chapter four. Automatic For The People

It was a little bit like heaven.

For a wild, beautiful, flailing moment, Robin had thought that it was heaven; that he'd passed into a place he couldn't see, that he was finally—finally—given a chance to be new.

Then his common sense kicked in. It never took Robin's common sense long.

"Jeez…" he moaned. He dragged himself up into a sitting position; he'd been lying down? Wait; wait. Right. That's right. Evil woman, bo-staff rising, field breaking, winning...winning…and then…

Then everything went black.

Almost immediately, almost by instinct alone, Robin began to assess his situation. He was in a dark place—mostly dark. A beautiful place. There didn't seem to be a ceiling; all light seemed to come from thousands upon thousands of tiny glowing Christmas lights, giant electric hazes in all shades, lanterns and lamps and random shoots of electricity, all laced and living upon the millions of strings and lengths of wire which circled and looped and threaded their way into the oblivion of the "ceiling". There they danced, all alive, all of them practically singing their joy; electric morning glories on vines of copper wire.

Robin unfolded to his feet; the appendages felt like sandbags, and still he forced himself to stand. Where would the world be without a little discipline?

There were apparently no walls in the place—the heaven—the whatever, either. Any space which extended the lighting's faintly buzzing glow Robin couldn't even identify an outline for; it was as if the space didn't exist at all.

He took a step. The floor was metal.

He was slightly worried. Slightly. But it wouldn't do any sort of good to get really worried; someone had to keep his head, and of course that someone was the Boy Wonder. Where did they think he got that nickname anyway? For being hasty? For being nervous? For being confused? The Boy Wonder didn't get confused, or nervous. He knew exactly what was going on, and even if he didn't that didn't matter because he would.

"Hello?"

There wasn't an echo. Why wasn't there an echo? Actions like calling out "hello?" in the middle of a seemingly empty oblivion produced a creepy echo. Where was the creepy echo!

"Man," muttered the Boy Wonder. "What the heck is going on here?"

At that moment, as if cued by his confusion, a single wire coated in plastic snapped fifty feet above. A thousand sparks of gold and silver showered the hero, and he put up his arms to shield his face without realizing until he squinted up through that silver and gold, through the sequins, the mini-mirrors of silver and gold, that they weren't what he should've looked out for. What he should've looked out for was the snapped wire which was currently speeding at him with the force of a striking snake, aiming to do Jesus knew what and his arms were currently right in its way.

His eyes widened. His mind went blank. He took a sharp breath. He jerked his arms down. And then—


In the middle of the world there is a land. And in the middle of this land there is a field. And in the middle of this field there is a boy, and in the middle of that boy are wires and special polymers, molybdenum steel and plastic, shiny things which in turn make the world go round.

Next to this boy there is another boy, and next to him another boy, and beside each boy there is another until there are sixteen in number, each of them in starched cotton with numbers on their backs.

In the middle of the other boys, there is meat. Only meat.

The other boys are holding bats. Some of the bats are made of wood, and some of the bats are made of metal. Like some of the boy is made of meat, and some of the boy is made of metal. The other boys cannot excuse this. Boys must be meat; things must be metal. Thus the boy is a thing.

The other boys had wanted the boy to show them what it could do.

'C'mon, Stone, it has to do something other than make you a freak!'

'Does Marcy actually like sucking metal cock?'

'It'd probably kill everyone on the Olympic's committee thing if they didn't let him in.'

'It'll probably kill everyone anyway.'

'Can it do that?'

'What can it do?'

'What is it?'

Things are made to do things. Every boy knows that. Things have function, purpose; they create or they destroy, they clean, they fix, they do what people tell them to. They kill. They entertain.

The other boys know what to do with things.

They were playing a game. The game was called 'Baseball'.

They are playing a new game. The game is called 'Chicken-shoot.'


"Ah!"

He'd gotten hold of a bird-a-rang. Somehow... He had slashed the wire; it had made a scratch. They were too tough to cut completely. Slowly, it had uncurled from the choke-hold it had had on his forearm, then it flinched away like a kicked rabbit and seemed to watch him, silent.

Robin didn't need this. He really didn't need this. He didn't know where he was, he didn't know why he was there; he didn't want to be here. He knew he'd just seen Cyborg, getting…He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to know. He respected people's privacy; that's what he'd always said. If they didn't want to tell him, fine. That was fine. It was their business, their demons—he didn't need to know.

Hypocrisy was the only trait he hated worse than doubt.


Chickenshoot—instructions and advice.

Now listen, because I'm only going to say this once. Straighten yourself up, push out your chest. Don't look like such a pussy, for the love of God; you're embarrassing me.

1. Select a teammate to be 'It'. Qualities to look for in an 'It':

--different skin

--different sex

--different sexual preference (even worse)

--different interests (particular targets include reading, writing, art, black, theatre)

--physical/mental deformities (blindness, deafness, a mental retard)

--a dangerously vocal nature

2. Having chosen your 'It', find yourself a heavy, blunt object. Some examples may include a fallen tree limb, a ripped floorboard, a bat; lead pipes and other metals tend to be avoided for their tendencies towards fatality. Remember, kids, you're just here to have fun— you're not here to kill someone.

3. Using said object, strike whichever playmate is your current It. Continue to strike them. If they run away, chase them. Continue to strike them. If they try to fight, fight them. Continue to strike them. If they plea with you, call them a coward, then spit into their face.

Don't look into their eyes.

Continue to strike them.


"Jesus!"

After grappling blind for several seconds his hands clasped and then wrenched off another cord, which darted off crackling.

"What the hell…" He felt lost; he was lost. "Where am I?"

"Robin."

His head snapped up. That was a woman's voice. Starfire—?

Wham! White exploded into his view and the air exploded from his breast as something hit the Boy Wonder from behind, slamming him into the molybdenum steel floor. He grunted. He couldn't move his back. A haze of red curled at his vision's corners.

"One:" went on the voice from behind his back, a cruel voice, a voice that was like ice, "A North American songbird (Turdus migratorius) having a rust-red breast and gray and black upper plumage. Also called Robin Redbreast."

"Who are you?" His voice was hoarser than it should've been; damn it, he sounded so weak!

"Two—"

"WHO ARE YOU?"

The interruption echoed hollow around the wires strung like spider's webs. Robin had by now scrambled to his skinny limbs, a thousand invisible needles piercing his every muscle as he did so. He grimaced, but he didn't groan; a hero never shows pain. The white woman in black (what had Raven said? A Telemancer?) watched patiently as he drew his staff. Her arms were crossed, and Robin immediately, almost on instinct alone, began to size her up.

Black hair. Long hair. Tied (scratch that) braided into two pigtails which dropped to her lower back. Wearing: black leotard, strapless, w/ white tights, knee-high boots (black), elbow-high gloves (black), half-skirt (blue) tied around waist w/ large belt (holds knife, gun, pen, something red, something blue, pocket watch ?). Strong arms/legs. Excellent posture. Appears flexible. Arms crossed at breast. Red smirk. V. pale. Mousey face. Large eyes. Large blue eyes. Ice blue. Speaking (voice cold, alto, hoarse slightly so)—

"Two: A small Old World bird (Erithacus rubecula) having an orange breast and a brown back. Also called Robin Redbreast." He glared at her from beneath his mask of cloth and elastic; she began to pout. "Now, now, didn't your mummy ever tell you? It's impolite to stare."

"Where are we?" His hands were sweating under his gloves; a hero never shows weakness. "Where are the others? Answer me!"

His voice again echoed. The girl began to snicker softly.

"You are just so cute," she mock-gushed, eyes cold but red lips molded into a condescending twist. "So quant—"

"It's impolite to not introduce yourself," said Robin through clenched teeth. The woman's eyes went wide.

"Oh! Where are my manners?" She proceeded to curtsy condescendingly low. "I am called Snow White. It's not my name of course, but, well, Robin isn't yours either."

"Now where are we?" Robin demanded.

"Ah, ah, ah!" twittered Snow White, waving one index finger in his scowling face. "Now, now, let's not be rude! I'm not entirely certain you're in the position to be demanding anything."

"I want to know where we are."

"Say the magic word."

"What?"

She sniggered over her breath, her lip curling back as she did so, a sight which made Robin's scowling face deepen.

Her eyes opened into snake-like slits.

"Say the magic word."

For a few long, long seconds, everything stopped. The smirk never left her face, just as the scowl never left his.

Heroes never give up. Heroes never give in.

"…Please."

"I'm a little amazed that you haven't figured it out yet," Snow White went on in a tone which always seemed just a hair too light-hearted. "Really, Robin Redbreast, you have disappointed me so. We are in the cyborg's mind. Impressive, no?"

"Cyborg's…" Robin's eyes widened. "No…I can't be in here. How did…You."

Snow White smiled.

"Me."

Robin knew villains. He knew them like the back of his own hand, like the second side of his same coin. That's why he hated them so much; if he could, he'd send them all out to space, or to the bottom of the sea, all of them crammed together in a little box which would never, ever be opened because no one left would be dumb enough to; no one left would be a villain. And villains were dumb; they always had a weakness, they always wanted power, or glory, or just attention. Each of them had their buttons and they were just so easy to find…Robin didn't envy the other's powers because he knew he didn't need them. Villains were so dumb. Robin knew villains.

But this woman, this cultist, this witch…She wasn't a villain. She was just a monster. Just a monster. People's heads aren't jewels or gold or precious ancient artifacts; people's heads aren't toys. What could she want? She didn't want power. She didn't want glory or attention. She wanted…

Robin's eyes widened in sudden horror. He didn't know what she wanted.

"You really are adorable…" Snow White was now hovering slightly over the floor, picking at her nails nonchalantly. "Always having such big dreams. Did daddy help you with your big dreams?"

"Enough…" snarled Robin under his breath. Robin knew villains…

"Oh! That's right! Daddy wasn't around to help little baby boy…Since little baby let daddy fall—"

"I SAID, ENOUGH!" On the final "enough", Robin shot three bird-a-rangs straight at the ice-woman's face. In a literal blink her eyes turned into two bottomless black holes and a field of dark energy sprang up before her. The bird-a-rangs shot off it and bounced off the floor but Robin had already moved on, sprinting in a half-circle around her and chucking a bomb at the woman's feet. She had time to look down and raise a single eyebrow before it burst in an inferno of red and orange.

Robin wasn't dumb enough to play the cocky hero. He crouched, and he frowned, and, with his bo-staff at ready, he waited.

Everywhere small smoking flames danced for a second and died. Flames licked at the cool metal floor and almost immediately vanished. The woman, of course, was unharmed.

"Nothing dents molybdenum steel," she said, soft as feathers. One hand shot up. Immediately four cables were engulfed in her black light; they twitched, then snapped, then shot straight at Robin.

His eyes widened. Not again—

One wire took his bo-staff and wrenched it from his hands. One snapped around one arm; another took the other. And the last, a gleaming metal blue, took his throat.

"Nothing dents molybdenum steel," repeated the woman, "Except people."


He was the smartest one in the class. He had an IQ of 170, unheard of in any high school across the United States. Colleges sent him brochures. Institutes requested study sessions. Twice a week he went to a professor at the local university for testing and questioning. Everyone had to know why. Prep school. Genius parents. Scientists. Luck. Maybe that was it…

"C'mon, Ron, this is dumb."

"It's not dumb!" The red-headed teen shot Victor an angry look. "Look, it'll be fun. Just—look. You don't have to take anything big. The boys know it's your first time. I mean, everyone's had a first time, right? Christ, Vic, don't be such a pussy!"

"I'm not a goddamn pussy!" Vic flinched slightly as a mother and her child gave him bewildered looks at his suddenly loud tone.

"Fuck, man," muttered Ron, eyes glaring into the bags of Cornnuts. "Keep your voice down. Jeez, you are an amateur."

"Look, I'm not a pussy," whispered Vic fiercely. "Maybe I just don't want to rob a damn convenience store! It's stupid! Not to mention the guy at the cash register's a friend of my dad's."

"Shit, Vic, I thought you didn't like your dad."

"I hate my dad! That doesn't mean I wanna rob Ringpops from his friend!"

"We're not 'robbing' anything! It's not like I want ya to put a gun to his head or something. All you've gotta do is put somethin' under your coat and leave. It's not that friggin' hard!"

"Oh, yeah?" Vic fixed Ron's gaze with his two brown eyes. "What if we get caught? What if I get arrested? D'you know what it's like being black in this town? The police practically vie for excuses! And if dad and mom found out…Jesus Christ…"

"'Vie'? What the fuck does 'vie'—?"

"It means to fight over something."

"Yeah, well…" Ron shoved a couple bags and a bottle into his pant's baggy pockets. "Whether they 'vie' for it or not, you're gonna hafta either deal with them or with the boys. They're not gonna take well to having a pussy in our circle."

The red-headed teen shoved past Vic then and began his nonchalant stride across the store. Vic stared at the bags of Cornnuts, and put one in his pocket.


He clanged.

That was the first sound he heard we he emerged from the dark. He clanged. He squealed. His right side hurt. He couldn't raise his right arm; it felt like a TV was strapped to it, like he was coated in—

"What the…"

His eyes widened. Or one eye did. Oh Jesus…He couldn't feel his right eye.

"Victor?" His father's face, wrinkled and tear-stained, frowned down at him from his place at the foot of the bed. "Victor? You're awake?"

"What happened to me?" His breathing began to quicken; he couldn't feel his breath, he couldn't feel himself breath! "Old man…What did you do!"

"You…You were going to die." His father rubbed his hands together; he wouldn't look Vic in the eye. "You were going to die. Just like—"

His voice caught, and he fell silent.

"Mom?" Tears rolled from his left eye; nothing he did made his right eye wet. "Mom's…You killed her, didn't you? With your experiments? That thing…That thing that came through the portal or whatever. That killed her, didn't it? You bastard…YOUR OWN WIFE!"

"It was an accident. Accident's happen. The important thing is that you're alive."

"I'M NOT ALIVE!" His chest pounded; was that his heart or a cog? "I don't know what I am, but I'm not alive."

"You are, Victor. Please, just let me explain. Do you remember the cybernetic body parts Eli…your mother and I ar—were working on? For soldiers disabled in battle?"

"Sure…" Victor's left eye flickered back and forth. He couldn't make his right eye open. He couldn't lift his right side. Something inside of him hissed soft; something else rattled. "The metal stuff, right? The stuff that looked like—"

He stopped. He blinked. His right eye popped open and locked onto a housefly in the corner. The fly was magnified at 180x.

"You did this to me…"

200x.

"You did this to me…"

250x.

"Victor…" His father reached out to touch him, for the first real time. "Victor, I—"

"Just shut up, old man!" His voice tore through the room; he was shaking. His metal body rattled in his father's silence. "All my life you've used me, forced me to be what you wanted me to be. And all my life I fought you. But you won, didn't you?"

His right hand twitched and clutched the hospital mattress.

"Curse you, man—I'm exactly what you want now!"

His father turned around; he began to walk.

"I hate you, old man! I HATE YOU!"

Tears poured unhindered from Victor's left eye. Nothing came from his right.

"Damn it, why didn't you let me just die?"

Water short-circuits machinery.

"WHY COULDN'T YOU LET ME DIE!"

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Author's Pseudo-Apology/Sentimental Ramblings: I'm back. I never thought that I would be, but I'm back. I suppose this goes to show you the true power of reviews…To be perfectly frank, you people prodded me into returning, specifically the random reviewers I'd get every four (?) months or so. They were all different, they all had different things to say… But still. They reminded me of two things.

That this points at the fanfiction was still there, and that—

This points at inner fanfiction writer was still there too.

Fanfiction is so easy to dismiss as something silly, isn't it? Just fans, making up what they wish would happen. But the more I think about it, the more I'm starting to realize that it's not that at all, at least not for me. It's…writing. It's a chance to write. It's a chance to create something truly your own with characters that you love. It teaches you things; it teaches you to write. Wow. It's…wow. And realizing that people read you, and like you, and have criticism for you, and suggestions, that's perfect! That's absolute perfection for me. Sorry. This is getting sentimental/gushy. I'm just in a really good mood at the moment; I never thought I'd continue this. Really. I have no good excuses; school, life…take your pick. It became unimportant somehow, in comparison to the "real world". But (hm, how to explain this?) I guess that I'm starting to realize that it must be more important to me than I thought it was, since I just can't put it down.

This isn't really an apology, although I owe you one. I figure that an apology has no use at all in the long run, and that a general promise does. So, here goes: I won't update this tomorrow. I won't update this the day after. But I will update this. If you stay with me, I will update this. I'll continue this story. Because it's a story that wants to be told. And that's all I have to say.

Author's Note: Hoooo boy… I really earned my rating this chappie, didn't I? Cyborg's back story is…uh…less than sunny. I realize the Chickenshoot stuff was a bit heavy-handed, but I've only got so much space to work with here. I'm tempted to explain some of the weirder things in the chapter, since it was probably quite confusing, but most (if not all) questions will be answered next chapter anyway, so I'll make you wait. Plus I'd rather not have to explain plot points in my author's note; it's bad for business. I'll skip answering reviews this week (rather "this month") because I'm sure most of you won't come back, seeing this fic was dead as of three hours ago. Yeesh, I'm a bad person.

Next Chapter: Beast Boy plays cat's cradle and becomes very confused.