Author's Note: And now comes the moment nobody was asking for. (But when did that ever stop me?) We get to see Control Freak's perspective for an entire chapter.
Chapter Ten: Meanwhile, Back at the Tower
Blackfire had made a good point when she first suggested an alliance. One villain (or even two) going up against five Titans at once was probably overambitious. It sure hadn't worked for Control Freak when he fought the first five, and it hadn't worked when he found himself tangling with Titans East while they were the pinch-hitters watching over Jump City.
Heck, fighting the original team all at once hadn't even worked for Trigon. Control Freak wouldn't have bet his life on his own gadgets, however brilliantly designed, being a good match for a demon lord's raw power in a face-to-face showdown. But the Teen Titans had coped just fine. The results spoke for themselves: when the dust had cleared, Trigon had vanished from this plane of existence—forever, the heroes said—and they hadn't taken a single casualty in the course of kicking his butt!
As Blackfire had suggested, there was a simple lesson to be learned from the historical record. It didn't matter who you were or what you could do; taking on five Titans at once just wasn't cost-effective! "Divide and conquer" was the right way to go, she'd insisted, and Control Freak had listened to her sales pitch and then agreed to try it her way.
(Especially since she kept flirting with him. Oddly enough, most of the girls he had met didn't seem to recognize his finer qualities. But Blackfire obviously appreciated an inventive genius when she saw one, and she was just as beautiful as her sister, and a lot cooler!)
Blackfire was a firm believer in misdirection and the element of surprise. Control Freak had access to video feeds from across the city. When his facial-recognition software had zeroed in on a certain shopping mall as two Titans strolled in, the co-conspirators had activated Plan Three.
Control Freak had dressed up like Kris Kringle while Blackfire prepared to make herself ostentatious as the decoy, knowing their quarries would identify her as an immediate threat while their eyes automatically dismissed the fat guy in the red suit and white beard. A classic application of Purloined Letter technique—Raven and Beast Boy had seen him, sure enough, but their brains only interpreted "Santa" as a normal piece of the environment at this time of year. The look on Beast Boy's face when he suddenly found himself facing the business end of Control Freak's remote had been priceless!
Control Freak just hoped the recording equipment back at his current base was getting everything on video so he could play back the adventures of BB and Raven at his leisure. It was disappointing that he couldn't just sit down and monitor it all realtime—but Blackfire had insisted that after two of the Titans were rendered harmless for the time being, the best bet was to strike while the iron was hot, before the others began to smell something amiss.
Now he was just fiddling with a few last-minute adjustments to his gear to make sure he had all the right subroutines just a few button-pushes away before they took on the other sixty percent of the core team.
Blackfire had waited patiently—if folding her arms and steadily tapping her right forefinger against her left bicep counted as "patiently," which he rather thought it did. She had kept her mouth shut instead of nagging at him, after all. That was already an improvement over how most people reacted if he was ignoring them for a few minutes while playing with his toys.
At any rate, when he finally asked if she was ready to hit the Tower now, Blackfire was all smiles again. "Lead on, big boy!" she said, chucking him under the chin with the same elegant forefinger that had been tapping monotonously a minute ago.
Control Freak pushed the button currently programmed to access the main lounge in Titans Tower, and in the blink of an eye he and Blackfire rode the airwaves to that spot and began peering out at the area from the odd corner of reality which he called "TV Land."
As luck would have it, Starfire, Cyborg, and Robin were all in the lounge at that moment. They started to react to seeing larger-than-life images of Control Freak and Blackfire on the huge wall screen—then Control Freak pushed another button and he and his partner were there in the flesh, standing right in front of that screen—and the three heroes kept right on reacting, but not entirely the way he had expected.
Starfire went airborne and she and Blackfire started slinging starbolts back and forth, fast and furious—no surprise there! Control Freak preferred to stay out of that quarrel. Blackfire had made it clear she was aching for a rematch after the way her sister had deposed her in a duel the last time around. Correcting that was a matter of honor, apparently. He wouldn't have felt right about attacking Starfire anyway; she was so doggone cute!
But Robin and Cyborg behaved . . . oddly. The leader of the Titans yelled, "Cyborg! Box!" And Cyborg turned on his heel and began running toward a door at the end of this level. It led to a stairwell, if Control Freak remembered right from his last invasion of this place.
Bizarre behavior, but much more urgent was this: Robin launched a flying kick at Control Freak which might have cleaned his clock if Control Freak had still been standing there when Robin's steel-toed boot arrived in the space he'd been occupying a second earlier. Fortunately, a quick button-press had zapped him twenty feet to the left.
"Box?" Control Freak asked, while absently thumbing his remote once again and bringing a large collection piece of computer equipment to life so it could start grappling with Robin before something terrible happened (such as Robin getting his hands on Control Freak). "Is he supposed to find some gloves and challenge me to go three rounds in the ring, winner take all?"
"Not quite . . . what . . . I meant," Robin grunted as he pulled a printer cable away from his neck. Unfortunately for him, the DSL cable now had his ankles tied together and a power cord was coiling itself around his left wrist. Meanwhile, the digital face on the monitor was chortling.
A stray starbolt made a sizzling sound as it struck the floor midway between the two guys, and Control Freak hastily said, "Let's move out of the way and give those girls some privacy for their family feud, shall we?"
He started down the corridor in pursuit of Cyborg. The transmogrified computer/robot followed at a respectful distance, carrying Robin, whom it now had trussed up and helpless . . . for the time being. (Given that Robin had been trained by one of the world's greatest escape artists, Control Freak knew this wouldn't last indefinitely, but it should give him a breathing space to deal with the Cyborg problem.)
"So," he said as he reached the stairwell door and zapped it open with a wave of his remote, "just what did you mean when you told Cyborg to 'box'?"
Robin, not surprisingly, wasn't in the mood to explain himself. Control Freak took a moment to ponder. "Box" could be a noun as well as a verb; maybe Robin had been talking about a container instead of a fighting style?
Then it dawned on him. Cyborg might be running away from something—the awe-inspiring combo of Control Freak and Blackfire, for instance—or he might be running toward something else!
A secret weapon? Hidden in an ordinary cardboard box in a storage room full of similar boxes for protective camouflage? Something that any Titan could find and use in a hurry if things went to pot, but no intruder would ever give that one special box a second look until it was too late? If so, keeping a hostage handy was definitely a good idea.
Better pick up the pace! He moved down the stairs as quickly as he dared. He wasn't too worried about being attacked in the stairwell—running away just to turn around and stage an ambush a moment later wasn't Cyborg's style. And any weapon the metallic Titan might be racing to find wasn't likely to be stored on the stairs where someone in a hurry could trip over it and break his fool neck. All the same, Control Freak kept his remote aimed ahead as he hurried down the steps, ready to zap first and ask questions later if anything surprising happened. (He'd thought about sending the robot/Robin combo ahead first, but decided that right now, using Robin as a human shield was more trouble than it was worth if it would block his view of whatever Cyborg might be ready to do.)
Nothing did—but when he was one flight further down, Control Freak's remote detected Cyborg's distinctive electronic emissions signature, about fifty feet away on that same level of the Tower.
A few seconds later he came around a corner just in time to see Cyborg scrambling into some sort of large, free-standing, metallic box. Larger than a refrigerator. Actually, it took Control Freak longer than it should have to make the connection. The box was just about the shape and size, though not the color, of the TARDIS in the Doctor Who shows.
Reluctant to send any high-powered pulses that might trigger whatever was lurking inside that box, Control Freak shifted a finger on his remote and pushed a "Scan" button that should promptly give him a full diagnostic of whatever Cyborg was in such a hurry to reach.
The heavy door slammed shut a moment later, but Control Freak scarcely noticed—he was still squinting at the readout on a tiny screen on the unit in his hand. Nothing of any interest, technologically speaking, was inside that box? (Except for Cyborg himself, natch.) Then what was the point?
"I don't believe it," he mused. "Is the big guy just burying his head in the sand and hoping I won't come after him?"
Don't be silly," the still-immobilized Robin said, sounding more amused than offended. "Cyborg's not afraid of you."
"Well, it sure looks like it!"
"No," Robin said, "he's afraid of what I'm going to do."
Control Freak turned around and blinked at his mouthy prisoner. "Did you get whacked on the head when I wasn't looking? Why would Cyborg think you were his biggest problem right now?"
"Delta-Charlie-November-Oscar-Three-Eight, Execute," Robin said quickly, and then a strange whining noise began from somewhere else in the building.
Control Freak spun around, looking for the source of the sound and not finding it. He turned back to Robin. "What's that? Sounds like something's booting up."
"Close enough," Robin said agreeably. "Or preparing to shut down, depending on how you look—"
He was interrupted by a sound like a muffled explosion; probably from the next level down.
The brief vibration in the floor wasn't nearly strong enough to make Control Freak lose his footing; the noise wasn't deafening; the walls and ceiling weren't caving in; no sound or smell of fire in the distance—but it had to mean something!
He decided to bite the bullet and use his remote on the door currently protecting Cyborg. He aimed and clicked. The door didn't budge an inch. In fact, the remote was strangely quiet. No lights, no beeps, no LED activity on the tiny screen, and it didn't matter how hard he squeezed any of the buttons. Control Freak dropped the useless unit and shoved both hands into pockets—left hand into his trousers, right hand into an inside pocket of his trench coat—pulled out two more remotes and started fingering their controls. If one button didn't work, maybe another would?
Teleport. Transform. Bring furniture to life. Zap Robin into the nearest TV screen or monitor. Do something. Anything!
Nothing . . . nothing . . . and even more nothing happened in response to his best efforts!
The transmogrified computer console was no longer exerting itself; Robin had easily managed to pry himself loose from the inert cables while Control Freak was still frantically testing his backup weapons. Now the Boy Wonder started advancing
And Control Freak started backing away, glumly aware that if Robin got within arm's reach of him, their fight would be over in an embarrassingly short time.
Robin made a flourish and somehow one of his gloved hands now held a pair of handcuffs. "Why not hold out your wrists and make it easy on yourself?"
"Not yet," Control Freak insisted, whipping out his last backup remote and noting, without much surprise, that it was doing no better than the other three. "Whatever you did can't last forever."
Robin smiled. "As far as anything in your pockets is concerned, the damage is already done. That noise came from an Electromagnetic Pulse Generator. Very limited range. Everything on the mainland ought to be okay. We hated the idea of doing this to our own headquarters—but we also hated the idea of you running wild in here, so we made preparations anyway."
The light was belatedly dawning. Control Freak said: "Okay, I never seriously expected that! After all, having a bunch of electronics crash is just a nuisance for most of you guys, but for Cyborg . . ."
"It could be fatal," Robin agreed. "Certainly painful, with probable damage to stored memories. Sure, he keeps most of his data backed up in other locations for a rainy day, but why risk it? Anything inside that box is guaranteed to be 100 percent shielded if the door is shut before the pulse goes off." Now Robin was snapping the cuffs onto a dejected Control Freak's wrists and asking cheerfully, "Did you think he was running for our secret weapon? He was running to hide from it!"
"Must have gone against the grain," Control Freak said sadly. "I thought he was acting out of character . . ."
He wasn't quite as depressed as he sounded, though. Okay, so he'd fallen into a trap, but he still had an extra ace up his sleeve. He'd rather not mention it just yet.
He had thought to use Robin as a hostage—but heck, he already had two other hostages, even if their friends didn't know it yet! Raven and Beast Boy had vanished off the face of the earth, and no one but Control Freak knew how to bring them back. When the time was ripe, he'd mention this to the remaining Titans and then start listing his demands. Freeing him and Blackfire would be a good place to start. Control Freak knew that if Robin, in his capacity as team leader, made a solemn promise to turn them loose with a good head start after Raven and Beast Boy were restored to their friends, he'd keep his word and the other Titans would have to go along.
Snatching victory—or at least a negotiated truce—from the jaws of defeat might even prove to be a good way to make Blackfire warm up to him some more! Assuming she'd been defeated by her sister Starfire by now, which (based on the outcome of their last one-on-one duel) seemed a near certainty.
Naturally Control Freak had never shared that assessment of the probabilities with his new ally. A clever girl, but her ego left her with a few blind spots. But in his heart, he had been looking forward to rescuing the dark-haired beauty after she fell flat on her face once again in the attempt to prove she was totally "better" than her kid sister. Some variation of that plan might still be feasible!