November 17, 16:09
Batgirl's call to not destroy the machine was greeted with a satisfied nod from Batman, who immediately began to look over it. It took him almost thirty seconds to crack the password and finally find the contents he was looking for and more.
There was an encrypted video.
"Superman and the others are coming," Barbara said, staring at the monitors. "Black Canary stayed to inform the authorities."
Batman nodded. "And the bodies?"
"We got permission to do an autopsy," Nightwing told them as he entered the room, followed closely by Robin. "It's going to be complicated though… the families are demanding their loved ones back."
"They're hoping they can come back to life again," Batman said flatly. "As soon as they realize they were dead all along, the better."
Nightwing frowned but remained silent. Bruce's coldness unnerved him, even though he knew his mentor was right. Dick couldn't help but feel sympathy for those families, he knew he wouldn't be able to fight his parents' zombies either.
"So… I heard we have a video?" Green Arrow entered the room, followed by the other members of the League and the Team. "Did the zombie puppet master leave it on purpose?"
"Yes. He knew we were going to be dealing with the zombies, find his machine and stop them," Batman explained. "He was either stupid or very confident."
"Then what was the purpose of the attack?" Wonder Woman asked. "Test us against his or hers' creation?"
"Either that or to test the creation on us," Batman answered.
Superman crossed his arms around his massive chest, the cries of those families still echoing in his head. He looked really angry. "Let's see what this person wants us to hear."
Batman pressed the play bottom and the face of a middle-aged, brown-haired man filled the screen. He was sitting in a simple black chair, against a white background.
"Greetings, Members of the Justice League. I see you've managed to not only stop my soldiers but also find this message. Congratulations."
"Soldiers?!" Conner cried out in outrage. "Who does he think…?"
"Hush, Conner," M'gann told him, grabbing his arm.
"I know you will study the remnants of my transmitter device, as well as trying to figure out how it made dead humans come back to life. Well… let me save you the trouble, even though I know you will try to confirm everything I said. My name is Dr. Edward Robb. I'm a scientist with enough resources to create my own army of, if you want to be specific, undead soldiers. The ones you saw were only a mere fraction of my greatest arsenal, which I will be using very soon. There is so much to the human body, even after death. Why waste bodies by burying or cremating them if they can still serve a greater purpose?"
"Bastard!" Wonder Girl hissed.
"I have no doubt that you won't understand the greater purpose. Just as I know that you'll try to stop me, so let me make this clear. You can't stop me. It is too late for that. But feel free to try and humor me. Who knows? Maybe you'll have the honor of joining my soldiers. Until then… Farewell."
Dr. Robb smiled coldly at the camera and the screen went black. Batman rose from his seat and faced his livid companions.
"Find everything you can about Dr. Edward Robb."
Three hours later they had collected a fair amount of information on the 'good' doctor. Apparently, Edward Robb was under FBI investigation for thirty murders across nine different hospitals across the US. His photo matched the man they saw in the video.
Dr. Robb was a brilliant biologist and geneticist, claiming to have developed numerous cures for untreatable diseases. Unfortunately, his oblivious patients always ended up dead. Then, about two years ago, he vanished without a trace.
Through face recognition, they found he had taken several planes right after his escape from the last hospital where he had been. Dr. Robb looked happier and chatted endlessly with the equally satisfied passengers that accompanied him from one plane to the next. A quick check revealed those passengers were all scientists from different fields. It also revealed them as currently missing.
Their final destination: Antarctica.
November 17, 19:21
Batman stared at the white snow with a frown. Beside him, Superman had just finished using his X-Ray vision on the huge mountains of ice.
"Well?" the Dark Knight asked.
"There's nothing on the surface, but I found a huge building underground," Clark explained. "There should be about thirty sub-levels. I have no idea how they manage to build this, especially in secret."
"Money usually silences people. So does murder," Batman answered bitterly. "Is anyone inside?"
Superman shook his head. "No. Unless they're hidden in a lead bunker, I can't find any signs of life, just… bones."
Batman nodded. It meant there were dead bodies inside.
Clark had no trouble finding the entrance and opening the twisted, metal door. Their small team, consisting of Batman, Superman and the Flash, entered the desolate building in silence. Batman noticed the signs of a struggle and the charred remains of several humans.
"Whoever worked here was murdered and burned into a crisp to prevent recognition," the Dark Knight said, inspecting the human remains and searching for viable bones for DNA identification. "Whatever they were doing, someone didn't want the world to find out."
"They killed them once they were of no further use. How much you wanna bet these are the missing scientists?" Barry asked, staring sadly at the bodies.
"What were they working on that was so secretive? And how was Dr. Robb involved? You think he was the one behind this?" Superman asked.
Batman shook his head. "Robb didn't have the resources to build this. My guess is that he was either released or escaped his colleagues' fate."
The Flash checked the building, though with considerable difficulty due to its bad shape. They found thousands of bodies, destroyed labs and burnt documents. Through careful observation, Batman realized they had been conducting human experiments.
It is possible that Robb discovered the way to bring back the dead from this place, Bruce thought gloomily.
"Batman! Over Here!" Flash cried out, pointing towards another broken computer. "This one is in better shape than the others. Can you find something?"
Silently, the Dark Knight pulled a USB connector cable and used the holographic computer in his gloves. His lips twitched with a small grin when he realized that the contents on that computer were mostly intact, thus downloading them into his own. The security was really good, which took him almost two minutes to crack. Soon, Batman was searching through the files until he found something that made him frown.
"They called this Project Lazarus," he explained his teammates. "Apparently, they were using a new component to bring viable dead bodies back to life and reveal the secret of immortality to those who were deemed worthy."
Superman glared at this friend's computer. "Worthy? What does that mean? Who were they trying to bring back to life?"
"Warriors. From the list I found, they had a huge collection of dead soldiers, warriors and assassins. They have files on their 'Life Data' and 'Rebirth Data'. From what I see, the results were disappointing."
"What do you mean?" the Flash asked.
"Their objective was to use the formula they created, called the Lazarus Formula, to bring these people back to what they were in their prime. All they got were human vegetables, who were as useful as they were in death."
Clark sighed and looked around at the broken pods and the bones inside. "They got rid of the 'failures' as well."
"At least we know were Dr. Zombie got his Frankenstein juice," the Flash remarked, staring back at Batman's holographic screen before his eyes widened in confusion. "Wait… what is that file? The one on the far right? Why isn't it with the rest of the other files?"
Batman followed the Flash's finger and clicked on the file, whose data immediately caught his attention.
Lazarus Project, Subject #2620
Success Rate: 89%
"Wait. 'Alive'? They did it?" the Flash asked, his blue eyes wide with shock and a little fear. "They brought someone back from the dead?"
"Since they were aiming for the 100%, he wasn't exactly a success," Batman answered, reading subject #2620 'Rebirth Data'. "According to the reports, the subject had severe brain damage from his pre-mortem injuries, along with several broken bones. He was able to talk, but his communication skills were severely impaired."
Superman's kind blue eyes shone with pity. "He was just fifteen… poor kid. How come all those adult warriors remained vegetables while this kid managed to get well enough to talk again?"
"They changed the formula once they realized he was showing results. The rest is pure luck, biology or some other reason," Batman explained, sounding as detached as ever.
"You think they killed him again? Even if those results?" Flash asked.
"Probably. They were aiming for perfection," Batman answered. "They had no use for a brain-damaged teen."
In response, Clark's hand slashed a pipe in two. "How could they do something like that? Especially to a kid? They were scientists and doctors. Does human life mean nothing to them?"
Batman nodded, but remained silent as usual. His own fury inside him. On the other hand, the Flash patted Superman on the back and agreed fiercely with what he said.
"We should see who he was. If he had a family, then… I know I would want my kid to go home. We could find his bones and bring him back," the speedster said, his mind thinking about his energetic nephew whose life had been so tragically cut short.
Batman nodded and clicked on the 'Life Data' file. Then, his whole unemotional expression shattered into absolute shock.
Jason Peter Todd
It felt like someone had stolen all the air in his longs and Bruce couldn't breathe. He heard Clark and Barry saying something, but their voices sounded very distant. At first, he didn't register what the computer was telling him. It was impossible, it couldn't be Jason. Why would be Jason of all people?
Jason Peter Todd
Date of Birth: August 16, 1999
Death: April 27, 2014
When it started to finally sink in, Bruce began to gasp. His blue eyes wide, his face pale and sweaty. He was hyperventilating, but he couldn't stop it. It felt like the ground had been taken away from his feet.
Age: 14 years and 8 months old
"Robin? The kid is… was…" the Flash said, staring in shock at both the screen and Batman.
"Oh, my God. Batman? Batman, are you alright?" Clark asked, grabbing his friend's shoulders. "Just breathe… try to breathe slowly…"
Cause of Death: Multiple Severe Trauma (Murdered)
Batman broke free from Superman's hold and dashed towards the broken elevator and sub-level twenty where #2620's pod was supposed to be. Where Jason had been, when he should be resting in peace at home.
No. No. No.
Batman kicked the elevator's door open and ran down the destroyed lab, barely glancing at the corpses inside the pods. He wasn't ready to see it. He didn't want to see Jason's bones, but he had to know. He had to.
However, when he got to #2620's pod, he found it intact and without a body inside. The whole area around looked preserved, like no one had tried to destroy it.
"Batman… what…?" Superman looked around, also surprised by the lack of corpses and destruction. The Flash's reaction mirrored his own.
Batman turned around and started running towards the elevator again, his teammates following him with a careful distance.
"Let's go back to Gotham. The cemetery," he said without looking back. "I need to see for myself."
No one dared to contradict him.
November 17, 21:51
They left the Batwing floating over the city's cemetery and followed the distraught Batman through the graves.
Jason's grave looked undisturbed, but Bruce wouldn't be able to notice small changes. He only visited the grave twice a year, on Jason's birthday and death day. If someone wanted to steal his body, it would be ridiculously easy… Bruce didn't even put sensors on the coffin.
He should have been more careful. He should have protected him. Why couldn't he protect him? Why did he keep failing him?
"Superman, use your X-Ray vision," Batman ordered, without turning around. Superman nodded and his eyes shone for a few seconds before he lowered his head sadly. "Well? He is there?"
"IS HE THERE?!"
Barry cringed uncomfortably, while Clark merely stared at Batman's back.
"I don't see any bones there, just the coffin. I'm sorry."
Batman's hands started shaking and his eyes burned. Suddenly, he started digging the grave with his hands.
"Batman!" the Flash cried out, but the Dark Knight ignored him, focusing on the work at hand, trying not to think of the file he read, trying not to remember his last angry words with Jason, the way he looked so angry and sad when he told him he shouldn't have been Robin. The blast from the explosion, holding the dead body his adopted son in his arms… No matter how much he tried not to remember, the more vivid those memories became.
He barely noticed when Clark joined him and their fingers finally hit the coffin. Bruce stood there, frozen as Superman opened the coffin and he confirmed what he had denied since he read the file.
The coffin was empty. Jason wasn't there. He hadn't been there for a long time.
They took him… they took him away from me, Bruce thought.
Superman tried to reach out for Batman, but the latter turned around and vanished into the dark night. Clark didn't need to use his superpowers to know that he was crying.