The Last Son of Tomorrow
To Take Back Fire
The Prometheus Institute's focus was the study of Metahuman abilities, focusing on the seemingly random appearance of such abilities in normal humans. That was to say, they were examining the Metagene and hoping to figure out how it works, how to instigate it in people who don't naturally have it, and to discovered if and how it could be artificially adjusted to achieve specific results, with the funding and backing of Lex Corp.
In other words, Luthor was trying to figure out how to manufacture Metahumans.
'For nefarious purposes' was so obvious that it didn't even need to be said.
As soon as he'd learned of what was going on, Terry had taken an extreme interest in finding out everything he could about the project. He didn't necessarily have anything against the study of the Metahumans or the possibilities therein, but letting Luthor do it was pretty much inevitably going to end horribly for everyone involved. He'd temporarily put his research into Cadmus on hold to focus on Prometheus, which had still resulted in a great deal of work for him.
But it didn't have over fifty floors of uncertainties and unknowns, which meant breaking was a lot easier. If nothing else, he could search three floors before any of the guards he'd knocked out came too or someone noticed. Fifty, on the other hand, he wouldn't bet on.
Of course, that wasn't the real reason he was here…
Terry shook himself, focusing on the scientists once more. He wanted to take a closer look at what they were doing, but he didn't want to risk any of them noticing him while he did so.
But then, that was an easy enough problem to solve. He did a quick head count and smiled. Seven scientists and seven cars. Everyone was here and accounted for. They'd probably finished up tonight's hands on work and were just examining their findings before turning in for the night.
Terry slid Mother Box from her compartment at his belt and subtly stuck her to the wall. As far as he'd been able to tell, everything below ground was off the grid and there hadn't been any noticeable inconsistencies with their power usage. There was probably a generator of some sort on site, which made things simpler.
"It's too bright in here," Terry said, knowing Mother Box would still hear him. "Turn the lights down."
Immediately, Mother Box began to absorb power from the building, draining it to recharge herself. In seconds, the lights began to flicker and dim randomly as the power was unevenly drawn from them. As the scientists began to quickly speak among themselves in surprise and hastily save the data they were working on, Terry struck, moving among them with no more presence then a ghost.
There may have been more of them then him, but he had the element of surprise, a futuristic combat suit, and was invisible and inaudible, whereas they were a group of elderly scientists. He took them all down before anyone could even realize they were under attack.
Terry twisted the two knobs on his belt back into their normal position, making himself audible again now that everyone was down.
"That's enough, Mother Box," He said, pondering the computer screen he now stood before. As the lights returned to normal, he took a seat and began scrolling through the files on it. Nodding after a minute, he drew a small hard drive from his belt, plugged it in, and began to cut and paste everything on the computer over too it. Retrieving Mother Box as it downloaded everything, he searched everything else in the room, took a look through several of the microscopes, and checking the recently printed results by the printer in the corner.
A search through the cabinets along a wall revealed a number of drugs that he analyzed with the identifier in his left index finger, while the refrigerators revealed a series of carefully marked blood and tissue samples that he examined with the scanner on his belt. Stepping back for a minute, pondering, he decided that it would probably be a bad idea to leave all of these here. The samples he drew out of the refrigerators and tossed haplessly to the ground where room temperature would do most of the work for him, but he gave them a once over with his wrist mounted laser nonetheless. The chemicals he poured down the sink and left it on to wash them away.
Retrieving his hard drive as it finished downloading everything, he smashed the computer monitor before reaching down below it and tearing apart the hard ware. He circled the room, making a general mess of everything and then moved back to the elevator, content in the knowledge that it would be some time before this facility would be back up and running, even if they did find some new subjects, and look it down to the second level.
Unlike the first floor, which was basically a single room, the second floor was an actual hallway with rooms on either side.
Or rather, cells on either side. Each had a large window, presumably one-way, which took up most of the wall, and a single door. To his left coming out of the elevator was a cell marked P-19; to his right, P-20. Both were empty, though they showed signs that hadn't always been the case.
He couldn't be sure what had happened to them until he checked the records he'd taken, but he could think of several possibilities and most of them were bad.
He kept walking. P-18 through P-14 were empty, but P-13 had one of the people he was looking for in it. A young man with short black hair slouched on his cot, looking both tired and bored. He wore a white jump suit with his designation printed on it, but Terry's eyes were immediately drawn to the power restraining collar around his neck.
He looked different without his costume or staff, but not so much that Terry couldn't recognize him from his photos.
In another world—in his world—this kid would have been the King of the Joker's Royal Flush Gang.
But not in this one.
The door clicked open as his decipherer finished its work and Terry entered the room, instantly drawing the boy's attention. P-13 straightened from his slouch, looking at him with blatant interest.
"P-13," Terry said. "Come with me. We're leaving."
P-13 raised an eyebrow at him, but stood nonetheless. Terry wasn't surprised; he'd walked out with the Joker in his reality and even a mysterious figure dressed all in black looked trustworthy next to him.
"And who are you supposed to be, mystery man?" P-13 asked, raising an eyebrow.
"The guy getting you out of here," Terry replied bluntly. "We can talk later, but for now, we should hurry."
P-13's eyes sharpened, but not with anger. He moved to the edge of the doorway and peaked around the corner, as if he were expecting the Boogieman to show up.
"Who's coming?" He asked, and Terry noted that he sounded…worried?
"No one, as far as I'm aware." Terry replied, keeping both the interest and confusion out of his voice. "There shouldn't be anyone for a few hours, at least. But if I'm wrong about that, I'd just as soon not find out. What about you?"
P-13 relaxed slightly, though Terry wasn't sure he realized he had. The younger man rolled his shoulders once in what was probably a nervous habit and nodded.
"Leave now, talk late; whatever you say boss." He paused, then, looking at Terry speculatively. Slowly, he lifted his hands to his restraining collar, but he didn't tug at it. If he had, all he would have gotten for his troubles was a painful shock. "What about this?"
Terry had seen that coming. The moment he had learned that they were keeping their powers restrained, it was obvious that they were going to ask him to release them. He'd like to say that he was a good enough person to immediately decide to free them and never think of doing anything else, but he wasn't—he couldn't afford to be. They had been criminals in his world, going along with the Joker to threaten millions of lives. Could he trust them?
He'd thought about it long and hard, worried that they'd stab him in the back as soon as he freed them—but he'd still decided to free them. He had too. They would get free eventually, after all—he wasn't rescuing them from this place just so he could throw them in a cage for the rest of their lives for crimes they hadn't committed. He was here to free them, so he might as well do it right.
But more than that, it was just the right thing to do. They didn't have to be bad. Their childhoods had been stolen because of their powers and they'd been imprisoned for no other reason than chance. They hadn't done anything wrong and while they could have been bad if someone else was the only person to reach out to them, he was the one standing here now.
So he chose to trust them, because someone had to. If he didn't trust them at least a bit, how could he expect any trust in return? The Joker wasn't here breaking them out—he was. So what if they had the potential to do bad things? He did too. Everyone did. But that didn't mean they didn't have the potential for more.
Bruce had chosen to see that potential in him. He couldn't do any less.
So he reached up to P-13's throat, a small forklike device extending from his finger. A moment of fiddling and the collar clicked open and P-13 wasted no time removing it and tossing it aside. The metahuman sighed happily and cracked his neck from side to side, before raising his right hand.
A ball of fire erupted in the palm of his hand and P-13 looked at it was a pleased, almost crooked, sort of grin. Terry watched, wary, but not willing to make the first move. It was up to P-13 to make his own choice here.
Besides, he was pretty sure he could put the guy down at this range if he tried anything funny.
But he didn't. The former captive merely closed his hand around the flame, snuffing it out in an instant.
"It feels good to be free," He said. "What's next, boss man?"
"We free the others. Come on."
P-12 was a blonde, but he still recognized her as Queen even without her hair being dyed white. P-11 looked just like his picture, except for the ones taken when he was in costume as Jack. P-10 looked…exactly like his pictures, whether they were of Ten or not.
Getting them to come with him was easy, but he'd expected it to be. Freedom or a life time in captivity was on the level of Cake or Death when it came to making decisions. Looking at them as they followed him, Terry couldn't help wonder if they had followed the Joker like they were now following him and that thought made him feel somewhat uncomfortable, but he dismissed the feeling as best he could.
Terry stalked down the rest of the hallway, but the rest of the rooms were empty. Looking through the windows, he saw additional restraints, a tub of water in one, and other additions that made him wonder who had been in these cells—and what had happened to them.
The Hallway ended with a door leading to a large room, bigger than any of the others. It was a bland room of nothing but thick steel walls and concrete, except for two things. The far wall was little more than scrap and torn steel from what might have once been a restraining mechanism. The second thing that stood out was the large stains that had set into the concrete.
He didn't even need to open the door to tell it was a blood stain. A large enough one that he was sure the blood loss would have killed whoever it had belonged to, if their injuries hadn't.
He shook his head and looked at the label above the door:
One more number to go and one more floor to check.
"Down we go, I guess." Terry sighed.
Terry knew logically that the trip down went quickly, but it seemed to go by so slowly as his mind started to race. This is why he hated pauses in the action, as Rex had called them—the sudden occurrence of chance to actually think, both of what had happened and what was yet to come, filled those moments with a kind of tense nervousness that set his teeth on edge.
It was kind of funny. He'd gone over the consequences that were sure to occur from this break out dozens and dozens of times before actually acting, but it seemed so different now that he'd actually busted out prisoners right underneath Luthor's proverbial nose. Luthor was going to take a lot of interest in finding thing out about him, as well as finding his lost prisoners. Terry wasn't particularly worried about the legal repercussion, even if Luthor traced it back to him; these children sure as hell hadn't been taken legally. The size of their parent's new houses and the types of cars they were now driving implied they may not have been given up unwillingly, but it was definitely still illegal.
So even if Luthor found out and tried to press things in court, Terry was confident he could rake the man over the proverbial coals.
On the other hand, if Luthor was completely unrelated to all those assassination attempts and was unwilling to fight dirty, then Terry would eat the Batmobile. A part of him wondered how long it would take for someone to stop sending nobody assassins after him and hired Deathstroke or some Metas or something instead.
But it was either that or leave a bunch of kids imprisoned under Luthor's care. He'd already turned up so late that most of a hallway had been emptied—he couldn't let that keep happening. If he could subtly hand the data he'd gathered from the computers to someone in the Justice League, maybe he could even put Luthor on the spot for a bit. He doubted they'd be able to make anything stick, if Luthor had been careless enough to leave anything to link it to him in the first place, but maybe it could give the Justice League a chance to look a bit harder at Lex Corp—
The doors opened and P-13 whistled behind him at the sight.
The lack of security cameras didn't really surprise him, since he knew Ace's powers worked through stuff like that. They probably had a collar on her too, but with a girl whose main power is to drive people hopelessly, incurably insane, they'd probably taken every precaution they could. In that light, having everything manned by robots that wouldn't be at risk made sense too, so he wasn't sure why he found that surprising. The weapons they were equipped with were a little more surprising, but while a part of him smoldered at the thought of surrounding a little girl with armed machines programmed to hurt or kill her if need be, a more logical part reminded him that she was a very powerful Metahuman who'd showed a variety of abilities.
He still took a bit of pleasure in throwing an explosive Batarang into the eye of the first one that turned their way. He produced two more to deal with the rest, but paused as a blast of fire demolished the first and an invisible force picked up the second before crushing it like a beer can.
Putting away his weapons, he nodded in thanks at P-13 and P-12 and silently stepped past the remains of the robot, moving to the metal wall that blocked the other half of the room from sight. He was pretty sure it was controlled electronically, but there didn't seem to be any keypads. The robots had probably opened and closed it remotely, since he doubted the scientists came down here unless it was necessary.
Then again, if Terry had been one of the people to imprison an emotional teenager with the potential to make his brains run out of his ears, he probably wouldn't want to come down here either.
He pondered whether he should try to hack into it, let Mother Box try to open it, Boom Tube in, or flat out blow down the door when P-10 stepped forward, cracking his knuckles.
"Allow me," He said, literally sinking his fingers into the door and planting his feet to brace himself—and then with a grunt and a heave of breath, he tore the entire wall down.
Suddenly, Terry remembered why working with a team was awesome.
"Thank you, Ten." He said, stepping past him to look for Ace. The conditions she was held in were, honestly, nowhere near the worst he'd ever seen, but he'd seen the Prisons on Qward, so that didn't mean much.
The conditions were clean and there were no visible injuries on Ace, but there wasn't much of her visible period. Some kind of helmet covered her entire head. Most of it was simple, smooth metal, including the places where most helmets would have eyeholes. There were a series of holes to breathe through and a few signs of underlying circuitry, but that was it. Her hands were bound in the metallic bucket-like cuffs they used for high-security prisoners, probably to keep her from touching or attempting to do anything to her helmet or the power-restraining collar around her neck.
Terry grimaced. He doubted there were any physical injuries, but he couldn't say what psychological effects there might be from locking a young girl in these conditions without sight, touch, or freedom for who knows how long. It was a cruel thing to do to a kid and a part of him rued the fact that he hadn't hurt the scientists upstairs a bit more while taking them down.
He moved to her side, being careful to make his footsteps loud enough to be heard so she would know he was coming.
"Hold on just a second while I get you out of there." He said, so that she would know he wasn't just another one of her robot captors, but keeping his voice soothing so as not to startle her.
He reached out and gently raised a hand to the helmet covering her face. A part of him was a bit worried of how she might react—after being kept in conditions like this for who knows how long, pretty much any reaction would be possible. She could have shrunk away, started to shake, or even tried to attack him and he wouldn't have been surprised.
But she didn't do any of that. In fact, she didn't react to him in any way, which may have been the worst possible reaction.
Not that he'd been especially optimistic about what state she'd be in when he came here. It had been a long time before he was born, but the Ace in his home reality had willingly gone along with the Joker without complaint after being freed by him and the reports in both the Justice League's records and the Batcomputer hadn't exactly presented an image of completely mental health. In fact, she'd supposedly been stoic to the point of being unresponsive during the first half of the Las Vegas Incident.
He silently began to remove the helmet, unlocking it in three places in the back before he could even start to take it off. It didn't simply slide off, however, as another segment of the helmet went firmly under her chin, and around the back of her neck. Shaking his head, he unlocked it in the fourth place—if nothing else, he had to give the makers of it credit; getting out of this helmet on your own would have been pretty damn hard, especially with your hands bound. If they put this much effort into keeping the Joker from escaping, maybe he'd break out of Arkham less.
After he was done, the helmet opened like a flower separating along each of the locks and he carefully removed it and got his first real look at Ace.
While she didn't show any signs of having been physically harmed, it was obvious that she hadn't been given a great deal of care, either. Her hair was long and unruly, in an 'I haven't had a hair cut in years' sort of way. While all of the people kept here were pale, Ace was an especially bad case, to the point of almost looking sickly. Sweat covered her face from the stuffiness of the helmet and the way she blinked rapidly made him think it was probably running into her eyes, so he ran one of his sleeves across her brow, wiping it away as best he could. The few places of color on her skin were where the helmet had been pressed against her face and they stood out in struck contrast, fiercely red against her ghostly pallor. She was thin, too, and while he wouldn't say she had been starved or anything, she would probably be a lot better off if she ate more.
Taking that in, Terry worked his jaw. He wanted to take a quick trip upstairs and kick all of those scientists in the head, but he wasn't here to take vengeance on them, he was here to get a group of kids to safety. As long as he got them out okay, he could get them all nutritionists or psychiatrists or whatever they needed, but he had to get them out.
As for the scientists…he'd let their bosses think of their punishment when they found out how they failed. He took a little bit more pleasure in that thought then would be considered professionally appropriate for a Batman before shaking himself.
Undoing Ace's handcuffs was a lot easier then taking off her helmet and he cast them casually to the side. Ace silently looked at her hands after resting them on her knees, interested in a way only someone who hadn't seen them in years would be.
"Hey boss, are we getting out of here any time soon or what?" P-13 asked impatiently, walking into the room. Ace lifted her eyes to watch him solemnly. After a moment of staring, she dropped her eyes back down to her hands.
"Just a moment," Terry soothed. "I just have to remove her collar and we'll all leave here together."
Ace's head snapped towards him so abruptly he was worried for a second that she might have given herself whiplash and she stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes—her first emotional reaction in what had likely been a long, long time.
"Really?" She asked, a glimmer of hope appearing in her voice and eyes.
Terry smiled at her and unlocked her collar with now practiced ease.
"Really," He assured. "Can you walk?"
Ace tried to stand, but it was obvious her muscles had atrophied with years of disuse, so he stopped her with a raised hand and scooped her into his arms.
"Don't bother; I've got you." He nodded towards P-13. "We can leave now."
However, P-13 was now staring at the girl in his arms with interest.
"What's your power?" He asked, curious, because Ace was the only one who hadn't given a little display once she was free.
Ace's eyes darted towards him for a moment before looking away.
"Hm…" Terry hummed, before glancing at her. "Well, what do you think? Should I tell him?"
After a moment, Ace shook her head, curling in on herself in his arms to make herself more comfortable.
"Tch," P-13 said. "Fine, be that way. How are we getting out of here, Boss? I hope you brought a truck or a plane or something."
"Something like that," He said, and Mother Box responded without prompt. In a rush of noise and light, the Electron Road opened along the left wall. "Ever heard of Bifrost?"