face it. Potential or not that is all way above my pay grade right now. But there’s nothing down here. Maybe my Dad’s smart enough not to keep anything incriminating on the premises but if that’s the case, why even have something like this? There’s push pins in the walls, like there used to be something there. Tiny scraps of torn paper beneath them that I go on tip toe to look at. They could have been maps. Maybe the blue prints we assumed were taken from the city buildings, if that ever was even a thing.
But there’s nothing to find. Not for his scanner even. Just dust that suggests things were here at some point, cleared in a rectangle on the table, or on the empty shelves on those walls. I’ve crouched down in front of them, getting ready to flip open the clasps and check inside when I pause to squint over at Tim. Then I laugh. Infinitely amused, until it starts to trail off.
“…oh, you’re not kidding are you? Yikes. Well. Um.”
How was my night? God was that a dare, a sincere question because he cares or are we starting a game of one upsmanship I’m totally going to lose. My serious answer is about to sound awfully stupid compared to his.
“I babysat three kids under the age of six, and then played ignore the not-so-super-villain. Your night might have been less stressful. At least I got paid, though!”
Tim: “Worst puns ever. You’re terrible at this flirting thing. Where’d you learn how to interact with Boys? Super-Villain school for the internal and external monologue?”
As good as Pizza might otherwise sound, I’m a little surprised to find nothing. Even if it was just a little something, I was thinking that we’d find at least a monument to his own greatness. Finding nothing is actually a little more suspicious than finding something, because this leaves us with some questions. Like for example: Did daddy dearest figure his daughter would go snooping? Or maybe, Steph was wrong and her Dad had learned from his previous mistakes. This is left unsaid, because I’ve already said what that could mean. The ones who learn are the actual scary ones. It happens to be what sets them apart from the other riff-raff.
I can’t even tell you the last time one of the dumb ones graduated to the class of smart ones though. This is a change and I’m wondering how closely it ties to what happened with my Father. “Hold on. Are you telling me a deadbolt lock is all it takes to keep you in line? Boy, if I tell Canary that I could have saved her a whole month of beating you up, by just locking you in your bedroom with a deadbolt. She’s really going to kick my ass.”
“Seriously. Flight of Stairs. Dance Troupe. Black Canary in a mini-skirt, with her nails and hair done. Deathstroke. Ninjas and Mobsters. Faux Penguin, plus two Penguin Actuals. One of which was armed with a rocket, the other with a flame thrower. I may or may not have gotten a pass made at me by one of a set of triplets. That’s the one I roofied.”
Offering little more than a shrug and a smile. Given her own descriptive weekend, I might not even trade her night for mine. She’s new to this not-a-game we’re all playing. Might as well prepare her for the insanity of the life she’s about to lead if she keeps going down this path. Also a good chance to remind her of the important parts of life.
“Yeah. Would you believe that’s not the most exciting weekend I’ve had this month? I rescued the Flash from a guy that could become any element he touched. Then fought a living computer virus. What I was done with that, I got a plane with Wonder Woman. Yet, my idea of being told to hit the sidelines and take a night off? Was bringing you a present and watching old movies. You won’t even bring me Coffee or let me see you throat punch someone. Mini-skirt not withstanding.”
Steph: “More like the local chapter of All the Guys I Know Are Douchebags or Drug Dealers or Both, with remedial courses in Ain’t No One Got Time for That. Next time there’s a break in Canary Beating Me With My Own Stick 101, I’ll ask her if she can give me some pointers. And then clarify I meant on boys before she stabs me with something.”
Not to mention the summer section of Daddy Issues, but we don’t like to talk about those. Why am I being held responsible for flirting skills?! This wasn’t in the syllabus. I’m also not totally sure I know what to do with this teasing and joking from him. This isn’t usually a problem for me! I’m a sassy, independent girl child! Right? Yeah. No. I’m just going to keep trying to run with this whole date is a a not-serious joke thing, but he sure is using it for all it’s worth. My make-believe classes may have trailed off into muttering by the time I actually flip the two toggles and lift one of the lids, revealing a…
I don’t know what the hell this is that I’m looking at. A pair of metal tubes, that almost look like the collapsible staff I’ve been learning to fight with, except there’s some kind of electronics on it. The whole thing looks…delicate despite being metal, with a clear toggle that I assume would be an on/off switch that I really want to push but… the thin shred of common sense I’ve still got in my head says Stephanie, No! There’s no cord that I can see. Battery operated?
“No. I already picked it to make sure I could if I had to. Or there’s the windows. The horrible parental figure that’s nominally in charge that I assumed would probably not be gone long was a much bigger contributing factor. Since. Y’know. That hand. Trying to not tip it.”
Scowling a little, though it’s much more at what I’m looking at in the case, which seems to be in all of the other five matching ones, I pull a face at Tim as I fish the gameboy out again, fiddling with it until I work out how to apply the microbes he talked about. Asking would have been faster but that’s me. Stephanie Brown. Not the best at anything, but pretty good at figuring shiz out. I kind of want to give Red Robin one of these suckers to go try and puzzle out what it does, but that would be a noticeable loss. Guess we’ll just have to settle for what he can tell from looking, and seeing where they go.
“You do realize you’re not exactly making going out with you sound like a super smart play, right? Maybe the musty basement and frozen peas are the universe trying to jump start my sense of self-preservation. Also, I’m betting you didn’t actually know what to do with yourself, and this was probably like…option three or four. When we’re done down here though, if you really insist, I can make you some coffee and then punch you in the throat.”
There’s a haughty sniff as I straighten up to a standing position in front of the cases, giving my blonde hair a toss.
“Except a finger jab is much more effective.”
Tim: “I’m pretty sure you just called me a Douchebag,” which from the sound of my voice may actually be a first time for me. “Since we know I’m not a drug dealer. If you’re going to ask a girl for pointers on how to flirt with guys, Canary is definitely the one to give it.”
Unless you’re wanting to actually have more than a night’s fun with the guy in question. Not for nothing, but her brand of flirting happens to be very direct. To the point. No holds barred. Let’s get it over with sort of flirting. I’m not even sure what Dinah would do with the sort of flirting that is the ‘Take me home to meet the Parents’ kind of stuff. Oh, wait. Yes, I do know what she’d do. My jaw throbs at the consternation of what just might happen if Stephanie pursues that line of training.
I should warn her! Oh, right. She just called me a douchebag and offered to punch me in the throat. Kid gloves are off at this point in the dancing with sarcasm. I’ve moved over to let my suit take a full scan of the place. “Quantum Particle Scans could, in theory, give us a time-displaced map of what was here as much as a week ago. If only I’d been allowed to finish that paper, but noooo. I needed to go out. Live in the world. See the people I was saving. Meet people with like minded ambitions. Now we’ve got to wait on good old detective methods. Like running this through the Nest computers.”
“I’m going to need to take these scans to the Nest, directly. PennyOne is disconnected. Until we find out what got in to the Bat-System computers. He’s not on site at my bunker and we’re keeping it off the Grid, so that whatever or whoever is hacking in to the Bat Cave systems can’t get in to mine remotely. I feel a little blind out in the field, but I forgot to mention that someone dropped a Jet on Black Canary and Red Hood too.”
All of this is true, also it’s information that she didn’t have. I’m sharing, while also explaining to her that I’m going to need to take this information back to the base directly. Not just ask the man in our ears what we’re seeing. It’s also meant to tell her why I’m not just reading information off my Heads up Display. The computers in my suit are good, but they lack the database access to cross reference nearly enough information to tell us what we’re looking at. Not without going online and risking infiltration. Which sounds like a terrible idea right these days, more and more.
What comes next is a small smile, the sort of smile that’s far more ‘I told ya so,’ than anything else. “You’re right. I’m not, Steph. Part of me likes the idea, though. The other part still thinks I need to scare you in to running away, so you give this all up. Because I’ve got this innate desire to protect people. That innate desire grows in leaps and bounds, when I get to know the person I want to protect. Then you add in this White Knight complex. You’re lucky I’m not locking you in an ivory tower, that you’d have to climb down your own hair to escape from Goldilocks.”
“My point is. A guy would be crazy not to want to go on a date with a girl like you. But. I’m also trying to convince you to go have a normal life with a normal boy too.” My stream of conscious comes to a rather abrupt halt, as I look at the readings on the things we’re looking at. Every time I think this all can’t get any more weird, something new comes up. “Seriously. I’ve got to take these scans back to my Nest. You want to pick the locks, leave a note for your dad that you went out for Pizza with a Boy? Nothing too suspicious about that, is there?”
I waggle a hand back and forth at him. Like maybe that’s what I meant, and maybe he is, maybe he’s not. Jury’s out. Tim as Batman wasn’t a Douchebag to me. Tim as Red Robin before now kind of was. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this one, maybe he’s being nicer to me now because he knows that I know who he is. Figured it out on my own and everything. Didn’t catch on to the whole Batman part until I was told, but in my defense he had a voice modulator and a much more covering mask on. Seriously. Look at him. That jawline and that little dimple in his chin? Erm. Yeah. Subject at hand. Retort! Retort, Brown!
“You did just admit to roofy-ing a waitress. Of the two, douchebag might have been the better category to fall into. In the sake of fairness, and because you did bring me a sick Pokemon gameboy, I don’t really know you. So. Maybe you can skirt past being stuck in either one. For now.”
Sure, I know his name. Both of them. Which can tell you a lot about someone when one of those parts is sorta famous, and the other is an urban legend, when you mix in some heavy google usage and social media stalking…which I totally haven’t done… but knowing about a person doesn’t mean you really know them. I know I’m not the sum of my parts. Or I too would be a douchebag and a drug dealer.
Quantum Particle Scans? Is…that a thing? Is he kidding and this is something pulled out of his ass or is that an actual thing? Because it sounds freaking fantastic. Like. I know someone that would be tripping balls over the concept. So I’m left falling back on that looking at him like a weird bug bit, as I watch him…presumably scanning the boxes. I can’t tell from here.
“…what the hell! Seriously! Why are you even here? They’re okay, I assume?”
Also WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS GOING ON? Ninjas and Joker problems are one thing, but it’s like someone got hold of the board of cosmic bad and flipped all the switches because. Screw it, right? I’ve thrown up my hands in exasperation at this new wrinkle in the lives of the Bat Family. I don’t want to ask if it can get worse. Gotham will say ‘hold my beer’ and then we’re all forked.
Really? Now I’m pinching the bridge of my nose, before I close the case again, making sure it’s settled exactly where it had been in the first place. Like maybe that’s going to rein in whatever…the heck is going on with my night now, and this conversation as a whole. He likes the idea of …what? Going out? Is that what he really just said? I’m still stuck torn between figuring this is some really long game method of humiliating me and…what’s my option B exactly? I’m just…openly boggling at him because he’s saying nice things again. No black cowl on or anything. You know what? I’ve got nothing.
“Normal life with a douchebag or a drug dealer? Yeah. Hard pass.”
Wait. Was he doing my shtick and thinking out loud? That’s my best explanation, so I just turn around to troop back up the stairs.
“Teenage rebellion against the father I don’t want to spend time with, and make sure every fifteen seconds or so he knows that? You know..it’d probably be more suspicious if I didn’t. Lock picking and pizza it is.”
Child locks? I’m not six anymore. If you want to lock me in here, at least leave food. Gone to get some. Food.
Be back when I’m back.
No. Really. That’s what gets scrawled on the back of the first piece of paper I find. Girly cursive handwriting, hearts for the dots on my I’s and everything.
Steph: Spoiler Alert: I didn’t finish my homework.
Getting down from the rooftop wasn’t actually all that hard. It could have been easier if people around here were more than passingly concerned with building codes and someone had bothered to replace the fire escape that should have emptied into the alleyway. There was one, at one point, because once I finished watching Batman doing his thing (..i.e. made myself stop watching because don’t be a creeper, Stephanie…) I had found the remnants of it. Must have been the victim of some disaster or other in the neighborhood, though who knows when. I think Big Red might be using part of it down there for some kind of prop, and…yeeeeugh.
Instead of the easy way down, I’ve got to find another one. There’s some death defying stunts involved, like jumping to the adjacent building during which I overcompensate for my book bag and almost fall on my face but hey. Better than shorting it and landing on top of Big Red and ‘her’ new friend. By the time I get down, the parts that once were my phone are long gone, I’ve definitely, definitely missed the bus and resign myself to the walk to the apartment that Mom and I stay in. Don’t worry. The longer trip was plenty of time for me to rehash like. All of my interactions with ‘Batman,’ except for the one that happened on my 8th Birthday. So, basically all the ones where it was me possibly making a jackass out of myself. Especially with my little side trip on the way.
Ugh. That conversation about who Timothy Wayne would or wouldn’t date. How awkward was that? I mean, not at the time. I just thought it was kind of weird/funny that I was having a conversation with Batman that wasn’t about beating people up or hunting people down. Gotta give the guy kudos though, because even with the weird things I’d noticed? I’d never thought it was Red Robin under there. And as soon as I’d seen and heard what Timothy Wayne looked like? I’d put those two together. They all maybe should emulate the batcowl a little more. Or at the very least, the growly voice generator. It had actually been the voice that gave it away for me on the other ‘secret identity.’
I’m more or less berating myself out loud by the time I’ve gotten up the building’s flights of fire escape stairs. Ours has one. That’s how you know we moved up in the world. Which turns into my head being a little too turned on to really focus on what I’m doing. I eat. I drink a whole lot of not so great coffee. I manage to do at least a draft of my paper for history class and by then it’s getting dark. Or more importantly by then my mother’s left for her shift at work and won’t be here to see me sneak back out. The trip to my suit? Is made with a bigger dose of paranoia this time, just in case the friendly neighborhood Batman decides to repeat his earlier trick.
I’ve gotten faster at suiting up. The cold is a pretty good motivator to get my ass inside of the insulated, always just right temperature armor. Seriously. If I could get away with wearing this all day I totally would. There’s a little extra giddyup in my step as I mosey in through the hidden garbage chute entrance in the alleyway. Digging into one of my millions of utility pouches (…seriously, this is like….the clown car of storage pockets…) and thrust out a folded up piece of paper like it’s a trophy.
“Drury’s still a stupid name. Bee-tee-dubs. But I know where he is!”
Wait. This paper is college ruled…damn it, that’s my graded math homework. I grabbed the wrong sheet at my house.
Tim: Recently Dinah Lance told me that the ‘Bat Cave’ wasn’t the cave under the Manor. It’s the base where Batman operates out of. Which was her way of telling me that for however long I’m wearing this suit? The Robin’s Nest is actually the Bat Cave and I need to start thinking about it like that. A recent discussion with Richard, left me with the certain information that I should maybe embrace what Dinah said. Because apparently the Bat Cave had been, in some way, broken in too. Violated. The Nest, because of my desire to be separate but equal, was not part of that same network. Making it secure, for now. Though it was never meant to be the Cave. The ‘Base’ for those of us who want to work in the city. It lacks the armament -and- the security of the Cave.
It makes up for those things in being spacious. Build originally to be a storage depot. It is centrally located in Gotham City. Built over the top of a small monorail system that was originally created for the underground railroad, then updated during the time of prohibition. Only to be updated again more recently, to allow for expedient travel between various points across Gotham. Between the ability to travel across the city quickly and the access to a storehouse of gear? It was perfect for me to build in to a base away from the cave. Then to turn that in to a hide-away training center, that Dinah now uses more than I do.
When Spoiler finally arrives she’ll find me on the second tier. Above the area where she spends most evenings being beaten like a drum. Arms crossed, I’m gazing intently at one of the multiple large view panels. They’re not truly monitors, but more carbon-fiber plastic, that works as receptacles for holographic displays. The effect is that there is a bevy of screens in all directions, but they take up little to no space. Projectors in the floor cast visual data up, in to the films, which then cast the holographic displays all around the ‘Batman.’
My super power? Nerdery.
“Good. We likely need something to do tonight. Dinah is on an assignment. She needed to work off some steam,” if Stephanie looks closely, she’ll see that I’m watching Canary in the midst of sparring with Nightwing. Playing the video repeatedly, at the point where Dinah loses consciousness. “Rather. I needed her to work off some irritations in a way that didn’t involve breaking bones that belong to you.”
“When she is not beating you or Roy to a pulp, she’s been keeping tabs on the Red Hood and Joker. The two of them are, surprisingly, doing more to keep the criminal element of this City in line than I’m even remotely capable of.” A gesture of my hand to another screen, displays other monitors. Several of which are the drones that were dispatched to keep an eye on Wally West’s family. While another displays an attack on the Metropolis Museum of Science and History. “Did you ask PennyOne for help or did you score that A on your own?”
Steph: I haven’t exactly done a lot of wandering around in here before now. I’m never in here alone and unsupervised for one thing, but the other is that either I show up and there’s some investigative ass-kicking to do that leads to leaving the ‘cave,’ or I’m immediately put to work on that demonic training dummy of Dinah’s. Or against Dinah herself. Bottom line, I’m always busy when I’m here. There’s no monitors up here that he’s working on, not regular ones at least, but the reality is way cooler. I crane my head back and forth at the side of one of them, seeing how thin the film is and how crisp the display is just the same. No wonder he always knows what’s going on, these can’t be security camera feeds, or traffic ones. Way too clear and sharp. Also not the right kind of angle What are they coming from?
Is he really watching Dinah get knocked out over, and over? Is that NIghtwing she’s fighting? He’s not even touching her when she goes down. I’m a little wide eyed, because I know how events go if I actually manage to hit her, even if she let me. There’s an immediate lesson in reversals and punishing your opponent for taking an opening. She just drops like a convulsing sack of… I don’t know what. I’m pretty sure no one’s ever compared Black Canary to a sack of anything. My brain won’t even compute other than to whistle between my teeth.
“…somebody’s in troooooouble… and. That one looks kind… serious…also can you write me a sick note to get out of Canary Class for the next. Oh. Forever?”
Pointing at the semi-imploded museum, is that Metropolis? Why does he even have that one? As far as I can tell the rest are in Gotham, which makes sense for the Bat to be aware of. There’s others that might be somewhere else. Looks too nice to be Gotham, but I haven’t a clue where they are. What I do know is he’s probably right about her needing to not be here. She hasn’t broken any of my bones yet but there’s been a few times that I thought she might have. I bet she’s pissssssssed, and it’s bad enough being her punching bag when she’s in a good mood.
“Yes, I take my costume home in the morning and wear it while I’m doing my Pre-Calc.”
Oh, the sarcasm. How I love it. It lasts about as long as needed for me to finish stuffing my math homework back into the pocket it came from, which takes a lot more effort than it probably should have. Ultimately, I just cram the thing in and tug the flap down without actually checking to see if I have the paper I meant to bring along as well.
“I get all my own grades, thankyouverymuch. There’s only one small problem… I mean. It might not be a problem for Batman, I dunno. He’s at the precinct near my school. Want to guess what they picked him up for this afternoon?”
Tim: Yes. He is in fact watching Dinah be knocked out, over and over. What isn’t quite clear is why, at least not at first. To the naked eye I’m merely watching Black Canary being humiliated. To someone that might be able to see the angles though? I’m taking in so many other things. Watching the entire thing play out. Listening to what is said, seeing how Dinah reacts. Her impressions, Dick’s fishing expedition. The action is almost superfluous to what I’m actually witnessing.
“Hrm. Yes, he’s in trouble but I’m not entirely sure that Canary is the one he has to worry about,” pointing to the ‘action’ as it replays again. “Escrima Sticks. He’s using them and she doesn’t even question it, because they both understand that she is the superior hand-to-hand combatant. They’re an equalizer. Using them as a weapon was fine, because Canary wanted a challenge. His use of them as technology though, was more or less cheating. He’s opened a door that he might not be able to close, but the problem is… Canary hasn’t stopped yet to ask why did he do that?”
“Right now? I think she believes he did it to get one over on her, but that’s the emotion thinking. He said it was time for him to train her in something. Then he cheated. He wanted Canary to start thinking this way. He wants her thinking that someone is going to cheat, not play by our normal rules. One she realizes what Nightwing was trying to ‘train’ her, I fear that everyone is going to need that sick note.”
Metropolis, Gotham, the Twin Cities of Central and Star. The Batman was always aware of the goings on in the world, because you never knew what might play in to something that would work it’s way down to Gotham. Despite how I’m dressed, I’m not the Batman. I wasn’t supposed to be the Batman. I’ve had my focus on the world beyond Gotham since I was fourteen. Then Bruce sent me away, out in to the world to ‘make nice’ with people of extraordinary abilities. As Batman, right now, I’m not nearly as focused on Gotham as I should. How can I be, when the things on these monitors is so important to the Country or even the World?
A shake of the head has me re-focusing. Bringing myself out of those thoughts and back to the here and now. The weight of it all presses on me. As does the certain knowledge that I should be there. Helping Cassie, Wally and Freddy, but I can’t be because I’ve got to help my actual Family, here in Gotham. Ugh. Tripping on my cape, thwacking my head with the Batmobile. Those are things that should tell me this ‘Job’ isn’t right for me, but they don’t. Because someone has to be Batman. What tells me that I’m doing the wrong thing right now? Is that I’m standing here doing nothing, while the people I’m counting on to save the world? Need my help.
“You realize that it’s less humorous when there’s a high statistical probability that you’re actually telling the truth and cheating? It has taken you a month to read a single instruction manual, but you scored good on a Math Test?” The imperious tone is matched by a down the nose look, which only breaks slightly as I cluck my tongue and another little motion of pointing to a specific windowed monitor screen. “Relax, I’m teasing you. I know you don’t cheat. I’ve been watching you too.”
“Guessing is what people do when they don’t have access to the GCPD databases, due to a working relationship with the Commissioner. So you can either tell me or I can find the answer.” Taking a small breathe, with a long, loud exhale. Centering myself and releasing the tension that was about to consume me. “I didn’t mean to be so short, sorry. There is a lot going on and I’m feeling the weight of the Cowl a little more acutely than normal.”
STeph: So, I understand what he’s telling me. It’s English, after all, which isn’t my best subject but still. Parts of it are connecting dots, like why Dinah went down convulsing even though I couldn’t see Nightwing tasering her or anything. Built into the sticks. Note to Steph: Don’t handle the man’s stick. Ahem. I’m also pretty sure she’d roundhouse kick him, Batman or not, if she caught him watching this over, and over and … that’s probably why it’s happening now and not when she could potentially walk in on him like some naughty boy doing something he shouldn’t be. While Mom’s away…. I can’t say if he’s right about what Canary thinks or not, because for someone who’s so seemingly open, she doesn’t actually give away a whole lot. And I don’t see her discussing this particular event with me.
I just see me getting my ass beat even harder, since someone thought she wasn’t prepped for someone cheating.
“Uh, yeah. Maybe send her on some kind of relaxation retreat for a week or… I dunno. That looks like therapy going on right there.”
Jabbing a finger at the screen that shows what I assume is current Canary, and I wince over what’s about to happen to her opponent right before it does happen, because I saw this move the other day. Only this time I’m seeing a demonstration of what happens when she’s not playing nice with the scrub she’s trying to teach how to not die.
“…you guys have issues up in here. Just saying.”
And I know about issues. An assessment I’d probably redouble if I knew his inner monologue right now, but I’m instead left with just my own and picking up on the tension which has zero to do with me. I guess it could just be general Batman tension. He’s kind of an intense figure. Even when whacking his head on the Batmobile. Right now I can only guess how many things are going through his head, and I’m pretty sure most of them are probably more important than what my Dad’s up to, even if it is big for him. I mean. Look at the Metropolis museum right now… which I’m doing while I harumph at him for the tease.
“Maybe next time you should write your manuals with people who don’t have triple degrees in… engineering and mechanics and who knows what else in mind. Run it through a focus group first. I’m a doer. Not a reader. Also that’s creepy.”
And I kind of figured otherwise the timing was a little too coincidental earlier. And a little too during the day. Now he’s taking all the fun out of my discovery, which earns a sigh out of me, and that may have also been an eyeroll. Though. Really. I was just looking at that other screen. Way over there. I hear him doing it, too. The sighing. I mean, there may have been an eyeroll too but I wasn’t looking. There’s just a little less jaggedy energy coming off of him than there was a second ago. I’m actually pretty surprised by the apology. Double surprised since he’s apologizing to me. No. Stephanie. Don’t look around like he might be talking to someone else…
“Maybe if you shorten those ears up it’ll help. Anyway.”
Maybe not the time for jokes, but I don’t know what else to do with that right now. He’s got to be under a lot of pressure though, I mean. He didn’t look that old and no I did not facebook stalk Timothy Wayne. I really didn’t. Yet.
“Expired license tabs. I’m pretty sure you can get away with most things short of murder in that neighborhood. They actually brought Drury Walker in, in cuffs, for expired stickers. Which seems a bit extreme, but also secondary. I recognize him. He was at my Dad’s place.”
Tim: We have issues up in here? Why hello Mr. Pot, meet Ms. Kettle. Though you’d never know from the impassive look upon my face that I was even thinking such a thing. One mustn’t disagree with that assessment. We do have issues. Plural. Maybe even second, third or fourth editions of those issues to boot. Leaving me to also wonder if there’s any value to this sort of collection, because we’ve likely cornered the market on it. I’m not entirely certain that Stephanie means this as on the nose as she says it, but given her budding reputation?
A relaxation retreat? That one is enough to get a little smirk out of me. If I booked her for something like that, I’d book Stephanie to be the one to tell her. Because I sure as shit am not going to be the guy delivering that news. Not only would it be wasted money, but there’s also a level of insult that is implied to that which Canary would not pass over. She’s hone in on it and eventually make you pay. Dramatically. One way or the other. She’s good at doing things like that, which is why I typically devote a significant amount of forethought to staying off the ‘Piss off Canary’ radar.
“Whoah. Shots fired. You want me to dumb down the user manual? I’m pretty sure there’s a few people who venture in to my lair here, who would say I need to pick a higher quality bearer for the suits.” Giving her a little pointed look, as I’m almost but not quite firing back on her. “When I gave you the new costume, I believed you could handle learning how to use it. I felt the same way about introducing you to Dinah. So far you haven’t let me down. Though you’re working on making my six month plan in to a six year plan.”
The information she offers is curious. It is also curious as to how she came by this information without access to the GCPD records. This young girl is resourceful. I’ve been impressed the entire time, but she never ceases to make it more so. This information does mean that our ‘Mark’ is in custody. Easy to access. Easier to do it without anyone knowing too. Working at my gauntlet for a moment, I start to call up all the information on Mr. Drury that the GCPD does have on him. Where he’s being held. Who he’s being held with.
While the computer works to retrieve that information I spare another glance at the Monitors with Metropolis all pulled up. “We can pay Mr. Drury a visit. Has Canary started teaching you interrogation tactics 101 yet?”
Steph: “Unless there’s a whole lot more people ‘venturing’ in here than I’ve seen..” Yeah, finger quotes. What of it? I’m pretty sure one does not just venture into the Batcave. “… that’s a pretty small potential group. And I’m pretty sure if one of them was Dinah I would have been told straight to my face. Right before she punched me in it.”
I don’t know for sure how many are in this whole Batfam, though. You live in Gotham, you get passingly familiar with the regulars but given that I know now this isn’t the original Batman, and that it’s the former Red Robin wearing it I can’t say for sure how many different times there’s been a hand-me-down situation going on. I just see who’s here when I’m here. Or what I just saw there on that security monitor, played over and over and over…God. I hope they don’t watch my blooper reel like that.
“Six month plan for…what exactly? If you told me that two weeks ago I don’t think I would actually have believed you.”
Because it seemed to be pretty clear at the time that I was given the suit on the off chance that it would keep me from dying in the near immediate future. Tim as Red Robin wasn’t exactly encouraging. Begrudging would be the better one. Like, fine if I have to do this I will but I’m going to be grumpyface about it the whole time. Also I’m going to have my lady friend kick your ass in the hopes that maybe you’ll give up. Then there’s been Tim as Batman who’s actually been…basically the total opposite in pretty much every way. I mean. Pep talks. Actually taking me along on mission stuff. I’m still hedging my bets on which one’s more what he actually thinks about me.
Clearly though, him not believing in me back then or not hadn’t actually stopped me. It wasn’t going to, either, because another handy trait us Narrows kids pick up is self-sufficiency. Especially if your parents are useless. As for how I came by the information about Drury Walker, it’s in this case a whole lot more dumb luck/right place, right time than it was any stroke of great detective chops. Kind of like how I stumbled on this entire thing in the first place. I went to the station to report my phone cause y’know…what did it hurt? And I saw him. Recognized him. I suppose I could take kudos for resourcefulness when it came to the photocopy of the intake papers I’d ‘procured’, but given that I apparently didn’t even bring them? Not going to brag about that.
I also don’t miss where he keeps actually looking.
“Unless she interrogates someone by repeatedly punching them… noooo, I don’t think so. Is. That something you need to go…I dunno. Handle? Not Walker. That. I mean. I can go…” Do what exactly Steph, break into the police lockup? “…search his car solo or something.”
Tim: “Six month plan on you being ready to not even need the suit,” comes the answer without a hint of hesitation. “Stephanie, the costume and the things that come with it? They’re props. Tools. I want you to be able to use them, of course, but when I invited you here? I did so with the intentions of either you washing out or getting good enough to not need better gear in the first place.”
“You seem to not really get it. Why you’re here, I mean. I understand that, too. Not like anyone has been extremely informative with you. That’s part of why we had the discussion we did earlier. You’ve been asked for an awful lot and in return admittedly you’ve gotten a three quarter of a million dollar costume and technology. But other than that all you’ve gotten is verbal and mental abuse. Which you could get from your Father. I’ve been hoping that you understood why, but I suppose I shouldn’t just blindly hope you realize that at first I needed to see if you were serious. Then I needed to know if you could handle doing this. Not to mention there was also some question of whether you were part of an elaborate ruse of your Father’s.”
“The long and the short of it is that -I- was testing you. Not for skill but for other things. Skill can be gained. Heart and Soul can not. I’ve been working on a six month plan to have you ready, but that was before I realized what you’d stumbled on to. Now we’re working off of more like a ‘Oh, shit, let’s go do this’ game-plan.” Finally turning away from the monitor that’s had my attention so much and giving it entirely to her. “Two weeks ago, I didn’t believe you. So I can hardly blame you for what you’re saying.”
The wince comes because I don’t like that she was able to read me. To see that I’m intent upon what is happening in Metropolis. Or rather, what isn’t happening. Wonder Woman, Flash and Semi-Shazam should be out in the streets kicking Isis’ ass. But they’re seemingly AWOL. I don’t like this at all. Once more though, I’m smart enough to recognize that I’m legitimately incapable of assisting them right this second. The person I can help is standing right next to me.
“Canary’s interrogation tactics are scarier than her fighting. One minute she’s seducing you. The next minute she’s crushing your soul. And then comes the laughter, to let you know what a sad sack you are.” Reaching over first to key off the monitors, then to take hold carefully of her shoulder in order to turn her towards the Batmobile. “How about as a reward for finding Drury, you drive this time.”
“See? Like this. Soul crushingly terrible laughter.. hahahaa… Like I’d let you drive. You can barely see over the steering wheel, Robin.”
Steph: “Ouch. I mean. Unless it takes me six years to try every single one of the functions twice it shouldn’t be that long…”
And I’m picking it up a lot faster now that I know it’s all built into the onboard computer. If he’d made a youtube tutorial it would be even faster. I’ve always been a lot better at figuring things out every way except by written instructions. Whether that’s a demo I can watch, or some trial and error. The latter is a bit hit and miss when your clothes can taser you. Also. Why the hell would I ever need shark repellent? Now that’s a burning question I haven’t asked, because I’m half convinced it’s some sort of joke.
“Props and tools that all of you guys use, though. Well. Not Canary. And I’m pretty sure if she thought the cold was worth the advantage she’d go like. Withoutcompletely.”
There’s a bit of a strangled sound at the price tag because I don’t think that he’s joking, actually. Or maybe it wasn’t a ‘bit’ and was a completely clear ‘hurrk!’ sound in my throat. It’d almost be enough to make a girl not want to wear the thing anymore, but can’t put a price tag on your life…yadayada… and since he’s got multiple suits of his own, on top of the other ones here in the Cave? I guess he can probably afford it.
“Welp. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t need you to believe me. Aaaaaaand that came out a lot snarkier than I actually meant it to for once. Because don’t get me wrong, it’s great that someone does.”
Someone else’s belief just was an absolute non-factor in whether or not I was going to continue to pursue thwarting my stupid Dad and his stupid plans. I could try and seize on what he said about the verbal and mental abuse, and turn it into some kind of guilt trip but that’s not exactly my style. It would also require talking about all the many and varied reasons why I absolutely hate the man. I guess I can even see why he might have thought I was in on the whole thing from an outside perspective but if he knew me, he’d know there’s just absolutely positively zero way. Like. Less than a snowball’s chance in Hell on an extra hot hellish day. But he didn’t. Know me that is. Knowing all about someone or something on paper doesn’t really help you with the things that matter.
He either doesn’t want to talk about Metropolis, or why he’s so absorbed in it, or it’s not a pressing concern right now. As he turns my by my shoulder, my head kind of swivels on the pivot of my neck as I look at him over my face mask like he’s lost his batbrains. Really? Is he serious right now? I barely got my learner’s permit that long ago, and I don’t think he’s entirely old enough to count as my ‘adult’. But. Who’s gonna question Batman and what he does in his fancy Batmobile, right? Blue eyes narrow at him with a huff.
“…ugh. Not every learning experience has to be traumatic you know. Seriously. Issues. And it’s Spoiler.”
Tim: “Heh. It’s funny, I used to say that too. Even though I did want someone to believe me. Believe -in- me. I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep believing in myself, when no one else believed in me. My birth parents kept telling me to give up my efforts to become a Super Hero. I was eight at the time. Then I wanted Bruce to believe in me, but he kept telling me to give it up too. Eventually, even though I kept saying I didn’t need anyone to believe me.”
We’re not the same type of people though. She’s doing this all for different reasons than I ever had. I was trying to do something with my intellect. If I’d been born fifty years earlier they would have called me a code-breaker. Enlisted me in the military. Treated it like a super power. I can see the patterns. See them in everything. What Bruce had to learn, over the course of his entire teenage years, I had a gift for. Deductive Reasoning. Also known as the Sherlock Holmes syndrome, for those who follow the path in to criminology. But for me? That was a bit to restrictive. I want to see the pattern in everything. The big picture, not some small window frame.
The way I shrug, even as the big bad Batman, is meant to give her an out. “Don’t apologize that time. Everyone is different. I never needed validation, but I desperately needed someone to believe in me. To tell me that I wasn’t crazy.”
“Rule Numero Uno. Batman’s Sidekick? Is Robin. Even if he or she doesn’t like it. You’re just going to get frustrated fighting it. No one is going to accept Spoiler right now, but if you give it time and don’t let on that you’re bothered by it? Eventually you’ll earn everyone else’s respect. Then you’ll be Spoiler.” That same hand upon her shoulder gives an encouraging squeeze. “You may not need anyone to believe you, Steph, but you do need people to buy in to you. Until you’ve earned their respect? You’re just … Batman’s Sidekick. Robin.”
“Not every learning experience has to be traumatic? Wait. Are you serious? Damn. Someone should have told me. I’m going to give my Agent a call. Just as soon as we’re done breaking in to a Police Impound Lot and maybe interrogating a lifer.”
Steph: “I don’t know. I kind of just opened with knowing I was bananas for putting on drama department…and I use that term real loosely… and sporting goods store bargain bin finds and going out my window at night. Gotham is crazy. I’m pretty sure most of the sane weirdos move away first chance they get.”
My perspective is a little different though, I guess. Not only because of why I started doing this, but because of where I started from. I don’t know why that NIghtwing dude, or Canary or even Batman started. Kind of iffy on Arsenal’s motivations, too, other than he and Dinah clearly knew each other already and he’s apparently got a kid (…which actually makes me kind of pissy, but not the current subject…). Timothy Wayne apparently wanted to be a superhero. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than me just wanted to futz with my Dad. Possibly more honorable. Probably more crazy. I grew up watching the other side of the hero curtains from the ‘privacy’ of my own living room. That kind of skews everything from there forward, I think.
“…no, then I’ll probably be Purple Robin. Which isn’t even the right color. Because this is definitely more eggplant…”
That was partly to myself. But partly not. Given that he apparently graduated from ‘Robin’ by tacking a color word onto it, and then up to Batman Level. I can already see it, if I let this go. I’m Spoiler! No, no you’re that Robin guy. I’m not a guy. All the Robins are guys. It’s a thing. Sigh. Not totally sure how I feel about this ‘sidekick’ thing, either. I mean. How long’s that going to last? Until we bust my Dad? I’m not even sure I want to go or not after that but.. guess we’ll see when we get to that door. For now though, I just start moving towards that fancyass car of his. Which he’s not letting me drive.
“Oh, I’m always serious Batman. Dibs on shotgun.”
Like that wasn’t the seat I’m relegated to by not being the driver.
Tim: “Excellent. You’re the Eggplant Robin. Kudos on you for putting your own spin on it.”
Oh, she thinks that just because I’ve let her know who I am, that she is free from the dry sarcasm of the Batman? Not happening. I take what she said, try it on literally and now? Now she gets to wear what she started. Unlike her, people are going to listen to me and apply that. “I know you’re trying to be funny, but I once had this same discussion with Bruce. When he agreed to teach me, he told me the same things. That I could go out there and call myself anything I wanted, but if I was going out there with him? I’d be seen as the next Robin. So he told me to take ownership of it, put a twist on it.”
“I was never ‘Robin,’ so I took the things I liked about those who came before me. Then added my own flavor to it.” She’s moving towards the Batmobile, but before she gets quite there she’ll have to pass by the cases. This isn’t the actual BatCave, so she’s not going to see the numerous ones like under the Manor, because the only suits on display here are ones I’ve built recently or ones in actual use. The various versions of my own personal costume are there though. “The point is. As long as you’re going out there with me, while I’m the Batman? You’re going to be seen as Robin. If you don’t take ownership of it, it’s going to take ownership of you. You’re going to spend so much time railing against it, it’ll become a distraction for you. Instead of being a distraction for them.”
“That’s important, Stephanie. Even if you think I’m just maneuvering you. You have to take stock of this. Canary’s costume, if you can call it that, is all about directing the eyes away from the fact that she’s one of the top ten best fighters in the world. The Bat-suit is all about having the advantage of scaring the hell out of the cowardly criminal lot before I even throw a punch. You’re new. Unproven. They’re going to see you with Batman and either you’re going to own what that makes you or they’re going to tease you. If they’re teasing you, then they’re not respecting or afraid of you. So now you’re the one behind the eight ball, instead of them.”
By the time we’re both to the Batmobile, I’ve said my piece on this topic. It’s here choice ultimately. Freed then to focus on what we’re doing, this time there’s no stumble getting in to the car. No bobble of the elongated horns getting caught in the roof mechanism. I’m still not comfortable being the Batman, but each time I make a mistake I’ve dedicated myself to learning from it. I think that’s my only hope. That and hopefully not making a mistake that I won’t get the chance to learn from.
Next stop? Police impound.
“What did you <i>want</i> to call yourself?”
I may have stuck my tongue out at Batman. What good’s a mask that covers the lower half of your face, if not for disguising things like that? Or. You know. Actually hiding the most identifiable parts of your <i>face</i>. Something I would say these guys all need lessons about but clearly it’s worked for them up until now. And to be fair, I hadn’t noticed that Batman <i>was</i> the same guy. This cowl of his is shaped different. His voice is clearly modulated by something in there. I’m also not going to continue to <i>argue</i> with <i>him</i> about it, because… clearly he’s ready for it. Maybe I won’t really have any conversations with anyone outside of <i>here</i> about it either. Not like I introduce myself to the bad guys. The suits are awesome to look at though, even if they’re not nearly as cool hanging up there as they are when they’re in use.
In the cases, they’re just clothes. Clothes that cost more each than probably the entire gross income of a six block radius around my apartment. And there’s a <i>lot</i> of people in those apartments. I guess it doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me. I’ve been called <i>a lot</i> of things so far in my lifetime and a lot of them weren’t super great. Just so long as they don’t try to make me put on the red and green. I’m not trying to look like a Christmas Elf out here. And hey, both of us are clearly getting better at this whole entering the vehicle thing. I’ve got nothing to razz him about, a little bit to my dismay. I’ll have to settle for my private face making victory.