by Immortalwildcat, Starsky Hutch 76 and Dan Swanson
“Jason, what the devil is wrong with him?” In her apartment, Helena Wayne was speaking through the nearly closed door of her bathroom to a young man dressed in black who was on her bed.
“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with Rachel.” Jason Todd, AKA Batwing, pulled off the tunic of his uniform, revealing a long, burned streak across his back. “Ow, that hurts! This morning, he was reading one of the old case journals in the cave, and he seemed really upset by it.”
The door opened, and Helena walked out, clad in a heavy white robe. The tattered remains of her Huntress uniform lay on the floor behind her. “Here, let me take a look at that. This gel seems to be working on the burns on my leg.”
“Where did those creeps get ahold of that stuff, anyway? It reminds me of the descriptions of napalm I read in one of Dick’s war magazines.”
“Greek fire. Wonder Woman told me about it. The gang robbing that bank are working for someone who pictures himself as a Greek god come down to Earth. Apparently, he’s got some connections somewhere.” Helena slathered a blue gel over Jason’s back. “I figured you’d be better off coming over here than trying to get back to the Manor with that burn.”
“Yeah, that feels better already.” Jason flexed his shoulders and twisted. “Does this just kill the pain, or is it healing the burn?”
“Both. But it takes time. I’ll drive you home. Don’t try riding your cycle for a couple of days.” She closed the container and set it on a night stand. “Any idea which journal he was reading? Dad kept pretty detailed records, but most of them were transferred to computer tapes years ago. I know — that’s how I learned to type.”
“I’ve never read it before. It was sealed up, metal banding or something. Took him a while to get it open.”
“Oh.” Helena looked down. She knew the journal Jason was describing.
When she was sixteen years old, and boys started asking her out, she had spoken to her mother about how she Dick had handled that same issue when he was her age. “I know I’m not going to be a crime-fighter like Daddy or Uncle Dick,” she had said, “but I have so many things I’m doing in my life now, with school, riding, tennis, theater, and helping you with your charity work. How could I ever find time for romance?”
Selina Wayne had told her more about Dick Grayson that she could imagine wanting to know, including the teasing he often got because he didn’t participate in many of the so-called normal activities with young men of his age, and how he rarely dated. And she had told her daughter of how, just after college, Dick Grayson had found a woman whom he believed to be the woman for him, only to lose her when she discovered his secret. When Helena had pressed for details, her mother had steadfastly refused, replying that she had already said more than she should.
Now, Helena was positive she knew who that woman was.
“Rachel is coming out to the Manor to stay today, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, she was supposed to be there this morning.”
“Dick is probably there by now. He may need us.” Helena jumped up and dashed back to the bathroom, grabbing a pair of slacks and a blouse from a drawer as she went by. “Tell Bat that we’re going out, and ask him to keep an eye on Sonia for a while longer, will you?”
Red Robin was barely aware of his surroundings as the Red Racer‘s automatic pilot guided him along the path toward the Batcave. As he nodded in and out of consciousness, the one thing that stayed with him was an overwhelming sense of guilt.
He had let the discovery in the old journal overpower him. It had kept him from performing the way he was supposed to in the field. He knew better than that. By this point in his life, his career as a crime-fighter had stretched out even longer than Bruce’s had, and he had no plans on retiring. So there was no excuse for making amateur mistakes.
He was barely even aware of the wounds he had sustained from the archer calling herself Artemis or of the burns he had gotten from the pyrokinetic calling himself Apollo. If not for the concussion he had received from the strongman, Hercules, he might be screaming in agony. Instead, he was only dimly aware of his pain and was only reminded of his wounds when he lifted his hand and saw the blood dripping down in ribbons across the surface of his black leather glove.
He let his hand fall back into his lap heavily and peered at the console of the autopilot as the lights of the console continued to move to duplicate the incline of the road. A red mist seemed to appear about the screen as his vision blurred.
The lids of his eyes closed, and when he opened them again, the numbers of the digital clock built into the dashboard told him that he had lost consciousness. His eyelids dropped once more and then again opened on the numbers, which had advanced even further. He struggled to maintain consciousness with the thought that the next time his eyes closed, it might be the last. He raised his eyes wearily, and a sense of relief came over him as he saw the pathway leading to the hidden entrance of the Batcave approaching.
Inside, Rachel Levine raised her hand up from the workbench, awakened from the sound of the automatic doors opening the secret entrance to the Batcave. She rose from her chair and turned, apprehensively, to face the Red Racer as it approached, moving slowly up the ramp to the platform where it normally rested. What would he say upon seeing her there? Especially in light of what he had rediscovered in the journal that rested behind her on the workbench?
The Red Racer came to a stop, and the engine shut off. The door opened and raised up as the dark figure exited the car. A black foot touched the rock surface of the cave floor, leaving a bloody bootprint as he shuffled forward.
A scream caught in Rachel’s throat at the sight of him. After watching her mother waste away from cancer, she was no stranger to suffering. His appearance clearly illustrated the difference between hurting and hurt, however. And she had never seen anyone hurt this badly in her life.
Weaving on his feet, Red Robin stared at Rachel as she stood before him, concern etched in her face. Her image transformed to a different Rachel who had stood in the same spot decades earlier, wearing an entirely different type of expression. “Rachel… I’m so sorry… so sorry…” His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed at her feet.
Rachel’s scream finally escaped her throat, and she ran for the stairway in which she had originally entered the Batcave. “Alfred! Alfred! Help! Come quick! I need help!”
Gotham Gazette, Noon Edition
Deus ex Machina Rings Down Curtain on Classical Drama
by Vicki Vale
GOTHAM CITY — Late last night, three criminals tried to revive some of the classics. And, in the tradition of the Greek tragedies, fatal character flaws led to their downfalls at the hands of Gotham’s own deus ex machina, Red Robin.
Early this morning, Gotham Police responded to an alarm at the Gotham Public Broadcasting facility. When they reached the scene, they discovered three gaudily dressed villains, covered with blood, wrapped up like a Christmas gift complete with a bat-rope bow. The three had apparently broken in shortly after the end of the annual telethon and attempted to make off with this year’s millions of dollars in cash donations.
The gift-wrapped trio gave the police the names of Artemis (an archer armed with trick arrows, like a second-rate evil female Green Arrow), Apollo (who thinks he is the earthbound avatar of the Greek God, and who can apparently start fires with his eyes) and Hercules (whose great strength was not enough to burst a bat-rope). They were each dressed the parts in costumes reminiscent of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Although there were no heroes present when the police arrived, the bat-rope suggests, and the story of the villains confirms, that their larcenous expedition was foiled by Red Robin.
“He ain’t so tough,” said the costumed strongman, Hercules. “I busted him one in the head and flattened him. If that blasted car of his hadn’t sprayed us with knockout gas, it would be a different story today! Witout (sic) his gadgets, he’s nuthin’!”
“It was my arrow through his shoulder that slowed him down enough for you to clobber,” his partner Artemis added. The third villain, Apollo, was still unconscious and unavailable for comment.
The crime scene was unusual given the involvement of Red Robin. The blood and destruction were more reminiscent of Blackwing’s adventures. Though the villains had been captured, none of them appeared to have any wounds, and a police doctor confirmed that none of them had contributed to the blood at the crime scene. A police spokeswoman ridiculed the villains comments about Red Robin.
“The notion that these three so-called ‘super-villains’ could even inconvenience Red Robin, much less injure him, is ludicrous. The villains are obviously lying to protect someone else, perhaps their leader, who was injured in the fray but managed to escape. We expect to have further details shortly.”
The villains are being held in Gotham Prison while they await their hearings. They have been charged with breaking and entering, attempted larceny, assault and battery with dangerous weapons (their powers), and attempted arson.
As usual, Red Robin could not be reached for comment.
A couple of hours later, Rachel found herself sitting in the living room of Wayne Manor among the closest friends and relatives of Dick Grayson. Beside her sat Maury Levine, who held her hand for support.
Her gaze drifted over the assembled group, and she wondered just how many of them led the same secret life she now knew her biological father did. In addition to Alfred Beagle, Jason Todd, Helena Wayne, and Karen Starr, also present were Karen’s family, the Kents — Clark and Lois and their children C.J. and Mary — and family friends the Tylers — Rex and Wendi and their son Ralphie.
Alfred adjourned to the kitchen with Ralphie and little Mary to find the small child something to eat. That left the rest of them to sit in anxious silence as they waited for the doctor to return.
“He… he thought you were your mother?” C.J. gasped. “That must have been so weird.”
“It — it was,” Rachel said uncomfortably. Her gaze drifted over to Karen, who stood silent and grim.
“C.J.,” Lois cautioned.
The tense moment was broken as Dr. Charles McNider entered the room. “He’s sleeping comfortably now,” he said. “He has a concussion and a number of wounds, and some bad burns, but there’s no threat of permanent damage from his injuries.”
The tension in the room seemed to lessen, but the assembled group hardly broke into celebration. Lois finally broke the uneasy silence by saying, “Well, that’s certainly good news. I think we’ll all breathe a little easier now.”
This remark was greeted with solemn nods from around the room.
An occasional glance went toward Rachel, the one who had found him. She found herself wishing the earth would crack open and swallow her. She regretted calling Maury over for moral support. She sensed that he was just as uneasy as she was. Fatherly instinct had pulled him there, even though this was probably the last place on Earth he had wanted to be. She felt a pang of guilt as she looked over at him. Seeing that she was looking at him, he took her hand in his once more, smiled sympathetically, and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
Rachel smiled back and then turned back to look at Dick Grayson’s family. She caught a glance from Helena Wayne out of the corner of her eye, and a chill ran up her spine. What must she be thinking about her right now?
Ralphie Tyler had a smile that could light up a room. That was the first thing Rachel observed upon entering the kitchen after Alfred summoned her there. Like many people unfamiliar with the autistic, Rachel used to become uncomfortable and reserved when confronted by them. Ralphie, though, had the sort of disposition that made him instantly likeable. It helped set her at ease, so when Alfred sat the sandwich and soda in front of her, she set into the meal with gusto.
She hadn’t realized how famished she was. In all the excitement of the events that evening, she had completely lost track of time. After so many years of service at Wayne Manor, though, Alfred was as naturally attuned to the well-being of those he cared for as he was his own. That’s how she came to be sharing a meal with Ralphie Tyler and little Mary Kent.
“Do you think your father might want something to eat?” Alfred asked her.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Rachel answered. “But he was just finishing dinner when I called him.”
Rachel watched as he refilled Mary’s glass of milk and talked softly to her as she beamed up at him. He had an obvious knack for handling children.
“Did you ever think you might want children of your own?” Rachel asked.
“I have raised or helped raise three of the most amazing people I have ever known. And now I am on my fourth,” Alfred said, smiling proudly. “I don’t feel as if I have missed anything in choosing the life I have.”
“I didn’t mean…” Rachel started.
“I know,” he said smiling warmly. “Don’t worry. I am fulfilled.”
The door to the kitchen swung open, and Rachel turned, hoping that it might be deliverance from the embarrassing foot-in-mouth situation she thought she had created for herself. A nervous feeling came over her when she saw that it was Helena Wayne.
Helena sat down at the end of the kitchen table and silently lifted a knife to start spreading mayo on a piece of bread. The friendly feeling that had been in the room suddenly seemed to fade, and it almost felt as if the very temperature of the room had dropped a few degrees.
“So, Bat tells me that you’re quite the martial artist,” she said to Rachel as she reached over to the plate where the cold cuts were arranged and slapped a couple of pieces down on the bread. She paused, looking at the plate in momentary confusion and then looked over and saw that the cheese was on a separate tray from the meat and took two slices of Swiss.
“Uh, yeah. A friend of my father’s trained me,” Rachel said with nervous suspicion.
“I dabble a little bit in the martial arts myself,” Helena said. “I’m always looking for a good sparring partner to help me keep on my toes. Maybe we could go a few rounds some time. It could be fun.”
Her words might have been good humored, but her expression and tone were anything but. Dabble in martial arts?! Rachel thought. You’re the freaking Huntress! I was in the cave when I found Richard. How could you think I don’t know who you really are, too? The answer was obvious. She knew she knew. Those cold eyes staring back at her belonged to the Huntress, not Helena Wayne. She blames me, she thought to herself. She blames me for all of this and wants the excuse to pulverize me for it. Rachel gulped nervously as she rose from the table, shaking. “S-sure. W-we could do that… sometime. I-if you’ll excuse me, I shouldn’t leave m-my father out there by himself.”
Helena watched as she quickly made her exit. “Hmmph.” Looking at the silver tray that held the meat, she asked, “No ham?”
“No, Miss,” Alfred answered. “The Levines keep kosher, so Master Grayson instructed that we should act accordingly for the duration of their stay.”
“No ham,” Helena said, sighing irately as she let her unfinished sandwich fall to her plate. “Just another thing to add to the list.”
“Ah, yes. The list,” Alfred said. “Would this be the list that includes seeking out the father she never knew after suffering the devastating loss of a beloved parent to cancer? Or would that be giving a second chance to a man who was unable to commit fully to her mother? Or would it be finding this same man and getting him medical help before he bled to death? Oh, yes, these are all terrible crimes for which she must surely be soundly thrashed.” With that, the British gentleman’s gentleman left in a huff, leaving the kitchen door swinging energetically behind him.
Helena’s mouth hung open in shock. She flashed back to her childhood, remembering how Alfred had always had a way of making her feel thoroughly scolded when she did something wrong without raising her voice the slightest.
“You’re bad!” Mary suddenly exclaimed.
“What?” Helena gasped.
“You made Miss Rachel and Mr. Alfred leave!” Mary snapped. “You’re a mean, bad wady!”
Being scolded by Alfred was one thing — being scolded by a two-year-old was another. Helena raised her finger and said, “Now, listen…”
“No, you wisten!” Mary said. She suddenly pursed her lips, and a gust of wind shot forth, knocking Helena head over heels in her chair.
Helena stared up at the ceiling in shock. Over the years, she had taken on countless threats, from common thugs to shadow demons, and now a two-year-old had gotten the best of her.
Ralphie Tyler leaped to his feet, pacing back and forth and looking for all the world like a basketball player waiting for someone to toss him the ball. “Omigosh! Omigosh! Wha do I do?!” he exclaimed anxiously. “Da-a-aaad!”
The door to the kitchen was thrown open as both the Kents and the Tylers rushed in. They quickly stopped in stunned silence at the sight of Helena Wayne lying on the floor.
“Mary Laura Kent!” Lois scolded. “What did you do?!”
“In her defense, I think I might’ve had it coming,” Helena said from the floor. “Um… could somebody help me up?”