Author's Note: I have extensive notes on my hard drive for a lengthy "next generation" fanfic dealing with the offspring of several members of the Justice League Unlimited cast. Considering how far behind I am on other projects, there's no telling when I'll get around to actually writing that epic. However, I occasionally amuse myself by writing a quick one-shot featuring one or more of the aforementioned offspring as I imagine them to be.
My previous effort in that direction was the one-shot "Just Slow Down," narrated by Agustina ("Tina") West when she was probably about twelve years old and her own superpowers had recently begun to manifest. This story is probably happening at least two years later. It features two of Tina's friends; a pair of fraternal twins who had a few lines of dialogue in "Just Slow Down." However, you don't need to have read that story to appreciate what's happening in this one.
The Opening Night Review
Phoebe Wayne had her pride. After her alarm clock went off, she made sure to take her morning shower at the normal pace instead of rushing things, and then stepped back into her room to thoroughly dry her blond hair and apply cosmetics to her face, same as usual, while Atalanta began her own shower in the bathroom the twins shared.
Normally each sister would have headed downstairs whenever she felt like it, but today, by unspoken agreement, after Phoebe was fully dressed she waited patiently in the corridor until Atalanta was ready for breakfast as well. Her raven-haired twin grinned at her; Phoebe grinned back; then the two girls carefully smoothed their expressions and stayed side by side as they moved down Wayne Manor's grand staircase at a sedate pace, as if it were just another ordinary day. (As Dad liked to say: Never let them see you sweat.)
Several copies of the Gotham Gazette were delivered to the Manor each morning, and Alfred had already deposited one near each person's place at the family breakfast table. (Which was not to be confused with the huge table over in the dining room.) Phoebe's younger brother Phil was scrutinizing the comic strips, which meant he had at least glanced at some of the serious news items first. He smiled as his elder sisters entered the room, but didn't seem to be bursting with questions about anything he had just read.
Mom was out of town for a few days, but Dad was at the head of the table, eating scrambled eggs and grumbling at something on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. (He was the only member of the family who wanted to read it every day, as well as the Gazette.) Engrossed in these important activities, he scarcely seemed to notice the arrival of two more of his offspring.
Phoebe suspected both Phil and Dad were playing dumb, but she wasn't ready to give them the satisfaction of asking if there was anything special in the crime news. She carefully pulled out her chair, sat down on it, and carefully put some food on her plate before she permitted herself to show any interest in the Gazette near her right elbow.
Once she had it unfolded, she quickly ascertained that what she wanted to see was not on the front page.
Disappointing, but not unexpected. Yesterday's events had included a Presidential speech which was apparently long on cheery reassurances and short on detailed ideas for fixing anything, plus a certain Hollywood heartthrob's fourth no-expense-spared wedding (he swore it would be his last), plus the release of results from a recent Gallup poll focusing on the vital question of whether or not people thought the media wasted too much time conducting polls of public opinion and trumpeting the results. It was scarcely surprising that the Gazette's editors deemed each of these earth-shaking occurrences to be far more newsworthy than the one story Phoebe actually wanted to read.
She checked the next page. The summaries of today's stories suggested the item she wanted was on Page B4, so she set aside Section A and opened up Section B . . .
. . . and must have been lagging a little behind her twin, because Atalanta was already making spluttering noises—the result of what had apparently been a misguided attempt to casually sip from a glass of orange juice held in one hand at the same time she had turned to the correct page with the other, so as to emphasize her utter nonchalance about the whole thing.
A moment later Phoebe had also scanned the opening paragraph of the story—and then slammed Section B down on the table hard enough to rattle the silverware.
Phil was grinning from ear-to-ear now, but was wise enough to keep his opinions to himself, rather than draw fire.
There was no telling about Dad's current expression, because he had the Journal wide open and raised in front of his face like a barricade, acting as if he didn't know what the fuss was about, and perhaps hadn't even noticed it yet. (But when you already knew he was the World's Greatest Detective, his façade of inattention was spectacularly unconvincing.)
The twins exchanged glances and then Atalanta made a gesture which, loosely translated from their private set of signals, meant: You can go first, but be careful.
Phoebe gritted her teeth and made herself count silently from one to twenty in Ancient Greek before she said anything. Her sister's point was that losing your temper and jumping to conclusions was seldom a good idea, and with Dad it would definitely backfire. His usual reaction to anything confrontational was to either crush it or ignore it, depending. You caught more flies with honey . . .
And even if that hadn't been true, anyone deserved the benefit of a reasonable doubt. This might not be his fault at all.
After she felt ready to speak without sounding strident, she still took a few more seconds to consider her opening words. Easy does it, girl. Don't mention that one of his identities has lots of pull with the police department; don't mention that his other identity owns a big chunk of stock in the Gazette; just be his darling daughter who wants the benefit of his wisdom . . .
As politely as she could manage, she asked: "Dad, do you have any idea why the official version of the most interesting crime-related article in today's Gazette displays certain . . . inaccuracies?"
Bruce Wayne could have ordered his daughter to specify which crime story she considered most interesting, out of several candidates in her morning paper. After all, tastes differed. He was normally a real stickler for clear communication. But he must have been in a generous mood today; he passed up that opportunity in favor of going straight to the main point.
Lowering his paper to make eye contact with Phoebe, he replied: "Do I have an idea? Yes. But I don't know for sure, since I had nothing to do with it. So bear in mind that this is just my current theory . . ."
The Gardner Warehouse
Vern and his six friends all had guns under their jackets, but didn't expect to need them. This warehouse didn't have a night watchman, and the alarm system had been successfully spoofed. After doing that part, they'd pulled back and waited ten minutes to see if any cops showed up. None had, so they knew they'd gotten it right!
All they had to do now was pry the lids off some crates to double-check that they had found all of the stuff their client wanted stolen, and then transfer each of the right crates to the U-Haul van parked out back.
Everything was going like clockwork—until a perky, girlish voice said pleasantly, "Look, guys, you really shouldn't be taking stuff that doesn't belong to you! What would your mothers say?"
Vern and Frank turned to look toward the front of the warehouse. So did Mugsy and Bruno. The other guys were further back and might not even have heard the girl's voice, but that didn't matter right now.
The girl looked just as young and harmless as she sounded. Early teens, maybe? She was wearing an outfit that seemed to have started life as a glittering silvery leotard and a pair of white tights, with a few embellishments added as afterthoughts. Metal bracelets, wide and unadorned, circled her slim wrists. White gloves covered her hands. Much of her head was covered by a silver-white mask, but her mouth and chin were exposed, revealing a cheeky grin at the moment, and Vern was looking at her from an angle that let him see a blond ponytail at the back of her head, protruding from a gap between the bottom of her mask and the top of her white cape. The girl almost looked ready to dance ballet, except for the high boots that no ballerina would wear onstage.
The newcomer had no visible weapons, and there was no sign of anyone else with her, so the problem ought to be containable.
"Just who are you supposed to be?" Vern asked after a few seconds' examination.
"Call me Bright."
That didn't tell him anything useful. "And why are you bothering us when a kid your age ought to be home in bed by now?"
Bright planted her hands on her hips. "Because someone has to arrest you guys! But I hate hurting people, so I'll give you a chance to make it easy on yourselves. Drop your weapons, line up against a wall, put your hands on top of your heads, don't try to run away, and I'll just stick around to keep an eye on you until the cops show up, okay? No fuss, no muss. Best offer you're going to get!"
Mugsy had his pistol aimed at the kid. "That's real funny, little lady, but I think we have ya outnumbered and all, y'know? Why don't ya just stop being silly and let us shut ya in a closet so ya can't cause any trouble 'fore we hit the road?"
The blond sighed theatrically. "Well, if you insist on doing it the hard way . . ." She started walking toward Mugsy, not too fast. "I just want you to know that this going to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me. Don't say I didn't warn you!"
As far as Vern knew, Mugsy had never shot at a girl before. That might be why this one made it several paces before Mugsy finally squeezed the trigger.
Bright moved one hand and there was a strange sound of metal-on-metal, but she never stopped advancing.
Mugsy yanked the trigger again and again, and the girl kept jerking her hands up and down in front of her head and torso without even losing the grin. No bloodstains appeared on her costume, but there were lots of sparks and clanging noises as she moved closer and closer to Mugsy's position. Vern recognized the pattern after a moment—according to the underworld grapevine, this was exactly what happened any time some optimist tried to ventilate Wonder Woman.
This couldn't be Wonder Woman, though—Bright was roughly a head shorter and her figure was far less impressive, not to mention the little detail of blond hair.
"Help him shoot her!" Vern snapped, and saw Bruno and Terry level their own pieces. Apparently they'd just been staring in confusion until then (which explained why Vern was the leader). With three firearms blazing away from three different angles, it was possible that this weird girl wouldn't be able to block everything at once.
Vern wasn't betting the farm on that theory, though. But maybe six or seven guns would do a little better? He spun around and sprinted down an aisle to find out why Chuck, Doug, and Alan haven't come forward to investigate the shots—and did a double take when he emerged from that aisle to see that all three of them were sprawled on the concrete floor, unconscious or worse. (No blood visible; that was something.)
The light began to dawn. The cheerful blondie in the gleaming costume had been sent in as the diversion. Meanwhile, someone else had been quietly taking out half the crew with sneak attacks from the rear!
The continued sound of gunfire from behind him suggested Bright hadn't even been wounded yet, so he couldn't count on any reinforcements coming back here to help out. He'd have to handle this one on his own.
Stalking between rows of shipping cases, Vern was in hunting mode, keeping his gun hand high and synchronized with his head so that anything he was looking at, his weapon was aimed at.
Not that it did him any good.
He never suspected anyone could have snuck up behind him on the concrete floor until a finger tapped his left shoulder.
He spun around just in time to see a dark fist coming at his face—
For the first time in his life, he saw stars that weren't there. Then something else got him in the belly, and the next thing he knew he was flat on his back, feeling like someone had used a sledgehammer on his chin and midsection.
Afterwards, he thought he'd been out cold for at least a few minutes, but had vague memories of someone wrapping rope around bits of his body.
(Meanwhile, Bright had crushed Mugsy's gun barrel by clenching a fist around it, then easily picked him up and threw him at Bruno as the latter was frantically ejecting his empty clip. Bruno's gun flew from his hand as Mugsy landed on him, and the girl caught it in mid-air and pinched the muzzle shut for an encore. While all that was going on, Terry had recognized the futility of continued gunplay and was fleeing for the nearest exit—and was almost there when Bright caught up with him. After leaving him groaning on the floor, the blond girl doubled back to hog-tie Mugsy and Bruno, unfazed by their vigorous attempts to land heavy blows and knock her down before she could get ropes around them. Vern didn't learn all these details until later.)
By the time Vern felt clear-headed enough to try sitting up—a task which was made a bit harder by the fact that his ankles were bound together and his wrists were tied behind his back—the battle was over. About thirty feet away, the blondie was talking into some sort of communications device. He could only make out a few words, but thought she was calling the cops and giving the warehouse's address.
"Don't even think about trying to get loose," said a grim, slightly muffled, yet distinctly feminine voice from just behind Vern.
"Okay, okay, you got me." Considering that his head felt as if it were ready to fall off, he didn't even try to turn to see who had spoken. "How many of you are there, anyway? Where's the guy who slugged me?"
"There was no 'guy.' Just me." He still couldn't swear he heard footsteps, but a few seconds later the speaker had moved around to stand in front of him.
The girl now facing him looked no bigger than her friend Bright, but the style was entirely different. No tall pointy "ears" attached to her mask, no bat-symbol on her chest, yet only a total doofus would need more than one guess as to who had inspired this costume that looked like a mix of black leather and black kevlar covering every square inch of her body. There was an equally black utility belt around her waist. The cape hanging down her back seemed to be a differerent material from the rest of the ensemble; he couldn't tell if it had any practical function.
Normally Vern would have said that any girl her size couldn't possibly have punched his big tough jawbone so hard without shattering some of the smaller bones in her own dainty fist at the same time, but he wasn't prepared to call this kid a liar. Not when he was disarmed and at her mercy, anyway. He settled for asking: "And just who are you, then? Anybody I ought to know?"
"Call me Darkling."
Vern wondered if he'd heard that right. "Darkwing? Like the duck detective in the purple coat? Been watching too many Disney cartoons, kid?"
That didn't go over well.
The black-clad girl grabbed the front of Vern's jacket with her left hand and raised him off the concrete till his tied-together feet were dangling in the air, then held him steady without her slender arm so much as quivering from the strain of his two hundred fifteen pounds.
"Darkling," she repeated harshly. "With an L. Try borrowing some books from the prison library. You might learn lots of new words."
She sure didn't look like a diehard bodybuilder, so most likely she was cheating with some sort of metahuman advantage. Strength, telekinesis, whatever.
One thing Vern had always liked about Batman was the way he discouraged the superpowered freaks in the hero racket from trespassing on his precious turf in Gotham. Either this "Darkling" girl was so green that she had never met the Bat and was in for a nasty lecture when she finally did . . . or else the rules had changed. Vern prayed it was the former, but didn't think it would be tactful to ask.
Instead, he tried humility. "Sorry! It was an honest mistake. Won't happen again. You can put me down any time now."
She did, surprisingly gently—or that was what he thought until she rolled him over on his front and used an extra length of rope to bind his ankles against his wrists. Not exactly a comfortable position for a grown man, but he wasn't going to give her the thrill of hearing him complain. (Besides, she might decide to start kicking him around like a soccer ball so he'd really have something to whine about.)
Five Hundred Feet Above the Gardner Warehouse
The twins hovered in mid-air while waiting for the police to arrive. If anyone got his feet free and tried to run for it before then, he'd barely make it out the door before one girl or the other swooped down to recapture him.
"Thanks for agreeing to let me draw their fire, Darkling. No matter how much we've practiced bullets-and-bracelets, I know it couldn't be easy for you to hear those bozoes start shooting at me. But it was the only way I'd feel sure I had it down pat before we go after any of the big names. Friendly training exercises on Themyscira just aren't the same."
Darkling glanced at her sister before responding. "You're not a dummy, so I told myself you wouldn't have volunteered for decoy duty if you didn't know you were ready. After all, if you got yourself shot on our first independent field op, it would be years before Dad let you try again. I'd be pretty unhappy with you, myself." She paused. "But you did great."
"You too, I gather! Three men down before they even knew they had a problem?"
Darkling shrugged. "Like shooting fish in a barrel. Won't always be that simple. Our first supervillain will probably have a few tricks of his own."
Bright wanted to give her sister a celebratory hug, but it would have to wait until they were back at the Manor with their masks off. Darkling had a strict rule against displays of affection when she was fully costumed. She might not wear a pointy-eared cowl like their father, but she planned on using method acting to imitate much of his grim-and-gritty Batman persona whenever she was on the job.
Inside the Gardner Warehouse
The two girls had left their harvest of trussed-up hoodlums laid out in a neat line just inside the front entrance of the warehouse. Chuck, Alan, and Doug were all awake enough to follow a conversation, even if none of them were contributing much. While waiting for the cops to show, the seven prisoners were discussing the worst aspect of the entire situation. How would anyone in Blackgate Prison ever respect them after this?
"Getting roughed up by Batman is no disgrace," Terry said sadly, summing it up. "He's big and scary and he's got all those ninja fighting moves and he's beaten practically everybody you can think of, one time or another. But getting roughed up by two little cuties who prob'ly belong in junior high school, when I outweigh both of 'em put together? Now that's humiliating."
"Fellows," Vern said firmly, "I see the way to extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Listen up and make sure you get this straight: Batman clobbered us. That's what we tell the cops, that's what we tell the jury if we say anything in court, and especially that's what we tell the other guys in Blackgate."
"What about the crushed guns?" Mugsy wanted to know. "Batman ain't that strong." He pondered this weighty point for a moment, and then added doubtfully, "At least, I think he ain't. With him, ya never quite know. Some say he's a vampire. They can get pretty doggone strong when they wanna be."
"A fair point, Mugsy," Vern conceded. "Not the vampire part, but the rest of it. All right, perhaps he had his friend Wonder Woman with him. That might actually work better, come to think of it! Helps us keep our stories straight if we needn't change the number of participants. Let's try it this way: Anything the girl in the black outfit did, Batman did. Anything her perky friend did, Wonder Woman did. Clear?"
"The dark one was really Batman and her blond buddy was really Wonder Woman," Bruno repeated. "Yeah . . . I guess that's okay. I still don't like gettin' roughed up by a broad, but at least Wondy's a grown woman with a serious rep. I think she arm-wrestled with Superman once at a charity fund-raiser. Guys in Blackgate will understand she's one of a kind."
Mugsy scowled. "Ain't there a whole island full of dames just like her . . . someplace?"
"Who cares, as long as the rest of 'em stay home where they belong 'stead of botherin' honest crooks like us?"
Mugsy nodded. "I hear ya. Though I'm thinkin' two more of 'em ain't home on their island no more."
Bruno said, "Maybe so, but we don't know nothin' about that, remember? Vern is right. Let some other poor schmuck take the ribbing for being the first one to get his butt kicked by a pair of cute little girls who don't already have reps."
The twins (and their brother) had listened intently while their father offered his theory for why the Gotham Gazette's morning edition briefly described their recent adventure as just another routine bust by two of the most experienced and respected superheroes currently active: Batman and Wonder Woman.
Benefitting from decades of practical experience in studying and outwitting criminal minds, Bruce Wayne's theoretical reconstruction of how a post-fight conversation among the bad guys "might have gone" bore a strong resemblance to the actual facts. At any rate, Phoebe and Atalanta found it persuasive.
"So our parents get the credit for this one because of sheer macho pride?" Atalanta summarized. "A bunch of big tough men with guns couldn't admit they got their clocks cleaned by two teenage girls nobody ever heard of before?"
Their father nodded. "It's probably that simple. If so, it will all straighten itself out in time. Sooner or later you'll clobber somebody who tells the truth when he's interrogated by the cops. Or you'll rescue a civilian who's being assaulted, and she'll be happy to describe her saviors to anyone who will listen. Or someone will get snapshots of you during a fracas. Word will get around, one way or another.
"But while we're on the subject, let me remind you of what you're not going to do. You're not to tell anybody that you're the daughters of Batman and Wonder Woman. You're not to mention that you're twins; that makes it too easy to guess your secret identities. You're not to operate in broad daylight in your first few months unless it's literally a matter of life and death."
He paused, looked back and forth from one daughter to the other as if trying to read their thoughts, then added: "And here's a rule I didn't think to mention before: You especially are not going to select some harmless-looking civilian who's carrying a camera and then waste fifteen minutes striking dramatic poses for him, as a way of ensuring the first pictures of 'Darkling and Bright' will look as impressive as possible when millions of people see them in a magazine or on the six o'clock news!"
Phoebe opened her eyes very wide and projected Injured Innocence for all she was worth. "As if we would do such a thing!"
"See that you don't," Dad said grimly. "I know you two think you can twist me around your little fingers at least half the time. For instance, you got your mother to help convince me you were ready to start working as a duo on routine stuff without me or her tagging along to supervise. But if I decide that you're grandstanding, staging photo ops and taking other unnecessary risks with your lives and/or the family's security, just because you want some fame as fast as possible, then can you guess what I'll do?"
Phoebe had a nasty suspicion, but prayed she was wrong, and kept her thoughts to herself. No need to give him ideas! Her twin was equally silent; probably for the same reason. Phil had been staying on the sidelines in this conversation; he didn't change tactics now.
It didn't matter; evidently the question had been rhetorical. After a dramatic pause, Dad provided the answer.
"I'll tell your mother that I'm very disappointed in you, and that some good old-fashioned Amazonian disciplinary measures are called for! Then I will leave the details in her capable hands. I don't know what she'll do, exactly, but I'm sure that once she's pronounced an appropriate sentence, she won't change her mind before it's been carried out. To. The. Letter."
That was what Phoebe had been afraid of, all right. Dad knew darn well that Diana of Themyscira wasn't nearly so soft-hearted about punishing naughty girls as he was. After all, she had grown up in a culture where everyone who ever broke a rule, and everyone who ever had to chastise the sinners for their mistakes, were all female—so she just took it for granted that sometimes stern measures were required for a girl's own good. No exaggerated sense of "chivalry" would make her go easy on you because of your gender, nor even because you were crying, if it came to that!
Atalanta cleared her throat. "As Phoebe was saying, Dad, we have no intention of doing anything stupid just for the sake of a quick ego-boosting headline. Sure, we had hopes for how yesterday night's collar would be covered, but we're tough enough to get by without public recognition for a while longer, if need be."
Dad beamed at them. "Splendid! With that settled, let me mention that I already viewed an online copy of the official police report before breakfast. I think the detectives on the scene really believed what the crooks said about who wiped the floor with them. While that's not fair to you, it does suggest that you did a decent job of taking them down with no serious injuries or other obvious blunders. Otherwise someone in the GCPD would smell a rat and say: 'Either that wasn't really Batman and Wonder Woman, or else at least one of them was having an incredibly bad night.'"
He paused a moment. "Make sure you write it up for the files in the Cave. I'll review your notes later, but right now I'm inclined to think you did well."
It still wasn't as good as having your aliases in the morning paper, but it wasn't every day that you heard the World's Greatest Detective admit your first independent field op had been good enough to pass for the handiwork of two founding members of the Justice League.
Atalanta and Phoebe were long past letting themselves blush at anything, but they simultaneously looked down and developed a powerful interest in the food on their plates, unsure of what they could say to their father's last comment that wouldn't sound like childish bragging or else painfully obvious false modesty.
Author's Notes: I know my costume descriptions for Darkling and Bright are simple and unimaginative. Sorry; graphic design definitely is not my forte. In many of my fanfics I can safely assume that my target audience already knows exactly what the major characters look like, which saves me a lot of trouble.
About the names: I wanted some sort of light-and-dark contrast to be evident in both the costumes and the heroic aliases chosen by the twins. As it now stands: I'm satisfied with the name "Darkling," but uncertain about "Bright." I may change it later. I've wondered if something with at least two syllables would balance "Darkling" better, but I spent some time going through thesaurus entries without finding what I wanted.
"Bright Star" was considered as a way to squeeze in a second syllable, but I decided that referring to a "star" makes the cheerful heroine's alias sound too nocturnal. Causes me to envision a nighttime sky, instead of anything you'd normally see in broad daylight. I also rejected the two-syllable name "Daylight" because it didn't sound cheerful enough. (Yes, I can be very fussy sometimes. How did you know?)
Anyway, if you have any useful suggestions for the cheerful twin's alias—or if you just want to tell me that calling the pair of them "Darkling and Bright" already works fine as far as you're concerned—then feel free to share your thoughts with me in a PM or whatever!