Life During Wartime
Disclaimer: We own nothing but any character we happen to create entirely new. Everything else related to these superheroes is owned by DC Comics.
Author's Note: This story is being written jointly by myself and my esteemed coauthor and sister Toblerone. Unless noted otherwise, odd chapters will be written by myself and from the perspective of Tim Drake, and even ones will be written by my sister from the perspective of Cassandra Cain. We cross-edit. They may or may not cover the same events at the same time, but should generally stick together.
Oh, and see if you can catch all the song titles.
Life in the Fast Lane
Ahhh, I love this job, sometimes. This car is fast. Ridiculously so. Not "feel the wind in your hair" fast, not "wheee this is fun!" fast, no, this car is way beyond that. The car is "don't open the windows or your face will be sucked out" fast, it's "streaks of flame on the pavement" fast, it's "eyeballs in when you hit the accelerator, eyeballs out when you hit the brakes" fast. I'm talking ludicrous speed. It's a gas turbine (read: jet engine) with wheels, a shell, and a seat attached. Like in a fighter jet, you don't so much drive in it as on it. At these speeds, every turn is a near-death experience. By all accounts, I should be dead. This car rocks. Even before the special features.
And, boy, are there special features. Autopilot. Heads-up-display. GPS guidance. Multi-band radio—UHF, VHF, the works. Rear-view camera (that's right, camera. There are mirrors for backup, but the camera rocks.). Radar- navigation, search, scan. Jamming package. Targeting computer. Missile launchers. Tow cable with a grappling hook. Titanium alloy armor. Reactive armor (in case of anti-tank weapons). Self-sealing, re-inflatable tires. Armored underbody. Smokescreen. Tear gas launchers. Tank trap (to get rid of those pesky tails). Multi-thousand volt security system. Fins. Hermetically sealed cockpit (in case of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons). Bulletproof canopy and lights. Extra seat, in case you need to pick up… whoever. Surround sound stereo. And, the icing on the cake, a sweet black and red exterior.
It's nice when you work for someone with a practically unlimited budget. It also helps that he's almost your father at this point. I don't think any of my old friends from school got these kind of keys for their 17th birthdays. Not that the car uses actual keys, mind you, but it's the principle of the thing.
Of course, the ironic part is, it's strictly a work car. Not like I can just cruise around in it. I mean, I could, but there's any number of people who would be extremely unhappy if I did so. Well, at least three or four. This is ok, mostly, because I like my job. My unpaid job. Ok, not totally unpaid. I mean, I have this car, right? And the room and board, and the food, and the clothes, and the facilities…ok, so not so unpaid. I just don't get a check every month like normal people.
And the schedule's weird. It's definitely a night job. I spend my days asleep or in a cave. Or at school, if I can make it. As much as I enjoy learning, school just can't compare. Especially to what I'm about to do.
Which, by most standards, is absolutely insane. For me and my "family," perfectly normal. Commonplace, even. There's a group of people ahead of me in the alley between two old warehouses. They're negotiating a deal of some sort. Not the sort that your mother would typically approve of. I plan to make sure the deal is never closed.
Quickly, I enter a rapid series of commands into the car's computer. Got to make sure it doesn't run me over, or the dealers. I give it a few more commands, then, steeling myself, I press the red button (It's always the red button. Always. Someone has a twisted sense of humor. Probably Bruce).
I grab onto my cape and wait three seconds, and it seems like an eternity. On cue, a number of things happen. The car suddenly slows. The canopy above me slides back. My seat angles forward. My legs and arms are pulled tight into my sides, and the five-point harness I was wearing tightens even more. With a sudden "BANG" and a kick in the rear, I'm airborne. About a tenth of a second later, my hands and legs are free, and I spread my arms wide, using my cape as an airbrake. I hear the car brake rapidly and turn down a side street. The ground is approaching at an alarming speed now, so I brace for impact and roll with it, my heavily reinforced boots protecting my feet from major injury, my Kevlar-based clothing keeping me from getting massive blacktop burns. Coming out of my roll, I see that my timing was good, and the first punk is exactly where I thought he should be. A simple extension of my right fist sends him flying backward, likely with a broken nose. Counting four more thugs, I extend my titanium collapsible bo staff, and launch into a series of rapid attacks before any of them can figure out what's going on. I execute a butterfly kick at the nearest threat, which is behind me, and feel my boots connect with his temple in rapid succession. A second man moves towards me in an attempt to tackle but merely receives the butt of my staff in the chest for his effort. He stumbles and I use a sweeping kick to take his feet out from under him, and ensure he's incapacitated with a swift punch to the head. The third by now has sufficiently recovered to recognize me; he's pulled a gun and is raising it. I drop into a low stance, keeping out of the line of fire, and I flick the gun up with my staff, and then spin the bo around to smack him in the wrist. It's likely fractured, and he drops the gun in pain. I finish up with a cavity press technique to the artery in his neck- the sudden pressure in the bloodstream makes the brain react and drop his blood pressure rapidly; he's unconscious in a second. The fourth has yet to react, from fear, so he gets the dubious distinction of being my interrogation subject for the evening. Sucks to be him, but so it goes.
This is one of the parts of my job that I dislike the most, but also one of the most important. I grab the guy by the collar and force him against the alley wall, hard, with my staff. I'm using the voice, a technique I picked up from my mentor. It's a low, gravely sound that would have made Darth Vader proud. I sound almost inhuman, and I'm sure that the fact that my mask makes my eyes appear as white shapes absent of pupils adds to the effect; the guy, nervously glancing at his unconscious cohorts has no qualms about selling all of them and his employers out, if it means he doesn't have to go home in traction. He tells me nothing new, which isn't entirely surprising. I already knew who his boss was, and what they were trading. There is a purpose to this meeting, though. At the end of our conversation, I let him know who I am and what I'm doing in this city. I then physically toss him out of the alley onto the sidewalk, and he runs off like a scared animal.
At this point, I figure I should probably tie up the rest of these guys and give the cops a call, but then I realize the job's already been done for me. Very neatly, and with black handcuffs that have little yellow bat insignias on them. Figures she'd show up about now.
"Hi Robin. Fun night?"
I turn to face Batgirl, who, true to form, is standing directly behind me, in the shadows of the alley. If my mask is intimidating, hers is the face of fear itself. Her entire face is covered; where her eyes should be, there are black reflective lenses. Her ears are thin, tall, spiked bat ears. Where her nose and mouth should be, there is a piece of black fabric that looks like it's been badly stitched on, like the stitched-on skin you see in horror movies. In the right light, you can sometimes see her facial features beneath it. This is not the right light. She appears to have no face at all, and her long cloak with the spiked shoulders and the spikes on her forearms combine to make her appear to be a bona fide evil demon. A really sexy evil demon.
I did not just think that. I mean, of course she looks good. She's an extremely athletic former assassin, and possibly the premier martial artist in the world. She's in good shapes. Shape. I meant shape. Yeah. No ulterior motives there.
"Yeah, more or less. Did you already call the police?"
"Oracle did it. We should go."
Batgirl reaches to her belt, probably to pull out a grappling gun. I raise my hand to stop her.
"Wait. You're going in after this, right?"
She nods. It is beginning to get light, and we don't do daytime much.
"Here, I've got the car. I'll drive you home. It's faster."
I don't know if she really believes that, especially with her uncanny ability to read your body language like you were shouting your thoughts out loud, but if she has any objections, she doesn't raise them. I hit the remote on my glove that controls the car remotely (yet another of its seemingly endless array of extra features) and it comes whipping around the corner, and brakes hard right in front of us. Canopy slides open, we hop in, we take off and in seconds we are definitely topping the Blüdhaven PD's "most wanted speeders" list. Not that they could catch us, even if they tried. Which they don't. Not after the first time.
This though brings a slight smile to my face, and Batgirl, whom nothing escapes, notices.
"Not nothing. Never nothing. I can see it on your face."
She's got me there. "Remember that time the police tried to pull us over for speeding?"
"Yeah! Funny!" She laughs. I love that laugh. Giggly, but not annoying. Almost childish, but you can tell she's no child.
I think way too much about this.
In any case, the incident which I referred to above took place one night where Batgirl and I were returning from a visit to Gotham and were speeding to return to our "cave" and apartments before the sun arose, since masked vigilantes on the highway during morning rush hour tend to attract attention. As it was a warm summer night, we were using our bikes (also sweet pieces of equipment, but not as much fun in the winter) and going, say, 25 miles per hour over the limit, not nearly full speed, but enough to get us there before sunrise. Well, the highway patrolman apparently decided that he didn't care who was driving the vehicle as long as he gave someone a ticket- maybe he was short on quota. We passed an entrance to the highway, and all of a sudden, there was a set of sirens and lights going off behind us. We looked at each other for a moment, and for one reason or another, Batgirl decided to start slowing down. Perhaps she felt mischievous. That happens sometimes.
And watch out when it does. At first she made as though she was going to pull over, but after slowing down just a bit, she suddenly jerked the bike to the left, braked hard, and wound up cruising alongside the patrol car on the driver's side, looking into the open window, with me observing all this with my rear-view mirror. I could tell she was smiling, even though I couldn't see it, because her next move was to yell "HI!" to the policeman, giggle (both of these things I hear over our radio network), and then accelerate to full speed. Something like 250 miles an hour. I think the cop probably figured out that he couldn't catch this one by the sudden burst of flame from the rocket boosters that we conveniently had installed a few weeks earlier. Taking hers as my cue, I also gunned the engine, likely leaving the policeman to wonder what exactly had just transpired, and how he was supposed to report it on the radio. We pulled off at our "exit" (a break in the guardrail leading to a break in a fence leading to the parking lot of an abandoned train station leading to the tunnel that leads to our cave), parked the bikes, exchanged a glance, and promptly fell over laughing, stumbling the whole way to the changing room.
In any case, back to the present. We're getting close to the cave. Hard left on 37th. Bear right on Rose Ave. Hang a left into the parking lot right next to the rail yard, watch out for the fallen telephone pole. Follow the road along the transit rail's right-of-way, but don't turn left at the engine shop—instead, continue along the train tracks till you get to the abandoned tunnel. Go into it, and hope the IFF transponder is working (I don't remember it ever having failed, but I've seen the defenses in that tunnel, and I'd hate to be the guy who found out what it was like on the business end of that hardware. Non-lethal, like everything else we use, that's for sure, but there are degrees of things that will damage but not kill you. These get awfully close to the line).
This tunnel used to be part of the subway system, back when all of the mass transit in the city was owned by one company. The subway and the commuter trains and the other trains all ran on the same right of way and the riders all gave their money to the same group of families. That was, of course, before the advent of anti-trust lawsuits. Now, the city subsidizes a variety of different companies for its different services, and this line has fallen into disuse. When Dick decided to make Blüdhaven his base of operations, he bought almost this entire subway line from the city, and it is now owned by Grayson Security, a subsidy of WayneTech. We seem to be the only ones who've noticed. There weren't even any homeless living in there when we moved in.
In any case, once past the automated defenses, just follow the tunnel until you reach what Cass has dubbed the "Batstation" (creative, I know), an abandoned subway station located directly beneath Cass's house. It's pretty big, and includes parking spots for several bikes, Cass' computer/security console/Batcave link, an extensive exercise area with a sparring mat, a small army of destructible dummies, a veritable armory of close combat weapons, a full bathroom, and Cass's uniform vault, with her spare equipment. Also that freaky fireman's pole to her apartment which you can ride both up and down. Still trying to figure out how Bruce pulled that one off. Doesn't feel like a repulsor field, but isn't anything as simple as air suction or just a moving pole. Maybe a low intensity forcefield that travels up and down the pole? I'll have to hit the Batcave technical files. Whatever.
I bring the Redbird (MK. III) to a stop by the side of the cave, near the vault, and pop the hatch. Batgirl releases her five-point harness (Did I mention those? Yeah, you need them to keep from bouncing around the interior during high-speed maneuvers), and in a beautifully graceful leap, bounds out of the car and lands next to it. She looks at me.
I look back, maybe for a little too long. I feel like I should say something, but I don't know what it is. Ever have that feeling? When you're dying to tell someone something but can't quite get it out, because you haven't worked up the courage? It's like that, but I don't even know what I want to say. I manage to stutter out a "G'night," and snap my head away. I latch the canopy shut and, suddenly angry with myself for a reason I can't quite place, gun the engine and peel out the other side of the cave into the tunnel leading to the Robin's Nest.
Yes, I came up with that name. So sue me, I was 16, and it stuck. It is, obviously, my version of the Batcave, and occupies the top floor of a six story building, the top three of which are owned by myself (well, mostly: A division of WayneCorp which conveniently split off from the main corporation on my 18th birthday, and of which I am the CEO and primary employee. Bruce maintains enough control that I can't sell it without his permission, but I can do whatever else I feel like to the place. Batgirl has a similar deal going with the Batstation and her house.). The two floors below the Nest appear to be abandoned and are filled with enough buffer, misdirection, and security that to reach the top floor you either need to be me, an elite security hacker (and observant enough to find all three systems), or skilled in the creative use of precision high-explosives. Vehicular access for the garage portion of the Nest is provided by abandoned elevated train lines that were originally used back when this part of the city was a meat market and this building a slaughterhouse to bring cattle into the building. Now, the old train tracks have been removed, the structural integrity of the bridge improved, and a heavy duty garage door installed. To cover my entrances, there are also smoke stacks in the building below which billow steam whenever the Redbird approaches the building.
I park the Redbird in it's space in the garage, and haul myself out of the cockpit, feeling glum. Damn it, Drake, you should have said something. Said what? What am I supposed to have said? Anything's better than 'good night' and blasting down the tunnel. Well, I'm tired. Needed to get home. A likely story.
I probably shouldn't argue with my subconscious this much.
Walking to the vault, I begin taking off my uniform, starting with the mask. Mechanically, cape, belt, tunic, gloves, leggings, and boots come off, and go in their respective places. In my skivvies now, I walk over to the door and head for the shower. The water comes on; I step in. Cass's pink shampoo and conditioner sit innocently on the rack inside. This is not surprising; for some reason, she likes my shower better than hers, and sneaks in here every so often when I'm in class or otherwise removed from my apartment. I don't mind, although she has this irritating habit of also eating all my breakfast cereals, especially my all-important Rice Crispies, one of the things that keep me going these days. I keep meaning to tell her to stop, but it slips my mind every time I run into her. I did give her a box of them as a gift before, but I don't think she got the message. There is one good thing that came of this: I had an excuse to install a second water heater in the apartment to ensure my continued supply of hot showers, what with the extra water use.
My thoughts drift back to my "performance" earlier tonight. Why do I feel so bad about it? We're… colleagues. We don't need to make small talk… Sure you're colleagues. Shut up, little-voice-in-the-back-of-my-head-which-represents-my-conscience. No, you know there's something else. Ugh.
Fine, I admit it. I think I like her. The idea kind of freaks me out. And what's more, she probably knows. Ok, almost definitely. I mean, she can read entire battle plans off my face. She can dodge bullets by observing the shooter's movements and predicting where the shots will go. Body language, not English, is her first language. How could she not know? But then what drives me nuts about it is why doesn't she say anything? Lost for words, maybe? Bad joke, I know. She can't read or speak all that well, even after that psychic rearranged her frontal lobe to let her understand human language. But still… Does that mean she doesn't like me? But then why doesn't she tell me so? How can someone so observant just let a guy hang like that?
I sound like I'm in middle school. I haven't felt this way since…Shit. Steph. Oh boy, Tim, Memory Lane is not where you really want to be right now.
I finish my shower and step out, drying myself off, and head for my bedroom. I throw on some night clothes and check my messages.
I blink and roll my eyes. Damn speedsters. Will have to slow that down on the computer.
BEEP "Robbie…I mean Timmy? Did you hear about Bart's thing or whatever after the meeting on Friday? Something about going to the pool? Isn't it like, a little cold for that? Anyway, call me when you figure it out… I know you always do, bye!"
Wonder Girl. That's it. I'm never giving out my home number to other heroes ever again. Ever.
BEEP "Hey man, it's Gar… you hear about Bart's pool hall idea? Sounds alright, but that reminds me…we are way overdue for a BYOB party. Probably my place. Oh, and bring BG. She hasn't been to one of our shindigs yet. If nothing else, it will be entertaining to see how she deals with Bart."
Hmm. Sounds like… well, a party. I like parties. It feels good to act my age, every so often, instead of a super-mature highly disciplined soldier in a never-ending war on crime. Contrary to popular belief, we teenage vigilantes are not all goodie-two-shoes and straight laces. I shudder to think of the number of times I could be charged with assault if by some divine edict I was caught and made to go to court; and that's just us in the Bat family. I will go so far as to say that we are more responsible than most about laws and such, but we are still human, you know. And hell, Beast Boy is 24.
BEEP "Yo, Tim, Bro. Have you talked to Babs lately? I…well…uh…well… She hasn't mentioned anything, has she? I mean, anything about me? All lies, I say. All lies. Anyway, call me. We need to chill."
Poor, poor Dick. What a way with women, that one.
BEEP "Tim, this is Bruce. Check your mail. Your other mail."
Short and to the point, yet cryptic at the same time. So very Batman.
BEEP "Master Timothy, I left your package from Miss Barbara on the kitchen table. Do take care not to damage it unduly this time. "
Ah, Alfred, the rock on which the rest of our dysfunctional quasi-family stands. The quiet, polite Englishman in the midst of our American audacity and noise. I don't know what we'd do without him. The incident to which he refers involved coffee and too little sleep.
BEEP "The following message was sent to the number…"
My head snaps up. That number is one of the numbers I give out to informants, snitches, and thugs who agree to work for me in exchange for not becoming the subject of an impromptu experiment in creative orthopedics.
"…hey man, word on the street is there's money to be made downtown at the Tyrannus building… dunno what they're pushing but it's got everyone all excited-like; thought you might wanna check it out."
Right. I make a note of that; sounds like a theme for tomorrow night's activities.
"You have no more messages."
Awesome. That brings me to sleep time, which is, in my opinion, one of the best times.
But then I get into bed, where I studiously avoid looking at the pictures of my Dad and Steph on the wall. Avoid being reminded of the dad who was killed by a washed-up villan who was trying to make things up to his own son. Avoid being reminded of the teenage mother who never knew her son, my ex-girlfriend, my successor, and the second person who's died trying to prove something to Batman. Avoid being reminded that everyone is fallible, that this job isn't just a game, and that everyone makes mistakes.
Tonight, like every night, I can never avoid those pictures. If I'm lucky, I won't have any nightmares.
Sometimes, I hate this job.