Author's Note: This an AU inspired by Eventidespirit (I'm beginning to think she inspires me all the time. She's the reason I came up with Darkfire after all) This is probably going to be too long to include in the contest she set up, but it needs writing. Maybe I'll be able to make a side-story from it that I could enter into the contest. :crosses fingers: Here's hoping!
To my readers of Path to Tamaran, don't worry. I'm writing that as you're reading this. I just had to get this one out. It was desperately trying to get out of the hard drive and—well, I had to let it out before it began to stink.
Genre: Alternative Universe – Space Age
Rating: R – For swearing and adult situations.
Summary: Space Cargo Guarding was getting old for Robin. He loved space, but surely there were better things to look forward to than getting to the other side of the stargate. Man-oh-man, was he right...
Standard disclaimers apply.
THE MIGHTY TITAN
When Robin met Starfire, he was admiring the Vegan Sun.
It was an amazing ball of fire and gas, like an ongoing explosion that would last millennia. It bounced off the surface of the ship's mercury-sheen wing and played its reflection like visual notes against the quiet vacuum of space. The bolts holding the sheets of metal outside the ship were sculpted into prism-like knots, sending an array of colors when the beams of Vega hit the surface of shining steel.
Robin pressed his face against the tinted glass surface of the window and watched the brilliant display of rainbows. It was beautiful, especially with the lights in the room off. He pulled his eyes from the magnificence of the central star and let his eyes roam to the walls of the mess-hall. Dark as it was, the lights played on the walls like psychedelic water. He pulled out his palm-sized digital image processor and snapped pictures, printing them seconds later from the little slot at the side of the device. He gathered the images and put them in the pocket of his jump-suit so he could stick them in his scrap-book later.
He looked out to the darkness of the universe, his eyes darting from the void, to the distant sun, to the far planets surrounding it, to the room in which he sat, and he thought, with pure fascination, that the last fifteen months traveling with his Godfather had shown him wonders he never dared imagine before, confined beneath the glass bubble of Earth's satellite, Luna.
Before, protected from the harsh rays of Sol, the Earth's sun, his entire universe was the world he grew up in. He had considered Luna a land of fantasy, where his neighbor was a world famous clown; where the house across the street boarded a troupe of reputed ballet dancers; where at the other side of town there lived a painter who captured visions on his canvass so stupendously that one felt like he could walk right into the picture. Luna encouraged a bohemian lifestyle that was tempered by real, livable homes, lively little shops and elementary schools, and he lived there all his life with his acrobat-performer parents.
His parents had been well-liked in Luna society. They were part of a large troupe that danced and turned flips in the air using colorful scarves, shiny metal rings and even fire. It was a spectacular act, combining physicality and grace. At a very young age, Robin, as his mother had called him in lieu of the grown-up-boy name Richard, had a passion for suspended animation and dynamic. He wanted to fly as high as his parents; use hoops and juggling sticks as adeptly as they did; put on the strangely horrifying masks that changed who they were for the performance. His enthusiasm was not ignored. So soon after he expressed an interest in his parents' craft, his tutoring on the art began, and at six, he played small, but stunning parts in their acrobatic skits. He was brilliant, and at so young an age, everyone already knew that he would follow on his parents' footsteps.
But tragedy struck and he was suddenly without them.
Faulty equipment, the technician had explained.
"They were too high up," said someone he couldn't even remember. "Died on impact," said another. He didn't want to know how or why, all he knew was that he had lost them both, doing what they loved to do, and that fact had not comforted him at all.
They were gone and eight year old Robin found himself in the care of a Godfather he had never met; a man who introduced himself as Bruce and wore a mask because he had many enemies, though he claimed that his work was honorable. He learned that his Godfather had quite a few names: the Dark Knight, the Batman… Robin thought it was ridiculous. He sounded like a cheesy circus act, and Robin didn't do cheesy.
His godfather said he could not be left in Luna; that he had to travel in the far reaches of space so that he could be properly taken cared of, and while at first Robin had kicked and screamed—insisted that he wanted to go back to the empty house where he used to live with his parentsspace was too vast to ignore from within the confines of his Godfather's ship.
The day Robin first saw a nebula—that stirring gas of color floating and pulsing in the void, its lightshow flashing against the window of his chamber, he forgot what pain was in the face of one of space's most breathtaking shows. He sat for hours looking out from the window of his room, mesmerized by the vision. It would not be the last nebula he saw, and it was not the only phenomenon in space that would hold him spellbound.
As much as Luna had been home, as much as space had once been nothing but an empty expanse in his mind's eye, his heart was convincingly won by the final frontier.
Fifteen months gone past and he was gaping and gasping at the same sights, but he never tired of them. Each nebula; each super nova; each star seemed as new to him as the first day he set eyes on one. The ringed planets were his favorite. For him, Saturn had been a vision befitting the gods. It had 33 moons and he knew the name of every single one of them. He knew many things pertaining to space, now. After all, fifteen months inside his Godfather's grand ship The Mighty Gotham left him little to do except raid its library and computer database.
Now, as he stared at Vega, approximately twenty six light years away from the Solar System, he knew that traveling two weeks through the monotonous, speed-of-light wormhole of the Sol-Vega stargate was worth it.
Robin was startled by the strange voice that had invaded his solace. Frowning, he turned on his seat and came face to face with a strange little girl.
She had red hair, long and neatly combed. Her skin was tinged with gold and her eyes were green from pupil to cornea. She was in a purple dress that went down to her feet. She wore something on her head, like an ornament.
Crown. His frown deepened. This was one of his godfather's latest assignments.
His godfather had explained it to him in his brief, impassionate way. "We're going to Tamaran. We've royalty to pick up and escort to Charta. If we get them to Charta safely, everyone's happy."
Robin had looked at his godfather's masked face. The tiny, bat-like ears still as much of a mystery to Robin as the first day he saw them. "Royalty? As in—kings and queens?"
"Grand Ruler, actually," said Bruce. "He'll have his wife and children with him, along with a bunch of his staff and entourage. It'll be a pretty full house in the next couple of months."
Robin had not been particularly pleased. Bruce had transported human cargo before, and they were always annoying adults who had no respect for a eight year old boy. It never mattered to them that he was going on nine. They always shooed him out of the room, told him to go play somewhere else; as if he would be a nuisance. As if he played.
The prospect of more strangers had not sat well with him and he asked his next question. "Do I have to be polite to them?"
Bruce had kept on adjusting the knobs on the control panel but he replied. "Just stay out of their way and we'll all be fine. Alfred will see to them so you don't have to do anything."
Robin had disliked Bruce's dismissive tone, but he said nothing. He didn't want to prolong the discussion.
He had hoped that he would be spared of these royal "guests", consciously avoiding them since theyboarded twenty four hours ago. So it annoyed him that this little girl; probably one of the royal brats; had invaded his alone time.
He could see through the darkness that she was smiling. She was her own little ray of sunshine. He wanted to tell her to go away, but he remembered Bruce's words: Just stay out of their way.
Robin ignored her and turned his attention back to Vega.
"Is it not pretty?"
Much to his chagrin, he realized that she wasn't going away. Even worse, she wanted to keep talking.
He gave a grunt as a reply, hoping that it would discourage her from at least pursuing conversation with him. It didn't.
"My name is Koriand'r, but everyone calls me Starfire. I am—"
"A princess, I know." He wanted her to be offended. Maybe she'd go away if she took umbrage. He considered telling her that Starfire was a silly name. Who was called Starfire, anyway? But then he remembered that he called himself Robin. He decided not to make fun of her name.
So far, so good, he thought, sparing her a glance.
"I was going to say that I am glad to find a child here my age—"
He cut her off again. "I'm not a child."
"Yes you are. You are as little as me."
That was a particularly biting thing to say. He knew he was small for a boy of nine (just turned; two months ago by mark of the electronic Lunar calendar) but she did not have to call him little. "I'm bigger than you. I don't play with seven year olds. In fact, I don't play, period."
Her frown deepened but it didn't look like she was going anywhere. "I am eight and you are mean!" As if her being eight had anything to do with his being mean.
Robin had no time to cater to a royal brat's tantrums. Another planet was coming into view and it was lovely beyond belief. It was pink and lavender with visible continents of red. He stared at it in awe, never minding the little girl beside him. He would have to scour the library later so he could know more about this new planet.
"That is Karna."
He ran a hand through his short black hair, irritated. He was one interruption away from telling her outright to go away. "What?"
"That is Karna." She stepped closer to the glass and pressed her hand to it, as if to take the planet in her grip.
His mind told him to drive her away, but his curiosity was piqued; so instead of telling her to buzz off, he said, "I knew that," even if he didn't.
The girl who called herself Starfire flashed him a smile, any trace of her earlier opinion of him gone. "At the bottom of it is the continent of Gordane. The Gordanians are frightening, but the felines of Karnan and the sea-dwelling Ssilithiss are glorious."
Robin stubbornly refused to respond at first, but after a prolonged silence, he muttered a question. "There are three intelligent life-forms in one planet?"
Her smile widened. "Oh, yes! I have met one from each species and they were actually quite nice, even the Gordanian."
He found himself less irritated with her as he began to ask more questions. She knew a lot about the Vegan star system and she had a flair for describing how things looked. Robin listened, almost in rapture, as she described the rocky, spiked world of Changralyn situated at the other side of the system, farthest from Tamaran.
"Changralyn is made-up entirely of rock. It has crags, like rock towers coming out of its atmosphere so it looks like a ball with spikes. They call the crags monoliths and they are really sturdy. My k'norfka said they never fall over, but sometimes it rains pebbles because the weather from above scraps off bits and pieces from the monoliths and I think that is worse. What if a big pebble hits you? That must be quite painful."
Robin nodded in agreement. Further into the discussion, she began asking him questions about the planets he had seen in his travels and he gave answers with growing enthusiasm, forgetting entirely that he had wanted to be left alone in the first place.
It wasn't long before he was showing her his hand-held digital image processor and snapping pictures through the window under her direction. They poured over the results, shoulder to shoulder. She wasn't afraid to give her opinion or offer suggestions, and he wasn't adverse to her critique. He was surprised that he liked this royal brat's company.
They lost track of time, and before long, Alfred appeared at the door of the mess hall to head for the kitchen.
Robin grew pensive. The grown ups were astir and soon, they would probably get shooed out of the mess hall. He preferred it if he and Starfire weren't so rudely interrupted.
He looked at the Vegan Sun, beautiful; stunning. By morning, it would be gone; left behind when they slipped into warp speed sometime during the night and then through the Vega-Charta stargate. But missing the sight of it for the rest of the evening did not seem so bad if he were to spend the next few hours with Starfire. Strangely enough, Starfire seemed much more interesting right now.
He looked at the image processor in his hand. Besides, I already took pictures.
Starfire looked at him questioningly when he made no response to what she had just said.
"Let's go to the library," he suggested. When he said it, it suddenly seemed like a brilliant idea. Without waiting for her to agree, he took her hand and pulled her to her feet.
The surprised little princess said nothing. Perhaps she found no reason to object.
Before they left the mess hall, Robin took one last look at the Vegan sun over his shoulder. It was a vision he would remember forever. His gaze moved to the little girl staring up at him with her strange green eyes.
Smiling a bit, he turned his back on the Vegan sun a final time and led Starfire out of the room.
Starfire stifled a giggle and Robin widened his eyes at her, as if to scold her for making a sound. He was trying not to smile as he did it, but he supposed it was difficult keeping a straight face for what they were about to do.
They rose from behind the couch, getting a glimpse of the slumbering giant that barely fit in it. He was snoring so loudly that its sound reverberated through the library walls.
The giant's name was Galfore, and he was Starfire's k'norfka. When Robin first saw him, all he could see was a mass of sparkling copper-colored hair atop a widely built thing. The taint of his hair was a deeper, richer shade than Starfire's auburn locks, and it made Galfore look like he was constantly on fire, which was actually quite frightening. He looked gruff and massive, like he could step on Robin and squash him.
Starfire had then introduced him. She took Robin by the hand and dragged him towards the hulking k'norfka. "Galfore, this is my friend, Robin. Robin, this is my k'norfka, Galfore."
It was only later that Robin found out exactly what a k'norfka was, but at the time, he was equating it with "bodyguard" or "hand-warrior" or maybe even "bear familiar". He had heard about an alien race who kept bears handy to protect them. Certainly, Galfore fit the description.
Robin had stared up at Galfore, half-fascinated-half-terrified, especially when Galfore leaned over to eye him critically.
Galfore spoke, and to Robin, in sounded nothing short of a roar. "And will you be a good friend to our dear Starfire, hmm, little one?"
Robin hadn't had the balls to tell the giant he wasn't little. At that moment, Robin thought everyone was little compared to Galfore. Robin wasn't even able to speak his reply. He had merely nodded; several times, in fact, as if to say, "Yes. Yes! I promise to be a very good friend! Just please, don't hurt me."
So when after that, Galfore swept him into a bear hug, Robin thought he was going to die. His short, nine-year-old life flashed before his very eyes and he wondered why he even left Luna.
When Galfore released him and started giving both him and Starfire some Tamaranian candy, which looked somewhat unsavory and squirmy, Robin could only look at Galfore in awe. Robin, of course, had eaten the candy and borne its grossly squishy texture in his mouth, just because he didn't want to offend the giant that was Starfire's k'norfka.
That was their first meeting. In the next month, being with him almost every day—for Starfire loved her nannyto distraction—he had spent all the fear he had for the man and had conspired with Starfire to play tricks on him, particularly when he was asleep.
Starfire raised the freggle's feather (a type of alien marsupial that oddly kept feather-like hairs on its body) to show that she was ready. She rose gracefully into the air above him, and Robin had to marvel at such an ability. Before he met Starfire, flying meant manning an aircraft or a spaceship; it meant doing leaps and twists high above the air with cables and suspended trapeze swings. Birds and bats flew because they had wings. He had never, in his life, thought a person could fly out of sheer force of will. For Tamaranians to do it so casually, like they were walking was, for him, a wonder.
Pushing back his admiration, he focused on the matter at hand. Robin grinned in anticipation, holding up the can of whipped cream.
Carefully, he sprayed some on Galfore's upturned palm. Seeing a satisfyingly effervescent mass, Starfire used the feather to tickle Galfore's nostrils.
Galfore snorted, slapping his hand to his face to get rid of the itch. His cheek and some of his mouth was promptly smeared with whipped cream.
Robin and Starfire smothered their laughter. They conspired to do it again and it worked as well as it did the first time. They were about to do it a third time, just to see if they could get away with it again when a voice behind them startled them out of their game.
"Just what are you two brats doing?"
Robin whipped around and Starfire lowered her feet to the ground, hiding their paraphernalia behind them. Like magic, the mischievous smiles on their faces were replaced by innocent, wide-eyed stares.
It was Kommand'r, or Blackfire—as Galfore had taken to calling her. Blackfire was Starfire's older sister. Violet haired and purpled eyed, Blackfire was about as different from Starfire in personality as she was in looks. Blackfire was haughty and sophisticated; was more prone to sneer than to smile. She would look at Robin with utter disdain then look past her little sister, like Starfire wasn't there at all.
Robin didn't like Blackfire in the least, and he especially hated it that her disregard for Starfire affected Starfire so much. Whenever Blackfire said something to disparage her little sister, Starfire would do nothing but accept it; even believe it, and she would apologize for being so unworthy.
Right now, Starfire's look of innocence was slowly crumbling into guilt and shame.
Robin immediately took over. "We're not doing anything." Which was, of course, the worse thing to say. He shot Blackfire a glare. The girl never went to the library. This was, in fact, the first time he'd seen her there. How very convenient that it had to be when they were playing a little prank, however harmless the prank was.
Blackfire raised an eyebrow, a sneer creeping up her face. "Starfire?"
Of course, Starfire was never good at handling her sister. "We are merely—we are not hurting anyone… it just seemed so funny…"
Blackfire pushed past Starfire and looked at the couch. She stared at Galfore's smeared and sleeping face without expression, then her eyes began to glow violet. It was the first time Robin had seen her eyes that way and for a slight instant, he was actually alarmed.
Galfore practically convulsed on the couch, scrambling to get up as he fought sleep valiantly. He got to his feet and stood at attention. "Yes, sir, I am ready for battl—" He did a double take. "Blackfire?"
Her eyes glowed fiercer and it was as if Galfore remembered his place.
"I mean…Your Highness! I—"
Blackfire continued to look menacing. "What is the meaning of this? Sleeping on the job while the princess parades herself all over the ship, unprotected? What kind of k'norfka are you? And look what they've done to you! These children are mocking you, Galfore! How do you expect them to respect you in this state?" She used a finger to wipe a glob of whipped cream from off Galfore's face so she could show it to him. At Blackfire's demeaning tone, he began to look shamefaced, but she wasn't through. "When father took you as Princess Koriand'r's k'norfka he expected that you would teach her some manners and discipline, apart from your duties of protecting her. It seems to me that you've done none of those things. You're a disgrace, Galfore. Why shouldn't I report all of this to my Grand Ruler?"
Starfire gasped. If anything could overcome her fear of Blackfire, it was her love for Galfore. She stepped forward imploringly. "Oh, please, sister, do not say such things to father! It is my fault. I am the one that should be punished. I am the one who—"
"Be quiet!" A prickly smirk, in the guise of a tender smile, graced Blackfire's lips. She reached out and placed a hand on Starfire's head. "You are eight, Koriand'r. You do not know any better. You are Galfore's responsibility and he is not coming up to par. It was all good and well that Galfore was nice and fluffy when you were much younger, but even if you are still yet a child, you will not be eight forever. Soon, you will have responsibilities of your own, and you must be prepared for them. I may be the crown princess, but I'd eventually expect the valuable support of my sister to help me run father's kingdom. I do not wish for my sister to be a foolish little prankster, and I am beginning to think that Galfore is not good for you anymore. As the elder and wiser sister, I care for your welfare and the welfare of Tamaran, so I must let the Grand Ruler know that you are not being properly taken cared of."
Starfire had begun to cry halfway through Blackfire's tirade. "N-No! It is not like that! D-Do not send Galfore away! Dear sister, you—"
"It is not my decision whether Galfore stays or goes. I will leave that decision to father," said Blackfire calmly. "Perhaps when you are less impressionable; when you have a properly developed mind of your own, you could get Galfore back, but in the meantime, I would suggest that he begin looking for other employment. He has a month still before we reach Charta, and he won't be made to separate from our party until then. He could use this time to search the database so he could be k'norfka for some other noble child, one who doesn't need as much training as you do. Of course, I am sure father will give Galfore stellar praise to his future employers in spite of this little quirk. Galfore, after all, has succeeded in protecting you all these years. If only for that, he deserves a good word or two. Come, Galfore. We will see father in the recreation room right now."
Galfore had remained stone-faced throughout the entire discussion and he followed Blackfire out of the library with the same, immovable bearing.
Starfire made to bolt. "Gal—"
But Robin held her by the wrist, knowing it would be a futile exercise.
As the door to the recreation chamber closed them in, Starfire turned on Robin fiercely, eyes filled with tears. "I must tell father that it was all my fault! I must—"
"You're a kid, Starfire. Do you think your father's going to listen to you?"
Starfire wrenched her wrist away from Robin but she didn't run. She pressed her fists to her eyes and stamped her foot as she cried. "He has to listen to me. I know Galfore best of all! He has taken care of me since I was born! They cannot just—"
Robin frowned. He had heard Blackfire in conversation with the adults. She spoke like them and they listened to her, even if she was only sixteen. Starfire would not be heard above her elder sister. "Blackfire's an adult. Adults only listen to adults."
Starfire sank to her knees and kept crying. "Oh, this is all my fault, Robin! This is all my fault! How could I have been so silly?"
Robin felt wretched. She had been the one to propose playing a prank on Galfore but he was the one who suggested the whipped cream. Perhaps Blackfire wouldn't have had so much to say if Galfore had at least looked dignified in her presence. "Maybe we could get Bruce to…"
She looked up, and her watery eyes filled with hope. He was suddenly at a loss for words. He knew, even now, that Bruce wasn't going to help them. It wasn't that Bruce was unkind, but his godfather had made it a point—nay, a rule, to keep out of the business of his assignments. He never involved himself, and this situation definitely fell within Bruce's rule.
Robin shook his head apologetically. Starfire started to cry again. He sat himself in front of her, looking dismally at the cursed can of whipped cream in his hand. Sometime during the drama, Starfire had already tossed the freggle feather aside. The whipped cream wasn't looking particularly delightful, either.
He searched through his pockets. He knew he had a handkerchief. Alfred always made sure he had one. He found it and it was impossibly creased, but it didn't matter. It would serve its purpose.Robin shook it free of its folds and gave the handkerchief to Starfire.
She took it, used it to wipe her eyes dry and blow her nose into. Then she handed the handkerchief back.
Robin stared at it a moment. "Er—you could keep it for a while."
Starfire began to cry again and awkwardly, he reached across to pat her shoulder. She began to speak through her tears. "Why is it that I could never do anything right? I do not mind being such a failure when it affects no one, but dear Galfore should not have to suffer for my mistakes. Robin, what if you get in trouble with your godfather as well? What if Blackfire tells father that you are a bad influence to me, and then father would speak to your godfather and it will all be ruined."
He scowled, but he wasn't particularly worried about being told by adults to clear off. If anything like that happened, all they had to do was not be seen together, and he was good at being inconspicuous. "I won't get in trouble. Bruce doesn't pay attention to those kinds of complaints from passengers."
"You have not spoken to my father."
Robin shrugged. "Doesn't matter. It's not like they could stop me from seeing you, or anything." And they couldn't. In the past month, he had liked being in Starfire's company. She was interesting, amicable, intelligent and she was prone to seeking his approval. She made him feel important, something he never got from either Bruce or Alfred or anyone else. The fact that they only had another month to enjoy each other's company soured the fun, much more the prospect that anyone would try to take that month away from them. He wasn't about to let stupid adult rules get in the way of being with someone he liked.
She sniffed. "Really, Robin? You would see me no matter what?"
Her cheeks turned pink. "I am glad." She inched closer to him and smiled at him shyly. He noticed that she did that often and it made him feel uncomfortable. He frowned.
Girls could be so stupid, sometimes.
A minute later, she had stopped crying and Robin was relieved. He stood up and took her by the hand. "Come on. We can listen in on your dad and Blackfire. Maybe Galfore isn't in as much trouble as we thought."
Starfire's brows knotted in worry. "Oh, but if we are caught eavesdropping, it could put us in even more trouble—"
"They won't catch us. Look up there, see that vent? We can go in there and go anywhere in the ship without anyone knowing. Bruce and I crawl in those things all the time when he has to repair something. Let me just get a ladder—"
Starfire lifted him up into the air by his wrist with perfect ease.
He grinned. "Of course this is much easier." Accustomed to doing tricks in the air, he found no trouble working the trap with one hand. He slid the air-vent's cover off and swung into the cavern. Starfire followed and carefully, he reattached the cover. The last thing he wanted was for Bruce to find out he had taken advantage of the vents to do something he wasn't supposed to.
"Blackfire said your dad was in the recreation room," said Robin. "It's this way."
As quietly as he could, he led them through the maze of vents. It was a long journey, and it wasn't all horizontal, either. The recreation room was situated in the higher floors so there were quite a few vertical tubes. Thankfully, Starfire was strong enough to zip up such vents while she carried him. It cut their travel time considerably. Climbing the vent rungs one at a time would have taken forever. As they neared the recreation room, he looked over his shoulder at Starfire and pressed a finger to his lips to signal for absolute silence.
The vent was up ahead and he stopped crawling just beyond the border of light cast on the vent floor. Any closer to the vent-trap and they could be seen through the grooves. He motioned for Starfire to crawl on over to his side and she did. Shoulder to shoulder, they listened to what was being said.
Robin heard the voices and recognized them, but he was miffed to note that they were speaking in Tamaranian. Of course, he couldn't possibly understand what they were saying. He could only tell by the tone that Starfire's father did not sound pleased, and that Galfore did not sound like he was defending himself.
Starfire's eyes widened at something that was said and Robin could tell that she was going to gasp. He clamped a hand on her mouth and he shook his head in warning. It was essential that they stayed absolutely quiet. The trouble with vents was that it amplified sound. So what would have otherwise been a soundless catch of breath could very well sound like a loud hiss.
Blinking, she nodded against the clasp of his palm, telling him she understood.
Blackfire's voice came through the vent. Robin heard Koriand'r a lot and he recognized k'norfka. He also heard Starfire's name being paired with k'lorlian. He didn't know what it meant, but every time it was said, the lines on Starfire's face deepened.
Further into the unintelligible discussion, Robin saw Starfire's eyes go suspiciously liquid and he knew that she was going to cry. Gently, he hustled them back the way they came, hoping she could hold her whimpering until they got far enough.
She was surprisingly composed in spite of it all, and she brought out his handkerchief, using it to wipe the tears from her eyes. She sniffled, but she did it so quietly that Robin didn't need to coax her to keep it down.
It took a while, but finally, they re-emerged in the library.
Starfire lowered them both to the ground and she re-capped the vent herself.
He waited for her to say something.
"Galfore will be sent away," she said softly.
Robin sighed, feeling bad for her. "I'm sorry."
"But it is not your fault."
"It's—It's an expression," he hastened to explain. "When something bad happens to someone you know, you're sorry that it had to happen at all, whether or not it was your fault."
Forlornly, she nodded. He didn't know if it meant she understood, but she asked no more questions about it. "I must go to him later. In a month's time, he will be gone. I must—we must make the best of it."
She took his hand, leading him out of the library and to Galfore's chamber.
Robin sat cross-legged at the foot of the panoramic bridge window. He watched the effect of light-speed within a stargate wormhole and frowned. It was no different from last week's view. It was still a blur of blue and indiscernible stars. Once in a while, they would pass a meteor. Sometime it would hit the ship, most times it didn't. The meteors that got past stargates were never big enough to damage ships, anyway. The large ones were always effectively turned away, or even blasted to bits by the stargate filters.
He heard a beep behind him; likely one of the bridge computers. The Mighty Gotham's mainframe was one of the most advanced in the galaxy, owing to the fact that his godfather preferred to man the ship almost all by himself. Alfred was just as adept at maneuvering the ship if it was necessary, but most of the time, the ship could very well navigate itself.
In the bridge, the ship's main control room, one could even converse with the computer. It was almost like a sentient being, and Robin had heard Bruce discussing technical matters with it a lot of times.
The bridge was one of Robin's favorite haunts when the adults weren't around to make noise. It did, after all, have the best view, but when they were in wormholes, there was hardly anything to see, so he didn't frequent the bridge as much during those times. It was a pity, too. He wanted to show Starfire what the galaxy looked like from the bridge; it was quite spectacular.
There was a hiss behind him, like a door opening. Looking over his shoulder, Robin saw that Bruce had entered.
Like always, his godfather looked like a shadow in his black, form-fitting overalls; more enigmatic still in his odd mask. He looked like a perfectly poised captain of a ship, which he was—technically, except he lacked crew members. The only crew he had was an aging butler and a nine year old boy.
Bruce sat among one of the panels, punching keys and making adjustments. "What, no princess?"
Robin was surprised his godfather had spoken at all. It wasn't that they didn't talk, it was just that Bruce hardly ever ventured into idle conversation. This sounded like idle conversation.
"She's busy. Her mother wanted her."
"Had trouble with her nanny?"
Robin frowned. "Did her father say anything to you?"
Bruce shrugged, continuing with his work. "He might have. I didn't pay much attention. Didn't think it was important."
Robin relaxed and he was glad that he had been right about his godfather. Bruce didn't make cargo intrigue his business.
"Besides, they'll only be around for another three weeks. I figured, why trouble myself?"
Robin was reminded that he would have to say goodbye to Starfire soon. It saddened him. Starfire was turning out to be a very good friend. "Yeah."
"Don't sweat it, kid. I'm sure we'll have other princesses on-board. I'll even pick the pretty ones for you."
He was quiet for a moment before he replied. "Gross."
He was nine, after all. Bruce probably knew it because he didn't say anything to convince Robin otherwise.
Robin continued to look out of the windows, letting his mind wander to various thoughts, so it surprised him when Bruce was suddenly standing beside him, staring out of the window just like he was. "You alright, Robin? These past sixteen months?"
Robin frowned, unsure about what to make of the conversation, but he gave an answer, anyway. Bruce had never been particularly mean to him, so he figured that the least he could do was be respectful. "I've been okay, I guess."
"You miss your parents?"
"You want to go back to Luna?"
He paused and he was astonished at the panic that rose within him at the question. He looked up at Bruce from the floor, his expression one of deep insecurity. "Do you want to bring me back there?"
Bruce returned his look with an arched eyebrow. "Well, I go to Mars regularly enough; just a planet away from Earth and Luna. I could always drop you off at Luna if you don't want to travel with me anymore. It wouldn't be out of the way."
Robin gave him a fierce scowl. "You wanna get rid of me?"
His godfather looked surprised. "Kid, if I wanted to get rid of you, I'd have stuck you in an escape pod and jettisoned you in space."
Robin was smart enough to figure that since he wasn't being stuck in a space pod that very moment, Bruce at least thought his company tolerable. "I'd like to stay here, please. I like being in space. Things to see…"
Bruce nodded. "I could understand that. But if you're going to keep staying here, you're going to have to learn certain things. You're going to have to learn certain skills."
"What kind of skills?"
"The kind that keeps you from getting killed."
Robin blinked and gave Bruce a questioning stare. Bruce said nothing to explain it and when after a long silence Robin still didn't get an answer, he let it go. Whatever it was, he'd know sooner or later.
After a while, Bruce turned and left the bridge.
Robin kept watching out of the window.
Robin was tossed violently out of sleep and off his bed as the ship rocked in alarming heaves. There was a deep, rumbling explosion, and as Robin fell to the floor of his room in a heap, blankets and pillows overwhelming him, he could barely utter a yell.
The ship rocked again, and this time, it was followed by the blare of sirens from everywhere. Robin hit his head on the bed post in the chaos and he uttered an adult oath. For some reason, "Ouch!" wasn't going to cut it for him.
He pushed himself to stand and ran out of his room, barefoot.
The hallway lights had gone dim in response to the red alert and everyone had spilled out from their rooms. Lights overhead began to burst and that was when King Myand'r, Starfire's father, began demanding to know what was going on. The Tamaranian entourage consisting of several attendants and retainers had no answers for him.
Through the dimness, Robin saw Starfire stumbling out of her chamber door. He called to her and she looked up at him, panic evident in her gaze.
She was plucked from the ground by the lumbering figure of Galfore just when Robin found himself being jerked to attention.
"Master Richard! You must go to the bridge! You must go to Master Bruce!" It was Alfred. His voice was forceful, but he looked as composed as ever. Alfred's grip on his arm was firm, probably even painful, but it was what Robin needed to steady his jumbled nerves.
Dazed, Robin looked over his shoulder at Starfire. Alfred grabbed him by the chin and forced Robin to focus.
"I will see to the guests," Alfred told him resolutely. "Your concern is Master Bruce. Do you understand?"
The ship gave another shake and it practically knocked all of them to the floor, but Robin understood, and he nodded, pulling himself free from Alfred's grasp.
Robin shot through the hallways, forcing his legs to move faster. Half-way to the bridge, there was a blast, louder than he had ever heard. Beams overhead shook free, and to Robin's horror, his feet began to lift off the floor. They had lost gravity, and that meant one of two things. Either the gravity generator had malfunctioned or there was a major breach in one of the connecting systems. Considering that the gravity generator was deep inside the ship's core, a breach was more probable. Either way, the situation was not good.
Robin frantically reached for leverage, kicking off in a forward direction to propel himself. He had to get to the bridge, but with the loss of gravity, his progress was deadly slow.
Gasping from the effort, he pushed on, never minding that his muscles were screaming for a break. So it was a great surprise when he felt hands beneath his arms, propelling him forward in a pace he could only manage with a rocket pack.
He craned his neck to see who was responsible and he saw Starfire. Relief washed over him, but precious seconds were ticking. "Hurry, Starfire. We have to see if Bruce is alright."
Another figure suddenly came up beside them and Robin was astonished to find Blackfire. She had a strangely amused smile on her face as she looked at them with a lopsided gaze.
"Need help?" she asked.
Robin was just about to say yes when Starfire increased her speed. While Blackfire trailed close behind, it was distance enough to avoid conversation between sisters.
Starfire zipped through the hallways, dodging debris with expert ease. Finally, they reached the annex to the bridge. As they crossed the divider, Robin made for the annex controls and punched the codes. The doors slid shut and he yelled as he dropped to the floor. Apparently, the gravity generator was still intact. A breach had caused the zero-gravity in the common sectors, and as of yet, they didn't know what had caused it.
"Robin! Are you alright?" asked Starfire, hovering beside him.
He nodded, collecting himself.
Blackfire sighed in exasperation. "Will you two hurry? He could be dying in there, you know?"
The mere possibility sent Robin's heart racing, and he realized that dispassionate as his godfather was, taking care of him, Bruce had managed to fit into the role of someone Robin could turn to, almost like a parent. Sixteen months of close proximity could do that. Bruce hadn't been cruel, or even unkind, and he watched out for Robin's welfare, veiled as it was behind gruff orders of "Don't give me trouble."
They hurried to the bridge doors and they still worked perfectly. At first glance, they saw no one in the room, but Starfire shot above the floor to give the room a quick survey. She gave an alarmed cry and dove behind a panel, calling for Robin to hurry.
Robin leaped over the panels and found Bruce's unconscious body. He had no visible wounds and his breathing was steady. Instinctively, he looked to the only adult in the room: Blackfire.
She was busy looking at the readings of the ship, her brows knotted in concern. "Sector 3G of the ship has been compromised and several other sectors have been damaged… wait, there's a signal!"
Robin hardly cared. He looked to Bruce and he felt a familiar ache building in his stomach. His godfather was still breathing, but he couldn't help think that Bruce needed some kind of help. "We have to take him to Alfred," he told Starfire. "You have to help me bring him to Alfred."
Starfire looked at him anxiously but she nodded, beginning to gather Bruce in her arms, but her task was interrupted when a strange voice broke through the room, speaking in a language Robin couldn't understand.
He looked up, and in place of the panoramic windows was a communication screen. A beast-like face with dark skin and large teeth spoke in a rough, menacing voice. Whatever he was and whatever language he was speaking in, Blackfire looked like she understood him.
Robin yanked at Starfire's arm. "What are they saying?"
She shook her head vigorously. "I do not know. I have not absorbed their language. But—"
Blackfire spoke back, her voice suddenly loud and forceful. She looked furious. Robin watched them, awe-stricken and terrified.
Who were these beings? Were they the ones attacking the ship? Why?
Starfire, her face gone deathly pale, crouched down and urgently began to gather Bruce in her arms again. "Oh, Robin, we must go! They will board us! I know they will! They always do when Tamaranians are—"
Robin gritted his teeth; moving as frantically as Starfire to get hold of Bruce. "Who are they?" he demanded. Nobody was telling him anything since it all started and he was beginning to get angry.
"They are the Citadel." Her eyes had gone watery, as if she was going to cry, but her tears held as she hefted Bruce up by her arms. "You must help, Robin! I cannot carry him by myself. He is too heavy even for me!"
Blackfire gave a loud yell and then the face on the monitor disappeared. She kicked a chair and it was smashed soundly by her strength. Whatever she and the alien had exchanged, she wasn't pleased about it. Her nostrils were flaring and she looked terribly angry. She stalked towards Robin, and for a moment, Robin thought she was going to hit him, but she didn't. She walked right past him and shoved Starfire aside. She then took Bruce on her shoulder like a sack.
"Get a move on, you brats! We have to get to the escape pods. Starfire, carry Robin. We have to get to mother and father quickly if we want to save them. Stop staring at me and hurry!"
Starfire immediately followed orders. They sped out of the bridge, back into the annex and then through the ship hallways. They passed the entire passenger crew on the way. Everyone was already headed to the docking area.
They spread out through the docking ports, selecting the nearest escape pods they could fit into. They weren't so much pods as they were small ships. Each ship could comfortably fit at least three and could be operated by one. If necessary, the ship could hold as much as six, but no more.
As Starfire settled Robin on the ground of the docking area, he grabbed her hand and sought Alfred. He saw Alfred entering one of the pods and Robin followed.
Inside, Bruce's body was being secured by Blackfire on one of the seats. There were only three seats, but there were two cargo compartments that could accommodate two more passengers of their size. Robin led Starfire to sit on one of them and he told her to strap herself to it. He was in the process of buckling his own belts when Blackfire began undoing Starfire from her bindings.
"You're coming with me, little sister," said Blackfire.
Starfire and Robin began their protests, trying to talk above Blackfire's commanding voice.
The ship gave another violent shake and it seemed to have fueled Blackfire's impatience. She yanked Starfire to her feet, ripping at the remaining straps.
Robin made a grab for Starfire's wrist but Blackfire slapped his hand away.
"Stay out of this, brat!" hissed Blackfire, glaring down at him.
Robin scowled, a stubborn expression settling on his face. "She doesn't want to ride with you!"
"That's not your decision, little boy," said Blackfire, walking off and dragging Starfire with her.
Starfire whimpered, but she had quit her resistance and went with her sister helplessly. She looked over her shoulder at Robin one last time.
"I'll see you in the nearest planet!" yelled Robin as the sisters left the pod.
He didn't know if Starfire heard him.
Alfred locked them in and undertook the operation of the pod.
Robin hardly had any time to worry about whether he would be seeing Starfire again. Their getaway was not as swift and smooth as any of them hoped. Alfred had to dodge several plasma torpedoes and it got so bad that Robin had to sit by Alfred to operate some of the controls. Having close to no experience maneuvering a ship, Robin didn't know how he managed, but he did, and they got out of the situation relatively whole.
Bruce was still unconscious by the time they landed in the nearest planet. It happened to be Centari territory, and while they weren't the friendliest of people, they were willing to provide treatment and temporary shelter for the ship-wrecked.
When Bruce had been settled in one of the medical facilities, Robin hurried back to the pod and tried to communicate with the other escape ships. None of them were responding. He couldn't even tell where they were.
Hours later he still didn't know where she was; didn't know if Starfire was even alive.
As a child, prone to hope, he didn't know—hadn't a clue—that it would take years before he found his answers.
To be continued…
Closing notes: Don't worry, my duckies! It'll be more interesting in the next chapter, I promise. And to my readers of "Path to Tamaran", don't worry either. Hehehe.