Wikipedia is a web of interest and intrigue that can snare unwary passersby and drag them without their permission into a vortex of fascinating research. Someone might start out by looking up dinosaurs and end on a page describing how paperclips are made. Six hours later. With no memory of how they got there.
Or, if you happen to be a sidekick on a quest for clues, you might start out researching Time and wind up staring indignantly at your own Wikipedia page, most of which has been taken over by rather insulting theories.
I didn't name myself after a stupid little songbird! It's Robin as in Robin Hood, guys. Check the costume. Are there feathers? Do I wear a beak? No. He slumped back in the big chair and skimmed the rest of the page, absently nibbling a piece of pepperoni off of his slice of pizza. No, he wasn't Batman's son. Yes, he'd worn elf shoes, but that was a long time ago! A little picture of him in the early years beamed out at the world from the enormous monitor. Had he really been that young when he started? Had he really worn those tiny green speedos? How had any of Gotham's villains managed to face him without laughing themselves sick?
A throat was cleared behind him. Dick, acting purely on instinct, leapt to his feet and whirled to face the unknown threat. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Instinct had failed to take into account Dick's broken foot and the piece of melty pizza in his hand. His air-casted foot with its smooth plastic sole slid right out from under him and slammed into the leg of the chair. He screeched with pain and flung out his hands for balance, sending the pizza in a perfect curve across the room to connect with a muted splat on the trophy case containing a shredded Man-Bat labcoat.
Bruce regarded him as he stood there, panting, gingerly resting his injured foot on the ground. "Am I interrupting something?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.
"No, I just...I...you wouldn't believe some of the stuff they're saying about me. Us," he amended hurriedly.
"We have more important things to worry about," Bruce reminded him.
"Right, right," Dick muttered, hurriedly closing the Wikipedia window. "I did find some stuff about the time skips."
Bruce leaned on the back of the chair as Dick tapped rapidly on the keyboard. "It's the raw news feed from channel 27." The monitor screen filled with the image of a beaming scientist standing in front of an odd-looking machine.
Bruce sighed. It was always scientists and weird machines. Why couldn't it have been something easy, like a mass hallucination?
The white-haired man gestured proudly at his machine. "After years of painstaking research, I've finally been able to produce a machine that will take us back and forth through time without disturbing the time-space continuum."
The reporters, none of whom really cared about the time-space continuum as long as they got their stories, scribbled his words down dutifully. "What does it do?" one of them called out.
"It can transport us to other eras," the scientist beamed.
"Why? What's it good for?" one of the reporters asked from somewhere behind the camera.
The scientist stared at him with a look of confusion on his face. Bruce suspected that, like all scientists, the whole reason to build it was to build it. Finding a use for crazy machines always seemed to come second in the scientific community. "It's...educational," he finally muttered. "History lectures will be a thing of the past."
The reporters chuckled. The scientist didn't. "If you'll allow me to demonstrate," he said, turning to a little keypad set into the side of the machine, "I shall now take us back to-"
There was an enormous clattering noise paired with the sound of frantically running feet. "Sorry, sorry," a young man said as he panted to a halt in front of the scientist. "Sorry, Dr. Bertram, my alarm clock didn't go off."
Bertram scowled down at the boy. "Allow me to introduce my assistant," he said icily. "Jacob Forester."
"Hey!" Jacob protested, returning Bertram's glare. "I'm not your assistant! We worked together on this thing!"
"I worked for thirty-five years on the mechanics of this project," Bertram said. "You showed up six months ago and said a few words."
"I did more than that!" Jacob snapped. "Magic's harder than it looks, Bertram!"
And magic, Bruce thought, rubbing his eyes. A scientist with a weird machine and magic. Could it get any worse?
Bertram favored Jacob with a grim smile. "Apparently so, given that certain aspects of your side of things still isn't functioning correctly."
Ah. It is worse. It was bad enough dealing with crazy machines without worrying whether they'd suddenly go spastic from bad programming.
"Things on my side are doing fine! You're the one that made me build half your machinery with lousy instructions and-"
A camera flashing over the two irate inventors reminded them that they were not alone. "We'll discuss this later," Bertram promised in a low growl. "If I may continue the demonstration that was so rudely interrupted," he said, ignoring Jacob's look of death aimed in his direction, "I will now take us back to 1983." He finished tapping in the sequence and triumphantly pressed a green button.
Bertram looked generally unchanged. Science and fashion had never really gone together, and lab coats had remained the same for years. Jacob, however, had been wearing normal, everyday clothing, which had shifted into a Hypercolor T-shirt and skintight, acid-washed blue jeans.
The biggest change in the room was the machine itself, which had devolved into an absolutely enormous beige monstrosity that took up nearly all the space in the room.
Bertram wheeled on Jacob and snarled "I thought you said you fixed that! The machine is not supposed to shift with us!"
"Don't look at me," he protested. "It was probably your stupid processor that's on the blink again!"
A reporter cleared her throat. "This is, um, certainly interesting," she said, stepping forward so everyone could see her new clothes, "But how is it any more educational than looking at pictures?"
Bertram gave her his best attempt at a smile. "If you'll step into that room over there, you'll soon find out," he said. "This room is guarded against the full effects of the machine."
The reporter shrugged and stepped into the indicated room, waving to everyone from behind the huge plexiglass window that formed the wall between the rooms. "What now?"
"Can you tell me what the last thing you watched on the television was?"
"Oh, um...Oh, yeah, it was that new show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Spies are so bad, you know? Awesome."
"Of course," Bertram said uncertainly. "You can come back in, now."
The reporter shrugged and came back in. "Oh!" She twisted around to gape at the room, then back at the machine. "It was like I was really in the eighties! I couldn't remember anything past 1983!"
Dick paused the feed. "That's basically it. There's another few minutes of her gushing about how neat the machine is, and then everyone has a turn in the plexiglass room."
"Where's the machine now?"
Dick shrugged. "Well, if they've still got it in the same lab, it's over on Naylor Avenue."
The problem with magic is that it is dumb. If you want a spell to turn someone's nose purple, well, that's easy. But the more commands and features you add in to the spell, the more complicated the instructions have to be. You have to specify every little detail or what you end up getting is magical havoc.
Curiously enough, anyone who owns a PC can tell you that technology is dumb for exactly the same reason. Of course, technological havoc can be a little less dangerous, depending upon which system is currently going kerflooey, but havoc is havoc nonetheless.
Trying to combine science and magic is like trying to combine sodium with water. If you're careless, what you get is a loud noise or two as your carefully-set-up equipment jerks and smokes into a shuddering ruin. (And that's if you're lucky.)
If you're very, very careful, though, and if you've taken care to avoid any possible problems, and if you've got specialists standing by to assist you...well, then maybe you'll get something that works. It might do something totally different than you anticipated, but it will do something, and hopefully that something won't be too destructive.
Batman knew all this, and he was busy making contingency plans as he crept into the lab via the surprisingly strong ventilation system. The three men inside the lab - Dr. Bertram, Jacob Forester, and Temple Fugate - didn't notice him as he carefully began detaching the vent grating.
He was not exactly happy with the situation. On his way over, the city had suffered no less than four time shifts, and every time he'd expected his mask to disappear. It hadn't - yet - but he had rubbed his face over with charcoal in case it did. Some kind of black mask was better than nothing, and charcoal couldn't really devolve.
It was at times like this that he really envied most of the other members of the Justice League. They didn't have to wear masks.They waltzed around barefaced and, in some cases, bare-legged and bare-armed and why on earth would anyone choose to fight crime in a strapless leotard when common decency dictated that no skin above the knees should be shown-
No! No, he was losing himself in this era of Time. He was still Bruce Wayne and it was still 1995, no matter what he was wearing or what the building looked like. He redoubled his efforts with the screws.
Below him, Fugate, with a scowl of annoyance on his face, sat primly in a hard wooden chair and toyed with an hourglass. "How long do you anticipate this round of repairs to take?" he asked. "We're on a schedule, you know."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fugate, but the schedule's totally screwed," a voice came from inside the machinery. Batman traced it to where a pair of legs were dangling from a gap in the solid iron case of the machine. "I did my best, but it wasn't meant to work this hard and it keeps breaking!"
"Then I advise that you fix it," Fugate said menacingly.
"I'm trying! Half the time it's too backward for me to figure out what should go where, and half the time it's so far advanced that I've never even heard of the components! I've only got an hour here and there where I can actually understand it, and by the time I get the new parts in, it's switched again and more stuff breaks!" The owner of the legs clanked something hard in the web of machinery. The objects in the room rippled and changed. Some things evolved into highly futuristic, sweeping chrome representations of themselves. Some things, like the machine in the middle of the room, devolved into something out of a steampunk wonderland.
Batman froze in place, assessing the changes in his costume. Mask? Yes, in fact quite a bit more mask than he was used to. No skin at all was exposed. The cape was gone, but he felt little ridges in the back that indicated a set of pop-out glider wings. And the belt had all the old familiar things, even if they were a little oddly shaped. He was still Batman. It would do.
Fugate sighed and placed the hourglass neatly on the floor. "Do you require a bit more persuasion?" he asked, withdrawing a rather ominous-looking pointed rod from his pocket.
The voice sighed. "Mr. Fugate, you can threaten me all you like." The legs wriggled around and slowly drew the rest of Jacob Forester out into the open. A grease spot was splotched across the side of one cheek and a vicious burn marred the other underneath a screen of stubble. It looked like the boy had been running on coffee instead of sleep for the past week. "You can kill me if you want, but you'll never get this working without me. Go on, shock me with that thing all the way up to high. Death might be better than messing with this anymore."
A fountain of blue sparks reflected in his glasses. "If you insist."
"Hey, whoa, no!" Jacob protested, backing away. "I didn't mean it! I was kidding!"
"Please put that thing away," Dr. Bertram's tired voice requested in tones that reeked of carefully maintained patience. "You and I both know perfectly well that he's right. Without his input, this machine will merely continue to shift Gotham through time forever with no guidance."
Fugate sighed and stowed his device away. "It seems to me that the two of you are conspiring to put this project behind schedule."
"Listen, you're asking me to do the impossible, okay?" the young man grumbled. "I'm not what's-her-face with the great legs. Her side of the family got all the real talent. What you're doing is basically asking New Hope Luke Skywalker to face down Return of the Jedi Vader." He sighed at Fugate's blank stare of incomprehension. "It's like Bart Simpson compared to Lisa...Jan Brady compared to Marcia?...forget it," he muttered. "Some of us can't just say what we want backwards and have it work. Some of us just aren't that good."
"I suggest that you become that good shortly," Temple said icily as he resumed his seat. "Some of us have schedules to keep."
And some of us have schedules to ruin. Batman whipped the detached vent cover through the air at Fugate. It smacked into his forehead with a flat metallic whang as the flimsy metal curved around his skull.
Fugate managed to uncover his face just in time to see Batman's fist on a collision course with his nose. Crunch. The chair tipped over backward, sending Fugate head-over-heels into a metal rack piled high with tools. The shelves obligingly spat their contents all over him with a sound reminiscent of a tin-plated elephant falling down a fire escape.
Bleeding, bruised, and generally battered, Fugate glared up at the Batman. The waffle-print that the vent cover had left on his skin was starting to puff up into little tiny ridges on his forehead. "You...are late," he pronounced severely. He jabbed a hand into his coat pocket, hoping to extract his weapon.
Batman snapped out an arm to stop him. A red-and-black batarang dropped neatly into his hand, seemingly out of nowhere, and sped into the weapon, snapping it cleanly in two. A vicious spray of blue sparks exploded from the broken device. When they cleared, Fugate was sprawled limply in the wreckage. Batman cuffed him to a handy exposed pipe and pressed a pair of fingers to his neck. Yes, he had a pulse. That would do for now.
"Batman?" Jacob Forester scrambled to his feet. "Wow, Batman! That was so cool the way you hit him with the thing and-"
"How do you turn this machine off?" Batman interrupted, stalking over to the clanking iron-and-wood oblong.
"Oh. Uh, well, that's the one thing we can't do."
Batman glared at him. "Why not?"
Jacob flushed with embarrassment. "Look, he made us wire it directly into the power grid, first of all, and he had this, I don't know, this amplifier thing that he added to it, and...and a bunch more stuff that I can't even remember, but I can't just go back and undo it. Y'know what happens when the Ghostbusters cross the streams?"
Batman gave him a look that clearly read Why would I want to know that?
"It's...it would be bad, okay? Very bad. World-ending bad." Jacob waved his arms in an attempt to get across how totally, life-exterminatingly, wholly double-plus ungood it would be to even think about turning it off.
Dr. Bertram cleared his throat. "If you are quite finished babbling, Forester, you can turn the device off at any time."
"What?" Jacob sputtered. "You said...you told him that...you said we'd be utterly doomed!"
"Did you honestly think I'd tell that villain the truth?" Bertram sneered. "Besides, when does a person in serious fear of their life use the phrase utterly doomed?"
"You total ass," Jacob snarled. "You let me work like hell on that thing and get shocked how many times - how many times - and you let me freak out every time I nudged the power supply thinking I was going to kill us all...you bastard!"
"Enough," Batman growled. "Turn it off. Now."
"Oh, I'll turn it off, all right," Jacob snapped. He pointed a finger at the machine and rattled off a series of garbled syllables that sounded vaguely like a stream of Spanish epithets.
The machine quivered, rocking back and forth on its supports like a small child in need of a bathroom. Then, as Jacob scowled at it, it turned into a pile of roasted chicken legs.
"What did you do?" Bertram shouted, rising to his feet.
Batman, once more in his customary outfit, snagged Bertram as he went for Forester. "Stop it," he warned.
"He ruined my equipment-"
"You ruined my life!" Jacob howled back. "Six months I worked with you, six months of condescension and insults and 'science is so much better than magic' and I wish I could hate you to death!"
Batman held up a hand, cutting off Jacob's rant. "Tell me something," Batman growled, leaning in close to Bertram. "If you could have turned off that machine at any time...why didn't you just turn it off in the first place?"
Bertram yanked on his labcoat. "That man had an electrical device, I have a pacemaker, and I couldn't exactly turn it off from beyond the grave, now could I? Why aren't you asking him why he didn't just wave his hands and stop that man?"
"Because it's fairly obvious when I do a spell, Bertram, and if he'd interrupted me it could have done anything! It might have even rebounded on you!" He smiled an evil little smile. "Maybe we could get Batman to let him go and I could try again."
Batman detached Fugate from the wall and slung him over his shoulder, ignoring the full-scale verbal brawl going on behind him. Bickering inventors were not his concern. He pulled open the nearest window and shot a grapnel into a nearby building, swinging them gently to the ground. Maybe he'd get lucky and find out where Jervis Tetch had weaseled himself away. It would be nice to have all the crazies safely tucked away in Arkham...
An airborne chicken leg nearly missed whacking him in the head. He looked up and saw the two inventors flailing wildly at one another amidst the wreckage of the laboratory. With a sigh, he stuffed Fugate into the Batmobile and shot a new grapnel line upward. Some crazies, unfortunately, he couldn't take to Arkham.
Author's Note: How could I bring magic into this story without referencing Little Miss Mindwipe herself, Zatanna Zatara? Most of the other references are blatantly obvious, except "I wish I could hate you to death" which is from the boys at Penny Arcade. (Oh, and 'double-plus ungood' is a 1984 thing, but you knew that already, right?)
Also, take a look at Robin's Wikipedia page. Go on, I'll wait. See that bit at the bottom, the one that makes the Superdickery webmaster make frowny faces? Yeah. That doesn't exist in Gotham, because not a single person in that entire city would have the guts to put that on a website where Batsy might see it. (Well, except maybe the Joker...he's the exception to every rule, isn't he?)
I have two stories half-finished at the moment, so I'm going to be posting them both at once - one on Mondays, one on Thursdays. So stay tuned for "Homesick" and "Origins" coming to a webpage near you, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!