A Different Challenge

Chapter One: The Announcement

Sometimes Robin went for a couple of weeks at a time without making the other Titans do more than run through an hour or two of training exercises each morning. Then the others would basically find they had the rest of the day to themselves unless there was a bank robbery downtown or something. Robin would be working so hard on a new investigation or some other specialized project—something his friends wouldn't be much help with until it was time to go fight some scoundrels—that he would become a virtual hermit for awhile. Occasionally they'd pound on his door to remind him it was time to eat dinner.

Heck, sometimes he'd completely disappear for a few days. Like the time he flew over to the Far East to brush up on his martial arts skills, or his more recent trip to Gotham to touch base with Batman. He'd just returned from that one yesterday, and apparently it had given him a new idea.

His friends already knew this wasn't going to be one of those happy days when they could all kick back and do their own thing. He'd warned them during breakfast that he had an announcement to make after they'd all finished eating, and now he was standing in front of them in the main room, looking very solemn as he cleared his throat and got down to business.

"Okay, folks. On my trip to Gotham, I bumped into Superman in the Batcave and he said something interesting."

(Superman? The other four Titans braced themselves for a long lecture about social responsibility, the ethics of altruism, being role models to the rest of their generation, and/or patriotic duty—although Raven didn't really feel all that close to the USA, and Starfire's primary loyalty was to another planet—but those details weren't likely to stop Robin when he got into full-blown lecture mode!)

"Now, this new challenge is going to be difficult. It's going to be nerve-wracking. It's going to be frustrating. It's going to be full of surprises. It's going to expose us to the strange obsessions and fantasies of some very scary people who don't look at the world the same way any of us do! We'll probably learn things we never wanted to know!"

(Everyone else started perking up. This sounded much better than they'd been expecting! Was there a new gang of sadistic, psychopathic, super-powered serial killers running amok in some other corner of the world? Maybe Superman didn't have time to deal with them, so he was delegating? You always were able to feel so virtuous about it when you thrashed such monsters within an inch of their collective lives . . .)

"Although unlike most of our missions, this one won't require us to leave the tower unless there's an unexpected emergency!"

(Wait—what did he just say?)

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to take a few days to read—and respond to—a sizeable quantity of our fan mail!" Robin paused to appreciate the impact of his announcement.

Dead silence. Oh sure, a few eyes might appear to be bugging out, and a couple of jaws might have dropped, but it was all happening quietly. His friends were too stunned to articulate any coherent objections just yet. That was what he'd expected, so he moved on with his lecture.

"Superman says it helps him keep in touch with the common people; gives him a better understanding of what misconceptions they are forming about what he can or can't do; that sort of thing. And when he responds to some of their letters, that helps remind them that he's a real person, and not just a colorful costume glimpsed on the six o'clock news!"

By the time Robin stopped for breath again, Raven had selected her approach. She asked delicately, "And suppose, just for the sake of argument, that some of us hate the idea of wading through a ton of the fan mail that usually piles up in those big bins downstairs until we send the contents off to be recycled?"

Robin played his trump card. "Well, the last time I checked I was still supposed to be the leader around here, setting priorities for how we all spend our 'on duty' time. Obviously, if the rest of you quit following my orders, I won't be 'leading' anymore. But anarchy is not a good thing for a superhero team—so if you don't like the way I'm doing it, you'll need to pick a different leader to call the shots for awhile. If anyone here can get a majority of the vote, I'll step aside gracefully and do my best to support the new leader's policies."

He folded his arms and waited to see if anyone would take him up on it by calling for a vote of confidence.

There was a long pause. Four Titans were each considering the pros and cons of announcing a candidacy.

Beast Boy didn't have to consider it for long. Someday he might like to be leader of a group for awhile . . . but the proper time was still in the distant future. He knew he was still too young and reckless and easily distracted and so forth, and the thought of taking on such life-and-death responsibilities for very long put butterflies in his stomach. Besides, he probably needed to read a lot more on all sorts of subjects which Batman had apparently forced Robin to study during his apprenticeship in Gotham. As it now stood, Beast Boy wouldn't even vote for himself if someone else nominated him!

Starfire had always understood that electing a recently arrived alien to be your leader was just begging for trouble. There were still so many things she might need to ask her friends to explain to her before she could make an informed decision about a fiendishly complicated situation, and by the time they had explained all the background it might be too late for her decision to do any good! If the Titans had been based on Tamaran, it would have been an entirely different situation. Give her another three or four years on Earth, even, and she might be willing to take command of a Titans team if necessary—after she'd been that much better assimilated into the local culture—but not today or tomorrow, thank you very much!

Raven did not see herself as the leader type, did not think any of the others saw her as the leader type, and would be horrified if some poor fool actually voted to saddle her with the responsibility of making all the right tactical decisions in the heat of the moment. She had always respected Robin enormously for the fine job he usually did (despite a few fumbles) of keeping the rest of the Titans, with their very different personalities and hang-ups, working hard at training together to fight as a team, so that they could actually function as something much better than the sum of its parts whenever a real emergency came along. Before meeting the others, she had never believed she'd be a "team player," but Robin had done a surprisingly good job of helping her become one anyway! (Of course Raven had never actually bothered to tell him in so many words that she truly admired the way he handled such a stressful job, et cetera—no need to give the boy a swelled head!)

Cyborg toyed with the idea of throwing his hat in the ring. Starfire would vote for Robin to keep his job; that was a given. But if Cyborg could round up the votes of the other two Titans, that would still give him a sixty percent majority. However, he had serious doubts about his ability to garner those votes. If Cyborg ran on a platform of "let's not worry about answering fan mail," he thought the odds were favorable that Raven would immediately get on the bandwagon and endorse his candidacy. But she might surprise him and prefer to stick with Robin despite the fan mail thing. The grass stain, on the other hand, was probably thinking—or soon would be—about becoming pen pals with lots of cute fangirls who (presumably) worshipped the ground he walked on. So he wasn't likely to want to rock the boat over the fan mail issue.

(Cyborg didn't really understand what fangirls might think they saw in a green-faced little squirt with a protruding fang, but hey, he wasn't exactly "normal-looking" himself . . . and yet he'd been stunned when he'd begun realizing that some girls seemed to like him just fine in spite of that. There was no accounting for taste!)

Moving on . . . even if Cyborg could persuade both Raven and BB to vote for him, he'd then be stuck with the job for . . . how long? Probably at least one year before he could persuade everyone it was a good time to let him "end his term" and elect some other poor fool to ride herd on these rugged individualists? If he tried to call for a fresh election any sooner, some of the others would think he was chickening out. (They'd probably have a point.) Was it really worth a year's worth of heartburn just to wriggle out of answering a few fan letters from the sort of lonely weirdos who had nothing better to do with their lives than write gushy letters to "celebrities" who had never even heard of the writers before?

Besides, he told himself, Superman thought it was a good idea. Robin wouldn't lie about a thing like that—he had too much pride to pretend that his own ideas were actually Superman's suggestions. Which meant that any old time now, Supes might drop in at the Tower when he happened to be in the neighborhood and then might ask, casually, if they had enjoyed answering some of their fan mail, and then Cyborg would have to look the Man of Steel in the eye and explain that gosh darn it, he'd just never gotten around to it . . . and then Superman would gaze at him reproachfully . . .

Any way Cyborg looked at it, he was stuck, wasn't he? He wondered if the others had thought this through far enough to realize, as Cyborg just had, that replacing Robin as leader wouldn't do a thing to help them duck their fan mail entirely, now that the most respected superhero on Earth was taking an interest in how they handled the silly stuff!

(In fact, the other three hadn't thought of that angle yet. But it didn't really matter, since none of them felt any frantic need to seek the post of leader today.)

In the end, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy were all left waiting to see if someone else would bite the bullet and announce he or she was running against Robin. As minutes ticked by with no volunteers, it gradually became clear that no one in the room was crazy enough to want the job right now!

(Except Robin himself, which was one of the reasons everyone else had been willing to let him have it from Day One of the team's history—along with their general recognition that years of training under Batman's wing probably made him the best-qualified to manage superheroic operations in a "professional" way. Still, it was quite possible that he wouldn't have cried himself to sleep at this point if he'd been voted out; maybe he'd enjoy letting someone else take the blame whenever a group effort failed to achieve the stated objective on the first try?)

Do him justice: Robin didn't try to rush things. He let everyone else have plenty of time to mull it over before he finally asked reasonably, "So . . . am I still the team leader for awhile longer?"

Four heads nodded.

"In that case, we're going to make 'answering fan mail' our primary form of community service for the rest of the week, unless there's a supervillain rampage or an earthquake or something."

(Cyborg and Raven each started mentally reviewing the list of known villains currently "at large," wondering if they'd get lucky and have, say, five or six of those bozos launch new crime sprees in quick succession. Beginning about five minutes from now and keeping it up through the remainder of the week?)

Robin raised a folder from the table nearby and pulled out a slim stack of handouts. "I took the time to prepare a list of general guidelines on what sort of things it's okay to talk about, what subjects we should avoid, what sort of 'fan mail' we can throw away with a clear conscience, et cetera." He passed the sheets out to his friends. "Read them carefully, then I'll answer any questions!"

Author's Note: I like to write something humorous/silly/satirical/etc. to post on April Fools Day. Unfortunately, in this case the silly thing got too long and I realized posting it all in one huge chunk as a single-chapter story would be a very bad idea. So I chopped it off at this point, but I intend to offer the rest of it soon. And by "soon," I mean "within the next week or two, in other installments." I've already written quite a bit of it, and I know how I want it to end, so it shouldn't take as long to complete as my other Titans serial, "The Faith of the Five." (One problem with the latter is that my last chapter took me to the end of the ideas I had ever planned out in real detail in my outlining, although I still know where it's all going in general terms, and how certain mysteries will be resolved, and so forth.)