Disclaimer: Sadly, Dick Grayson isn't owned by me. DC has that privilege. DC owns all of the characters in this story. All I own is the distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations. (g) No money is being made from this. Please don't sue. It wouldn't be worth your while.
WARNING: There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g) I don't have a beta reader so all errors are mind alone.
Thank you to all who have supported me in the past and who have sent feedback.
Just Singin' in the Rain
"Not now! NOT NOW!" Arsenal shouted at the sophisticated metrological equipment on the control panel. His worst fears were being confirmed in front of his eyes.
Arsenal peered through the windscreen of the Waynetech Prototype Inter-dimensional Craft (WiPIC), creases forming around his eyes. His prayers weren't being answered today. The gale force winds increased in intensity. The designated pilot had been monitoring the conditions all afternoon, watching a weather depression develop into a tropical storm on this distant world that was destroying Earth. The winds a few kilometres east had just peaked above 73 mph, which meant technically, it was a category one hurricane. Worse still, it was headed for Roy's team.
Arsenal shook his head as he considered his predicament. He was sitting in the small cockpit of the WiPIC, in a dimension parallel to Earth's, being battered by cyclonic winds, while waiting for the precise moment he was to collect his squad. "And things could be worse, how?"
Roy swallowed and his thoughts drifted to his daughter still on Earth. The beings of this dimension were trying to absorb Earth. The damage so far was considerable. Earth's heroes had attempted to fight back, but without explanation all powered heroes lost their gifts. Superman was now an ordinary man, Wonder Woman an ordinary woman.
All hope appeared lost until Roy was contacted by Dick. Nightwing was putting together a small assault team of non-powered heroes to attack the alien world by travelling through a porthole established by Raven… a tear in the fabric of existence. Roy had agreed immediately.
He had left Lian with Donna and joined Nightwing along with Batgirl, Robin, Red Robin and Batman. Nightwing seemed to be behind this idea to attack off planet but Batman was clearly in charge. However, Nightwing and Batman had been at odds over Dick's insistence they take Bane. Roy had thought the idea of taking the man who had crippled Batman was a bad idea and agreed with Batman, but it turned out the reason Batman was against it was because he felt Bane may be better placed to protect the people of Earth should the Batsquad fail. Clearly Roy had missed the memo about Bane now being an ally, not an enemy.
Ultimately, Nightwing had won the argument pointing out the off planet squad may need some strength and Bane was the strongest non-powered man on earth. Batman conceded and the six foot eight, 400 pound giant became the seventh member of Batman's team.
Thus, five hours later, Operation 'Magnificent Seven' – a title Roy had given to Batman's seven man strategy to save Earth – had launched and entered the alien dimension via an unstable porthole created by Raven. To all's surprise, the alien world looked like Earth. It sounded like Earth and it felt like Earth but with two major differences. All fresh water on the planet had been drained from rivers, streams and lakes and collected in one huge dam. The water was then used to 'irrigate' the land at will through a sophisticated series of pipes. The other major difference was the fact that the humans of this world had been wiped out by the high-tech androids they had engineered to make life easier. The army of androids lived like humans but were intent on destroying every other planet in existence by absorbing it into their own. Why? They shared their creator's thirst for domination.
Roy had wanted to be on the ground in the thick of things, for waiting about wasn't his strength. However, after an in your face argument with Batman, Dick had stepped between them and said simply, "We need to know you're here to get us home. You're the best pilot on the team. We can't afford for you to be injured out there. It would condemn us all to death. You're the only one who can fly the WiPIC though that porthole without blowing us up." Hence, Arsenal was the designated pilot.
Dwarfed by nature, the small craft shuddered as the swirling elements accosted it. Mother Nature on this world was letting those foolish enough to be outdoors know she was unhappy. Arsenal had warned Batman the weather may turn, but the Bat-team only had one chance to carry out its mission - storm or no storm. Time was running out for Earth… for Lian.
Arsenal switched on the light above his head and checked his watch. Afternoon it may be, but day had turned to night in the last twenty minutes. He cursed. He had to leave now or his squad would drown.
As Roy flicked off the lamp, he caught a glimpse of his own expression reflected in the glass. Any attempt to delude himself into believing he wasn't worried was shattered. Roy had forty minutes to fly to the pick-up point and collect his team. The fact that a hurricane had chosen this moment to hit couldn't figure in the equation.
Arsenal fired up the engines, struggling to hear them over the roaring of the storm that was arriving with hellish ferocity. Logic warned he wouldn't get the craft off ground. Experience insisted that even if he could get the machine in the air, keeping it there would be impossible and entering the portal that would take them home would be… but Roy couldn't think about that.
Arsenal was on the edge of the hurricane, but it was moving in the same direction he had to go and keeping in front of it was going to take some creative flying.
An image of his team filled his mind. Roy gripped the stick in front of him and pulled hard activating vertical thrust. He would get the bird in the sky, collect his team and fly them home- or die trying.
Batman lifted his narrowed gaze to the ravening sky. The single, monstrous cloud hanging over the land several kilometres to the east was billowing out of control and heading toward him.
Today the traditional grey and black of his uniform had been replaced by camouflage print. He still wore his cowl, gloves and belt, but basically he was wearing fatigues… all of his team were so they would blend into the background.
Batman glanced at his watch. Arsenal should be on his way and while he was coming from the direction of the storm, Batman wasn't concerned.
He exchanged a brief nod of reassurance with Damian who was crouched beside him. Robin was monitoring the area around them, his rifle at the ready. They were all carrying laser rifles designed by Star Labs. Batman hated guns of any description but these were the only weapons that had proved effective in stopping the androids and so, reluctantly, he carried it. So far he hadn't needed to use it.
Batman and his youngest son had completed their part of the mission and were now at the pick-up point - the edge of a narrow parcel of open land in the middle of a sparse forest. This spot alone was suitable for the plane to land.
Batman had divided his squad into pairs to lay explosives. Deliberately, he'd partnered himself with Robin. Damian was still unpredictable, but Dick had refused to leave him behind. As a matter of fact, Dick had shown a great deal of faith in the boy and Damian had certainly lived up to it. He had carried out the most delicate part of the operation acting as a decoy… the androids underestimating the human 'child'. The boy had easily neutralized the security guard, handed the uniform to Tim who had boldly walked into the dam facility, disabled the sophisticated electronic security and planted seven different explosive devices. Tim had then taken off to join Batgirl, and Robin and Batman had then rendezvoused and returned here.
Movement in the brush to the pair's left.
Father and son tensed - their weapons ready. For a handful of heart beats they listened and waited. A soft whistle split the silence. Batman and Robin relaxed. Moments later, Red Robin and Batgirl appeared.
"Hi," Batgirl greeted with a tired smile.
Batman and Red Robin exchanged a nod as the newcomers crouched next to their companions. "You're four minutes early."
"Everything went without a hitch, Sir," Red Robin reported, reaching for a canteen and taking a swig.
"You planted all of the charges?"
"Yes." Tim peeled back his cowl and wiped his hand across his brow. The air had become thick and heavy.
Batgirl peered into the building breeze. "Weather's turning bad."
Batman studied it thoughtfully. "We just need it to hold for another thirty-five minutes."
Tim eyed Damian. "You okay?"
The latter lowered his rifle and flicked an accusatory stare in Tim's direction. Without prompting, Batgirl took over guard duties. "I am wearing fatigues for which the notion of a 'tailor' is unknown. I am squatting like a common criminal in a country that executes humans for existing. One can only imagine what creative endeavours they have in store for alien saboteurs. I am waiting for a pilot, who, if distracted by a female of any shape, size or age, will be invigorated by his infamous animal magnetism and likely disregard the trifling task of returning to collect us before the water reaches our lower lips. And to top it off, after I completed my allocated part of the mission, father plastered my visage with grease paint that exhibits an aroma not unlike that of rhinoceros manure."
The words eased the tension beautifully. Tim winked.
"So where did you learn what rhino pooh smells like, Robin?" Batgirl giggled.
"Tt," Damian sorted.
Thunder rolled across the sky.
"I hope Nightwing and Bane get back soon."
"Relax. If all has gone to plan, they'll be on their way," Red Robin assured Batgirl.
Nightwing held his position. His nerve endings were tingling and his heart thudding against the wall of his chest. Android sentries had just rushed in Bane's direction, but Nightwing knew better than to react on emotion. There was a chance the commotion had nothing to do with his partner and even if it did, Bane may be able to slip passed the guards unnoticed. Nightwing couldn't afford to respond until he knew the facts and with the radio silence, he had to rely on what he could actually see and hear.
Dick chanced a look at his watch. They should have started back to the pick-up point six minutes ago.
The shouting increased. Nightwing drew in a deep breath and pulled the rifle firmly into his shoulder. It felt uncomfortable. He didn't like using such weapons, but the androids weren't 'alive' and it was the only way to stop them. One blast and they temporarily shorted out. So far they hadn't been able to destroy them permanently.
From his vantage point, high on the dam wall, Nightwing had a clear view of the small compound where androids had begun to scurry about like ants.
Batman's plan was incredibly simple. The androids were electronic and electronics and water didn't mix. Thus, the idea was to blow up the dam wall which would effectively flood the android command centre. The command centre was where the androids drew their power. No command centre, no power. No power… hopefully, no androids. However, they wouldn't know for sure until they carried out the plan.
In the past Nightwing had fought to protect Gotham and even the world, but right now he and his family was the only thing standing between their universe and annihilation.
Batman appeared calm… as if taking it in his stride, but Dick saw through that. He and Bruce were close again. It had taken a while for them to realize that drifting apart had been a normal part of any father and son's relationship. Adolescence was now behind Dick and he and Bruce had found a comfortable respect, friendship and trust.
As a matter of fact, Dick trusted Bruce more than just 'completely'. Completely only covered trust in a traditional sense. Dick's trust in Bruce was based on something far deeper and more complex than he could ever put into words.
Of course, their relationship was a little different to most fathers and sons. Bruce demanded not only total, unquestioned loyalty from his boys but also the ability to separate their personal relationship from their working one. On one hand they were family… on the other, they were soldiers fighting in Batman's war. There was no question of the fact Nightwing would die for Batman, but then, he knew with certainty that every member of the Batsquad would do the same… even Damian. A man couldn't buy that sort of loyalty - or stupidity.
Dick grinned at the final thought - a Damian quote. He'd grown to love the kid… even though Damian wasn't easy to love. His thoughts drifted to the other members of Operation 'Magnificent Seven'. Dick felt closer to Tim than almost everyone. For the first time, he truly had a brother. Stephanie he was still getting to know but she had come into her own under Barbara's instruction. Then there was Roy. Batman found it hard to have faith in Roy but Dick knew Roy always came through in the end… usually at the very last minute, but he always came through.
"Show time," Nightwing muttered as the shouting below ceased. Whatever had disturbed the guards had been dealt with. He waited. Perspiration was dripping down the back of his neck. He'd noted the change in temperature earlier. Arsenal had been right. There was one hell of a storm coming.
A group of guards appeared between the main set of buildings with a prisoner. Nightwing's chest tightened. He sighted Bane through the rifle scope. The huge man appeared unhurt, but there was a gun thrust into his back and one under his chin.
Bane. Nightwing had insisted on bringing this final member of the group. They'd had no idea what they were going to face and strength may have been needed. That was something Bane had a lot of. Batman had been hesitant, but Nightwing had been adamant and in the end, Batman had trusted his judgement. Bane had pledged his life to save Earth for he had a girlfriend who meant the world to him. Besides, Bane had his own code and had proved true to it in the past.
Nightwing waited for his partner to make eye-contact. The signal to attack had to come from Bane.
Through the scope, Dick spotted an android guard speaking to Bane. Still, Bane didn't lift his eyes to Nightwing's position. What was stopping him? Dick lowered his rifle and scanned the area.
Abruptly, the guard in charge slammed his fist into Bane's mid-section. Bane didn't move. Rather, the deliverer of the blow bounced back. Dick smirked. He remembered the same thing happening to him six years earlier when he'd first met the huge man and been invited to 'take your best shot'.
Bane's expression remained blank.
Once recovered, the android began to gaze around before shouting, "Come out. If you do not do so, I will have this human shot." His voice wafted up to Nightwing. Dick's jaw locked and he raised his laser rifle again, but Bane still failed to give the signal. He had to know something - most likely that there were many more androids than Nightwing could see.
"I will give you to the count of three!"
"Come on, Bane. Give me a sign here," Dick muttered.
Dick kept his sight on Bane.
Bane lowered his eyes.
Nightwing drew in a short breath. Bane wasn't prepared to ask him to risk his life by revealing his position - Bane's own code.
"You don't need to ask, big fella." Nightwing shifted his aim and his laser rifle barked three times in quick succession. The trio around Bane fell. Bane darted for cover, screaming, "Dozen below you!"
Nightwing lowered the rifle. That explained it. Now they knew exactly where he was. Nightwing raced along the dam wall, slung the rifle over his shoulder and descended the ladder, but as he reached a large platform half way down, six androids raced toward him. His rifle needed two minutes to recharge.
"Stop!" one android ordered. Bane, having covered the distance at a speed an Olympic sprinter would be proud of, appeared below and opened fire, while Dick attacked head on. Laser streams lit the air in a short but fierce fire fight.
Batman held up his hand for silence. The sound of faint, distant laser fire announced itself on the strong breeze.
Batgirl bit her bottom lip, looking at the others nervously.
"They're in trouble," Tim murmured.
Batman lowered his hand. "Not necessarily."
"I think we can assume our presence is known," Damian pointed out.
Batman glanced at his watch. "Nineteen minutes." In nineteen minutes the charges would go off and three minutes after that, the valley they were standing in would be flooded. Of greater concern though, was the approaching weather. It would destabilize the porthole Oracle was holding open for their retreat.
"Should we… I mean… they may need help," Stephanie whispered.
Batman opened his mouth to comment, but the laser fire ceased. All strained to listen.
"Whatever's happened, it's over," Tim commented.
Batman's eyes narrowed. "They're alive." He could believe nothing else.
Despite the situation, Nightwing felt calm. The smell of blood harassed his nasal passages. He placed the rifle on the ground as he crouched beside his fallen partner to search for a pulse. Bane had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the back of the head during the hand-to-hand skirmish that had followed the laser fight. The pair had been out-numbered five to one, but now their enemy lay still. The androids had been strong, impermeable and competent, but outclassed by the accuracy of Bane's blows and Nightwing's aim.
Shouts from the compound reached Nightwing's hearing. He released his breath in a gush when his fingers detected a strong thumping at the side of Bane's neck.
"Bane!" Nightwing shook his partner. "Come on. Wake up." Blood seeped from the wound behind Bane's left ear, matting his dark hair. Nightwing examined the bloodied area and then checked his watch. They had less than twenty minutes to get back to the pick-up point. Bane wounds would have to wait.
"We're in trouble," Nightwing muttered. Twenty minutes was enough time, but not if he had to carry Bane.
Left with no option, Nightwing roughly dragged Bane upright and yanked him onto his shoulder. He grunted as he adjusted his partner's huge frame. He couldn't help thinking, "if only it was the other way around."
The first few drops of rain began to fall. The storm was only moments away.
Nightwing glanced at the laser rifles and snorted. He had no use for them now. If the androids caught up with them and he had to stop to fire on them, they wouldn't make it back in time and that meant their fate was sealed. When the dam wall blew, several trillion gallons of water would mow down everything in its path. Thus, at this point, the rifles would just be extra weight and Nightwing had enough to carry.
The commotion from the compound increased. The androids were mobilizing.
Dick turned east and started jogging – Bane across his shoulders.
Nightwing lost all sense of time as he focused on his task and forced his body to proceed. The minutes slid away.
The terrain was difficult and hilly and the light rain was making the ground slippery.
He stumbled, going down on one knee, paused, filled his panting lungs with air, and pushed up. His legs were trembling… not with fear, but with exertion. He was running carrying more than twice his own body weight and his muscles had started to protest.
Nightwing could no longer hear the androids that had started in pursuit. He wasn't sure if they'd called off the chase or if the pounding in his ears coupled with the roar of the approaching storm, was simply drowning them out.
His foot clipped a tree root and he went down. Bane tumbled from his grip. "No!"
Nightwing crawled to his fallen ally. "Bane! Come on, damn it. Wake up!" His demand was swallowed by the thunder rumbling over him. Dick wiped the water from his eyes and looked at his watch. They were now long overdue and it was only five minutes until the dam blew. They weren't going to make it, but then, he'd known that all along.
Nightwing shut his eyes. Alone, he would be able to reach the pick-up point in time, but that was out of the question.
As soon as the chopper arrived, Batman would order Arsenal to get the rest of the squad to safety. In that, Nightwing found an element of comfort. The others would make it. Once the charges blew, he and Bane would have less than three minutes.
Nightwing's gaze fell on his partner. With a growl of determination, he yanked his unconscious team mate onto his shoulders and forced his fatigued legs back into action. He wasn't going to sit and wait for death to find them.
As he rounded a tree, he felt vibrations in his chest, a sensation he'd experienced before – vibrations caused by the WiPIC.
"There he is!" Batgirl cried, pointing through the light rain to the state of the art craft that had materialized through the swirling black cloud.
Wind accosted the group on the ground. "I take it back," Damian murmured, his face splitting with a wide smile of relief and admiration. He had criticized Roy's 'carefree' flying style, but he was witnessing something remarkable. There were few pilots alive who could fly in weather like this… and those who could, wouldn't dream of attempting it.
The group watched the craft close the distance and descend. It shuddered to the ground, the engines slowing.
Batman slapped Red Robin on the back, urging him toward the machine.
The door was yanked open to reveal Arsenal smiling stupidly. "Gentlemen, the Earth Express has arrived."
"You're a sight for sore eyes," Batgirl cried over the storm.
Arsenal winked. "You may want to hurry, kids. I need to get the bird back in the air now before that storm catches up with me."
"Nightwing and Bane aren't back. We heard gunfire," Batgirl informed the pilot. Arsenal's chest tightened as he let the smile fall.
Batman, who was the only one who hadn't boarded the chopper, checked his watch. "The charges go off in five minutes."
Arsenal stepped down next to Batman. "They should have been back two minutes ago. Should we break radio silence?"
"The moment we do, the androids will pinpoint us and destroy us instantly."
Lightening cracked open the sky above the men and the wind lashed them. Batman directed his attention skyward as the heavens opened. Rain drops the size of golf balls began to fall. It was clear to all, their escape window was closing. If the weather became worse, escape may be impossible.
"Arsenal, what's our window?"
"All but closed."
"So we need to leave now?" When Roy didn't respond immediately, Batman turned toward him. "Arsenal?"
"Another few minutes and I won't be able to get off the ground," Roy admitted, grudgingly. "The wind's swirling up there and getting stronger by the second. That portal is fifteen minutes from here and is unstable. This weather is only going to make it worse. I have to enter it in the centre. If we strike the side of it…"
Batman held Roy's gaze, water cascading down both of their faces. Roy felt mildly annoyed. He'd warned Batman the weather may turn.
"That bad?" There was a tone missing from Batman's voice… the Batman tone. That question was asked by Bruce Wayne. They'd all known the risks and Batman had made it clear that they could go back for no one. Each person was responsible for getting themselves back to the pickup point.
Arsenal inclined his head over his shoulder. "That's a hurricane. In about five minutes, we won't be going anywhere. This craft is incredible and I'm good, but…"
Batman exhaled noisily. Roy's heart went out to the other man. Bruce's son was out there.
Arsenal set his jaw. "We both know we aren't leaving without Dick. Somehow, I'll get this bird in the air once they get here, Boss."
Batman directed his attention to the area Nightwing and Bane would come from.
Roy knew the drill… knew how a leader had to think. The lives of two men against the survival of the squad. There was no decision to make.
"We'll give them two more minutes," Batman announced.
Roy peered into the jungle. "Come on," he urged.
Nightwing's legs were burning, his lungs aching and each step was harder than the one before. There was blood dripping into his eyes from a cut he hadn't been aware of. His head was throbbing and he accepted that the wound must be the result of a blow he'd received during the struggle.
Nightwing didn't know how far from the pick-up point he was, but he could hear the engines over the storm, which meant it was close. He couldn't give up.
Red Robin felt sick.
"Arsenal, get ready." Batman's jaw was locked, the three words clearly among of the hardest he'd ever uttered.
Arsenal swallowed, but nodded and darted into the cockpit.
Tim watched Batman pace. The seconds continued to tick away. The engines began to build. He shook his head and cursed softly, his expression pained. He understood the situation only too well. If they left without Dick, he would drown. If they didn't leave now, they'd all drown. "Bruce, get in."
Batman stopped pacing, staring into the forest "They're coming," he growled.
"They aren't going to make it," Tim whispered, his stomach churning. The words crystallized the situation for everyone.
"Red Robin, take command," Batman shouted, tossing Tim his rifle.
"Father!" Damian exclaimed.
Tim dropped his chin. He'd known this would happen. While Batman would ensure the safety of his team, Bruce would not leave without his son… even if it meant staying to die with him.
"I want this bird in the sky before the water reaches it. Understood?"
"Yes, Sir, but…"
"With or without us. Is that clear?" Batman demanded.
Red Robin nodded, his damp eyes displaying his horror. Batman thrust out his hand. Tim took it. They held the grip for no more than a single second. Batman turned to Damian, his hand clamping on the boy's shoulder. "Look after them, Damian."
"God speed," Stephanie choked.
Batman turned and darted off into the wall of trees.
Hope you are enjoying.