Author's Note: I would have sworn it had been less than a month since I last updated this serial. But I would have been wrong. I got kinda distracted during the holiday season, what with one thing and another. Anyway! We've skipped ahead twenty or thirty minutes in the narrative. We'll get Robin's perspective again.
Chapter Fifteen: Ready to Play the Record, Take Two
The robots had left quickly after they had Cyborg. Their interest in the other four Titans, as well as the Sibyl whose office they had briefly invaded, appeared to be nil—except for one little detail: Robin's utility belt had been removed while he was blinded. He hadn't yet realized the attackers were robotic, and his best efforts to harm whoever wanted his belt had only hurt his own hands before he started to sort out what was happening.
A minute later, four of the Sibyl's guards had stormed into the office, obviously fearing the worst. The relief on their faces when they saw Sibyl Barabel stand up to greet them was manifest. By that time the attacking robots were gone, not just from the office but from the neighborhood. The Sibyl had been very firm in telling the guards to get plastic sheeting up over the broken window as quickly as possible, and then to exit the house again while she and her guests continued their private discussion in another room. Replacing the glass could wait.
While the Sibyl was doing that, Raven had quietly made the rounds, touching anyone who'd been cut by flying glass and encouraging the flesh to heal faster. No one was seriously injured—Robin, for instance, hadn't even been consciously aware of two small cuts on his left arm until Raven called his attention to them. His hands definitely felt better after she had touched them and concentrated on whatever it was she concentrated on at times like this, though.
The Sibyl had accepted a quick report from the officer in command of the guards after he'd had time to interview his men and other witnesses outside the house. The general consensus was that a black guy had been carried away by a large robotic helicopter flying northward. (Apparently the robots had left Cyborg's holographic disguise alone for the time being—no one had mentioned gleaming white metal as the abductee's most distinguishing characteristic.)
The guards swore they had not fired at the copter for fears of hitting its prisoner, although they thought they had managed to disable a few of the smaller, bipedal robots—all of which had been retrieved by other robots and loaded into the helicopter as part of the aerial retreat.
Now they were down in a cellar, with Raven carrying the record player. The Sybil had explained that it was always possible the robots had planted some super-sophisticated bugs in her office, and sweeping for those would take time. In the meantime, she thought her visitors would prefer the privacy of a different chamber.
Predictably, Beast Boy was grumbling at how quickly the team had been knocked back on its heels. "Those S.T.A.R. robots don't fight fair!"
"Well, no," Robin said judiciously. "What does a robot care about Marquis of Queensberry rules, or the thrill of testing yourself by going one-on-one with a worthy opponent? They didn't want to give us a sporting chance; they wanted to carry out their mission as efficiently as possible and then leave."
Batman's enemies in Gotham didn't normally use flash-bang grenades, and neither did the bad guys in Jump City, so Robin had precious little experience in dealing with them. He wondered how much difference it would have made if he'd been wearing dark glasses or goggles. The noise still would've been a problem, though. Insert earplugs the next time you knew you were about to fight them? Not that he'd known it was coming this time, though—and wearing earplugs all day, every day, just to be on the safe side, seemed hopelessly impractical.
"My teachers in tactics told me that the 'element of surprise' acts as a force multiplier which can make the attacking force at least three times as effective as it otherwise would be, in the short term," Starfire said solemnly. "I think their point has been proven once again."
"Yeah, sure, so they surprised us—but there's something I still don't get," Beast Boy complained, turning to glare at Sibyl Barabel. "If you're so powerful, how come you didn't know about those robots sneaking up before they broke the glass and flash-banged us?"
The Sibyl didn't answer directly. She didn't even look offended. Instead, she glanced at Raven as if handing the ball to her. Raven gave Beast Boy a withering look and asked, "Have you ever psychically detected a robot's emotions as it approached you?"
"Er . . . no?"
"Right. Me neither. Because robots don't have emotions in the first place. And don't tell me about your friend Robotman's emotions; you know perfectly well he doesn't count."
Dismissing the subject, Raven looked down at the record player she had shielded during the brief invasion. "Still, my best guess was that they'd want to confiscate this message. I kept expecting them to smash through my shield to get at it. They didn't even try."
"S.T.A.R.'s mechanical legions confiscate or destroy microchips wherever they can find them," Sibyl Barabel said. "Beyond that, they rarely care about anything outside their own boundaries. I am guessing their agents in Vision had somehow detected suspicious electronic 'noise' radiating from your friend and the robots were dispatched to investigate."
Raven frowned. "So it was just coincidence that they interrupted us while we were playing Jinx's record?"
Robin had noticed before that with her mystical background, Raven had little faith in the concept of strange juxtapositions of circumstances "just happening to occur" at certain times and places. Of course, Batman felt much the same way about big coincidences, although he was less inclined to blame unseen supernatural forces and more inclined to consider "conspiracy theory" explanations.
Robin took the contrary point of view in this case. "If they'd attacked any time in the past two hours, you might have thought they were trying to prevent us from ever starting the record. If they attacked us any time in the next few days, you might suspect them of trying to stop us from following the directions heard on the record. So no, I'm not convinced there was anything special about the precise moment of the actual attack, from the robots' point of view. Especially considering that, as you said, they showed absolutely no interest in the record while they were here."
Raven didn't actually argue that point any further, which Robin took as her way of silently conceding he might have a point. But she didn't look happy at this conclusion, either. (Granted, with Raven that was no surprise.)
Apparently she was already pursuing a new train of thought. "I didn't have time to start the record playing again before the robots came into the room, so I don't think they heard anything from it. Even assuming they know somebody who is fluent in Ancient Sumerian."
She paused significantly—Robin could just feel the significance crawling through the air towards him—and then finished: "But a minute earlier I'd translated the latitude and longitude of a big secret cache into English for you guys, and Cyborg heard those coordinates. He must have stored them in memory—both organic and electronic memory, I imagine. And now Cyborg's in their hands."
She paused to see if her meaning sunk in. Robin winced as the implications did, in fact, register with his imagination. Until now, he hadn't gotten around to thinking about Cyborg as a torture subject yet—or he hadn't wanted to think of it?
The look of horror on Starfire's face suggested she was keeping up on this one—not too surprising after what Robin had gathered about the way the Gordanians treated prisoners—and Beast Boy was only lagging a little behind; he started to say, "C'mon, guys! You all know Cyborg would never spill the beans about our plans—" before it obviously dawned on him that the bean-spilling might not be voluntary.
Robin decided to spell it out, though. Just in case they weren't all thinking along exactly the same lines. "My best guess? The robots probably hit him with a localized EMP to knock out his systems. Or some other weapon that amounted to much the same thing in practice. I don't know how long that would cripple him, but if, while his arms and legs are paralyzed, they start . . . extracting . . . all the electronic data-storage devices in his body, and scanning them on other computers at their base, how could he possibly stop them from finding records of everything he's seen and heard since we landed in this crazy future?"
Starfire said, "Then we must extricate him from their clutches as quickly as possible!"
(Earlier, as their vision was finally clearing, Beast Boy had been just barely quick enough to turn into a gorilla and grab onto Star before she could go flying off after Cyborg's abductors, planning to fight them in mid-air, single-handedly if need be. Before she could figure out how to shake Beast Boy off without hurting him, Robin had managed to persuade her that she wouldn't do much better against flash-bangs the second time around without some serious preparations, but it hadn't been an easy sell.)
The Sibyl said patiently, "By now he's halfway back to their headquarters complex. Penetrating its security has been tried. And tried, and tried, and tried, over the centuries. You are not the only people who ever found reason to hate S.T.A.R. Labs. Not even the only group of people with superpowers." (Robin noted that she politely didn't comment on his lack of special powers.) "But I don't think any prisoner in that complex has escaped, even with outside assistance, in at least four hundred years."
Inevitably, Starfire asked: "What happened four hundred years ago?"
"There was a horrible earthquake. The epicenter was a little ways offshore from their headquarters. The resultant tsunami drenched the place. A few weeks later a man turned up here in Vision, seeking sanctuary. He said he'd been arrested by S.T.A.R.'s security forces and taken to their HQ for interrogation. In between walls collapsing and some of the robots getting smashed by the wave and then short-circuited by the floodwaters, he was about to escape."
Robin thought: Big underwater earthquake. So if we just had Terra around, and if she wanted to help, she might be able to make history repeat itself. But that was hopelessly hypothetical. And even if it hadn't been, he'd still have some serious qualms about throwing tidal waves at inhabited coastal areas.
Meanwhile, Beast Boy was asking the obvious follow-up question. "What happened to the guy after he made it this far?"
"Oh, we gave him a thorough debriefing for any useful intelligence. Then we handed him back to S.T.A.R. as a diplomatic gesture, even though we didn't—and still don't—have any formal treaties with them."
Robin blinked. "You gave him back?"
The Sibyl's calm features didn't even twitch as she explained the reasoning of leaders of long ago. "Because of why he had been arrested in the first place. He sought to give the impression that he was just a political dissident. Actually, S.T.A.R. had arrested him on suspicion of murder. Wallis was Sibyl in those days; she examined his mind herself and determined he was guilty, without anything we'd call 'sufficiently mitigating circumstances.' She talked it over with the Chairman of the Commonwealth and they agreed there was no need to set a precedent for encouraging murderers to cross our borders as an easy way of escaping justice at home."
Robin was trying to improve his mental picture of the international politics involved. The Commonwealth had no extradition treaty with S.T.A.R., but sometimes acted as if it did? The two countries were not officially at war, even though S.T.A.R. openly sent robot commandos over the border when it felt the need? And this had been going on for hundreds of years? Like an extra-long Cold War?
First things first. "Right now we need to hear the rest of that record," he said firmly. "Then we may have a better idea of how important it is, and whether or not finding it first would leave us better-equipped to rescue Cyborg than we are right this minute."
The other Titans looked less than thrilled at the way he implied they might leave Cyborg to fend for himself for awhile—which was only fair, since Robin felt rotten about it himself—but they couldn't really disagree with the idea that it wouldn't hurt anything to finish Jinx's record first. Raven carefully set the machine down, plugged it in to a wall socket, and started the record playing again.
Author's Note: In case anyone has forgotten this (or never saw the episode which mentioned it): Beast Boy's old buddy Robotman, a founding member of the Doom Patrol, is basically the brain of a human named Cliff Steele, now located inside a robot body. Since Cliff still has a human brain, he still has human thoughts and emotions. That's why Raven says he "doesn't count" as an example of a real robot.