Despite protesting that he was not injured, the Med-Docs had insisted they perform an examination. As though a level-eleven intelligence such as himself would not be aware of any physical deficiencies. Once again, it occurred to him that humans had a tendency to assume that all creatures were as unobservant as themselves. He wondered if they even had the proper training for treating a wounded Coluan. This city did not enjoy a good reputation and it was a small mystery concerning why the meeting had been chosen to take place here. Once they finished, he stood up and began looking for the other representatives from Colu. Assuming enough of them were unharmed, there was no reason to forestall the project announcement. So much work should not be put to waste.
All around him were signs of the battle. Windows were broken, walls were either filled with holes or missing large parts and the still bodies of fallen Science Police – both attacker and defender – were strewn about. He took care not to disturb any of the bodies as he walked. Though criminology and police work were not his fields of study, he knew from experience how important it was to ensure that a crime scene went uncontaminated. His eyes soon fell on the woman who had led him and the rest of the delegation to safety. She was speaking with another Science Police officer and he waited for them to finish before he approached her.
"Excuse me, I did not get your name." he said.
"Huh? Oh, I'm Shvaughn Erin." She extended her hand.
"I am Nran Lon of the Coluan Planetary Institute of Engineering. All of us owe you our lives, officer."
"Maybe. We probably wouldn't be standing here if those kids hadn't shown up when they did."
"That is a possibility. However, it is a certainty that without your efforts and sound judgment, we would not have survived long enough to receive their help. We will make it a point to ensure that the Science Police recognizes your efforts here today."
"Um, thank you Mr. Lon, but I really don't want you to go to any unnecessary trouble."
"Necessity is what compels me to see to your commendation. The only way an organization can be expected to last is if those who show talent and worthwhile skills are encouraged to continue their service within said organization."
"Alright," Erin said with a shrug. Nran doubted that humility was the source of her reluctance, so he would have to be careful of the channels he used when expressing Colu's collective gratitude.
"If the Med-Docs have already checked you out, you're free to leave, Mr. Lon. I can see about getting you some transportation." Erin said.
"That will not be necessary. There are still some matters I must attend to before considering rest. Furthermore, I would like to know if the instigator of this attack has been identified."
"We're just getting him into custody now, so there's been no time to process him yet. Once we get him to the station, it won't be hard to get an ID."
"You won't have to wait that long, Lieutenant," Brainiac Five said, walking towards them. "According to Dream Girl, the man responsible identified himself as Dr. Tarik Laulsk of Titan. That name would not happen to be familiar, would it?" The question was directed at Nran.
"Tarik Laulsk is a name I am familiar with. We worked together for several months on medical technologies. If not for the accident, I'm sure we could have accomplished great things."
"Accident?" Erin asked.
"Tarik started to become erratic towards the end of our partnership, constantly shifting from theory to theory, and developed a preoccupation with AI research. He attempted to link his own mind with a prototype AI system and there was a malfunction in the relays which sent him into a frenzied state. Before we could stop him, he had cut his own throat open. I offered my help during his recovery, but he refused to speak to me and disappeared soon after. That was four years ago."
"So you two have a history. We'll need you to come down and make a statement."
"Of course. I will assist the Science Police in any way I can."
"A change from your usual mode of behavior. Unconditional offers of help were never extended towards anyone in the past." Brainiac Five said.
"Your memory is failing you. I have never been remiss towards those who have made reasonable requests of me."
"Then clearly your definition of the word 'reasonable' differs from the one used by most sapient organisms that understand the word."
"That is not the case. You simply apply your own flawed estimations of appropriate behavior other beings."
Erin pinched the bridge of her nose and let out a sigh. This was not something she wanted to get involved in.
"Excuse me Brainiac Five, but I'll need your team to vacate the area. This is now officially a Science Police cordon area and unauthorized personnel like yourself are not allowed to be here."
"Lieutenant, we are the reason a deranged scientist was unable to complete his plan."
"And I will make sure to note that in my report, but unless your people have new UP authorization I don't know about, it is still time for you to go. We don't need to complicate the day even more, do we?"
Brainiac looked ready to push the point but before he could respond, Nran stepped in.
"Perhaps if you gave my nephew and I a moment alone, I could speak to him as one Coluan to another. We have common ground, you see."
Erin got the message and nodded.
"I just need him out of the immediate area, that's all." She said, then walked away. When she was out of earshot the two faced each other.
"You're still acting irresponsibly. Is this a trait you have completely integrated into your personality or are you behaving this way in reaction to my presence here?"
"It is not an issue of irresponsibility, but of principle. We have put our live s in danger in order to ensure the safety of the United Planets, yet they still refuse to acknowledge us as anything other than some kind of youth club, the kind that quickly dissolves once it realizes the world will not change overnight."
"Which is exactly what you are. This group of yours dresses in ridiculous costumes and regularly flouts the authority of both the Science Police and the United Planets whenever it does not perfectly conform to your standards of morality, something that even those who count themselves as your teammates have disagreements on."
"There has never been a non-hive mind organization that ever achieved complete conformity in regards to morality. Once again you are attempting to use minor details as the basis for overly-generalized statements. We are willing to take a moral stance on issues that the United Planets would rather ignore while still being willing to place ourselves in harm's way in the name of preserving the stability of that government. Because of this, the Science Police chooses to view us with a combination of hostility and suspicion."
"They are aware of the pratfalls that come with attempting to maintain the social order while protecting the populace. Your comrades show no indication that they grasp the consequences of their actions."
"It is the unwillingness to act that prompted use to come together in the first place. Even though the worlds are supposed to be united, they routinely try to isolate themselves on important matters. We serve as an example of the good that can be accomplished by acting together as a whole."
"Once again you exaggerate the perceived problems that come with a confederation such as the United Planets and use them to justify your own unacceptable behavior. An intelligent being would be able to-"
"I am certified level-twelve intelligence, whereas you are a level eleven. Do not presume that you have the right to question my mental capabilities."
"Your family has always used its intellectual rating as an excuse for their personal excesses. This deficiency can be traced back to Vril Dox and the actions he took during his lifetime."
At last you bring my lineage into play. Resorting to ad hominem attacks in lieu of evidence has always been a tactic employed by those who lack the intellectual capacity to sustain a debate. It is no surprise that you would carry on that infamous tradition."
"Don't act as though I have mentioned some minor genetic quirk. The Dox line has a history of actions that make it possible to generalize about their deficiencies. Level-twelve intellect offset by mental and emotional instability is a defining trait of the Dox line. It always has been. That is why your family name has become infamous among all Coluans."
"Yet it did not stop your sister from marrying into it."
"A mistake that cost her –and myself – dearly."
The two glared at each other for long moments after that. Both looked ready to escalate their argument, but then Brainiac Five abruptly turned away.
"Clearly I miscalculated when I believed it might be possible to approach you after having saved your life. You remain as obstinate and unapproachable as ever."
Brainiac did not wait for his uncle to respond and took to the air. There was work waiting for him back at the tower and he had wasted enough time on personal matters. The sooner he cut all familial ties, the sooner he could increase his overall efficiency.
"So, is it really him?" Invisible Kid asked, his brown windbreaker flapping as he ran.
"Him?" Lightning Lad asked.
"He's referring to our new arrival." Saturn Girl explained.
"Uh, I know I'm probably going to sound like the idiot of the month, but what 'new arrival'?"
"Dreamy and Supergirl brought home someone claiming to be the Batman." Saturn Girl answered.
"Whoa. I step out for a couple days and suddenly we get another blast from the past."
"Isn't it awesome? First we get Supergirl, now we've gotten Batman! With those two around, we'll be stronger than ever!"
"Power down, Lyle." Saturn Girl said. "Just because Supergirl thinks it's him, doesn't mean it's him. We can't be sure until I've had a chance to scan him. And even if he is the real deal, he's still just one guy. It's not like he's going to perform miracles or anything."
"Imra's right. Let's wait until he checks out before we start celebrating. But if he is the real deal…that would be pretty sweet." Lightning Lad said.
"It would also be problematic." Cosmic Boy said.
"Hey Cos. Have fun with the UP assembly?" Lightning Lad asked.
"It was like fighting the Tennorian man-eating trees again. Only this time I couldn't set them on fire."
"Ouch. They're still not thrilled that we leveled that embassy on Lallor?" Saturn Girl asked.
"Somehow, explaining that it had turned into a quasi-sentient, homicidal death factory isn't quite pacifying them as much as we hoped it would." Cosmic Boy confirmed.
"Ehh, don't worry about it, Rokk. As long as R.J. keeps footing t he repair bill, they aren't going to complain too loudly." Lightning Lad said. "We've gotten enough credibility for that."
"Maybe we could ask Batman how the Justice League dealt with stuff like this back in his time. Supergirl said that he was the one that government operatives talked to." Invisible Kid suggested.
"Decent idea, but there are two problems with it. The first is that the people Supergirl was referring to were not the public officials that we have to deal with. It's an entirely different matter and one that someone from his time period would not be equipped to deal with. Secondly, if that is the real Batman and not some plant designed to make us drop our guard so we can get blindsided again, we have to get him back to the past as soon as possible. I know Brainy gave you the same 'Don't Touch the Time Machine Or Else' speech he's given to the rest of us. We cannot afford to have any liabilities, especially not now."
"Supergirl's enjoying herself here. Why can't Batman?" Invisible Kid wondered.
"She gets off on a technicality. The history books don't make any mention of her after the point in time Brainy plucked her out of or believe me, she would not be here. I guarantee that." Cosmic Boy answered.
"Yeah, you're right." Invisible Kid admitted and began walking away. "I still think it's him. Supergirl said it is and she wouldn't be wrong about something like that. Having him around would be so cool." Lyle whispered to himself.
If the other three heard him, they did not react to his words. Once they were alone, Lightning Lad spoke to the friend.
"You were getting kinda worked up about that. I mean, it would be cool to have the Batman working with us. Even if it was only for a little while. Brainy can always drop him back to whenever he was when he got shunted to our time."
"Lyle's still too enthusiastic for his own good. Once he learns to calm down and case back on the hero worship he'll see that Batman's presence here isn't an automatic blessing. Every minute he's here is an opportunity for something to happen that might damage the timeline. There's still a great deal about time travel that we haven't even begun to understand and the possibility of doing something wrong is immense. Even the smallest bit of interference could have disastrous, far-reaching consequences that we would never be able to predict. I will not allow that kind of recklessness."
"Hmm, Brainiac Five as performed by Cosmic Boy. Forget magno-ball, you should have hit the acting biz." Lightning Lad said with a grin.
"Garth," Saturn Girl scolded. "Cos is right. Messing around with history is dangerous."
"Says two of the people who went back to meet Superman in his Smallville days." Lighting Lad replied.
"We didn't have a choice in the matter. It there had been another option, I would have taken it."
"Though it was neat to actually meet Superman." Saturn Girl said. Cosmic Boy gave her a look. "Don't get holier-than-thou. I know which one of us was rehearsing his 'you're an inspiration to us all' speech before he met him."
"Yes, well…this is a different case. And we had to remove Superman's memories of the incident, anyway. Protecting the stability of the timeline comes first."
"So he's not going to be around long enough for you to deliver the 'you're an inspiration to us all' speech?" Lightning Lad asked. "I mean, if Supergirl had to sit through it…"
"I'm afraid Batman will be here long enough for several of Cosmic Boy's speeches." Brainiac Five said.
"Oh, wonderful. What's the bad news this time?" Cosmic Boy asked.
"The time machine has been tampered with and I am unsure as to what is required to repair it."
"Come on Brainy, it can't be that hard. You spend as much time with it as you do with Supergirl." Lightning Lad said.
"That is not equivalent to completely understanding it. The time machine is a piece of technology that came into my hands under mysterious circumstances and is composed of technology I don't recognize. Furthermore, the mathematics involved is considered theoretical by current standards. The molecular displacement process it uses provided me the opportunity to replace the current conception of sub-atomic convergence."
"Okay, so Batman gets to have some fun with us until you fix it. Not too big a deal, despite Cos's impending aneurysm." Lighting Lad said.
"There's more. According to Batman, he did not come to this time period via time travel. He claims his last memories are of being an old man and waiting for death. How he came here and in young body is a mystery to him."
"So…he didn't travel through time?" Lightning Lad asked.
"I cannot say for certain. There are currently too many variables to be considered before it would be possible to form a hypothesis."
"Where is Batman now?" Saturn Girl asked.
"He has returned to the guest room provided for him. It's likely he will not emerge from it soon."
Cosmic Boy sighed.
"A rejuvenated Batman who claims not to know how he got here conveniently appears at the same time the time machine stops working which is also the same time there's a strange attack on a high-profile UP target. I'd have to be an idiot to think this was a coincidence."
"Remind me to ask Jo what he thinks of this…" Lightning Lad whispered to Saturn Girl, who elbowed him in response.
"This is no laughing matter. I believe the incident from earlier today was specifically designed to remove me from my lab so that the saboteur would be able to perform without interference." Brainiac Five said.
"One of those 'behind the scenes' types. I hate those." Lightning Lad said.
"While I don't doubt that your preferences lean towards the simple, that does nothing to change the fact that we are under attack by an enemy of unknown identity and capabilities." Brainiac Five said.
"Alright. First thing we need to do is have Imra scan our new friend. I don't want any surprises. Brainy, who else knows about our problems?" Cosmic Boy asked.
"Supergirl and Dream Girl, both of whom are keeping him occupied. If he is a threat, he won't be able to try anything before we discover his intentions."
"Let's get this over with as quickly as possible." Cosmic Boy said.
Garth and Imra shared a glance before the four teenagers started walking. They were soon at Batman's door and entered to find Supergirl explaining life in the 31st century. She stopped when she them.
"Hey guys. Batman, I want you to meet Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. They're the ones who put this team together." Supergirl said. Cosmic Boy stepped forward.
"Hello, Batman. It's an honor to have the chance to meet someone like you, who was a part of the Heroic Age. Without the contributions made by those like you, we would not be here today. Please understand that what I am about to ask is not-"
"Just get the minds can over with." Batman said. Everyone else (save the Naltorian and Kryptonian) was taken aback by his bluntness.
"Um, we're-" Lightning Lad was cutoff as well.
"I'm an unknown person claiming to be a historical figure that just happened to show up on your doorstep at the same time someone infiltrated your HQ and sabotaged a vital piece of equipment. You should have done this earlier."
An awkward silence followed Batman's words until Brainiac Five spoke up.
"Standing around solves no problems. Let's finish and move on."
"I'm just going to scan the surface of your mind." Saturn Girl explained as she stepped forward. "I'll try not to look at anything personal." A minute passed as she performed her work, then she addressed the others. "He's telling us the truth. If there is any hidden programming, I'd have to tear his mind apart to find it."
"And that is something we are not going to do," Supergirl said.
"Okay, so why don't we introduce you to the rest of the team? Invisible Kid's been climbing the walls at the chance to meet you." Lightning Lad said.
"I would prefer to be alone." Batman replied.
"Take all the time you need. I can't imagine how disorienting things must be right now. We'll make sure that no one bothers you until you're ready." Cosmic Boy said.
Rather than reply, Batman simply turned his back on them. Recognizing that there would be nothing else, the teenagers left the room. Once he felt safely out of earshot, Lightning Lad asked Supergirl a question.
"Is he always such a friendly guy, or did we catch him on an extra-special day?"
"Should have given you a heads-up. Batman's not the easiest guy to be around and he's been extra cranky since he arrived."
"Not surprising, considering what just happened to him." Saturn Girl said.
"No, I'm pretty sure it's because of the minds can thing. Sudden rejuvenation and maybe time travel are one thing. Having to allow anyone to know anything about him is another thing entirely. Everyone knows that Batman doesn't like people to get into his head. Even J'onn is careful about stuff like that."
"Someone like that would make a perfect spy." Cosmic Boy said.
"You're just not letting this go, are you?" Lightning Lad replied.
"Nura, you've been unusually quiet about this." Saturn Girl said. "You're the one that found him. What do you think?"
"He found me." Dream Girl corrected. "He's going to be with us for some time, so the sooner we get used to him, the better things will be. Then he'll start to trust us."
"Dream Girl is correct. The only way to find out one way or another is to give him time and space to show his intentions. Right now we are merely engaging in baseless speculation." Brainiac Five said.
"Fine. As of now, we are adopting a wait and see policy." Cosmic Boy said.
That ended the conference and all save the founding trio went their separate ways. Saturn Girl then addressed the team leader.
"What is going on with you, Rokk? If this is continued fallout over what happened with Ferro-"
"This is not about that."
"Then what is it about?" Lightning Lad asked. "You're acting even more high-strung than usual."
Rokk bit his lip before answering.
"Mr. Brande is in trouble. Or his company is. The bills we've been racking up are starting to hurt him. And I'm not just talking about repairs – flight rings, food, housing, transportation, all of it is adding up."
"How serious is this?" Imra asked.
"I don't know. I only found out by accident and Mr. Brande is trying to brush it off, but I think he's starting to get worried. McCauley is starting to bear down on him too, taking the opportunity to go after his company."
"McCauley. Grife, that's just what we need, for him to leave us without a single credit." Garth said.
Saturn Girl was about to speak, when suddenly she looked around.
"Something wrong?" Garth asked.
"Nothing. I just thought I sensed…" She shook her head. "It's nothing. Rokk, is there something we can do to help R.J.?"
Cosmic Boy, however, was now no longer in the mood for conversation. Even with his two closest friends.
"I don't think we need to discuss things here any longer."
"Cos, I just got distracted a bit. Don't try and use that to get out of this."
"There's really nothing else to talk about concerning Mr. Brande. Everything else is status quo. Now, I've got to get ready for another meeting with the Lallorian ambassador as I personally apologize for the destruction of their embassy."
As she watched her friend storm down the hallway, Imra took Garth's hand in her own.
"He was lying about the Ferro thing, wasn't he?" Garth asked.
"Yeah. Everything about that fight and what happened after is getting to him. He's letting it fester in the back of his mind. The fact that I can sense it just shows how bad it is."
"He seemed okay until the thing with Supergirl."
"That's probably what triggered this downturn. I've never seen him this tightly wound. We may have to step in if this continues."
"Hey, this is Cos we're talking about. He's the one we never have to worry about, right?"
"I hope so."
When she was called before Captain Girin, Erin was sure that this would be it. They would finally boot her out of the Science Police. Part of her welcomed it as a release from the ongoing obligation and pressure that came with being one of the few officers not on the take. The rest resented the waste of years she had put into the job and that finding a new one was not the most enticing option. Still, she was determined to face the end with dignity, so she walked into Girin's office with her back straight and head up.
"Welcome, Lieutenant Erin. Have a seat." Girin said from behind his desk. He was a balding man, very lean. She did as suggested.
"How long have you been with the Gotham Division, Lieutenant?"
"Almost five years, sir."
"A Lieutenant after only five years. You're doing fairly well for yourself, aren't you?"
"I believe so, sir."
"And, correct me if I'm wrong, but you were born and raised in Gotham as well, were you not?"
"Yes sir, I've lived my entire life in Gotham."
"Your entire life. From birth up until this moment, you have spent your time in Gotham. That's an achievement. Every single moment of you life, every hour, every minute, every second, was in Gotham. Is this correct?"
"N-no, sir. I have left Gotham to visit family in Metropolis."
"Did you? Did you go and visit family in Metropolis. Have I understood your words correctly? Because if I have, then you have not actually spent your entire life in Gotham. Have I understood you correctly, Lieutenant?"
"I have understood you correctly. Well, if I have then you were not being entirely truthful with me a minute ago. Why would an intelligent officer such as you not be entirely truthful with a superior? I assume that you have a very good reason for your actions."
"I did not take your question as literally as you intended it, sir."
"You did not take the question as literally as I intended. That's not a very good reason. Do you want to know why that's not a very good reason?"
"Bit of a surprise that someone as intelligent as you can't figure it out. Someone who doesn't understand my statement isn't going to understand orders, either. Are you capable of comprehending why this would be a problem for anyone in the Science Police?"
"Good. So tell me, Lieutenant Erin, when you made an emergency call for assistance to a group that is not affiliated with the Science Police or sanctioned by it in any way, was that also because you did not understand a statement delivered by a superior?"
"Ah, so you did understand, you simply chose to ignore regulations, which say that in the event of an emergency a Science Policeman is supposed to call for backup and then engage in communications silence. You chose to ignore that in favor of begging help from a pack of delinquent underagers. Am I correct in this statement?"
"Sir, we were in danger of being overrun and I felt that the civilians had to be protected at any cost."
"That's very nice, but you're misunderstanding my words again. Did you call for unauthorized assistance, yes or no?"
"So you admit to engaging in a violation of Science Police protocols. That's very good Lieutenant. It's very good because I now have the excuse I need to fire you and get your sorry carcass out of the S.P. At least, I would, if not for other considerations."
"Those scientists and delegates are really, really enamored with you. They're singing your praises to everyone they can, which includes the mayor and by extension the Division Commander and by extension me. Because of them, you are now officially a hero, bravely facing overwhelming odds to defend innocent victims from one of the worst criminal actions this city has seen in years. Do you know what would happen to me if I tried to fire a hero like the one you're supposed to be?"
"Nothing good for me. I know you wouldn't mind seeing me gone from here. A person like me, a 'corrupt, degrading thug' as you once said. But that's not going to happen. I'm going to be here for a long, long time. I'm going to be here on the day you slip up again, so that I will be the one to personally hand you your head. Until that blessed day arrives, I am going to be sitting here and waiting. You've never been a team player, Lieutenant Erin. The things you say and do make other officers uncomfortable, since they know they can't trust you. It's not good to work with someone you can't trust. Now get out of my office."
Erin stood up and was almost at the door when Girin cleared his throat. She turned around.
"One more thing," he said and tossed her a small box. "Inside is a commendation for valor. Enjoy it while you can. Remember – you have no friends here and no one to bail you out next time."
Erin left the room without responding, clutching the bow tightly in her right hand. When she got back to her desk, she sat down, rested her head in her hands and did not move for five minutes. All she could think about was how much she hated Girin, her job, the city and most of all her life. After the five minutes passed she put the box in a drawer and resumed work on her current case. She did not speak to anyone else for the rest of the day.
It was late at night when he emerged from the room they provided. He had guessed that most of the tower's inhabitants were either asleep or pre-occupied with other matters and not interested in visiting him. Supergirl was supposed to meet with him in one of the landing bays and he was on his way there when a certain white-haired appeared before him in one of the hallways.
"Nice night for a walk," Dream Girl said. "A crescent moon out, clear sky, good for clearing your head."
"Batman just stood there.
"You'll want me to come along. And no, I haven't' told anyone about the trip you're planning."
He still did not move. She kept eye contact with him.
"Follow me," he said and she did. Supergirl was surprised to see Nura in tow when Batman reached the landing bay, but made no fuss about it. The three then piled into one of the hovercraft and set a course for a cliff area off of Gotham that overlooked the Atlantic. It was a deserted area, left to the whims of nature. Had an archeologist investigated the area, he would have found the remnants of a mansion's foundation beneath the soil.
"You'll have to break your way in through the cliff side. I don't want to disturb the ground above."
"Got it," Supergirl replied and exited the craft. She scanned the cliff with her x-ray vision, then set about making a hole. Not too much later, she had cleared away enough rock for the craft to land in what looked like it used to be a landing strip. Dream Girl exited first and was greeted by almost complete darkness. Batman was right behind her, carrying several rectangular items.
"Supergirl, set these up where I told you too," he said. Kara complied, zipping around the cave. When she finished, Batman pressed a button on his belt and turned the light fixtures on. Dream Girl was taken aback by the size of the cave, large enough to contain a small house, not including the deep crevasses. The lights seemed to exaggerate the darkness of the place, making the shadows contort and form ominous shapes around the few bright spots. She took to the air, not trusting the ground beneath her. Batman calmly walked around and inspected his former home, completely at ease.
"Welcome to the Batcave, Dreamy. This is his home base." Supergirl said.
"If this is what he considers a home, I don't want to know what he calls inhospitable."
"There used to be a mansion above us, but according to Batgirl, this is where he spent most of his time. It was supposedly a little better kept back in my time."
"You've never been here before?" Supergirl shook her head.
"Nope. Batman had a very strict 'no trespassing' policy. I'm pretty sure the only people not part of his inner circle to ever see this place were the other members of the original seven. And even then, I think a few of 'em only managed to see it once. He's not big on socializing."
"Mr. Sunshine and Happiness? I'm shocked." Dream Girl continued to look around. "Hard to believe someone like that would ever be a part of something like the Justice League."
"He's not a bad guy, just really hard to work with. But he's one of the best. My cousin trusts him completely and that's enough for me."
"If you two have a moment, there's work I need done." Batman said, the cave's echo making his voice sound extra gravelly.
"Coming," Supergirl said and the two girls flew down.
"Supergirl, I need you to scan the entire cave and record what you find into this handheld. Move carefully. Once you're finished, come see me. Dream Girl, you're going to help me excavate this area."
Supergirl acknowledged him with an "I'm on it", then flew away, leaving Dream Girl alone with the caped figure. He seemed different from the man she met in the undercity, somehow more comfortable and more apprehensive at the same time. He handed her a scanner and they went to work, looking for and scanning artifacts, both stopping when Batman became curious about a certain item. When Dream Girl became curious, he went on without her. That annoyed the Naltoran, especially since there was a great deal to be curious about. A fair number of items were still remarkably well preserved whether they were in display containers or not. She knew that the little wooden man had a story behind him, but Batman was not in the mood to tell it.
Supergirl was carrying out a similar task, though hers included making sure that the cave was structurally sound in every location. Batman gave instructions to perform her search methodically, forcing the girl to go at a slower pace than she liked. Despite Dream Girl's best efforts to prompt a conversation, Batman rarely spoke except when relaying orders. At first, she thought he was simply showing the bad temperament Supergirl warned her about. But as time went on it seemed more like he behaved as someone searching for something in particular. Something very important.
"This stuff's in pretty good shape, considering it's been down here for a thousand years." Nura said. He ignored her.
"Then again, it hasn't been left derelict for that long. You were still using it right up until the end and I bet you had someone to look after it once you were gone, right?"
"This place was probably maintained for a long time after you left it. I wouldn't be surprised if it was only abandoned after the 25th century. Take this, for instance," she said, pointing a light at a collapsed area. "Not a natural cave-in. Even with the erosion that's come after, you can still tell that this was deliberate. Given how high up we are and the equipment husks lying around, I'd say we're near the nerve center and this used to be the entrance."
"I try. Didn't get on the PreCom fast track by being stupid."
Nura started leaning against the cave wall and felt it give way slightly under pressure. She placed her hands on it to feel around and immediately noticed that the sensation was wrong. What should have been stone instead felt like rusted metal, though it had been elegantly altered to blend in with the cave's background. Nura continued to run her hands along it, looking for some clue, when she felt an edge jut out. Sticking her fingers underneath, she pulled as hard as she could, causing a loud creaking to fill the air as the metal came loose. A rectangular slab fell to the ground, revealing a closed display case housing a costume similar to Batman's but smaller and cut to suit a feminine figure. Nura pressed a hand to the glass, trying to get closer to the relic. Excitedly, she started pulling at the metal panels next to the one she had pried loose, sending them to the ground as well. In all, five display cases were revealed, each containing a costume. Nura took a few steps back to take it all in and jumped when she bumped into Batman's still form.
"I think I found something," she said, just noticing how intimidating he could be. "If I remember the names right, three of those costumes belong to Batgirl, Robin and Nightwing."
"Yes,' Batman said. She had matched the names and uniforms correctly, which was more than he expected. He walked to the end of the row and stopped in front of a uniform with a large red Bat-symbol on the chest.
"Don't recognize that one from either the history discs or Supergirl's stories. Something you put together later in life, I bet." Dream Girl said. Batman only lowered his head in response and walked towards the remnants of the main computer. Nura moved closer to the displays, examining each individual alcove.
"Vacuum-sealed. They're going to be pretty well-preserved, but I wouldn't want to touch them and see just how well. Are you going to leave these here?"
"Too bad. Everyone would love to have a look at them. Lyle's brain would probably explode if he had the chance to see Batman's original costume."
She did not hear him approach. All she knew was that he was suddenly uncomfortably close and looming over her.
"They. Stay. Here."
Dream Girl took a step back.
"Or they could stay exactly where they are."
Batman skulked away, leaving Dream Girl to wonder what had him so prickly. Granted, being 900 years past the deaths of your family and friends could not be fun, but he acted more wounded than that. Believing it would be best to keep some distance from him for a little while, Nura continued to explore her surroundings. The cave was incredibly fascinating, if only because she was standing amidst the remnants of history. She could almost feel the memories this place held, the scenes it had been a backdrop to. Maybe that was the explanation for Batman's unpleasant mood – too many memories.
"Hey," Supergirl said, floating down with two metal boxes. "Has he given you the grand tour yet?"
"Nope. I think we're approaching the point where he actively resents my presence."
"Ah. Find something you weren't supposed to?"
"I guess. I found some old costumes and now he's off to sulk."
"Figures. It never took much to put him in a bad mood. Well, a worse mood than usual. Maybe these will cheer him up a bit."
"What are they?"
"Don't know, but he told me to look for them. Lead-lined, of course."
"Because you naturally peek inside his belongings."
"Like you wouldn't. Let's get these to him."
"He's right over-" Dream Girl looked around. "He was right over there."
"Disappearing act. I hate it when he does that."
"He shouldn't be too hard to find."
"Once you get to know him, you'll learn how wrong that statement is."
The girls looked around for any sign of Batman, with Supergirl using her x-ran vision. The various artifacts littered around the cave appeared to Dream Girl as almost natural outgrowth of the cave, adding to its ominous atmosphere. She realized that it would take a tracker of Brin's level to find Batman in a place like this.
"Let's get back to the shuttle and drop the stuff there." Dream Girl suggested.
"Might as well," Supergirl shrugged and they started flying.
"I wonder what happened to this place." Supergirl said.
"Several hundred years of nothing," Dream Girl replied.
"Besides that. When I left, Batman had a team of people with him. Bar – Batgirl always acted ready to stick to him until the very end. And there was Robin and Nightwing too. But something happened to make people forget this place."
"A thousand years is a long time. Wars, plagues, who knows? I can't imagine the Dark Age was very kind to it."
"But there should be some continuity, shouldn't there? I mean, important things are carried on, right?"
"History happens and sometimes stuff just gets left behind."
"Time does tend to do that, doesn't it? Leaving things behind."
"We're not talking about the Batcave anymore, are we?"
"I guess I am starting to get a little homesick. I never really figured until now that everything I know is a thousand years in the past."
"And now that the time machine's broken, you're worried that you'll never have the chance to see your family again."
"That's pretty close to it."
"It's not surprising. You've been here a month after making a spur of the moment decision, which is about as much time as it would take for someone to start missing their home. Seeing this place emphasizes what you're afraid you've lost. Right now, it's probably the closest thing you have to a tangible link to the 21st century."
"And I thought that Imra was the resident telepath."
"Part of the PreCom training was psych techniques."
"Remind me to ask you for help with my Christmas shopping."
"Won't have to. You're going to corner me a week before the season starts."
The girls landed on the old runway and opened the door to their craft. Supergirl took a moment to examine the box again.
"Maybe if we asked him, he'd tell us?"
"Don't look at me. You're the one who's known him longer than 48 hours."
"He gets this look when you ask him anything. It's like you want him to donate an organ or something."
"Removing an organ would be less painful."
Supergirl started and the two girls turned around to see Batman standing there.
"That's the second time today!" Supergirl said.
"We're finished here." Batman said.
"Pick up a souvenir?" Dream Girl asked, referring to a case he was carrying.
"Something like that," he answered, walking past them. They followed him in and Supergirl set herself down at the pilot's seat and started the engine. Dream Girl leaned over to Batman as he gathered the retrieved items.
"He may act like a doddering old man, but that's his way of getting you to underestimate him." She said. Batman contemplated her statement.
"I'm not surprised, considering what he's accomplished."
"I could introduce you to him. It'd be less trouble."
"In the short term. That's not what I need."
"Mmm, true. So, I won't see you until you get back?"
"You tell me."
Dream Girl smirked.
"You're catching on. Anyway, it'll give me time to get ready for out night on the town."
Dream Girl then walked over to Supergirl and started some meaningless chit-chat. Batman finished securing what he came for and started wondering what he should do about the precog.
Formed in the middle 30th century, the Super-Hero Historical Society dedicates itself to recovering, recording and preserving every last scrap of information pertaining to the Heroic Age of the late 20th and early 21st century. Through their efforts, artifacts such as Captain Cold's Cold Gun, STRIPE's armor and locations such as the Flash museum have been carefully recovered and preserved so that they could be appreciated as the pieces of history that they are. The influence of the SHHS is quiet widespread, to the point that nothing even remotely related to the Heroic Age escapes their notice. Thus, when word went out that equipment belonging to the legendary Grey Ghost was to be put up to auction, everyone affiliated with the SHHS received notice. That is how R.J. Brande came to find himself standing in an auction house, chatting away with other individuals whose bank accounts contained a large amount of zeroes.
"I shouldn't be surprised to see you here, R.J. Not even company troubles can keep you away from the latest find. It's not enough that you've founded your own team, you need relics as well." Tomaz Dreik said, tipping his drink at Brande.
"You make it sound like I'm hoarding things away, Tomaz." Brande replied. "Even if I do grab the item, it's not as though I wouldn't let the society access it when needed."
"Hmph, we'll see. Still, better you than a beast like McCauley."
"Tomaz, are you still angry because Supergirl proved me right when I said that there were three ice-themed criminals to appear during the Heroic Age?"
"It was the most reasonable assumption to make! Thinking that Captain Freeze was responsible for all non Killer Frost snow-themed crimes of the time period was agreed upon for years."
"And then Supergirl herself confirms that Captain Cold and Mr. Freeze were two different people who may not have even met."
"It hurts to see part of your doctoral thesis tossed out with a single sentence."
"You're more upset because you lost the bet you made with me. Two hundred credits worth of luck on my part."
"I plan on getting my money back after her next interview. You have set it up, haven't you?"
"Don't worry. I've spoken to her and her team. She's more than happy to clear things up for us."
"Glad to hear it. I'll be expecting to see my two hundred credits again after she confirms that the Green Arsenal fought the Shaggy General when he first attacked Metropolis."
"I can already feel my wallet getting lighter. Looks like they're getting ready to start. Shall we?"
The two men entered the hall and took their respective seats. Brande looked around and noticed the usual assortment of faces, which unfortunately included Leland McCauley, who flashed a smug grin towards Brande. Part of the old man wondered if the only reason McCauley had started attending these events was so that he could insult him in as petty a way as possible. The rest of him did not have to wonder. The auctioneer then began to speak.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the item to bid: the recently-unearthed uniform of the mysterious vigilante known as the Grey Ghost. Believed to be a precursor to figures such as the legendary Bat-Man or the Crimson Avenger, little evidence of the man himself remains. Bidding starts at one million credits."
"Five million." Brande offered.
"Ten million." McCauley said.
"Fifteen." Brande countered.
"Thirty million." A new voice broke in. It belonged to a younger man, probably around twenty years old, by Brande's guess.
"I hear thirty million. Are there any other bids? Then thirty million going once…twice…sold to the young man in the third row."
A few more items went up for bid after that, but Brande paid no attention. He quietly filed out with the rest once the auction ended and was on his way to the exit when he found himself cornered by that young man with the large bank account. He had a hand extended.
"You're the R.J. Brande guy, right?"
Brande took the proffered hand and felt it being shook vigorously.
"Indeed you are, though I'm not concerning your identity Mr…?"
"Ah. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, m'boy. Not often you meet someone your age with an interest in the old heroes."
"Heh. I don't know if you could call it an interest, R.J. I'm just looking for something to spend my money on. I've recently gotten a lot of it. A whole lot. Like, a really, really large amount." Brane emphasized this by extending his arms. "So, I've got a lot of money and I need something to do with it. Maybe you can get me on this?"
"I think I can understand what you're talking about."
"But there's this thing, this really annoying thing. It's like when you get something new and then realize it's not new anymore. I really like both having and spending money. But in order to spend money, I need to make money, you get me?"
"So, I've got money and I want to spend it and I want to make it. How am I gonna do this? This has me worried – you can figure this – and then I hear about you, Mr. R.J. Brande, the big idealist guy, who decided to foot the bill for a bunch of underagers who wanted to save the day. I hear about this guy and think 'he's the one to help me with this.'"
"Now, hold on m'boy-" Brande tried to interrupt, but Taylor kept on talking.
"See, I figure that footing the bill for these super-friends might get a bit pricey and so I poke around a bit and bam – I see you in a fight with McCauley. Now I think to myself 'I ask for help, I need to make it good'. So, I ask some guy who's smarter than me to do some more lookin' at things and he tells me about this thing I can do. I go buy this mine-refinery thing and hey – it pays out. But I don't know what to do with it, so I come to you, wanting to know if you wouldn't mind getting ahold of Mr. McCauley's former Tridiludium thing."
"Hold on, are you saying that you're the one who bought McCauley's Trilidium interest out from under him just in time for it to make a profit?"
"Thought I said that. Didn't I say that?"
"M'boy, that was one of the shrewdest business deals I have ever heard of. You made billions off of that. When the news broke, I had trouble believing my ears. And now you're offering it to me?"
"Not for nuthin'. Just 'cause I think this is the thing to do doesn't mean there's no price. See, you don't just buy the thing; you have to take me too. I need someplace to put up my feet and someone to point me to the money. I need someone to watch my credits and make sure they don't disappear out from under me. So, I'm offering a team-up. You and me, you leading and me along for the ride. Sound okay?"
Brande was not sure what to think about the boy in front of him. He had come out of nowhere, cocksure of himself and acting like he should be thanked for making the very unconventional offer. Common sense told him to back away and let the boy go his own way. But the part of him that told common sense to jump off a cliff – the same part that convinced him to put his full support behind a superteam – told him that letting this boy go would be a mistake. He was smarter than he realized and Brande wanted to know what else the boy was capable of.
"Mr. Taylor, I believe you and I should continue our discussion. You've caught me interest."
"Damn right. Say, can you introduce me to those super-chicks? Dream Girl is somethin' to look at."
Places like this were common in Gotham, always had been and always would be. The fact that you were unlikely to find many of its type outside the city annex only helped to ensure a regular clientele. It was a dingy little bar, complete with bad lighting, bad food and the distinct smell of alcohol permeating the air. Business was good and steady that night, with plenty of people looking to waste a few hours of their lives. One such individual was Ten Drenner, who had plenty of credits he was willing to part with. A not-yet middle aged man of average build and red hair, Ten had spent a lot of time in this bar during his adult life and thus knew a lot of the faces that frequented it. Two of the faces there tonight belonged to people he had not seen before. Normally, this would mean that he simply ignored them, but there was a slight problem with that – they were playing him and several others in a game of kirajed. And winning.
"I think you boys are having a bit of an off night," the one actually playing the game said. He did not look that old, maybe about Ten's age when he started getting into things. The boy had a pale face, complete with scar cutting above his left eye, under a raggedy mop of brown hair and a constant smirk. Hanging on his arm was a girl probably no older than him, with short black hair and a star tattoo under her lip. They were both dressed pretty ratty, even by Gotham standards, but acted completely nonchalant about their appearance.
"Told you I was your lucky charm," the girl said, sounding like the empty-headed arm candy she looked like.
"There was grumbling from all those who were gathered around the table. These were men who did not like to have their money taken from them by someone who looked barely old enough to shave. Ten figured that if the kid's winning streak did not end soon, things might get violent.
"Are you playing or talking?" One of the men asked.
"Oh, I'm definitely playing. I've always liked games, especially when I'm winning. You boys ever feel the same?" The kid responded.
"Just shut up and play." The man shot back.
"The boy shrugged and focused on his hand, while the girl stayed close to him. During the game, she would whisper something in his ear just before he would play his hand. None of the other men at the table could hear exactly what she said and they were forming their own opinions about just what she was telling him.
"Boys and girls shouldn't be out this late at night. You better get home so you can go to school." Then man on Ten's right – Dennan – said. Dennan had worked Gotham for years and Ten knew how poorly he reacted to a loss of credits.
"It seems to me that I'm learning quite a bit from you fine fellows and it's paying more than school ever will." The boy answered and then laid out his hand for all to see. "Would you look at that – another primer. I've won yet another round. I do love this game."
Just as he started loading the totals, Dennan stood up. Everyone at the table took notice.
"I think you're done for the night."
"Really?" The boy checked his watch. "But it's barely midnight and I'm doing so well! I am on a roll, baby?"
"Goin' faster and faster, honey," the girl replied.
Dennan walked over to the two, prompting the girl to move behind her companion.
"You're going to get out of here, leave the credits, and not come back. But before that, I'm going to break your arm. Got that?"
"Sorry, but that won't work for me. I've been cheating so well at this game that stopping now seems silly."
That caused everyone else at the table to stand up. The den went dead quiet.
"I should have known an underager like you wouldn't show up unless he was crooked." Dennan said.
"I was just following your fine example. When I saw you were using your wristjack to change your hand, I figured it was common practice around here. Don't tell me I was mistaken?"
Dennan looked ready to pull a weapon, but Ten grabbed his arm first and checked to see if the boy was lying. He was not.
"Dennan, we told you not to pull stuff like that anymore," Ten warned. "You keep screwin' the rest of us around."
Dennan's eyes darted around before he took a swing at Ten. This was a mistake, since he missed and Ten knocked him to the ground in response.
"Dammit, Dennan, you're lucky you're my cousin." Ten said and turned to the underagers. "And you cocky little bastards, what makes you think we're just going to let you walk out of here?"
"How about the fact that the only reason he didn't get away with a large amount of your credits is because I came in here and gave you the heads-up? Or do you normally harm people who try and do you favors? Because I'm sure that everyone would want to know how your people respond to a little bit of help." The boy responded, still sitting in his chair.
The entire bar waited to see what would happen next. Then Ten smiled.
"Kid, you got both guts and smarts. You want a drink?"
"Wouldn't mind one. Shall we accept this generous offer, my dear?" He asked his girl.
"We'd be rude if we didn't."
With the game now officially cancelled and Dennan being dragged to the back room, Ten ordered some drinks and the three took seats in front of the bar.
"You never did give us a name."
"Malone, but everyone calls me 'Matches'."
"Bit of an odd nickname."
"I'm a bit of an odd guy. Not everyone considers life-threatening kirajed games a good time. This vision of beauty is my girl Teri Schappin. Say hello, Teri."
"Hello, Teri." The girl replied.
"It's wonderful to have a girl that does everything you say."
"You're a smooth one, no doubt about that. Have you been in Gotham long?"
"Not really. My girl and I just got here and we're taking a look around."
"Naturally, the first thing he wants to do is find a nasty place and try to get himself killed. If he was ugly, I could have dumped him months ago." Teri said.
"Well, you got spunk, style and I now owe you some credits, so why don't you let Ten Drenner give you the heads up about this city."
"Ooooh, he refers to himself in the third person, honey. He must be important." Teri said.
"I'm one of the Royals. There's nobody in Gotham more important than we are." Ten said.
"The Royals?" Malone asked.
"The owners of this city. King, Queen, Ace, Jack and I. Our family has always been the power in this city. We're the ones who control supply and demand around here, despite what those Rimbor losers will try to tell you." Ten explained.
"You're awfully loose about this stuff. For all you know, I could be SP in disguise." Malone said. Ten laughed in his face.
"That's a good one. You're not SP. I can tell by looking at you. And even if you were, it doesn't mean that you could do a damn thing. Take a look at who the Division Commander has dinner with, sometime. So, shall I keep talking, or do you want to run home now?"
"Hey, I'm listening…"
"Listening is a good habit," Ayla Ranzz (Light Lass) said.
"Not this again…" Gim Allon, (Colossal Boy) groaned.
"Because people who listen know that Shadow Lass definitely does not think that going to a lecture on the history of police organizations is a good time."
"I know that now."
"Yes, a galaxy with trillions of sentient beings would likely produce a girl who would consider that a good time, but our resident Talokian is not that girl."
"Please stop this."
"And you know what else a good listener would know? They would know to check with me, the girl who said 'sure, I'll help you land a date with Shadow Lass' – before trying something like that."
"I get it, Ayla. Really, I get it. I screwed up and now she thinks I'm more of a stiff than she did in the first place."
"Oh, Gim, we both know that's impossible." Ayla laughed.
They were sitting in one of the rec rooms currently housing several members of the team. Colossal Boy had hoped that word of his recent failure had not reached the Winathian's ears.
So much for hope, Gim thought.
"I mean, it's not like you haven't kept that stick up your butt even though you've been with a part of the team and out of the SP for almost a year. Or should I refer to it as a baton?"
"How much longer are you going to sit there and make me feel like an idiot?"
"Until it stops being funny."
"Until what stops being funny?" Triplicate Girl (Luornu Durgo) asked.
"Oh no…" Gim moaned.
"Making fun of Gim's latest romantic screw-up." Ayla said.
"You mean the thing with Tasmia? That was pretty bone-headed."
"Grife. And how do you know about it?"
"She mentioned it when we were sparring. She wanted to know if all Earth-born human males considered lectures romantic locales."
"And what did you tell her?"
"Well, not being Earth-born or human, I could only make a guess, but I told her that I didn't think so. I figure I just saved the entire non-Gim population of Earth from being crossed off her dating prospects list."
"What should we do about the Gim population?" Ayla asked.
"Oh, they're doomed. Best for them to accept it now." Triplicate Girl answered, a wide grin on her face.
"This is the reason I don't get out much. It prevents stuff like this from happening." Gim said.
"Hate to correct you, but I'm pretty sure the reason you don't get out much is exactly why stuff like this happens." Ayla said.
"I have to side with Ayla on this one. Sorry, Gim." Luornu said, placing a hand on his shoulder in a mock-consoling manner.
"Luornu, do you remember when I saved you from that Khund mercenary and you said that you owed me one?" Gim asked.
"If you stop dissecting my relationship disasters now, I'll call us even."
"Okay, but I don't think Ayla owes you any favors." Luornu replied. Gim looked at Ayla, who had a very evil smirk on her face. After several seconds of watching his veins start to throb, she started laughing.
"Alright, Gim, if you're that upset, we'll change the subject. Why don't we tell lies about our new arrival, instead?"
"You mean Batman?" Gim asked.
"The legend himself. Supposedly. Hard to tell for sure when we haven't actually seen him in person." Ayla said.
"It is pretty weird not to see him for an entire month. Not that we ever saw him in the first place. All we get is Cos telling us that Batman is here and that he doesn't want to be disturbed." Luornu said.
"Maybe he's shy? Or a vampire! That's it – he's really a vampire and he's trying to figure out how to get around during the daytime. We better start checking our necks. Actually, I think he already got to Lyle. Yesterday I was talking to him and he didn't have a reflection!" Ayla said, still smiling.
"Yeah, it is pretty odd for Invisible Kid not to have a reflection. We better get the stakes and garlic." Luornu added.
"Careful, you don't want him to hear you! Vampires have acute senses and all the stuff Brin does. Oh my god, Brin's one of them too!" Ayla said.
"No, Brin's a werewolf. Supergirl said so. We were talking about monsters this one night and she told me all about them. And according to her, werewolves hate vampires."
"So Brin and Batman are going to get into a fight? That should be fun to watch. Especially if Brin is wearing tight pants." Ayla said.
"Um, Ayla…" Gim said.
"Don't be so uptight, Gim. I'd watch you in a fight with Batman if you were wearing tight pants too."
"Ayla, wait a second…"
"You could probably take him. I mean, Batman can't actually turn into a bat or anything like that, can he? It probably wouldn't be that tough for you."
"Ayla!" Both Gim and Luornu hissed at her.
Ayla finally realized that the subject of their conversation had entered the room, causing it to go dead quiet. She instantly started blushing and started wishing she could swap powers with Shrinking Violet. Batman gave her no notice and instead walked over to where Cosmic Boy was eating his lunch. The team leader stood up as Batman approached.
"I've made myself unavailable for the past month. Getting used to the 31st century took more time than I expected. I can't promise this team my undivided attention, but I am willing to help." Batman said.
Cosmic Boy remembered to swallow his food and his eyes briefly darted around the room. Everyone was watching them, especially Dream Girl and Supergirl. Both of them had expectant expressions on their faces. He offered his hand.
"We're more than happy to have you. Like I said when you first arrived, you're one of the reasons this team is here."
The Dark Knight took Cosmic Boy's hand and they gave a strong shake.
"Batman, welcome to the Legion of Super-Heroes."
Nran Lon is a character of my own creation, in case anyone was wondering. I'm going to try and introduce more of the Legion, but there are a lot of them to get to while keeping the focus on Batman. Please be patient.