Nightwing: Out of Time
By Christopher W. Blaine
DISCLAIMER: The following story contains characters and situations that are ©2002 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related, non-profit entertainment purposes only. This original work of fiction is ©2002 by Christopher W. Blaine and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express written permission of the author.
The afternoon walk had become something more than just a form of exercise for Jonathan Law; it was a time in which he could allow his mind to wander effortlessly. His legs, old and shaky, yet still strong enough to carry him around the streets of Bludhaven, would go on automatically; an involuntary movement that had become much like breathing for him. He was an old man, far older than he looked and, he would often times admit, he was very…mature looking.
It had not always been that was for Jonathan Law; indeed, he had cut quite a figure in his younger days, back when he was a famous crime novel writer and not a retired nobody. Back in the so-called Golden Age when he also wore the costume of the Tarantula.
During World War 2, it seemed as if people everywhere were putting on costumes and demonstrating strange powers. Always an adventurous spirit, Jonathan joined the crime-fighter scene and eventually President Roosevelt's All-Star Squadron. Throughout the war years, he had been a staple of the group, though it was more out of a desire to be closer to the cute blonde leader of the group, Liberty Belle, as opposed to a real desire to uphold the good.
After the war, the Squadron broke up and the Tarantula was not as important as writing and so he concentrated on his career. As the years passed by, he began to lose contact with his former teammates, though he would eventually learn their fates. Very few of his friends were still alive and so he found himself forced to seek out new ones.
He had been lucky in that he had met a young writer named Richard Grayson. Richard reminded Jonathan a lot of himself in his early twenties and he had taken the boy under his wing. Of course, without an actual novel under his belt to bring in some income, the poor lad had to go out and get a real job. Though he was now a member of the Bludhaven police force, Jonathan suspected that maybe that wasn't the whole story with Richard.
Richard was the former ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne, but Richard apparently did not wish to live off Wayne's money. Jonathan admired that, but did not quite understand it. Jonathan always liked having money.
Jonathan passed by the grocers and the diners and all of the stores he passed by every day and he looked inside, observing the people, wondering about their lives. Often, he would compare their faces to people he had met or known. He liked doing that because it reminded him that life was a cycle. What had been will be and what is shall be again.
Passing by an Audio Shack he happened to spot the proprietor, Mr. Crandall talking with a short, redheaded customer. Jonathan stopped, his mind racing, trying to process the information his failing eyes were taking in. Cursing silently, he decided to move into the store and observe. Worst case, he could always get in a game of dominoes with Crandall to win some extra coffee money.
Crandall barely nodded as Jonathan entered, so engaged with his customer he was. The redheaded man did not turn, but the former super-hero knew that he had met this man before, or at least knew of him. Jonathan wandered over to the desktop PC display and began to move the mouse around. It was a damn Curtains XP operating system, so Jonathan knew if he didn't get closer to hear the conversation he was going to be very bored.
It really was unlike Jonathan to be so curious, but there was something nagging at the back of his mind and that was not normal. His mind was usually operating on one thing at a time, and that was normally food or coffee. Regardless, he started to shuffle over towards the counter, where he saw several circuit boards stacked on the glass counter. Pretending to now be looking at the collection of calculators, he secretly turned up his hearing aid.
"And I'm trying to tell you, sir, that I'll have to contact my distributor in Gotham City to have those parts shipped here. I don't normally carry things like that," Crandall said in a pleading tone.
The customer tapped a small finger on the counter. He was obviously agitated. "There are no other electronics suppliers in the area?"
"Sure, but you'd probably get the same answer. I mean, this is some pretty hi-tech stuff. There's no generic knock-off; you'll have to have pure Wayne Tech boards with Lexicorp chips."
The redheaded man gritted his teeth and Jonathan noticed he was holding a pair of black leather gloves. In fact, the man was dressed head-to-toe in black, with highly polished boots sticking out under the long trench coat. As if he felt Jonathan's eyes on him, the red-haired man turned.
They faced each other and Jonathan saw a visage of pure rage and hatred. He had a fat face and a haircut that even the conservative Mr. Law knew was well out of style. He sort of reminded Jonathan of a short and dumpy Guy Gardner, the former Green Lantern and all-around pain in the posterior. There was also something so familiar about the man that he almost felt compelled to speak to him.
Obviously, the man had similar feelings as well. "Do I know you, old-timer?"
Jonathan realized he must have been staring. He didn't have a good excuse, so he decided to play dumb. "Is that you, son?" He opened his arms in preparation for a hug and approached the man. "Your mother said you had been killed in the war!"
The man got a distressed look on his face. "I'm not your damn son, you senile old goat!" When Jonathan tried to hug him, he pushed him back. "Do not presume to touch my person!" Mighty big words but spoken through the mouth of a thug, Jonathan thought. He'd heard that sort of speech so many times it wasn't funny. "Sonny! I'm sorry I yelled at you," he lied.
The red-haired man back up a step and looked to Crandall. "Aren't you going to do something about this?"
The shopkeeper was doing his best to keep his face straight. "Sounds like a family matter to me."
"This is not my damn father! Can't you call the local constable?"
"I know I was mad, sonny, and I said some awful things, but there's no need to call the police!"
The red-haired man growled. "I'll be back tomorrow for the parts; will you accept gold in exchange?"
Crandall smiled, watching the man avoid the potential hugs of Jonathan. "Kind of a strange request, but sure."
The man nodded and hurriedly made an exit, commenting that the "old fool" had better be gone the next day. Looking both ways, the man then turned to the right and stormed off. Crandall and Jonathan both broke out in heavy laughter. "Jonathan, that nearly cost me a big sale, you know that?" Crandall asked, wiping a tear from his eye.
"Aw, he was being a butt-head," Jonathan said, approaching the counter and grabbing one of the components that had been stacked there. "Who was that idiot, anyway? Talked like he should be king of the world or something like that."
"Didn't catch his name, but I figure he's one of those new dot-com wanna-be's. Either that or he's some S.T.A.R. labs egghead; who cares? Wants to wear all black and pay in gold…"
"Is that legal?"
"Don't you worry about my business, you old coot! I stand to make a heckuva a profit…under the table of you know what I mean."
Jonathan nodded. Couldn't blame the guy for wanting to make a side buck or two. "Why couldn't you give him everything he wanted? You got half of NASA in here."
"Nosy today, aren't you?" Crandall regarded him for a moment and then decided that it would not do any harm to tell him. "Some of the things he wanted were boards that are used to control very small voltage variances in complex power generators. It's not a normal item we stock but we can get it."
"English, please," Jonathan said, pulling off his cap and wiping his brow. He never was very good at technical jargon.
"Suppose you have a generator that you need to put out a certain voltage and that voltage cannot vary within a certain tolerance to your components…"
"Try dumbing it down a bit," Jonathan said. He was still trying to put the man's face to a name.
Crandall got a smart tone. "Suppose I'm building a time machine…"
Jonathan looked up from his musing and stared at Crandall. "Oh my God!"
"Give me what you got, Babs," Richard Grayson said to the computer monitor. He was busy doing forty-pound curls.
"How may times have you said that to me?" she asked, mischief in her tone. She twirled a lock of red hair and pushed her glasses up. The small web cam on top of Richard's monitor moved slightly, controlled by a remote control in Barbara Gordon's loft several miles away in Gotham City. "Look at those muscles!"
He grinned at her. "All the more to hug you with my dear; now give me the information I asked for."
"I swear you're getting as bad as Bruce, you know that?" she swore, looking off-camera. Richard responded quickly. "You would be surprised to know I find that to be a compliment in this case."
Barbara returned to the monitor and began reading from some papers. "Per Degaton was a villain that fought both the Justice Society and All-Star Squadron during World War 2. He wanted to rule the world. He was originally from a few years in the future, where he stole a time machine being developed by a Professor Zee. He hoped to use weapons from the future to conquer the past, but he never succeeded. He supposedly died sometime before 1950."
"Supposedly?" Richard asked.
"A body was identified by a former lab assistant to Professor Zee as being that of Degaton, but it was cremated so there is no way for us to absolutely verify that. Because he could travel through time, the Justice Society refused to list him as officially deceased."
Richard set the weights down and stood up to stretch. Firm, rippling muscles threw sweat to the floor as he did so. He was chasing a wild goose, he knew it, but when Jonathan Law had come banging on his door demanding a police response, he couldn't say no. The idea was fantastic, but it was the very first time his writing mentor had ever done such a thing. Obviously, Jonathan believed that he had seen Per Degaton trying to buy electronics earlier that day. "Any notations from Batman?"
The Batman was the top of the super-hero food chain in Gotham City and had been the man who had trained Richard to become the super-hero known as Robin. When he had become an adult, Richard had shed the Robin identity and Gotham City as well to become Nightwing, the apex predator of criminals in Bludhaven. "Nothing. Per Degaton was considered mainly a minor villain even by law enforcement agencies. However, because there is no statue of limitations on murder, he's still wanted in New York State."
Richard took in a deep breath. He had no choice but to look into it. As a law enforcement officer, he had to pursue this lead on a wanted murderer. However, he had been raised to look at the spirit of the law and not the letter. There was no reason he had to investigate as officer Richard Grayson. "I'm going to take a shower and suit up. I'll call you on the com-unit when I'm on the move."
"You could always come over here to take a shower," she said. The invitation was more than tempting, as it had been nearly a week since he and his girlfriend had spent any quality time together. "I bought a new back scrubber."
"I'll talk to you in an hour," he said, shutting the monitor off.
Training to become a defender of the night under the Batman was meant to prepare you for every situation under any circumstance. The problem with the Batman's training philosophy was that a defender of the night isn't necessarily at their best during the day.
Nightwing looked back up at the sun, which was still moving across the hazy industrial skyline of Bludhaven. His uniform allowed his skin to breathe and he most certainly was used to working in the daylight…just not in Bludhaven. As Robin, he had helped to form the Teen Titans, a group of super-hero teens. Most of their missions had taken place during the day (how did he ever graduate high school he sometimes wondered!) and so he had gotten used to it.
Certainly the Batman was able to work in the day as well, but it was just that the night was a tool of their trade and without it, he sometimes felt naked. Today, especially, he felt as if he were showing his "naughty-bits" to the city around him. Peering through his binoculars, he watched the storefront for any sign of his quarry. On display view was a small picture of Per Degaton, downloaded from the New York Times database. The picture was from 1942 and was not in color, plus it had not converted to digital format all that well. Surprisingly, it looked a little like Guy Gardner.
He had been here for several hours and he was wishing he had brought some lunch, but then he had expected to discover that this was nothing more than the failing memory of a great writer and he would be at home, enjoying the day off. Or at least at Barbara's enjoying some other things.
He pulled the binoculars down and whistled. His life was going good, especially since he and Barbara had gotten together. Years before, she had debuted in Gotham City as Batgirl and the teenaged Richard Grayson, then known as Robin, had fallen in love. It took a few years, but Barbara began to realize that she had the same feelings as well. It took him having a failed marriage attempt and some serious soul-searching before he got the courage to let her know exactly how he felt. Severe tragedy in the form of being disabled and raped by the Joker is what it took for Barbara to confront her true feelings.
How unfortunate it was that their lives were so full of anguish before they could be filled with joy. Sometimes, he wondered what it would be like to confront that young Batgirl, knowing what he knew now. Dismissing the thought, he looked down on the street and spied someone that looked roughly like the person Jonathan had described.
The idea that a World War 2 era super-villain was shopping in 21st century Bludhaven really was laughable, but duty compelled him to sit up here and at least verify that this was not a wanted criminal. Bringing up the binoculars, he zoomed in on the man, but it was too late. The man had already entered the store before he could focus.
Nightwing cursed and waited patiently. Ten minutes later, the man emerged, looking left and then right. It was when he was looking to the right that Nightwing was able to focus in on him. He had to admit that there was more than a passing resemblance, but the poor photograph allowed too much variance. There was enough similarity to cause Nightwing to stand up and stretch. He would be hopping from rooftop to rooftop following the man. He would need to get in closer and maybe even confront him to end this once and for all.
Nightwing was still hungry and was now tired. The red-haired man had walked to the outskirts of the city, to an abandoned warehouse that had once been owned by, of all companies, Wayne Tech, Bruce Wayne's company. The building had changed hands several times since and it was apparent that none of the other owners had invested any money in keeping the building up to code.
There were tag marks everywhere, as gang after gang had marked their territory, though Nightwing could not understand why anyone would want to claim this real estate. Of course, he couldn't understand why there was so much conflict in the Middle East…it was just a bunch of sand after all and it wasn't like everyone couldn't share. He wasn't worried about running into anyone because if the so-called Per Degaton wasn't afraid to just walk around here, why should he?
Then a little voice in the back of his head told him that if this really were Per Degaton, then he would be from an era where street gangs of the 21st century would be impossible to comprehend. He could be walking around oblivious to the dangers around him!
There was light coming from the upper floors, and Nightwing supposed that was where the man was staying. Despite not having a car, the man's clothes suggested that he was not a homeless man and that meant that this was his workspace as opposed to being his living space. It was also possible that he was about to encounter a secret government program or some other nonsense that would draw unwanted attention.
Shrugging, Nightwing silently crossed the space from his hiding place to the shadows cast by the building. Looking around, he saw the entrance that "Per Degaton" had taken, but decided against that just in case it was booby-trapped. He could throw a line up to the roof, as it was only a four-story building and climb up, but he wasn't in the mood. Looking for the fire escape took only a minute and following it up, he found himself at a large opaque window, made up of small panels, some of them broken by rocks, pellet guns and off-course birds.
Looking in one if them, he was shocked to see the now-familiar back uniform of Per Degaton, the large crimson "D" emblazoned on the breast, adorning the red-haired man as he worked to replace several components in a smashed in cabinet. The cabinet was attached to a large contraption that Nightwing supposed was Professor Zee's time machine.
The fact that Per Degaton was replacing circuit boards told Nightwing many things. He had reviewed the Justice Society report on Per Degaton, as well as the schematics and plans for the time machine. The drawings were vastly incomplete, but they did indicate that the machines used very basic computers, vacuum tubes and other pieces of equipment that were normal for that era. Circuit boards such as what Per Degaton had ordered and was now using had only been around for a few months.
Nightwing could tell just by looking that the time machine had been heavily modified using modern technology. Records indicated that while Per Degaton had been technically gifted, he was not a master of temporal physics and so any changes made to professor Zee's machines had to have been done by someone else.
All of this indicated that the body that had been identified in the late forties as being the villain was really just another victim of a madman's desire to rule the world. If not for the murders, Nightwing would have laughed. Per Degaton, as far as being a villain, reminded him of that coyote in the cartoons. Grand schemes with comical failures. In the end, however, he was nothing more than a common criminal.
Nightwing knew that the criminal was nowhere near his physical match. The loaded holster at his hip indicated other things that might give him an advantage in a fight. Hoping to use surprise to his advantage, Nightwing took a step back and then plunged into the window. The weak glass and frame broke easily, and his Kevlar-impregnated costume protected him from damage.
Even as debris raced towards the warehouse floor, Nightwing was firing a line into the ceiling. Per Degaton reacted by screaming as Nightwing dropped to the floor. The criminal's reflexes surprised the hero as he saw a Ruger pistol pointed at him. "Put the weapon down and you won't get hurt," Nightwing said.
"I cannot believe this! Who the hell are you?" Per Degaton said, a twisting snarl on his lip.
"I'm the good guy and you're the bad guy; that's pretty self-explanatory. Put the weapon down like I said," Nightwing replied.
Per Degaton fired, and Nightwing jumped out of the way, scrambling for cover. It was stupid to think that a would-be world conqueror was going to surrender just because he flexed his chest and gave a pretty speech. He rolled into a crouch just as another bullet hit the floor next to him. "Hey, you're not a bad shot for an old man!" Nightwing joked.
"You are ruining everything, hero-boy! Give me another ten minutes and I'm out of your life forever! What do you say?"
"Oh, sure; here in the 21st century we always let murderers go," Nightwing called as he made his way to the other side of the room. He wanted to get close to the time machine so he could ensure it was disabled.
"You fool! You're only delaying the inevitable; a world under the rule of Per Degaton! For two years I've been planning my return to the past, gathering weapons and allies for a push upon the United States just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor." Per Degaton fired again and again, his agitation throwing his aim off. Nightwing was having nor problem getting where he wanted, all the while his attacker had to keep shifting position to get a good shot at him.
"Aw, that won't work…the Justice Society will just kick your butt again."
Per Degaton laughed. "That's what you think, boy! I've made plans that you couldn't even begin to imagine."
"You know, I'm sure you could explain it with one-syllable words for me, though," Nightwing replied. He had reached the back corner of the machine. Part of it was embedded into the floor and he got the sense that it had materialized out of time rather quickly. "Where'd you learn to park?" he asked.
"Bastard! Get away from there!"
Nightwing smiled and grabbed a railing to jump up to the control area. As he landed, a massive electric shock ran through his body. His life was saved by his costume, which was heavily insulated, but not enough to prevent him from being knocked out. Slumping to the floor, his last thoughts were of Barbara and how he wished he could have said good-bye.
Nightwing awoke to the sound of humming machinery and dimming lights. He wondered how there could be electricity to the building still, but realized that he should have asked that questions a long time ago. His eyes blinked open and he found that he was bound to a ceiling support with rope. Immediately, he began to work at the ropes as he looked around for Per Degaton.
The villain was busy running around the time machine, checking instruments and readouts. He just happened to glance over at Nightwing. "Ah, so you're awake! That costume of yours is very impressive. If I had the time, I'd take it with me. Can you imagine an entire army in 1940 equipped with such body armor?"
"History shows that you fail over and over again, Degaton."
"Only the history you know, Nightwing. Yes, I know who you are, after I looked you up in my super-hero guidebook I picked up in 2254. You would have led an impressive life, believe me, but I'm afraid that after I take over the world in 1941, you will never exist."
"Well, at least you feel bad," Nightwing said as he felt the bonds begin to loosen.
"I wouldn't even be here if I hadn't run into a time storm. I was lucky that this is the era that most of the modifications to my time machine had been created. Otherwise, I don't know what I would have done." He turned and verified a readout. "I'd kill you, but you'll be wiped out of existence soon enough, so just hang tight. One question, though, my good super-hero, how did you find me? I did my best to avoid contact with any person who would even be remotely aware of whom I am…of course! The old man! That damn old man who tried to hug me! Who was he?"
"Bite me," was his reply.
Per Degaton shrugged and turned away, heading for the controls. He began pressing buttons and Nightwing noted that there was a change in the pitch of the sound of the equipment. He strained against his bonds and finally the inept knot Per Degaton had tied came loose and he was free.
The time machine began to shimmer and fade and Nightwing ran towards it and Per Degaton. He didn't know how he was going to do it, but he was going to bring this man to justice for the murders he committed in the forties.
He felt a wave of static electricity as he passed through the temporal field. Inside it, the world was a negative of the real world, colors opposite of what they needed to be. Moving in slow motion, he approached Per Degaton, who seemed unaware of the hero's tortoise-like approach. After what seemed like a millennium, Nightwing reached his foe and grabbed his shoulder.
The two struggled in a slow dance as they raced through time. Nightwing found himself frustrated as every punch he threw landed with all of the effect of a marshmallow against a brick wall. In his thoughts, he wondered how his best friend Wally West, the Flash, was able to cope with this.
Per Degaton smiled and reached down to push a large yellow button. Suddenly, Nightwing felt the time machine stop and he was flung off of it into the time stream. Quickly, he pulled out one of his custom throwing stars and tossed it at some electrical conduit on the outside of the machine. It struck the conduit and he heard the beginning of a scream from Per Degaton as his world went black.
Nightwing felt a strong hand shaking him, a firm grip that indicated that it was important that he wake up. His mind told him that five more minutes of sleep would be nice, but the shaking was very insistent. "Hey! Get the hell up!"
Nightwing recognized the voice, but could not quite place it. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. "I'm getting really sick of getting knocked out," he said, sitting up.
The room he was in done in basic white and he got the sense it was some sort of medical facility by the looks of it. His eyes focused and he realized there was someone standing to the side of him. "Where am I?"
A blond haired man in a brown and black costume kneeled over and looked him in the face. Nightwing was shocked to find he was looking at his friend Jonathan in his Tarantula costume. "John?"
"How the hell do you know my name?" the Tarantula asked. "You've got a lot to answer for, mister." The man was much younger than Nightwing remembered and he finally began to understand. "What year is it?"
"What do you mean what year is it? It's 1943."
"Oh crap," Nightwing responded, putting a hand up to the bridge of his nose. He was in real trouble this time.
End Part 1