by Starsky Hutch 76 and Immortalwildcat
“This could take all night,” Rachel Levine said, now dressed in the newly created costumed identity of Sparrow.
“Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to just wade in there and take them all out at once,” the Huntress said, “but there are too many of them. This is the house I grew up in. No one wants them out of here as much as me.”
“Well, maybe this guy,” a voice suddenly said, startling both of them. The Huntress and Sparrow were both shocked to see a patriotically clad super-hero walking toward them, carrying Dick Grayson. “I wanted to try and get him out of here, but he keeps slipping in and out of consciousness, and I don’t know where the exit is.”
“Who are you?” the Huntress said sharply.
“U.S. M — uh, U.S. Avenger,” Terry Lee Travis answered quickly.
“Better…” the injured man in his arms said, conscious once again, “…more like your uncle. It’s OK, Helena. He’s a friend.”
The Huntress’ jaw dropped. “Hello? Costume? Secret identities?”
“He’s kind’ve been doing that a lot,” Terry said. “Did he take a blow to the head during a case?”
“He’s got a concussion,” Rachel said.
Terry looked at the pretty brunette as if he were noticing her for the first time and smiled. “I thought it might be something like that. So how do we get him out of here?”
“That might not be such a good idea,” the Huntress said. “We don’t know what’s waiting for us outside.”
“Nothing,” Terry said. “Everyone who’s involved has made their way inside at this point.”
“Someone has to be leading them,” the Huntress said darkly. “No way this bunch of thugs put this together on their own.”
“You’re right. But who?” Terry said. “All I’ve been able to find out is that someone is specifically targeting Richard Grayson. The leads haven’t been all that visible. Grayson isn’t exactly famous for his enemies. This town seems to love him. If he ran for mayor tomorrow, I’m sure he’d win.”
Rachel stared at the barely conscious form of the man of whom they spoke. It was strange to hear such praise for someone who she had thought so poorly of only a couple of weeks earlier.
“So what’s the plan?” Terry asked, deferring to the experience of the Huntress.
“I — I don’t know,” the Huntress said tensely. “Sparrow and I have been picking them off one by one as they separated from the main group, but there are just too many of them.”
“It’s not like you haven’t faced odds like this with the JSA,” Terry said.
“Yeah, but it’s never been this personal before,” she sighed, her expression saying, I know you know who I am, so let’s cut the bull. “I feel a lot better knowing you’ve gotten him to safety. Thank you for that.”
“I saw a lot of security monitors down there in the Batcave,” Rachel said. “You’ve got cameras all over the place, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Helena said. “From there, we could get a good idea of where everyone is situated and form a plan. Back to the cave!”
Wow, Terry thought to himself. I can’t believe I’m going to the Batcave!
Hundreds of miles away from Gotham City, winter’s grip was still upon the land. Blinding snowfall and raging winds had little effect on the lightly clad, caped figure descending through the storm to land near a farmhouse on the outskirts of Colchester, Vermont. She saw the name on the battered mailbox and smiled. A burst of snow was enough to hide her from curious eyes as she changed into more suitable clothing. As she entered the relative shelter of the porch, Karen Starr was dressed in jeans, a white-ribbed sweater, and a long woolen coat. Had someone looked, they might have wondered about the blue boots with the turned-down tops.
She knocked and heard voices in the house. The door was opened by an older woman, easily in her mid-seventies. “What in the world? Are you all right, miss? Were you in an accident outside, or–?”
“No, please, nothing like that. I’m looking for Andrew Vinson. Is he here?”
“Oh, yes, please, come in.” The woman stepped back and gestured for Karen to come in, then closed the door and raised her voice. “Andy! There’s a young lady here to see you!” Karen was mildly stunned at the force in the voice of the frail-seeming woman.
“Are you kidding, Mom?” Andrew stepped into the hallway from a room at the back of the house. “Kara? I mean — Karen?”
“Um, hi,” said Karen, suddenly feeling foolish for having made the trip without at least calling first.
“Mom, this is Karen Starr, a friend of mine from Metropolis. Karen, my mother, Ann Vinson.” After greetings were exchanged, Andrew said, “Look, Mom, could you do me a favor and finish heating the chocolate and whipping the cream? I expect Karen wants to talk privately.”
“Of course, dear. Karen, would you care to join us for dessert? We treat ourselves to hot fudge sundaes once a week.”
“I’d love to.”
“Good. They’ll be ready in about fifteen minutes. Will that be enough time for you two to talk?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Andrew led Karen to a small room off the living room. It was cluttered, with an old roll-top desk occupied by a relatively new computer. There were stacks of boxes on one side, filled with files. “My study. Dad used to hide in here to work out the seed orders and haggle with buyers from the local markets.” He pulled a chair out from the desk to sit down as Karen settled on a straight-backed wooden chair that was likely older than her cousin.
“I never realized you were from farm stock. Actually, I thought you had no family.”
“Standard practice for reporters: we’re all orphans. No family attachments means we’re always available to go after the story. And, to be honest, I tried not to think about the farm. I was the youngest of seven kids, and not one of us had any interest in running the farm. I guess we all figured Dad would be here forever.”
“He had a stroke last summer while he was working. Doctors said he was gone before he hit the ground.”
Karen reached over and laid her hand over his. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. At least he died doing what he loved, though, right?”
Andrew laughed weakly. “Cliches? From you? No, it’s all right, because it’s the truth. He loved this place, and I think part of the reason none of us ever got into the whole farming thing is because he loved it so much, he didn’t want to share it. With him gone, and all my brothers and sisters having kids to raise, I decided to leave the station and come up here to take care of Mom. I’ve been writing opinion pieces for my own newspaper column and working on a novel in my spare time.”
“I wondered. I checked with the station, and they simply said you’d left but couldn’t give me an address.”
“So, did you use your feminine charms or your x-ray vision to get it?” Andrew raised one eyebrow, waiting for the answer.
“Very funny. Charm has never been my strong point. I peeped into the files.”
“So, you went to all the trouble to find me. Why?”
Karen fidgeted a bit, rubbing her hands together. “You know I’m getting married, right?”
“To Richard Grayson? Of course. Big news story,” said Andrew, raising his hands to spread them about a shoulder width, as if framing something with them. “Humble but beautiful young software developer to wed middle-aged millionaire ex-ambassador.” He lowered his arms again. “I doubt you follow them, but the tabloids have been eating it up.”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve heard about it. I can’t believe Wildcat reads those things!” She shook her head, then continued. “Have they mentioned Dick’s daughter?”
“Daughter? No, not that I’m aware of.”
“It’s confusing, Andrew. I just found out that Dick was married before, right after college. It was a spur of the moment thing, and within a week or two, they realized it was a mistake. The marriage was annulled, and Dick never saw her again.”
“He never mentioned this to you before?”
“He didn’t know about it,” said Karen, causing Andrew to raise both of eyebrows this time. “I only learned about it now after an old, hidden journal came to light, and his butler, Alfred, filled in the details for me. From what he told me, it nearly ruined him. So he underwent hypnosis to forget.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be all that shocked, considering who he is,” said Andrew, and this time it was Karen’s turn to be surprised. “Hey, give me some credit, here,” he continued. “I’ve known you almost since you made your debut. I know the crowd you run around with, and I know that no normal person, no matter how wealthy or famous, would be suitable for you. He and his late partner had enough wild adventures; a bit of hypnosis would be nothing for him.”
“Well, he remembers now. Rachel — that’s his daughter — came into Gotham a couple of weeks ago to meet him. Her mother’s gone, but I can see it in his eyes, Andrew. Every time he looks at Rachel, he’s seeing her mother and wondering about what might have been.”
“Are you sure she’s really his daughter?”
“Remember who you’re talking to. I was checking her DNA before she finished introducing herself. If she isn’t Dick’s daughter, she’d have to be his niece, and he had no brothers or sisters.”
“Is she after him for money?”
“Ha! She doesn’t have half of the Wayne fortune, but she’s far from hurting.” Karen brushed a stray lock of hair back from her face. “I don’t think she’s looking for anything but an understanding of who she is and where she came from. She’s actually pretty nice, but no pushover.”
“So what are you so worried about?”
“I’m worried about Dick — about us! It took us years to realize that we were already more than just friends. We’re two weeks away from our wedding, and now I have to compete with a ghost!”
“Not a ghost. A memory,” said Andrew gently. “And, I’m sure, a host of regrets. Yes, Dick is going to wonder about what life might have been like if they hadn’t split, if he had been there to raise his daughter, if they’d had more children. I don’t know about Kryptonians, but for us on Earth, life is full of regrets. Regrets for the things we did and regrets for the things we didn’t do. It’s like, no matter how things turn out, we have to find a way of punishing ourselves over it.”
“So, what do I do about it?” she asked him.
“You live. Nothing else to do. You go back and you talk to your future husband; you tell him that you love him regardless of his daughter and his past marriage. You talk to his daughter and open yourself to accepting her as a part of the family. After all, you will be her stepmother.”
“Isn’t there some story about–?”
“Dozens. And don’t believe a single one. Stepmothers are no worse than real mothers.” Andrew stood up. “I think dessert should just about be ready. Think you’ll be all right?”
Karen also rose and gave him a hug. “I think so. Thank you.”
“And now that you know where I live, I expect to be getting an invitation.”
“Actually, it was mailed to the station, and they said it had been forwarded. Should be here in a day or two.”
For the next two hours, Karen sat with an old friend and his mother, eating ice cream, hearing all about his foibles growing up, and, for a short time, just being human.
“Slow night, huh?” Ted Grant, alias Wildcat, said to Starman as he slapped a hand on his shoulder, surprising the JSA’s youngest member. David Knight, son of Ted Knight, the original Starman, looked up from the monitor he had been staring into. “Oh, uh, yes sir.”
A grin crossed Wildcat’s face. “You don’t hafta call me sir, Davey. Not considering how far back me and your old man go.”
“Hard to believe you’re the same guy who was on the team with him back then,” David said. “You look a lot younger than him.”
“Long story to that,” Wildcat said. “I’m sure you know all about the story of Ian Karkull.”
“Yeah, sure,” David said. “My dad told Jack and I when we were kids, when we asked why he didn’t look like other guys his age.”
This made Ted chuckle. “Yeah, must’ve been weird havin’ a dad the same age as your pal’s grandpas who didn’t look any older than their folks.”
“You could say that,” David said.
“Then I guess it’s going to be really weird for my triplets,” said the entering Alan Scott, also known as the Green Lantern, “when they get old enough to know the difference.”
“Speaking of people who look younger than they are,” Wildcat chuckled. “There’s the guy I’ve got to thank for my accidental facelift.” Ted proceeded to tell David the story of how his legs had been shattered during the Crisis on Infinite Earths and how Green Lantern had used his ring to heal his injuries. In the process, the emerald energies had reacted with dormant chronal energies left over from their encounter with Ian Karkull years earlier, and the result was rejuvenation. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1, Chapter 3: A New Future.]
“I take it you decided to give it a try, too,” David said.
“Well, I was curious to see what happened,” Alan said. “When I turned my own energies from the ring in on myself, the results were, to say the least, explosive. Molly got caught in it, too, so that’s why she looks the way she does now.”
“Well, you both must’ve liked what you saw, considering you now have triplets,” Wildcat laughed.
Alan gave a sheepish grin. “We were all set to settle down into old age together, but this has its perks, too.” This drew laughs from everyone present and a jovial slap on the back from Wildcat. “Probably a good thing we’ve both gotten young again, too, considering they’re all getting into the terrible twos now.”
Their revelry was suddenly broken as the program broadcast on one of the monitors was interrupted by a sudden news flash.
“This is Heidi Cheung bringing this late breaking news. Costumed criminals have taken over Celebrity Hall in Los Angeles, where the gala event the Platinum Planets was taking place. As always, our ace reporter, May ‘Mayday’ Parker is on the story. What is the scene like, Mayday?”
“In a word, tense,” Mayday said. “The authorities seem hesitant to make a move for fear of the high-profile hostages coming to harm.”
“Have the costumed criminals actually threatened them?”
“At this point, the threat is more implied,” Mayday said. “Since no actual demands have been made. For now–“
“Sorry to interrupt,” Heidi suddenly said. “Word is, we have a transmission from inside!”
Behind the MC’s podium stood the massive, leather-clad form of Sky Angel. Clutched quite unwillingly was the blonde starlette Bess Kissenger, who had been made famous by films such as 66 ½ Days and Burt Timson’s Crimson Avenger movie.
“You pigs better hold back!” Sky Angel warned. “We’re havin’ a party here, and we don’t want any crashers!”
The camera pulled back to show the shadowy creature Darkling standing above two security guards who were bound by shadow substance that had formed around their arms and legs. Nearby, Kid Grundy was tossing another guard in the air like a toy. The hopeless guard’s arms were pinned to his side my a microphone stand the youthful-looking zombie had wrapped around him.
“I’d say that’s a party that needs crashing,” Wildcat said.
“Especially if it means getting kissed by a greatful Bess Kissinger,” Starman said.
“Good thinking,” Wildcat said.
“I don’t think Irene would approve,” Green Lantern cautioned, referring to Ted Grant’s wife, as he enveloped Wildcat in emerald energy. The three of them started toward Los Angeles, California.
“I was just thinkin’ of the kid,” Wildcat chuckled as the three of them took to the sky.
Back in the JSA’s monitor room, on a screen bearing the icons of all of the members of the JSA, the one for Red Robin lit up, showing there was danger at the Batcave. Unfortunately, the JSA had now been diverted elsewhere, and no one was there to hear Alfred Beagle’s plea for help.
Setting up the decoy had cost Melody Jones and William Defoe a small fortune, but it had proved to be worth every penny. Gotham City’s leading citizen would not be rescued by its resident super-team.
The Huntress and Sparrow arrived in the Batcave followed by U.S. Avenger, who was still helping Dick Grayson. The Huntress’ eyes grew moist at the sight of Alfred Beagle sitting at the chair before the security monitors of the large mainframe computer.
“A-Alfred! Thank God you’re all right!” she gasped.
“Yes, Miss,” Alfred said. “I am… physically unharmed. Though my outlook is somewhat worse for wear.”
“I think we’re all a little in shock,” Rachel said.
“Yes, Miss,” Alfred said as he moved to the other side of Dick Grayson to aid Terry with him. “But I was referring to the distress call I sent to the JSA. It has been some time since I sent it, yet it is still unanswered.”
“Do you think they’re on their way?” Terry asked.
Alfred gave him a studying look and then decided he must be all right if he came in the secret entrance and was carrying the lord of the manor to safety. “Doubtful, sir,” he answered. “While there is a bit of a distance between the brownstone and Wayne Manor, they should still be here by now. I can only surmise that they are previously occupied.”
“Whoever is responsible for this must have set up a diversion,” the Huntress said.
“Then we’re on our own,” Sparrow said nervously.
“Looks like it,” Terry said. “Say, are there any schematics of this place in the computer here?”
“Of course,” Huntress said. “You think a guy like my dad wouldn’t have planned for someone attacking him here?”
“Definitely not,” Terry grinned.
As Alfred helped Dick onto the hospital bed in the Batcave’s emergency medical area, the rest of the heroes pored over blueprint images on the screen. Red dots lit up to show the places where the invaders were gathered.
“They all seem to be converging on one spot,” Terry said. He pointed to three areas of the blueprints and said, “If we could get the drop on them here, here, and here…”
“It would be like shooting fish in a barrel,” the Huntress finished.
Melody Jones and William Defoe sat in the back of the limousine sipping champagne as they watched the mansion. The car phone rang, and Melody reached down to lift up the receiver. “Yes. Uh-huh. Thank you.” She turned to Defoe and said, “Winforth says we can move in now.”
“Excellent,” replied Defoe.