Note: I've received so many requests for me to continue this story that I thought I'd give it a whirl. I've gone over my old notes and hope to be able to get back to what my original intentions were with the story.

Footnote: Thanks to "10 Most Amazing Extinct Animals."

Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC and Time/Warner; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.

Copyright February 2008

Wish Upon a Star

By Syl Francis

Chapter Twelve

"This way," Talia said. She spoke little as she led Bruce back the same way they had come with Grind. Now, she stopped before a large, vault-sized door. Turning to him, Talia looked like she was about to speak but abruptly changed her mind. Instead, she placed her palm on an upright, security scanner. Instantly, an amber light glowed from the stand, enveloping her hand, apparently scanning her palm. The next moment, the light turned green. Simultaneously, a matching green light flashed on the security door, and Bruce heard a distinct hiss from inside as if an airlock had been released.

Still not speaking, Talia placed her palm on a small square just to the right of the door. Immediately, the massive door silently swung open. Bruce wondered about the high security measures. What could possibly be behind the door that was so important it required this type of protection?

To his surprise, as soon as they entered, the door closed behind them with a loud, resounding echo. He turned to Talia, but paused when she shook her head.

"Not yet, Beloved. You will see soon enough. Here--!" This last was spoken as she handed him what looked like an environmental suit. Not waiting for him to reply, Talia turned and started removing her outer clothing. Shaking his head, Bruce followed suit.

Within a few minutes, they were both dressed in white protective suits that included their own ventilation system. Talia showed him how to operate his, helping him set it to a comfortable temperature.

"Talia, what is this all about? Why are we--?" Bruce stopped. Talia had pressed a hidden switch, revealing what lay on the other side of a large, glass enclosure.

Bruce and Talia stood inside a small observation booth that overlooked a massive underground laboratory. At least, Bruce believed that it was a laboratory--or, perhaps an elaborate environmental biosphere.

Not sure of what he was observing, Bruce watched as several figures in environmental suits similar to his checked readings on electronic surveillance equipment, temperature gauges, and instruments whose purpose he could only guess. There was too much to see, too much to take in at a glance.

However, as interesting as what the people down below might be doing, they were not what held his attention. For beyond the banks of computers, dials, and endless monitors were row upon row of large cages--no, 'cages' was too primitive a term for what lay before them.

Bruce recalled how Alfred, in an endeavor to provide him with as 'normal' a childhood as possible, had on several occasions taken him on outings to the Gotham City Zoo--dragged him would be a more appropriate term, Bruce admitted privately--and had tried to instill in him the necessity of protecting endangered species.

While the visits had largely bored the precocious child, Bruce had been fascinated by how individual species were placed in habitats that carefully simulated their home environment. What he now saw from the observation room reminded Bruce of those visits to the zoo.

"A zoo," he said as if to confirm it. "Why do you have a zoo down here?" He shook his head. "And why all the security?"

"This isn't just any zoo, Beloved," Talia answered, a touch of pride lighting her features. "This is one of Father's greatest achievements. Come...I will show you."

Talia took his hand and led him down two flights of stairs, eventually arriving at a set of double glass doors. She swiped a card through a metallic scanner, and the doors soundlessly slid open. "This way," she said. Bruce followed, curious in spite of himself.

Talia walked up to a tall figure in a protective suit who was bent over a computer monitor. "Hello, Almira. It has been a long time."

The figure instantly whirled around, and to Bruce's surprise, an older woman's delighted face smiled at them. He noted almond-shaped eyes that were crinkled with laugh lines, showing that this was a woman who enjoyed life. "Talia!" Immediately the two women were in each other's arms. "Oh, Talia! When did you get back? Why did you not tell me? How long have you been home?"

Talia laughed at the rapid-fire questions. "Almira, my sweet Almira, you have not changed. It is so good to see you again. How I have missed you."

"And I you!" As if a new thought struck her, she asked, "Did the Master send for you at long last? He has been beside himself these past few months without his precious Talia by his side."

Talia shook her head. "No, he did not send for me, my friend." She paused and gave Almira a soft smile. "He came to visit me."

Almira gasped. "Indeed? Then, he must have been missing his daughter even more than he admitted to me."

"Yes...perhaps that is so," Talia said. To Bruce her voice sounded carefully noncommittal.

Almira acknowledged Bruce for the first time and turned questioning eyes on Talia. "And who is this?" she asked teasingly. Talia smiled in the only way she could when talking about Bruce. She fairly glowed.

"My dearest Almira, I wish to introduce you to my husband--Mr. Bruce Wayne." She turned to Bruce. "Beloved, I wish to introduce you to my oldest and dearest friend, Dr. Almira Binte Tahir. Almira became a second mother to me when my own, beloved mother died in a tragic accident."

"Husband?" Almira repeated startled. "When--? Oh, Talia, how could you marry and not tell me?" she scolded gently. Turning to Bruce, she held out her hand. "Mr. Wayne, it is a pleasure to meet you. Never in my life would I have believed that there lived the man who would conquer this spirited young one's heart."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Dr. Binte Tahir," Bruce replied.

"Oh, me Dr. Almira--everybody does." Taking Talia by the arm, she led them to a small office off to the side. "Tell me, my dear, when did all this happen?"

"Just two days ago." Talia laughed out loud at the older woman's bemused expression. "Please, my dearest Almira, do not be cross with me. My beloved asked me to marry him the day before yesterday--at exactly ten in the morning--" She added with a smile. "--And I accepted." She gazed lovingly at Bruce. "How could I not? To have said 'no' would have been unthinkable as I do not believe that I could ever live without him."

Almira listened with the wisdom of one who had loved and lost long ago. "Yes..." she said, nodding thoughtfully. A faraway look came upon her. "I, too, had a choice once long ago," she said. "Pursue my dreams of university and scientific studies or marry the boy I loved, stay at home, and raise his children." She sighed, looking back in her mind's eye.

Blinking suddenly, Almira returned to the present and shrugged. "Well, that's all in the past. Besides--" She gave a short laugh. "--The very day I turned him down, he married the first girl he met, and they had ten children together." She gave them a bright smile. "And I have my studies and my laboratory. In all, everyone ended up happy." She placed her hands gently on the couple's shoulders. "I am so very gratified for the both of you. I wish you a long life together and prosperity."

"Thank you, Almira," Talia said gratefully. "Your blessing means more to me than you can know." Then changing the subject abruptly, she asked, "I was wondering if you would mind showing Bruce your wondrous pets?"

"Have you asked your father?" Almira looked unsure.

"No, not really," Talia admitted. "But Father did welcome Bruce into the family and said that this was now his home for as long he wished." She shrugged. "But if you think that Father would not approve--?"

Almira shook her head and shrugged. "Well, if the Master has welcomed you into the fold, Mr. Wayne, I see no reason why you shouldn't be given the grand tour of his zoo."

"Please, it's Bruce," Bruce said with a half-smile. "I mean, like you said...I'm a member of the family now."

"Indeed he is, Dr. Almira."

They all turned toward the sound of the new voice--Ra's al Ghul. He was also in a protective suit, and yet, rather than the decidedly awkward gait that the others displayed while confined within the suits, Al Ghul moved with the same grace that he did in his flowing robes.

"Talia is correct. Bruce is now a member of my family and should be afforded all the rights and privileges of his position--to include a personal tour of our little zoo."

Al Ghul gave Bruce a measuring look, the kind to which Bruce was growing accustomed, the kind that reminded Bruce of being studied under a microscope. Bruce returned Al Ghul's gaze without flinching. He thought he saw something in the older man's eyes, something that seemed to indicate surprise or approval. Bruce could not be certain.

"Permit me to show you around our little zoo," Al Ghul offered. "We are all understandably very proud of it. Come."

With each passing moment, Bruce's excitement grew. Each exhibit displayed what could only be described as a miracle. Species that had long been extinct—primates, carnivores, even samples of sea mammals—stared out at him from behind their display cases. Al Ghul pointed out a few that he rightly took extra pride in.

"The last recorded sighting of the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger," Al Ghul intoned, indicating a snarling wolf-like animal that stood protectively over a recent kill, "was purportedly around 1936 in the island of Tasmania. Yet, due to the brilliant efforts of my scientists, led by Dr. Almira, the Tasmanian Tiger lives and hunts again."

"But how--?" Bruce began.

Al Ghul held up his hand in a staying motion. "All in good time, my son." He continued the tour, pausing before another exhibit.

Bruce saw two large tigers, lounging before the open mouth of what was probably their cave lair. The animals had coloring similar to that of the Bengal tiger, rather big paws with exceptionally large claws.

"The Caspian Tiger was the third largest in the world," Al Ghul said without preamble. "Because of Man's shortsightedness, this beautiful creature became extinct in 1970. Dr. Almira's miracle workers first success was cloning these two exquisite specimens—a male and female—Shamir and Sahfra." He paused. "Talia picked the names."

"Shamir and Sahfra," Talia said with a smile. "The names mean 'precious stone' and 'sapphire.' Shamir and Sahfra are our two precious jewels. Our hope is that they will mate naturally and become the sire and dam of a new line."

"If that fails," Dr. Almira added, "then we will artificially inseminate Sahfra with Shamir's seed."

Bruce stared in admiration at the two exotic, supposedly extinct tigers. He shook his head. "I don't know what to say."

"There is no need for words, Beloved," Talia said, taking his hand. "Let your eyes and ears be witness to what only a handful of people have been privileged to see."

Nodding, Bruce allowed her to lead him through the rest of the exclusive, one-of-a-kind zoo.

All too soon, they came to the last of the exhibits.

"This brings us to the end of our little tour, my son, "Al Ghul said, "but not the end of our efforts to recover our planet's lost species. The final exhibit could be said to be the 'poster child' of extinct species—the Dodo bird. A gentle, flightless bird from the island of Mauritius, the Dodo has been extinct since the Seventeenth Century. Hunted to near extinction, it finally died out once its natural habitat was destroyed by human encroachment."

Al Ghul shook his head. "Nature placed Man here to be the earth's steward; instead, we have betrayed her trust and have become Nature's most vicious destroyer." He closed his eyes. "A day of reckoning is coming, my children, and we must do everything in our power to be ready."

"I don't understand," Bruce said.

Al Ghul again held his hand up in a staying motion. "All in good time, Bruce. All in good time." He placed his hand over his heart and bowed slightly. "Forgive me, but I have duties I must attend to. Will you join me for dinner tonight at eight o'clock?"

Before Bruce or Talia could reply, Almira spoke.

"What Ra's al Ghul requests is a command," she sad with a slight bow. "And as always it is our honor, Master." Almira added this last with a twinkle in her eye. To Bruce's surprise Al Ghul returned her smile.

Talia and Bruce also murmured their acceptance.

"Good. Then I shall expect you at dinner." Al Ghul bowed formally, turned and left.

Bruce looked at Talia, but she shook her head, refusing to meet his eyes.

End of Chapter 12