Author's Note: Okay, I've decided to release this even if I don't have the next chapter to "Path to Tamaran" ready, because seriously, if I wait any longer, I'd have no updates for far too long!
I wish I was a professional writer, so that I can retire to a beach house, write all day and no one can tell me I'm being unproductive.
Standard disclaimers apply.
THE MIGHTY TITAN
Chapter Thirteen: Rescue
Robin didn't get any sleep, not that he needed much of it. He tried to get at least two hours in, but he was restless, going through the steps of the rescue in his mind.
It was true how he and the crew had never attempted a rescue before, but all things considered, the plan only required common sense and courage; very little stealth and skill. One way or another, they would get through if they stayed sensible enough not to get caught. But still, he had every reason to be worried. As Shawn said, things will go wrong. Robin just hoped the cost of it won't be so high.
Strangely enough, the thought that Raven would stick around to "protect her interests" comforted him. Raven wasn't his favorite person, but he knew her determination. He knew she would go to extreme lengths to protect them, if only for her own reasons. She would make sure every one of them survived, so long as she could help it. If Raven was good for anything, it was this one.
She had, in fact, been quite helpful since they got back to their dimension. She filled in for him during their "Vanilla and Vice" mission when he was too distracted with Starfire and she kept them all cool when they got pushed to the edge.
He remembered what she said, when she was making Starfire promise to bring her to the gem. When he thought about the things Raven and her mother went through, the blackmail and deception Raven put them through almost seemed forgivable. Almost.He still wouldn't invite her to his birthday party, if he ever had one.
In his restlessness, he reached over to the side of his bed and plucked the book about cosmic ley lines. When he flipped the book open, he caught himself blinking several times.
He wondered if he was actually asleep and dreaming, but a few minutes later, he realized he was fully awake. If he had been dreaming, Starfire should have been walking into his room right now in a short gossamer night gown and pigtails.
The only thing asleep in his room was his leg, and he quickly began wiggling his toes awake.
He sat up, flipping one page over another and catching words and phrases about "Dæmons", "Summoners", "Soul Takers", "Dimensional Rifts" and "Blood Sacrifices" all appearing on the back-pages where once there was nothing there.
A cold sensation crept up his back as he read from what once was hidden. The very words and tone on the other side of the book was darker; less text-tome and more a Shadowed Grimoire. The words were hand-written, not printed, and each script was different, like there were hundreds of hands that passed over the pages. There were descriptions of power, words of warning and written curses.
Robin read with an eagerness twice as strong as any book had inspired in him. It was strange that the text was concealed at all. What had he done to change things? Had he touched something on the book to activate it? Was it the lighting? Temperature? Atmospheric conditions? Why could he see it now and not before?
He read for a long time, referring to the more mundane discussions on the front pages when some term or concept struck him as unfamiliar, and then he was reading the back-pages again. Not one derisive scoff escaped him. As skeptical as he was about superstition and the paranormal, he admitted to being fascinated.
He didn't know how long he sat there, entranced, but the next time he looked at the clock, it was seven thirty in the morning.
He swore viciously as he dumped the book back under his night-table and scrambled to refresh himself for the new day.
Everyone was already at the bridge when he got there, though he was still technically on time. Terra was the first to report.
At approximately seven thirty, she received a call, forwarded from Conrad's systems. It was the Villa's Head Chef, demanding where Conrad was. Terra calmly switch on a distortion device she can speak into. It made her sound like Conrad, tuned to seem nasal as he was supposed to have a cold.
"I can come in, if it's absolutely important," Terra had casually said. She was sure enough they would not insist that she come in for work. No one wanted a chef with a cold near the food.
Predictably, the chef declined Conrad's offer.
It was easy to fool a person with a voice masking device. Security Voice Printers were more discerning, relying on precise patterns and algorithms, which was why Robin couldn't simply mask his voice to get into Villa de Heliodoro. It had to be a clear recording of Conrad's own voice and diction, or else access would be denied.
After Terra rerouted the relevant monitoring systems to her portable computer, Terra, Robin and Beast Boy were dropped off by Cyborg in the same abandoned lot they left Gordok's land-craft. The craft was still there and they used it for a trip to Villa de Heliodoro. They stayed for several hours around its perimeter, blending into the crowd as Terra hacked directly into their computer systems as far as she could go.
She still had relatively limited access to the security systems via an outside network, but if the systems were physically tampered with from the inside, there were a lot of other things she could accomplish.
"Leave that to me," said Robin.
When Terra had the codes of every Villa de Heliodoro computer system she can hack into, they returned to the ship to prepare for that night's mission.
They went through the steps again, memorizing the layout of the grounds and the house itself. It was important that they all knew, just in case back-up had to rush into the house and accomplish the plan by force. But they all hoped they could get in and out of the property without alerting anyone.
"Remember," said Robin. "No matter what happens, we can't let them know that our rides out of the planet are the Bronze Fang and the T-Craft. If they do, the Cannon and the Mighty Titan would never be able to leave Quintis Prime space in one piece. Endangering the ships is not acceptable. Got that?"
There was very little they could do in terms of practice.
All Robin could do was talk them through the procedure, with them reciting their respective roles assuming things went according to plan, or if they fell apart.
As far as memorizing the steps and procedures, they were ready. Now all they had to do was wait for nightfall and execute the plan.
Robin was at least certain he was determined to do his part perfectly. In himself, he could have complete faith in. If he accomplished his part without a hitch, they would be half-way home. The other half, he would have to trust to everybody else.
At approximately eleven in the evening, Robin was just finishing up with packing his equipment.
He had shed his regular clothing for the more sophisticated image projection suit. It was a slim-fitting black overall that had utility pockets and point projectors. The stretchable material of the suit was laced with circuitry and microscopic chips that stored the image-data. He would be wearing a face mask and voice masker to complete the effect. Later, he would pull the face mask over his head and look like a ninja.
If he hadn't known how illegal it was for a civilian such as himself to own a suit like this, he'd think it was ridiculous.
Of course the suit was not supposed to be available to civilians. It was the kind of thing only super-secret law enforcement agencies were supposed to use. How Shawn got him one and two extra suits on such sort notice, Robin didn't bother to ask. He didn't want to know.
He stuffed the two extra suits and a bunch of other portable equipment in his pack in what looked like an onion sack. He also stuffed his utility belt and bo-staff. He was going to need everything that was inside.
The most vital equipment, he tucked into the pockets of his suit.
He looked at himself in the mirror. For a heartbeat, his stomach twisted at the thought that he looked like his godfather, then he shook the thought away.
No time for psychology.
There was a knock at his door. He grabbed his pack and headed on out of his room.
Starfire was in the hallway. She was dressed in a cat-suit all her own, though it wasn't projection suit, and her hands were glove-free. Her face mask bunched around the base of her neck and when she pulled it over her head, none but her eyes would be visible. Her hair was tied up in a braided bun so that it wouldn't hamper her later on. The rest of their team would be similarly dressed. Even Cyborg, who had "skin" options, ranging from his present white-blue to black-gray, would switch to darker mode. Cyborg's retractable visor would work as his mask.
She smiled. "You look very nice, Robin."
She said it like they were going to the prom and she was complimenting him in his tux.
She might had read the glint of sarcasm in his eyes because she added, "Well, for a thief passing himself off as someone else to rescue two prisoners, that is."
He shook his head, grinning in spite of himself. He put an arm over her shoulders as they walked down the hallway. "You ready to do this?"
She nodded. "As ready as I can be. Robin… you will be alone in there. Please… be alright."
She looked so worried that it was a bit disconcerting. Nobody had ever seemed so worried about him before. People around him always assumed he would be fine; that he could take care of himself. Even his mother, whom he remembered was always fussing over him, slowly grew out of being concerned for his safety as he got better and better on the high trapeze.
"I'll be fine, Star. You don't have to worry about me."
She pulled out from beneath his arm to face him, holding his gaze. "Just be careful."
He cocked a small smile, nodding.
Her smile was brighter. She took his hand and led them to the take-off platform. Everyone was already there.
Cyborg drove, this time, coordinating with the Bronze Fang. Slash would be providing transportation support and all he had to do was wait for them.
Shawn had first insisted on the Cannon crew playing a more active role. It was almost as if he thought joining in on the rescue would be fun, but Robin adamantly refused, telling him their involvement on the matter need not get any deeper. The only reason Shawn agreed to backing off was because Robin convinced him that an unnecessarily large group of rescuers would only serve to increase the risk of getting caught.
Thirty minutes from when they first took off from the Mighty Titan platform, they were stuffed in the back of their commissioned land craft. Cyborg drove while everyone else set things up in the carriage.
Raven, Beast Boy and Terra plugged the computers and powered them. There were three laptops and half a dozen monitors. There were small terminals, processors and three stacks of organized data discs. Terra and Beast Boy were setting themselves up in the middle of it all.
Starfire conveniently made her way to Robin's side.
Robin cocked a smile. "Not really."
"I will help you anyway."
"I thought you would." He took out the eye-print casing and opened it. The lenses inside were much larger than the standard contacts. It would draft itself not only on the pupil but much of the cornea as well. The special lenses were locked in an air-tight casing designed to keep them moist and fresh. As soon as Robin put them on, they would be useful for the next twenty four hours, and then they would begin to deteriorate with no harmful side-effects to the user. This was also an illegal acquisition that Shawn had managed to procure for them.
Starfire plucked the first lens container. It was cube shaped most of the way, but to one side of it, there were some transparent circuits and a silicon lining designed to mould to the contour of a person's eye-socket. She hitched her knee on Robin's seat.
"Lean back," she said softly. Her voice carried promise of care.
He did and she cradled his head to her with the gentle embrace of her arm. He tried not to think about how soft of a pillow her chest made, or how the tips of her hair brushed delicately on his cheek. It would be embarrassing to show how much he liked it through his slim-fit suit.
She pressed the silicon to the bone around his left eye and activated the mechanism. For a very quick moment, he felt a gentle sucking sensation around his eyeball then his eyes glared open as if compelled by the blue light that scanned it. There was a soothing coolness and he blinked.
Starfire removed the device. The lens had been inserted. She repeated the process with his other eye. When it was done, she leaned away from him. He blinked several more times. His eyes were a bit weepy, but it had felt like she had simply administered eye-drops. He could see perfectly well, too.
He had to ask. "Are they on?"
She nodded. "Conrad's lavender eyes look far better on you, Robin."
He hadn't thought the color of his eyes would be different, but it made sense.
"Ooh!" gushed Terra. "Lemme see! Oh, chief, that color really fits. You should have your eyes made that way. Wow! Doesn't he look handsome, BB?"
"Like a prince!" Beast Boy said with exaggerated admiration.
Robin rolled his newly purpled eyes, recognizing the reference to royalty. He wondered if Cyborg had told Beast Boy about Starfire's royal origins and realized, a moment later, that it hardly mattered. Strange that the thought made him feel glad. "Okay, shut-up, you two. Get back to work."
Raven smirked. "I'm partial to violet myself."
Of course she would be.
Starfire attached the Image Projector and voice masker around Robin's neck, connecting the tiny wires to the miniscule nodes on his suit.
He made last minute checks on the equipment he would have on him before he pulled the black gloves over his hands.
He was about to pull the face mask over his head when Starfire stopped him gently. She placed a soft, intimate kiss on his lips. It had been too unexpected for him to react, and before he knew it, it was over, and everyone in the back of the craft had seen. He was mortified, but he kept his composure. He didn't want Starfire to think he hadn't liked it, but under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have gone and kissed her right in front of everybody.
But it was done, and he couldn't be an asshole and pretend it didn't happen. The others were doing that for him, albeit rather poorly.
"What was that for?" he asked her quietly.
"When you put that mask on, we will switch the projectors on. I do not want to be kissing Conrad."
"R-Right." He pulled on his mask.
She switched on the projector and she winced. "You look exactly like him."
"Doesn't he?" replied Terra proudly. "It's my best work yet."
Terra had processed the computer imaging, of course. She had taken extra care in programming Conrad's image to look as natural as possible, mainly because Robin might have to actually interact with people who knew Conrad, and Robin couldn't afford the projected image to suddenly have a nervous tick where Conrad didn't have one.
She would have to process two more images later into the mission within a span of ten minutes. Those images would be shaky and highly imperfect, but it would do as disguises, however poorly adaptive they might be. An image reconstructed in ten minutes was only good for walking around and blending in a crowd. They were no good for interacting, as they would likely have no more algorithmic functions beyond a jerky facial expression, a bit of hand-eye coordination and basic striding.
Robin couldn't help his own curiosity. "Anyone have a mirror?" He was mildly jolted at the change in his voice. He had expected it, but he sounded so much like Conrad it was surreal.
Starfire fumbled for a spare radar dish. She held it up for him.
He looked. It was amazing. "Unbe-fucking-lievable…" he breathed.
"Awesome work, Terra," said Beast Boy, smiling at her.
She smiled back. "Why, thank you, BB."
"Aw, you helped, too."
Robin arched an eyebrow. So did Raven.
She made a face. "Between these two and you two, I think I'm going to be sick."
Robin scowled, but he couldn't help but be pleased to realize that Beast Boy and Terra had somehow managed to work out some of their issues.
He reached around Starfire for the sack of equipment. She flinched away from him.
He froze, realizing in mild amazement that his disguise was freaking Starfire out.
"Easy," he said in a soothing tone. "It's still me." He slowly took his pack in a non-threatening manner.
She chuckled nervously. "I apologize. I know it is you. It is just…" she shuddered, expelling a breath. "I will look forward to seeing you back to your real self again."
He grinned. He resisted the urge to reach out and touch her, since it really did seem to make her skin crawl. He handed her the sack of equipment instead. "Hold this for me until I get to you guys in the delivery area. I have equipment in there that I'll need. I couldn't bring it through my entry point or I'll risk being asked what's inside. Keep it safe."
She nodded. "I will." She clutched the bag.
Robin weaved through the bustle of the craft and sat up front with Cyborg.
Cyborg gave him a glance and made a face. "That's some freaky shit you have on."
Starfire had made that perfectly clear to him. "How many minutes until we get there?"
"Give it twenty."
Cyborg wove through the crowded commercial streets of the city and was soon running along the busy residential avenues. He went past the condominiums and townhouses quickly enough and began driving over more open road. The entire time they followed the vast, rapid river that was La Pacifica
Villa de Heliodoro was set a bit farther off town, and while the streets surrounding the walled property was alive with activity, it was still less upbeat than the city avenues.
Fortunately for them, the area was filled with trucks and crafts similar to theirs, even late at night.
Terra and Beast Boy would be left in the craft providing technical support.
They plugged their ear-pieces and activated them.
"We're heading off," said Cyborg. He was going to lead the back-up team, and they would need a fifteen minute head-start.
Robin nodded. "I'll see you guys in a while. Stay alert and stay hidden until you see me coming out the back and I say you can come out."
Cyborg and Raven piled out of the craft. Starfire glanced his way, smiled and followed after them.
Robin closed the craft doors and waited with Terra and Beast Boy.
"Terra, test the transmission," said Robin. She did.
The voices of all three of the advance party came through. Robin checked his own piece and it worked fine.
Ten minutes later, Terra activated the image projector inside the craft.
The earpieces had homing devices, and through the projected blueprint, they could see that the three had managed to get around to the far, hill and riverside side portion of the vast grounds. Security along that area was sparest since the drop from the property to the bottom of the hill was high and the river carpeting it raged. The difficulty of the terrain discouraged intruders effectively enough, unless they could fly soundlessly, like Starfire and Raven.
They were inside the grounds quickly enough, with Starfire strong enough to lift Cyborg with her.
"Three guards. Just as we expected," said Cyborg softly. "BB, have they made the shift?"
Beast Boy checked the digital logs. "They've registered the shift at the main logs, but that was only about two minutes ago. You should see the replacements coming around in a few."
Starfire's giggle came through the waves. "Raven, there is something crawling up your cape!"
"Ugh! Where? I can't see! G-Get it off!"
"You do not like creepy crawlies? That is a surprise."
Cyborg sighed. "Girls… focus, please?"
Raven muttered something unintelligible and Starfire giggled a little bit more before they fell back into complete silence.
Moments later, the sound of speed crafts buzzed through. Cyborg said that the replacements had come. Robin made his way out of the craft, keeping his focus on the conversation coming through his receiver.
Robin wove through the crowds on the lamp-lit streets, coming to the front of the property gates minutes later. He tried not to get distracted by the sounds of Cyborg, Starfire and Raven incapacitating the replacement guards.
At the gate, he showed his ID to the guard. The guard hardly gave his face a glance and let him through.
"I'm dedicating your receiver to Beast Boy's and mine, chief," said Terra. "You're gonna need your focus from hereon."
Robin had an urge to protest. He needed to know the status of Cyborg's team, then again, maybe he didn't. He was just being as obsessive as ever, and Terra was right, he needed to focus on his own task.
Whether he wanted it or not, Terra dedicated his line. He moved forward in his mission.
There were three robot-driven transport crafts line up at the waiting area and Robin hopped on the one at the very front. There were a few others with him on the craft. None on the other two at the back.
The robot shifted on its seat, its mechanical hydraulics hissing softly. "Destination please," it said in its halting, robotic drawl.
"Affirmative." The robot turned on his seat again, looking straight ahead. "Six passengers confirmed in the last five minutes. Please proceed to the passenger seats and prepare for departure."
Robin chose a seat isolated from the others.
The transport craft sped on ahead.
As the craft left the mini-station, Robin saw just how vast the grounds were. The wide road upon which the craft zipped over was lined with clipped shrubbery and trees. It was dark and the moons above spared little illumination, but the road was elevated over the landscape and it was a wide space. He could tell, even with the thickness of the woods and the darkness of the night, that the grounds were well-maintained, however rustic and wild it may seem at first glance. Robin caught several glimpses of wildlife prancing along the thicket, their eyes catching the lights of the craft. It was a good five minutes of continuous road and greenery, and at an impressive speed, too. There was a hell of a lot of land between the main gate and the house. Transportation would be essential for their getaway, or else they would waste a lot of time trying to cover ground in the dark, and that would increase the risk of getting caught three-fold.
At last the house came into view, and what a house it was.
It was beautiful to behold against the star spangled sky, the bright, colorful lights a display in itself as it highlighted parts of the house, setting it aglow. Its red-tile roof with Spanish-style eaves gave the entire mansion an elegant, vintage appeal. The mosaic steps against the white-washed walls were a fantastic display. There were very few people outside the house, and while they held weapons, they walked around with casual ease amidst the magnificent display of carelessly parked luxury crafts. Most of them were land and space speeders. Even the utility vehicles were top of the line.
The craft passed the guards by without getting their attention. The craft, to them, was a fixture.
The vehicle circled the vast house, dropping off one passenger after another in the various entrances. Robin was one of the last to get off, the robot announcing to the remaining passengers that the next stop would be the ranch. He was glad no one had gotten off at the kitchen entrance with him.
There were no guards at the door, but the cameras zoomed in on him immediately. He passed them by without giving them a glance, pretending to be nonchalant. He brought out his I.D., slid it through the card reader and waited. There was a hum, then a click as the field filming the door disappeared and the door itself slid open.
"Please step through the doors," said a pleasant, female voice. Robin did.
He came upon another door as the one behind him closed. It doubled as a waiting area, though no one was there.
Robin saw the scanning device by the door. He stepped up on the platform.
The same pleasant voice murmured instructions to him. "Please straighten your stance and stay within the circle of the platform. Face the yellow strip on the wall. Keep your eyes on the strip and wait for the scanner to pass."
Robin followed instructions, careful to keep his gaze straight. The yellow strip reached up to about ten feet. That was understandable, considering there were aliens who grew to such heights.
The scanner was a laser-beam projector that originated from a small lens to the side of the door. The blue beam passed his face twice.
Another hum and click rang through the room. "Please proceed," said the voice as the doors opened.
Robin came to a final room, the voice giving him instructions to speak as close to the grilled hole in the wall as height permitted. He stepped up to the mic, fiddled with the pocket on his side and pressed the power button of the digital player he had in it. The mesh lining of his pocket made the sound come through clearly.
Conrad's voice spoke the spliced words. "My name is Conrad Prior. Identify me."
There was a moment's pause, lasting an eternity, before the polite voice spoke again, doors sliding open.
"Welcome to Villa de Heliodoro, Conrad Prior. Please step through the doors."
Robin finally remembered to breathe.
He stepped through a hallway which probably bustled with activity during the day, but was much more sedate at night.
There was a guard at the door. "Bags for inspection?"
Robin shook his head.
The guard waved him through and Robin walked.
One or two personnel passed him by. They were dressed like his disguise so they didn't so much as give him a second glance. He passed a few more, but they were just as apathetic about his presence. He walked towards the delivery area casually. He pretended to rub his nose to cover his mouth.
"I'm through. Gimme the schedule, Terra."
Terra's voice came through his piece. "There's a delivery taking place right now, but it'll likely be over in twenty minutes. I wouldn't recommend helping out. The least interaction you have with others, the better. Walk around a bit. I can see you in the hallway right now. You'll need a place to wait things out without getting noticed. BB, any suggestions?"
Beast Boy's voice came over the receiver. "About six yards down, you'll find a utility hallway. It has no cameras and no one will bother you there while you bide your time. It's where they store some of the baking products and they usually reserve the bread and pastry making for early morning. Go there, now."
Robin measured his distance and found the isolated hallway Beast Boy was talking about. Deeper down the hallway was a room with a simple swinging door. He stepped into the room and it smelled a bit like yeast. The floor was a bit floury but the atmosphere was well-conditioned for storing such products.
He adjusted his eyes to the dimness to try to find the light switch.
"Chief," said Terra. "Are you in? I can't see you."
"I'm in. I'm trying to find a light…" he whispered. He found a switch and a small portion of the large room was illuminated. That was light enough for him.
"Then just wait there."
Robin was momentarily relieved. He leaned against the wall, letting his eyes wander as he refocused his thoughts. "No one has recognized me."
"No surprise. Conrad's in the day shift. Night shifters might not even know who he is."
The wait felt long, but he remained patient. There was no hurrying this just yet.
Terra's voice finally came again. "Alright, chief. The delivery entrance and hallway is clear. The next delivery is forty-five minutes from now. You have to make this quick. They don't exactly deliver onions at night, if you get what I mean. Oh, and grab something to stand on. If anyone asks, tell them you like to smoke sitting down."
"Yeah." He stepped out of the storage room, hooking a small, folding ladder on the way out of the storage room. He went down the utility hallway and up the main stretch once more. He fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Conrad was a smoker, and it was only natural for a smoker to take cigarette breaks. He tapped a stick out with expert ease.
He had shared a few plugs of tobacco with his godfather before, mostly out of curiosity, and—god forbid—he had wanted to imitate Bruce once upon a time. He never really got into the habit, but he had watched others suck Slim Jims while Bruce enjoyed a Havanna. They inhaled the same smoky death, even if they held their poison-sticks differently. The adjustment was easy to make.
He passed a few that nodded in his direction. Robin nodded back as he wove and turned the maze of silent hallways towards the delivery area.
"Mark the twenty-second spot just between the corner to your right and the 'no-smoking' sign," said Terra. "Stand there until the loop re-starts."
Robin followed instructions. He set his ladder down and sat on it casually, patting the pack on his arm as he worked on unsealing his pack. He waited for Terra's signal.
"Robin, go! You have twenty seconds. Three cameras."
Robin worked quickly. He set his ladder down precisely where he could climb comfortably and work on bypassing wires behind the camera. His work on the first camera was relatively slow.
"Ten seconds left!" hissed Terra.
He didn't even curse. He hurried with the next camera. He only had two seconds left for the third camera.
"Hide!" moaned Beast Boy.
Robin could think of nowhere else to hide except right beneath the un-bypassed camera. He prayed the last working camera wouldn't give him away as he swung to dodge the lens and press his back against the wall. He prayed the guards at central control wouldn't notice the discrepancies in the time he took to reappear in the delivery platforms outside after he had cleared the hallways during the twenty second loop. He prayed no one would come by and see him hiding.
He might not be religious, but he certainly had some kind of God in those long twenty seconds.
"Crapolla…" sighed Terra. "Go, Robin! Twenty!"
His breath became even again. He worked on the last camera and he still had to work fast so he could catch the loop outside on the delivery platform. When the cameras on the platform showed back up on the central control room, he had to be seated and settled outside. When he was done with the bypass, he sauntered quickly through the delivery door. He kept the door behind him ajar, or else he would be locked out, stepped front and center on the platform, set his ladder down and lit a cigarette as he sat. The taste of the smoke was acrid, but he bore it.
"Okay, chief. You need to play this out. You have to finish that cigarette and light a second one. We need footage, so smile for the camera. Think you can handle it?" teased Terra.
He finished one, crushed it on the floor beneath his boot and lit another.
A few seconds through his second cigarette, Terra told him to go.
He bypassed the delivery platform camera. When next the guards at the control room saw the platform, he would still be smoking and perhaps lighting another cigarette. Until Terra popped the bypass by remote control, the image would repeat itself over and over again.
"You're good to go, chief," said Terra.
Robin looked around briskly, just to make sure they hadn't missed any stray personnel before he cued Terra to connect him with Cyborg's team through the receivers.
There was a slight crackle before Terra confirmed the connection.
"We're looking at you from the trees, champ. Look to your left, towards the church steeple in the horizon."
Robin looked. "I can't see you."
"Good! Raven's delivering your back-pack right now via telekinesis. Watch for it."
Robin took the direction of Cyborg's description. "Did you get all three land crafts? It's a lot of land to cover if we have to cross it on foot."
"And the guards?"
"Knocked out, stripped, tied and gagged," said Starfire. "They will not be raising alarms in case they wake up before we get things done."
Robin didn't want to ask what "stripped" meant, exactly. "Good work."
The bag emerged from the growth like a phantasmal head without a body. It was mildly creepy, especially with the darkness of the delivery road, but he grabbed the bag mid-air, swinging it over his shoulder.
"Forty five minutes," said Robin. "If I'm not back out by then and communication gets cut, leave the grounds and proceed to plan B."
Plan B was converging at the plaza for the public execution and blasting their way out of the planet. It wasn't the best plan. In fact, it was an awful, practically-suicide plan, but it was the only one they would have left. Of course, it wasn't even certain whether Robin would be alive to see Plan B happen if indeed they had to resort to it, but no one wanted to think that far, which was why it was essential they made tonight work.
Robin went back to the platform, stuffing his bag under the ladder to conceal it. He took out another cigarette, tore it down to size and lit it. He resumed his former position as best he could and Terra blew the bypass. There was a soft click and the bypass wire dropped to the floor.
"Hold that position, Robin," said Terra through his receiver. They had to time his departure to the twenty second blind-time. "Go!"
Robin worked quickly, grabbing his ladder and the onion-sack beneath it. He went back in, passed the bypassed cameras and back into the un-tampered ones in exactly twenty seconds. The guards at control room would never suspect; at least not until much later.
"I've dedicated our lines again. Now… take a different route to the kitchens," said Terra.
Robin did. He wound his way, ladder still in hand to conceal the sack. He reached the kitchen after a long walk. The room had quite a bit of activity, though the staff was sedate, focused on their stoves, preparation and cleaning. He set the ladder down beside a counter and grabbed a pushcart draped with a table-cloth. He stuffed the bag underneath the drapes of the cart. There were shelves under the cart that served his purpose.
He found a tray of pastries. He grabbed it, put it at the top of his trolley and placed a tray-cover on it.
No one paid attention to him as he wheeled out of the kitchen and back through the main thoroughfares. He was on his way to the dungeons. It was almost show-time.
It was not so difficult making his way to the dungeons unnoticed. Nobody cared for the kitchen staffer who was carting around food. It was only in the dungeons itself that he encountered some problems.
The guards were making mild sport of him, asking him where he was going with such a fancy tray of pastries.
"Last meal," said Robin, looking to the cells.
The guards laughed, en masse, and their voices rang loudly through the metallic facility. They picked on him a bit more, taking several pastries off the cart as they did so.
Robin said nothing as he secretly picked out two among them who were approximately the size and shape that fit Starfire's descriptions of Galfore and Roy Harper.
Damn. I actually remembered his name.
There were many guards around Roy's approximate size and build, but Galfore was a bit of a problem. Apparently, the Galfore really was as big as Robin remembered him, and right now, there was only one who remotely matched Galfore's size.
Robin casually looked at his watch, taking digital photos of the two guards he would need. One was Trudian and the other Xizangdi; both humanoid. The photo would go straight to Terra and she would match it to the personnel files of the Villa.
Finally, after reducing the pastries by more than half, they let Robin go. The guards at the main detainment section doors let him through. He was met by the rowdy screams and cries of the many prisoners stuffed into various cell blocks.
The guard standing outside the doors chuckled menacingly. "If you need help… pray. Screaming ain't going to do any good. We won't hear you."
Robin's smile came out as a grimace and he wheeled himself and his cart through. The doors behind him closed with a bang.
The shouting continued and they were now directed at him. There were no guards within the detention section, though the cell-blocks seemed sealed well enough.
He looked over his shoulder. The doors were solid steel and there was one tiny window that probably didn't give much of a view of the inside from the outside. All things considered, the conditions were prime for what he had to do.
Robin crouched behind his tray, pretending to be busy with something. "Terra, give me Galfore's cell number."
"Did you get the photos I sent you?"
"Yes. I've already matched them to their personnel file. I'll have them in there with you as soon as you can bypass the cameras."
"Okay, great. How much time do I have left?"
"Thirty minutes. Plenty of time."
"Yeah…" Robin proceeded, searching for cell-block 8004.
The racket continued, with most of the prisoners calling him names and telling him they would kick his ass if he made the mistake of coming any closer.
Some of the prisoners were made to wear dampening collars, but none looked anything like slaves. Then again, Starfire didn't look like much of a slave after she got cleaned up. Maybe there were more of them in the cells than he thought.
Cell-blocks 8000 to 8015 were at the far end of the detainment facility where the shouting was a lot less audible. The occupants of the blocks were subdued, though their gazes were ferocious, like caged tigers hungry for a meal.
There were two cameras per row, both of them situated at the mouth of each row. Robin awaited Terra's signal before he installed the bypass wires. The bypass, however, wasn't going to be used until later, so the cameras would still be running in real time when he entered the row.
Robin moved on.
8004 held two people. These two looked every bit the slave of Robin's imagination. They were filthy; their clothes were torn and they were beaten black and blue. They didn't look defeated, though. They stared at him with the same vicious bitterness as their death-fellows.
Seeing Galfore again sent an unexpected wave of nostalgia through Robin, and for some reason, he felt awful about spraying shaving cream into Galfore's hand while he slept.
Nevertheless, Galfore looked no less terrifying, if a bit thinner than last he remembered. His long, flaming hair was dirty, but it was tied back, and perhaps it wasn't as thick as it used to be. The lovable nanny had aged and had lost all semblance of kindness. Here was an old, probably tired man who had done nothing but fight to survive the last ten years. He had a dampening collar. He was too strong to keep jailed unfettered.
He tore his gaze from Starfire's k'norfkaand looked at Roy.
Roy looked older than Robin expected. Skinnier, or perhaps starved was a better term. He had brown hair, bordering on red, shoulder-length and wild. His beard was unkempt and tangled and one of his two green eyes was swollen shut, probably from a good kick. He didn't have a collar, but then again, he was only human with no extraordinary strengths. The guy looked pitiful, and Robin lost all the will to treat him like shit.
Robin moved as close to the cell as the force fields permitted him, removing the cover from the tray. As expected, he got demands from the other prisoners to toss them a treat, usually with lewd rewards.
"Galfore and Carter," said Robin. "Last meal."
"That's Harper, dumb ass," hissed Roy.
"Like I said, Harlem, now eat your pastries."
Both of them did not approach. They remained in their corners, staring at him.
Robin cocked a smile, sitting on the floor beside the tray. "I can stay here all night." Not exactly true, but it would serve the mission for now.
"Sure," said Roy. "What's better than sitting with a bunch of dead men?"
Galfore sighed, his deep baritone evident. "Roy… be kind. Our friend brings naught but gifts."
Roy spat. "You know this place, Galfore. Every single one of them, from the boss to the gardener is the scum of their planet. This guy right here might have raped your sister, or your mother."
"I have no sisters and my mother died a long time ago."
Roy chuckled. "Bad examples, then. How about Kori? She's still out there, ain't she?"
Robin shot him a fierce glare. Where does the guy get off, calling Starfire by her birth name?
Galfore laughed, speaking as if Robin wasn't there. "My Koriand'r is strong. She would never let anyone hurt her like that."
Roy grinned, nodding in agreement. "Yeah… she took shit from nobody."
"Robin, the guards you picked are heading inside," said Terra. "You ready?"
Galfore and Roy shot him an annoyed glance.
Robin smiled beatifically. "Are you sure you don't want your pastries?"
Roy's look of annoyance slowly began to change into suspicion. "You know… I don't recall anybody ever getting a last meal around here. Those pastries poisoned?"
"If they were, half the guards out there would be dead by now, and why would I want to do that?"
"I dunno." Roy leaned back against his wall again, exchanging glances with Galfore.
Several minutes later, Robin's guards appeared.
The large one spoke. "Hello, cupcake. Head Office sent us a memo specifically appointing us to guard your sorry ass while you feed these wankers."
The smaller guard laughed. "Maybe we should just eat the rest of those. Your prisoners don't want them."
Robin remained unmoving, keeping his gaze on cellblock 8004. Its occupants began to look at him funny. "Officers, I see no reason why I need guards. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
The guards chuckled.
"Listen to this little cupcake," said Big Guard. "He thinks he's tough!"
"Aw, ain't that cute?" said Small Guard mockingly.
Terra's voice crackled through Robin's earpiece. "Footage complete. Bypass on! Now, Robin!"
Robin flipped backwards, standing on his hands and kicking his feet upwards to catch the two unsuspecting guards by their jaws. The guards stumbled back just as Robin got to his feet. He plucked his bo-staff from beneath cover of the trolley and spun it deftly in his grip. He swung, cracking Big Guard on the nape while round-housing Small Guard on the side of his head.
Both guards fell, conked out of their wits.
Robin expelled a breath and shook his head. It was too easy.
He worked quickly, dosing them both with some sleeping serum; enough to keep them asleep for the next three hours. The dosage had been computed according to the approximate size and weight of Galfore and Roy. The larger guard, who was not quite as big as Galfore, would have to suffer the effects of a bit of an over-dose.
The prisoners on Death Row began to shout out compliments, sweet talking him into letting them go. Robin ignored them, though the racket continued. Galfore and Roy had risen from their corners, staring at him through the bars.
Robin didn't have time to explain. He grabbed the equipment he had hidden in his trolley and plugged a modem into the locking panel of Galfore and Roy's cell. He powered it and got it connected to Terra's network.
He talked into his earpiece. "Terra, disable the locks on Cellblock 8004, now."
Robin worked on scanning the bodies on the floor while 8004 was unlocked. The force field wavered and the bars slid open.
Roy and Galfore tumbled out.
"Who the hell are you?" asked Roy, stooping to Robin's side.
"I'll tell you in a while," said Robin, finishing the scan. "In the meantime, I need your help. Take their weapons and equipment then dump them as far into your cell as you can. Do it quickly. Go."
Roy and Galfore nodded, hurrying to accomplish their given task.
Robin plugged the scanners in the portable modem and sent the information to Terra.
Beast Boy spoke. "We got the scans. Terra's working on them right now. Give us a few minutes."
Robin nodded, turning his attention to Galfore and Roy. "How you liking the rescue so far?"
Galfore gaped. "Who—"
"Starfire," said Robin. "She was with us when we found out where you were and what happened to you. She's waiting outside for us along with the rest of my crew." He grabbed two more parcels from his tray and handed them to Galfore. "Here. The both of you put this on right now. They're image projection suits. It's your only ticket out of here. When we're out there, don't say anything. Let me do the talking, got that?"
They both nodded.
"Starfire," said Roy as he slipped into his suit. He was grinning. "I should've known… I should've known she'd come for us!"
Galfore chuckled. "I did not expect it, either, but perhaps I should have. Young man, what is your name?"
Robin pulled back his mask, cocking a grin. "Long time no see, eh?"
Galfore took a moment to stare at him before recognition began to stir in his gaze. "The Mighty Gotham… that young boy… Robin!"
Robin felt the breath knocked out of him as Galfore slapped him soundly on the back and took him in a bear-hug. Robin felt his teeth chattering in his head. "G-Glad you remember—oof!"
Galfore slapped his back again, laughing. "Well, of course I remember! How can I forget? The little princess was absolutely smitten with you! Not so puny anymore, are you? You have a man-shape to you, now. How is my Koriand'r? How long has she been with you? Is she still as lovely as ever?"
Robin pushed back a gasp. "K-Kori's fine. She's been with my ship for a little more than a week…"
"Captain," said Beast Boy. "The images are ready, now. Get ready to download. First up's Roy."
Robin nodded, taking the projection mechanisms from his secret stash. He connected one to the modem on the wall. There was a light on the projector, blinking continuously before it stopped. The download was complete. Robin did the same with a second projector. When the downloads were done, Robin plucked all computer equipment from the outlets and stuffed them back under his tray.
"Terra, turn the locks back on. We're going to be moving out of here in a couple of minutes."
The doors of the cell slid back into place and the force-field reappeared.
Robin attached the projectors to Roy and Galfore and turned the projectors on. They immediately transformed into the two guards unconscious in their cell.
The images were not perfect, but they would suit. Galfore's, especially, was a little funky around the shoulders because Galfore was still bigger than Big Guard, but so long as they weren't given any trouble by the guards outside, they just might pull it off without a fight. Robin told them to take the guards' weapons as he pulled his own mask back over his head.
He waited for Terra's signal. She gave it.
He became distinctly aware of the prisoners whose protests have turned hostile, promising him bodily harm if they ever got out alive. He ignored them as he looked at his two guards.
Galfore and Roy, now armed to the teeth, nodded.
Robin pushed his cart, his guards flanking him. As they left, Robin heard the distinct pop of bypass wire disabling.
They made their way through the detention facility, a silent trio amidst the chaos.
At the door, the guards let them out immediately, addressing Robin's companions with jokes about being babysitters.
All Galfore and Roy could do was smile.
Robin spoke quickly. "Head office said they're to escort me all the way out."
The guard at the door scoffed. "Whatever, Cupcake. Move on out of here. You're crowding our space." He tapped Galfore. "We'll start playing Feint with or without you, Paco, so if you want to get in on it, get your gig with Cupcake over with quickly, eh?"
The guard waved them by. As they walked, Galfore and Roy got a bit more attention, but no one stopped to talk to them, which was a great relief to Robin.
They got out of the detention facility and crossed the rest of the way to the elevators to get to ground level.
When they were at ground level, Robin took the quickest route to the delivery areas.
"Terra, patch me through Cyborg's team. We're heading on outta here."
Cyborg's voice came through. "Got 'em, champ?"
"They're right behind me."
Starfire gasped. "Are they alright? How do they look? Does Galfore—"
"Calm down, Starfire," said Raven. "They'll be out here in a few minutes. You'll see for yourself."
Robin stifled a smile. He pushed the cart towards a row of similar trolleys. He grabbed his onion sack and began to rummage through it as he wove the rest of the way to deliverance.
"Er… chief? How much did you dose the big guard?" Terra asked.
Robin's heart skipped a beat. "Everything I had. I couldn't have given him more if I wanted to. But that was a lot, Terra, why?"
"Trudians… I knew they had amazing metabolism, but I didn't know it was that amazing. This guy must be built like a Trudian bull!"
"Terra, what are you trying to tell me?"
"I think he's waking up chief. He's not exactly showing through the cameras yet, but I saw a flash of foot for a second…"
Robin cursed. "Fucking A… how can he wake up? He got dosed with three hours worth of sleep! Shit, it doesn't matter! Cyborg, are you getting this?" He began to fasten his utility belt, knowing he was going to need it.
"We'll be out here for you, champ!" said Cyborg.
"Get ready to hightail out of here." Robin looked to Galfore and Roy. "Step it up, you two."
Roy frowned. "Why?"
"We're going to get discovered in a few minutes, that's why." Robin broke off in a run. Roy matched his pace and Galfore ran alongside them. His dampening collar prevented him from flying.
Beast Boy groaned. "Shit! He's showing through the cameras! Run the fuck faster!"
It was when the delivery doors came into view that the alarm sounded. The sound of bustling guards came fast behind them and soon, they were under gunfire.
They yelled as one, ducking and rolling on the floor to avoid the lasers.
Galfore screamed, unable to get up as he crumpled on the ground.
"His collar!" Roy yelled, skidding in his sprint to run back.
Robin cursed, following after Roy. They reached Galfore and hauled him together with as much strength as their puny human selves had.
Searing pain bit into Robin's arm, blood pouring right after it. He'd gotten grazed and the hurt spread all over him, but he kept his focus, screaming at Roy to open fire with his gun.
Roy snapped to his senses and began firing.
Robin needed his good arm to drag Galfore out with them but he forced his injured arm to hold up the gun he plucked from Galfore's holster. He opened fire, each shot jolting painful pulses into his wound and then the rest of his body.
"Cyborg!" Robin yelled.
"Hold on, champ!" cried Cyborg. "We've encountered hostilities! Fuck, Starfire!"
Robin's heart skipped a beat. "Starfire, what happened? Starfire!"
"Get on the floor!" she cried.
He was relieved to hear her voice, but her words puzzled him. "What?"
"Get on the floor, now!"
There was an explosion behind them and Robin made a dive for the ground, face down, on instinct. So did Roy.
The metallic doors blew open, throwing large bits and pieces of metal into the hallway. The gate dividing the hallway and delivery area gaped like a torn can of sardines.
Green bolts shot through the smoke, exploding at the feet of guardsmen at the frontline. Starfire swooped in, getting in front of them. Raven followed.
"Get Galfore out of here!" Starfire cried, throwing bolts from her hands and eyes.
Raven's dark eyes glowed, enveloping Galfore in a black bubble. "Starfire, I have him. Let's go!"
It didn't seem like Starfire heard.
Robin shifted his gun to his good arm, coming up beside her as he fired. "Starfire, let's go!"
Starfire nodded, rising into the air and flying backwards.
Robin and Roy made a run for it as they shot guards coming from the woods.
Cyborg was firing his cannon and fending guards off in groups.
"Robin, the crafts are right behind me!" Cyborg yelled through the piece.
Robin nodded, grabbing Roy to get his attention. "Come on!"
Robin knew what he was thinking. "Starfire and Raven will take care of Galfore! Let's go!"
Roy nodded, diving into the bushes with him.
Robin saw the crafts and they each mounted one. The last craft would be for Cyborg.
"Raven!" cried Starfire. "Help Cyborg! I will take care of Galfore!"
Robin couldn't help looking over his shoulder at Starfire. She was bent over Galfore, removing his collar with the sheer strength of her hands. Galfore groggily rose, taking Starfire in an embrace. They were going to be alright.
Cyborg reappeared, Raven flanking him with a black force-field.
Robin nodded as they started their engines. "Starfire, we're ready to leave! Let's go!"
They powered their speeders and took off.
Starfire, with Galfore leaning on her for some support, sped on up beside them in the air. Seconds later, Galfore was flying on his own. Raven swooped on right behind them.
More guards began to appear from the thicket of trees. They were coming from everywhere. Starfire fired her bolts; Cyborg fired his cannon and Raven uprooted trees with her kinesis to use as ammo.
Robin and Roy caught a few with their guns.
"Chief!" Beast Boy cried. "Where do you want us waiting?"
Robin thought quickly. "Head on over to the East wall and stay in the marketplace!"
"Be right there, chief!"
"There's too many of them, champ!" Cyborg yelled. "They'll be swarming us by the time we get there!"
"We don't have a choice! The Northern wall's all steep hill and river! Just keep going!"
They came up against the Northern-most wall as they headed for the Eastern side. Beyond the wall was the rush of river fifty feet down.
The number of guards multiplied.
There were too many of them to manage, but Robin refused to believe they could be overcome. He turned his craft around and rode it like a skateboard, heading straight for the hoard.
"Robin, don't go crazy on me or I'll kill you myself!" yelled Cyborg.
Robin ignored him, launching himself into the air and released disc bombs as he soared. He turned a backward flip just as the bombs exploded and the craft barreled into their enemies.
He landed on his feet, crouching on the ground to absorb the impact. His wounded arm throbbed. He ignored the pain.
The craft and the tear gas disoriented many of the guards, but there were still a considerable number of them in perfect fighting condition.
"Not bad! Couldn't have done it better myself!" came an upbeat cry from above him.
He looked up and saw Hack and Slash on hover-boards swooping in.
Hack administered his aerial attack with great enthusiasm, plowing through a row of confused guards. He incapacitated a significant number of them with accurately thrown knives and calling them all sorts of comical names. His T-shirt said "Do you feel lucky?" in bright, green colors. He was having the time of his life.
As he swept through the guards, Slash hovered calmly to Robin's side, watching his comrades have their fun.
"You have to go now," said Slash. "We'll take care of this group. You'll have more of them to dodge further down."
"Trust me when I say we can take care of this little gang." At that, Slash pulled out his huge sword and went into sword-stance. "Go. Shawn is waiting for you at the Bronze Fang."
Robin nodded. He raised his good arm and Starfire swooped above him, the deadly, melodic chimes of her bolts singing as she struck at their enemies. Her grip was strong, and his had been honed from his younger years on the trapeze. She flew them through the air.
Slash's voice cut through the air, followed by a blinding blue light. Robin didn't even bother to find out what it was, but he was half-certain it took out every single one of Slash and Hack's opponents.
He saw Cyborg below, fending off more guards as two of them came at him from behind on crafts.
"Say no more!" She spun and threw him into the air towards Cyborg's aggressors.
He caught one of them with a landing kick and he cart-wheeled on the moving craft with his good arm to hop on the second one. The flustered guard panicked when Robin landed right on his steering levers and kicked squarely on the chest.
The guard stumbled off his craft to join his comrade and Robin got control of the craft just when it was about to crash.
Raven came up beside them. "We're almost there. I can see the wall beyond the thicket of trees."
Robin nodded. His arm was beginning to hurt to distraction. It had been easy enough to forget with everything they had to do to get past the guards, but now the wound was demanding to get noticed.
He gritted his teeth. There was no time to think about the pain now.
The wall beside him exploded and he had to maneuver into a wide arc to get away from the shrapnel. He swore viciously. It was a laser canon, and unless they left the property, they were sitting ducks.
The cannon fired again, the sound a deep, resounding hum. The laser shot through the air, but it hadn't been aimed at them.
Robin felt a strong sense of dread; a deep despair that told him something very, very wrong was going to happen.
He turned his speeder around, leaves and pebbles scattering as the streams of his craft skidded against the ground. He screamed Starfire's name; told her to stop. And she tried; he could see it in the way her body curled in itself, but she couldn't. She would barrel right into laser cannon fire.
There was an explosion as laser and body collided, and Robin watched, horrified, as Starfire, and Galfore, rammed right through the Northern wall.
Robin could have sworn his emotions shut down right then.
There was all this blackness around him; he wasn't sure from where, but he didn't care.
Instinct took over, and he wasn't about to listen to reason. He rushed through the ruins of the wall, jumping over it to slide down the steep hill. He pulled out clawed grippers from his belt and activated the spikes under his boots. Using the trees and soil, he maneuvered through the trees and rock with skilled precision.
"Robin!" cried Cyborg over the ear-piece. "Get back here!" No reasoning; no request. It was an order from his second in command who was too much of a friend to care about protocol.
Robin maneuvered the steep hill to keep his balance as he slid. "Get to the craft. I'll meet you there when I get Starfire and Galfore. I swear if I get to the craft and I don't find you, I'll fire your ass, Cyborg!"
"Terra, do you still have Starfire and Galfore on radar?"
"I see her! She should be right at the foot of the hill! But Galfore's on the move. Chief, from what I know of Galfore, I highly doubt he'd leave Starfire behind—"
"The river," finished Robin. He rushed to the bottom of the hill.
Sure enough, Starfire lay in a heap at the foot of it. She was almost off the edge of the embankment, but she stirred and pulled her foot out of the water.
He was torn. Should he go after Galfore or should he stay to take care of Starfire? He gritted his teeth. If he didn't go after Galfore now, the poor guy would surely be done for.
Robin desperately ran along the river bank, hoping to catch a glimpse of Galfore in the water. There was no sign of him.
"SHIT!" he cried in frustration. "Terra, get me Galfore's position now!"
"Chief, he's too far down river. You can't…"
His stomach knotted. It was the worse time for his ulcer to act up.
There was a cry of despair from behind him. It was Starfire, and she had heard the dismal news.
He cursed again, going to her. Robin shot an anchor on the surface of the hill, connecting the rope to his belt as he rushed to Starfire's side.
He heard her moan as she pushed her body off the ground.
He crouched beside her, helping her to sit up and clutching her firmly by her belt. He rolled off his face mask, just so she would see his real face. And then he rolled up hers. "Are you—"
She winced, her face scrunching tightly against some kind of pain. She was bleeding in places. He could tell through her torn clothing. She was scratched and torn by the rocks, thorns and bramble of wood. But it wasn't those injuries that hurt her.
Robin knew immediately what bit most painfully. Her entire arm hung limp, dislocated from her shoulder.
"Galfore," she moaned. "Oh, X'hal, Galfore! I must go to him!" She jerked, pushing off the ground and away from him.
Robin held her as tight as his grip could manage. "Starfire… you're in no condition—"
"Let me go Robin!" She winced again, probably having tried to move her dislocated arm. But she realized quickly how useless her right arm was, because she pushed with her left.
A figure flew overhead, rushing above them like the wind.
Robin felt a pulse run through him; soothing and warm.
Starfire relaxed in his arms.
He tried to make out the figure flying farther and farther away from them over the water. He cupped his ear loosely, hoping his voice wouldn't be drowned out by the roar of the river as he spoke into his radio. "Raven?"
"Get Starfire back to the craft," she said in her gravelly, impassionate voice. "I'll find Galfore and bring him with me."
It was better than nothing.
When he heard that Galfore had been swept by the river and saw Starfire in no condition to rescue anyone, he believed Galfore was done for. But with Raven determined to try and save him, there was hope, still. "Did you hear that, Starfire?"
Groggily, she looked up at him. Whatever Raven did, it had made her dazed and less likely to insist on anything. "Y-Yes… Galfore…"
"Raven'll find him. Right now, we have to get you back to the craft. Can you walk some?" He could very well carry her if his own arm wasn't in such bad shape. Added to that obstacle was the difficulty of the terrain; it was steep, and a river threatened to sweep them away if they slipped any further. If she could manage to stand up, he could get them to the craft faster.
"My arm… it is dead... my shoulder hurts, Robin."
"I know, Star. Your arm's dislocated. I can fix that when we get to level ground."
"Galfore," she whimpered again.
She was half-delirious. He couldn't entirely blame her. He had been surprised enough of her lucidity after her crash through a solid wall and her pinball-descent through rough terrain. But Raven's powers, whatever they were, had delivered a heavy blow. Starfire wasn't going to be herself for a while.
He held her face in his hands. "Starfire, listen to me, we have to get out of here. If you want to get to Galfore, you have to come with me. Understand?"
Her unfocused gaze steadied with his and finally, she nodded, blinking.
"Stay with me, Starfire," he said.
Hitching Starfire up against him, they scrambled along the steep slope. He was thankful that she could still fly a bit, so she managed to lever them on several occasions. When the terrain leveled off a bit, Robin set both of them down to get some rest. The craft was still some distance away from where they sat, and they still had to cut through the bustling country roads to get to it. They would have to dodge attention, but that wasn't so hard at the moment, considering it was dark and that removing their disguises would help a bit in concealing them in the crowds.
He held on to Starfire with his good arm. There was still a bit of slope that could very well slide them into the river below, but the level ground was enough to give them breathing and recovery time.
Robin made contact with the others, confirming in an instant that Cyborg and Roy had made it to the craft without anyone following them.
"Raven did something to the remaining guards that were after us. Slowed them down. Didn't knock them out, but it gave us time to get away and disappear in the crowd and dark," said Cyborg. "Where is she at?"
"She went to get Galfore," Robin replied. He called to Raven, but she made no reply. He told Cyborg and the others to sit tight; that he and Starfire would be with them in about thirty minutes. He didn't tell them that Starfire was a bit out of sorts. Whatever Raven had used on her must have been what she used on the remaining guards.
Robin looked at Starfire. She sat on her perch, a bit disoriented and lopsided. They needed to look relatively more normal when they got back out on the streets. He had to fix her arm at least.
He slipped both their masks off. He flipped out his knife and carefully cut through the sleeve of her suit.
"What are you doing?" she asked softly.
"I have to reset your shoulder."
"It will hurt?"
She said nothing.
He felt around her shoulders just so he could get it correctly in one pull and push. He didn't want her to suffer anymore than was necessary. He tried to grip her arm and found that her armband got in the way. Carefully, he removed it and set it down.
He cursed when the arm-band began to roll down the slope. He tried to make a grab for it but it hopped merrily down the terrain and plopped into the river.
Robin wasn't sure how important that armband was to Starfire. As the slave merchant had said, slave owners let Tamaranians keep their armbands to brand them with because Tamaranians hardly scarred. So instead of branding their skin, owners branded their armbands, and yet, the Tamaranian slaves refused to remove their bands.
"It's a culture thing," the slave merchant had said.
The one Robin lost probably wasn't the expensive kind; it wasn't the kind a Tamaranian princess would have. Starfire's was branded beyond recognition, but it had been with her a while, and having seen her wear it everyday, he knew it had to count for something.
"I'm sorry, Starfire. I'll replace it," he said, smoothing his palm on the lighter skin marking the place of the band.
She looked to the river. "N-No. It is alright. I think… I think it was about time I let go of it, anyway."
His guilt flared but he realized he had no time to dwell on it. He positioned his grip on her arm. "Ready?"
He pulled and she cried out, eyes and teeth squeezing tight from the pain. Her other hand made a grab for him, her nails sinking into his arm. She wasn't fighting him; she just needed someone to hold on to.
He hardened his heart to her suffering and heaved her arm right back into its socket. There was a crackle, mixed with her whimpering moan of pain. She buried her face against his shoulder, breathing raggedly and choking back what seemed like a sob.
It was over, but he held her, letting her recompose herself. They would still need to put her arm on a sling, but at least her arm was back in place.
He surveyed the area around him, trying to decipher where they should head to next while he let her recover her bearings.
He looked at Starfire. "Hey, we have to go in a while. Starfire, look at me. Are you going to be alright?"
Her eyes were glazed and watery from her ordeal but she nodded.
"Good. Let me just tie your arm in a sling and we'll go, alright?" He took the sleeve he removed from her earlier and tore it into strips. Tying them together, he made her a quick sling. It wasn't the best looking sling, but it was well-knotted and secure. "This'll do. Come on, Star. Just lean on me, alright?"
He got her to her feet, wrapping his arm around her securely. He walked them out of the growth and into the relatively busy streets. No one looked in their direction. No one seemed to care about Starfire in her torn cat-suit and him in a pristine chef's uniform that disguised the wound on his arm, but he didn't know if that meant the passersby didn't notice them.
After what seemed like forever, the craft finally came into view. They just needed to walk a little bit more.
The voice was Raven's. Robin felt Starfire go tense.
Casually, he continued to walk, pretending he was talking to Starfire. "Raven, where the hell are you?"
"I found Galfore down-stream, just further along the East side. Terra would know where we are. Are you in the craft yet?"
"In a few minutes."
"Get to the craft as quick as you can so you can pick us up… Galfore's not in good shape. I'm doing all I can to stop the bleeding."
"Bleeding?" said Starfire, her eyes widening in horror. "How badly, Raven? How—"
"Don't think about that now, Starfire."
Starfire's gaze filled with despair and Robin felt a heavy weight descend upon his shoulders.
"He's conscious, but I don't know for how long. You have to hurry," continued Raven.
Robin nodded. "We'll be there as quickly as we can."
The craft was before them. They had to go. They had to get Galfore. There was no time to lose.
To be continued…
Reflections of Roy Harper: Damn, she looks good, but that pointy haired asshole she brought along is seriously cramping my style.