Nightwing: Out of Time 2 – Time is Running Out
By: Christopher W. Blaine
DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story 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 as a whole or in part without the express permission of the author.
Richard Grayson sat at his computer desk doing something that was extremely rare for him: reading. No book lay before him, instead he was reading from his computer screen, his eyes devouring the text before him. He paused only to consume the pictures included in the on-line reference. This was a rare treat for him because his life was filled with activities that prevented him from taking the time out to something so…normal.
As a child, before he was orphaned, he had spent much of his free time reading books. As he got older, he considered going into journalism or even writing novels. There was no real need for him to work as he was independently wealthy as well as being the heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world, but sitting around all day idly counting money just wasn't for him.
Not having to worry about where his next meal was going to come from or if he was going to be able to pay the rent probably kept his stress level low. The alternative, however, was that whenever he wasn't in his Bludhaven Police Department uniform, he was leaping from rooftop to rooftop as the costumed hero Nightwing. Apprehending criminals took up so much of his time that he sometimes would forget to do simple things such as shop, or clean or even bathe. Lucky for him, he had a girlfriend who saw to it that his more mundane needs were met.
He paused in his reading to consider how lucky he was to finally have Barbara Gordon, the former original Batgirl, as his companion in life. She not only provided some sanity in his otherwise topsy-turvy life, but she saw to it that all of his wants and desires were met. He desired not to stink around people and so she ensured that he showered regularly. He wanted to learn more about what effect he had on the past, and she obliged by giving him access to the Gotham City Library news archives via the internet.
Most people would have looked at him queerly if he had said something to the effect of "what happened after I left the 1940's?", but because of their relationship and experiences, it did not seem so out of the ordinary to her.
Several weeks before, Richard's friend Jonathan Law, once a super-hero known as the Tarantula, had a run-in with a time-traveling villain from World War 2 named Per Degaton. Per Degaton was reported to have been killed in 1947, but villains and heroes were reported dead all of the time, only to show up on your doorstep the very next day.
Pursuing Degaton's trail, Nightwing eventually found him in an abandoned warehouse, repairing his time machine (though the truth was that he had stolen the machine from his employer) and in the ensuing battle, both he and the villain ended up hurtling through the time-stream. Nightwing managed to sabotage the time machine, but not before he actually fell off of it and ended up materializing in the parking lot of the headquarters of the All-Star Squadron back in the early 1940's. Confronted by a youthful Tarantula, Nightwing had to explain his situation without giving away too much information about the future.
Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern and Gotham City's very first real super-hero, had felt that every word that Nightwing uttered was like dynamite and it would damage the future. He took Nightwing to Gotham City where he planned to put him in suspended hibernation until the early 21st century. Unfortunately, on the way there, Solomon Grundy, an old foe of the Lantern's, decided to rob a bank and the Emerald Gladiator was compelled to do battle with him, leaving Nightwing to stand on the sidelines.
When the monstrous Grundy hurled a car at Green Lantern and missed, it struck a nearby building and Nightwing had to act to save the life of a child, who turned out to be Thomas Wayne. Thomas was the father of Bruce Wayne, and it would be his death that would lead to the creation of the Batman, which would also lead to the creation of Robin and then Nightwing.
A photographer had managed to snap a picture of Nightwing as he was being thanked by Thomas's parents and that had ended up in the local paper. Now the question was if that picture had always been there, or was it only after Nightwing had gone to the past that it became part of history? If it happened in past, does that mean at some point young Richard Grayson saw that picture and it influenced how he would design his Nightwing costume when the time came for him to become that hero?
Furthermore, if all of these things happened in the past, did Batman know? Green Lantern's calculations had been off and Nightwing had appeared some years before he had originally left, only to find himself confronting a Batman who was the same age as him! Batman soon compelled Nightwing to tell him everything. After a minor deviation in which the Joker and Riddler were captured and Nightwing almost kissed a younger Barbara (as Batgirl), he was sent back to his own time by Zatanna the sorceress.
"But," he had said to Barbara after the adventure as they sat eating from a ten-pack of tacos in her apartment, "if Bruce knew I was going to one day become Nightwing, and that Nightwing had saved his father back in the 1940's, then did he purposely cause the rift between the two of us as I got older? It was because of that rift that I became Nightwing, to separate myself from the Batman."
Barbara had answered calmly, though tears were running down her face from the extra-hot sauce. "It is a possibility. To be honest with you, when I saw you in your costume after you had redesigned it I started to remember you and remember how you made me feel."
"Pretty good, huh?" he had asked as he passed her a glass of milk.
She had gulped it down and wiped her eyes. "Oh, you don't even know how many nights I laid in my bed thinking about…well, you! It was such a relief to find out that my knight in black leather and Kevlar turned out to be my boyfriend!"
They had laughed and enjoyed their meal and by the end, Barbara had convinced him to confront Bruce on the matter. However, the enigmatic Batman only grunted and gave vague answers, telling his protégé that there were more important things to worry about. "Did you ever find out what happened to Per Degaton?" he had asked.
"He's dead," Nightwing had replied, not wanting to change the subject.
Batman then began to count off on his fingers all of the heroes and villains he could think of in recent memory that had died and yet, lo and behold, were alive now. Superman. Wonder Woman. Green Arrow. Hal Jordan. And those were only the important ones!
Now, Richard eagerly read line after line on the various websites that Barbara's searches had indicated might contain relevant information concerning Per Degaton. But, after six hours, he had to stop and walk away from the computer, no further in finding an answer to the Batman's question than when he started. By all accounts, Per Degaton had died in 1947 when he was shot.
His body, however, was cremated almost immediately, claimed by a distant "cousin". The problem was that without a body, there was no way to verify that he was actually dead and so it was possible, however unlikely, that the villain had lived and used his time machine to commit crimes in some other time period.
With his machine and knowledge of where to go to get weaponry, Per Degaton could have been a rich man at any time before the 1940's. Richard had scanned historical records and archeological reports that indicated a sudden change in technological ability on the part of any culture, and yet all such occurrences could be easily explained away once someone looked at the big picture. Here a culture was overtaken by the Romans, who introduced their ways of doing things. There some other culture copied and modified the way some other culture was doing something.
That left only three possible expalantions. The first was that Per Degaton had actually died of a gunshot wound in 1947. The second was that he ended up stranded somewhere in the past and some other person died in 1947. The third possibility was that he was instead somewhere in the future and still yet had to travel back to 1947 where he was supposed to die.
The third possibility had some precedence. Richard's best friend was Wally West, the third person to assume the mantle of the Flash. Wally's uncle Barry Allen had been the second one until he died. Barry had a foe named Eobard Thawne, a 25th century scientist who found out he was supposed to die in the late twentieth century/early twenty-first century at the hand Barry Allen. This knowledge became an obsession for Thawne, who would go on to become the Reverse-Flash and would be accidently killed by Allen.
Richard walked over to his window and looked out on the streets of Bludhaven, the city had come to call his own. He wasn't due to report back to work for at least another 24 hours and he thought that maybe spending some quality time with Barbara was in order. His mind made up, he went over and shut his computer down before grabbing his car keys.
Black Robin landed softly on the rooftop, her boots absorbing the impact of the fall so that her legs wouldn't. Immediately, she keyed a command into her wrist-computer and a microwave transmission shot from the rooftop into space. A slicing program began to run and within fifteen seconds, she had access to the internet.
The ISP she had broken into had several software programs that attacked her intrusion, but they fell one after another to her superior code. It was unfortunate, but the owners of that particular server were going to be very unhappy in the morning when they found out that their software was effectively dead.
"Adbook," she said, her jawbone mike picking up her whispers and transmitting them into commands for her software. Immediately, a new program opened up in the HUD of her left eye lens and she used the optical scroll feature to go down through the list of names. Her program had already compared the names in her internal address book to their locations and information as they were listed on the internet.
"Stop. Hardcall," she commanded, wanting to make a phone call over an actual telephone line. She smiled as she remembered the days when it was so common to see lines stretched from here to there, bundles of wires carrying electronic pulses that were converted to sound on the other end.
There was a dialtone and then the number was dialed. It rang several times before an answering machine picked up. She grimaced as it spoke. "Hi, this is Dick! I'm not home, but if you leave a message, I'll try to call back." She ended the call before the beep.
"Find Bruce Wayne, Gotham City," she commanded as she peered over the roof's edge. There were several vehicles down below her, all of them internal-combustion engines. She was getting excited as she realized that very soon who would be driving something with some real power under the hood.
As she looked for what seemed to be the best choice, Bruce Wayne's public telephone number came up. She shook her head, realizing that she had been too general in her search request. "Run to Justice League mainframe, access password from personal files, retrieve adbook." A car came slowly up the street, the exhaust vibrating as the driver revved the engine. She sniffed the air; it was noxious, filled with the exhaust from the car. It smelled good.
A red warning came up in front of her eye. The Justice League computer was resisting her initial attempts to gain entry, but she and it soon compromised as it accepted her access code. The code was actually Wonder Woman's old code, but that was no matter. The computer was up on the moon and by the time they figured out what was going on, she would be gone.
The car turned down an alleyway and the driver stepped out to speak with two men that had been standing there in the darkness. Black Robin shook her head slowly. "No matter how much things change, they always remain the same," she lamented. It was obvious that this was a narcotics transaction. By reflex, she activated her cowl digital recorder and then immediately turned it off. She wouldn't need any evidence tonight.
As her program wormed its way through the Justice League database, searching out either the telephone number or, hopefully, the digital connection to the Batcave, she leapt off of the edge of the building and plummeted to the street below. As she fell, she held her arms out, making her jet-black cape into a quasi-parachute that allowed her to decelerate to a speed that her costume could handle.
Her landing would have been perfect had it not been for the poor cat whose tail she stepped on. As it screeched in pain and anger, one of the two men who had been in the alley whirled in her direction and pulled a gun. "Aw, hell! It's the Huntress!"
Black Robin considered pointing out the long flowing blonde hair that stuck out the back of cowl, a sure indication that she did not possess the raven-tresses of the Huntress, but decided that these intellectually-challenged dolts would only accuse her of being the Black Canary. "Taser, human, left," she spoke and immediately her utility belt's automated weapon's system responded, firing a wire into the man with the gun and subduing him with a large electrical shock. The wires on her end were automatically cut and she went into action as one of the other men also pulled out a gun.
She pulled out a shuriken and threw it without even looking, her costume's targeting system aiding her in the attack by halting her arm at the right spot. Normally, she would not allow the auto-systems to remain on when she wasn't tired, but speed was of the essence tonight.
The man screamed as the throwing star dug deep into his hand, but then he too fell as the sleeping agent coating it reacted with the adrenaline his system pumped. With the two gunmen down, she only had to contend with the driver, and all she wanted was his car. Leaping up onto the hood, she activated the magnetic locks in her boots. From inside, he looked up at her and she could tell he was weighing his options. "I'll make it easy on you, sport. Take the drugs and dump them out on the street right here and give me your car."
He slowly stepped out, holding a gym bag. "You're stealing my ride?"
"Consider it a loan," she said, unlocking her boots and dropping down to the pavement. Standing at her full height, she towered over him. She stared down hard, even as she saw that a connection had been made to the Batcave. "Get to it, scumbag," she ordered and he complied immediately, thankful that he wasn't going to get stabbed or electrocuted.
Slowly she moved to the other side of the car, out of his ear shot and began to listen as the final security system was broken. She knew that the Batcave's digital and computer security had been supervised by Barbara Gordon and that it would be the best anyone could hope for in this day and age.
"In this day and age," she repeated. The connection was made and she heard a familiar voice pick up on the other end.
"What is it?" the Batman asked, impatience in his voice.
"We need to talk," she said, still watching the drug dealer with one eye, the other watching as even more security program attempted to cut her connection.
"Who is this?"
There was anger now in the Batman's voice. That was something…different she decided. "Look, Bruce, I don't have all night. If you tell me what I need to know, I promise you won't ever hear from me again." There was a grin on her face as she lied.
"Just because you know who I am doesn't give you any special privileges, young lady," he said. He was purposely goading her, trying to get a reaction to see if she would let any information about herself out, like her relative age.
"You're cranked, you know that?" she asked him. This was useless and she knew it. She had hoped that someone else would have picked up the line, but that was really a long shot. She knew the history between Nightwing and Batman all too well. "Okay, young man," she said with a grin. The truth was they were the same age, but she wasn't about to tell him that. "I'm signing off, but just remember, I'm watching!"
She cut the connection and giggled. That would have him guessing for a couple of months. He'd probably end up spending millions upgrading his security systems and would just be a generally rotten person to be around. Good, he deserves it she told herself as she pushed the driver out of the way. "If you're lucky, I won't wreck it," she said, looking down. "What the hell is this?" she asked.
The driver, the smell of cannabis on him, looked inside. "It's the gear shift," he said.
She head butted him and then called up her main program. "Download manual gearing, changing and operating, automobile reference, to autosuit protocols." Immediately, her arms and legs began operating the car easily and all she had to do was watch the road to Gotham City.
Batman pulled away the small headset and put it down slowly on his workbench. The phone conversation he had just had left him with a feeling that was not welcome in his mind: fear. Not so much fear of having his identity revealed to the world, or even being attacked while he was playing the part of Bruce Wayne, but fear he was losing his mind.
The woman on the other end of the conversation had not only known his name, but had also managed to call him on his supposedly secure Justice League "only" line. Through tens of thousands of dollars of firewalls and software! Even though he was not obsessed with the billions of dollars he commanded, the Batman could not stand failure, especially when he was footing the bill.
The identity of his mysterious caller would wait. No threat was made or implied, so there really was no danger. In fact, when he considered it, he could name at least twenty women who might or did know he and Bruce Wayne were the same person. At the same time, he realized it could have been Plastic Man playing a bad joke.
Batman walked over to another phone and picked it up. It automatically connected to the other end and a female voice answered. "Oracle, here."
"Get in your car and get over here. Someone has hacked into my communications lines."
Barbara Gordon blew out, but the Batman could care less about her frustration. "You know, my boyfriend is coming over…"
"Too bad for him; I've tasted your cooking," Batman commented, still not feeling sorry for her. "This is a serious problem, you know that."
There was a small grumbling sound. "Okay, let me leave him a note and tell him where the TV dinners are since I'm such a bad cook," she added with sarcasm.
"Hello? Anybody home? Good looking man looking for love!" Richard called as he opened the door to Barbara's apartment. The lights were on, but that was not unusual; it was the silence that seemed so odd.
Though she was forever trapped in the prison of her wheelchair, Barbara Gordon was by far the most mobile and energetic person he knew. By the time he had finished turning his key in the lock, she should have been sitting there in the main hall with that bemused smirk on her face.
He closed the door and reset the security alarm and then made his way to the kitchen where he found a note telling him to eat a frozen dinner and wait for her as she had to "provide a shoulder for Batman to whine on". He cursed under his breath as he realized that the romantic night he had planned had once again, as it had been so many times, destroyed…obliterated…rendered to base molecules by the Batman.
He moved out of the kitchen to the computer room, hoping to find some new video games to try when he heard a sound. He immediately pressed against the wall and summoned the will to slow his breathing. He had spent enough time in this apartment that he knew every sound that could possibly occur.
The sound was that of the window opening and he understood that it was a sound he was used to hearing as he was doing it, not from across the apartment. He considered changing into costume quickly, but speedy changes were not his specialty.
He was absolutely certain it was not someone familiar. Robin breathed too hard as far as Richard was concerned, Black Canary always smelled too good to be true and Batgirl…well, he would have never heard her.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped into the doorway yelling "freeze!" Immediately, a black leg kicked out from the side. His training under the Batman then kicked in and he grabbed the leg as it came down. He looked briefly, just before a black-gloved fist hit him in the jaw and saw a flash of platinum blond hair.
Falling into the door frame, he was barely able to put up his arms to block another fist. Ducking low, he lunged for his attacker's midsection and grabbed around the torso. As he did so, his momentum taking them down to the floor, he realized he was fighting a woman.
If chivalry were alive and well, he would simply stop and help her up, but he had fought too many women over the years that could mop the floor with him if he let them. A karate chop went for his neck and he grabbed the hand and twisted, putting it in a simple hold. He was straddling the woman's chest now and he noticed that she was wearing a cape and cowl, her eye lenses reflecting the ambient light. "Enjoying yourself, molperv?" the woman asked.
She hissed. "I'll spell it out for your primitive brain, Dick; molesting pervert! Get off my chest before I file a harassment suit on you!"
Richard grabbed the other hand and put the same hold on her. He smiled as she bucked, unable to free herself from the most simple of moves. "Amateur," he said.
She stopped, her jaw dropping. "Field, human, chest," she said with a smile.
A sudden electrical jolt shot through Richard's legs and he was forced to let go of his adversary. She took the opportunity to push him off and he rolled onto the floor. "My legs! I can't feel my legs!" he cried out, the sudden realization overwhelming him.
Black Robin almost said something and then she remembered where she was at. This was no place to make such jokes. "It's temporary," she said as she stood up. Her costume was smoking slightly between her breasts. "You're wearing you costume, aren't you?"
There was no sense in denying the truth. Whoever this person was, they knew he was Nightwing. "Yes," he replied, rubbing his legs. The woman was wearing a form fitting costume, that reminded Richard of Batgirl's costume, but there were some elements of the Huntress's as well. Whatever influenced her didn't matter; the fact that she filled the costume so well did. He realized that she was big, like an Amazon. She was at least an inch taller than him, and he wasn't short. "Who are you?"
"No time for that, Grayson; but you can call me Black Robin for now," she said, looking around the apartment. She saw several photographs sitting around, many of them with people she knew. "Get out of those clothes and into your costume proper, we're leaving."
He noticed he was starting to get feeling back in his legs and he guess from the smoking on her chest that whatever she had done must have overloaded because of the insulation of his costume. "In a few minutes, when I can walk."
Black Robin shook her head and put her wrist up to her mouth. "I've got him. I'm at Oracle's headquarters."
"Roger," came a reply. Richard was not surprised that she also knew Barbara's other identity, but the obvious fact that she had a partner indicating at least some type of organization.
"Do I know you?" he asked.
She pulled back her cowl to reveal a sweat-coated face of radiant beauty. He was taken aback by just how perfect her features seemed to be. She had a petite little nose and thin lips, but he noted darker roots in her hair and realized that she colored it. It was her eyes, however, that truly mesmerized him. They were blue, cold blue, deep Pacific Ocean blue that seemed almost alien. "Do I look familiar?" There was an almost hopeful tone in her voice.
He tried, searching his memory, but he came up blank. "Well, at least you're honest. I always heard that about you," she said as she put her mask back on.
Before he could reply, a radiant beam of light shot through the ceiling of the room and a figure began to materialize. When it took shape, Richard found that he had also regained the use of his legs and he stood up shakily.
"Are you well?" Red Tornado asked. The android super-hero looked around the room, as if searching for something or someone. When Richard did not reply immediately, the artificial being asked him again if he was all right.
Richard started to remove his shirt and pants, revealing the Nightwing costume underneath. He gave the robot a once over, noting that his color scheme seemed different. It had only been a few weeks since he and Red Tornado had talked at the headquarters of Young Justice. The Tornado, being a former Justice League member who was looking for some direction and purpose in his life, had been the natural choice to act as the mentor for the fledgling super-team, which was made up of mostly of young teen heroes.
"I'm fine, John," Richard said, putting his mask on and completing the transformation from civilian to super-hero.
The Red Tornado seemed to shudder. "I no longer use the alias John Smith, Richard Grayson. That is a name from my past."
"Okay…I think your daughter would have a problem with that." The Red Tornado was the adoptive father of a girl named Traya.
"Hey, hero-boy, shut the hell up, okay?" Black Robin said. Gone was the hopeful tone, replaced by the callous one she seemed more natural in. "We have to go, now!"
Nightwing shook his head indicating he wasn't moving. "Not until I get some answers. Tornado, I know and trust you, but her…"
The android put a restraining hand on the woman's cocked fist. "Andrea, please, now is not the time nor the place." As she scowled and brought her hand down, the Red Tornado turned to Nightwing. "We are from the future, approximately 30 years from now. We have come back to take you with us."
"Uh-huh; you know, I was just thinking about time travel earlier tonight," Nightwing offered.
"So?" Black Robin asked. There was now venom in the way she addressed him.
He sighed, resigned that she was probably one of those people, like the Huntress, who just walked around with a chip on their shoulder. "Anyway, I just recently returned from a trip to the past where I…"
"That is why we are here. Per Degaton has arrived in our time period and only you can stop him."
Nightwing nodded. "I guess I am the resident expert," he said with a cocky grin.
Black Robin said a few choice curse words and then hit him with a taser round. "God, why didn't she tell me he was such a goomba?"
Red Tornado looked at the twitching form on the floor. "I estimate that you had to increase the charge by 36.7% to get through his insulation. Was that necessary?"
"Hey…Wonder Woman put me in charge of this mission, so by God we'll do it my way! Now pick his sorry butt up and let's get back to Per Degaton's time machine so we can give him this little creep."