by Starsky Hutch 76
“Your facilities certainly are impressive!” said Karen Starr as she toured the facilities of the Gotham City branch of STAR Labs. “It really puts Ultimate to shame.”
“Ultimate does well for what they are,” Will Magnus said. “But we operate on a much larger scale. Each department must complement one another, so we try to make sure everyone has the facilites and funding to join in should their area of research be called on to do so. There are no redheaded stepchildren here.”
“That’s good to hear,” Karen laughed.
Will Magnus looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got a few things I have to take care of, so as much as I hate to leave good company, I’m going to have to turn you over to one of our most respected staff members, Chuck Grayson.”
Karen’s eyebrows shot up at hearing the name. “I see you’ve heard the name,” Dr. Magnus said. “His work in the field of robotics has become the stuff of legend over the last few years. He’s one of the people you’d be working closely with.”
She didn’t mention the fact that she’d recognized the name Chuck Grayson as the name of the man whose body now housed the brain of the former Robotman — a man who was also a distant cousin of Gotham’s resident hero, Red Robin. She couldn’t help but notice that Chuck had put on some weight — a lot of weight, actually — since the last time she’d heard of him. Evidently, the former Robotman had been enjoying having a human body once again, particularly where food was concerned.
The gray-haired, obese Chuck Grayson stepped forward as they approached. “Chuck, Im going to leave Ms. Starr in your capable hands for a while,” said Dr. Magnus. “Ms. Starr, I look forward to talking to you again shortly.”
“I had no idea you worked here,” said Karen.
“Well, I haven’t been here that long,” Chuck Grayson said. “So you could have knocked me over with a feather when Dick called me. But I guess he’s always going to be on top of things, just like Bruce was.”
“Dick… called you?” Karen said.
“You didn’t know? ‘Cousin’ Dick told me you might be looking for a position here in Gotham. So I passed the news on to Will.”
“Really,” Karen said with increasing irritation. “Would you excuse me for a second?” she said, turning in the direction of Will Magnus’ office.
“Huh? Wait, you don’t think…?” Chuck Grayson started. It was too late, though. She was already on her way.
Karen yanked open the door to Dr. Magnus’ office and charged in. “You and I have to talk,” she said, to Magnus, who was on the phone.
“Excuse me, Dave,” he said to the man on the other end. “Something just came up.” He hung up the phone and said, “Yes, Ms. Starr?”
“Am I to understand that the only reason I’m here is because Chuck Grayson talked to Dick Grayson?”
“Ah,” Dr. Magnus said with understanding. “Is that what this is about?”
“Yes!” Karen said emphatically.
“As I was given to understand it, you and Richard Grayson are… close. Are you not?”
“What?” Karen snapped angrily. “What does my relationship with Dick have to do with this?!” Karen exclaimed. “I’m not some bubble-headed bimbo who needs my boyfriend to get me a job!”
“I never said you were,” Will Magnus said. “I was just surprised that you’d make the same mistake everyone else does.”
“What’s that?” Karen said.
“Confusing Richard Grayson for Bruce Wayne,” Dr. Magnus said.
“What do you mean?”
“Bruce Wayne may have had his hand in every pie in Gotham, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Dick Grayson does. He owns some stock, but not nearly enough to call the shots. He simply passed along a good tip, and we acted on it.”
“Really?” Karen said, slightly stunned.
“Really. Frankly, it’s a little insulting that you’d think I’d hire you because some millionaire told me to. I’m not in the habit of letting anyone influence hiring practices, or anything else, for that matter. You were brought in here because we were generally interested.”
“You were…?” Karen said, sick to her stomach.
“Yes, Ms. Starr.” He leaned forward on his desk and said, “Why don’t we just cut out all these games now. Do you want the job or not?”
“You’re still interested?” Karen said, looking back at the doorway and then at him. “After I barged in here like that?”
“Karen, you’ve seen the people who work here,” he said, a grin on his face. “If I dismissed everyone around here who exhibited eccentric behavior, I wouldn’t have a staff.” He extended a hand to her. “Welcome to STAR Labs.”
“How’d it go at STAR?” Dick Grayson asked.
“I should really be mad at you,” said Kara Zor-L.
Dick’s expression changed from a smile to a look of concern. “Clark warned me you might feel that way.”
“So Clark knew about this,” Kara smirked.
“He called earlier, hoping to talk to you. He really wants to work things out between you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Kara sighed. “I guess I can’t stay mad at him forever.”
“You really should try to patch things up. Family is important, and the Kent family seems to be getting bigger all the time.”
“So I’ve heard,” Kara said. “I still can’t believe I’m going to have a little cousin flying around someday.”
“I know,” Dick said. “After all this time…”
“You’re trying to change the subject!” Kara said, jabbing him in the chest with mock sternness.
“OK, you got me,” Dick said. “But all I did was put a bug in Chuck’s ear that there was a great programmer who might be looking for a better position. It’s not like I’ve got any pull over there. Knowing how you’d feel about that, I wouldn’t use any, even if I did.”
“That’s what I found out…” she said, “…after I marched into Magnus’ office and let him have it.”
“You didn’t,” Dick groaned.
“I did!” she said, poking him in the chest. “Thanks to your being so sneaky!”
“I’m sorry about that,” Dick said, crestfallen. “I hate to think it caused you to miss out on a good opportunity.”
“Who says I’m missing out?” Kara said, jumping into his arms and wrestling him to the floor. “Apparently, Will Magnus is used to eccentrics and thinks a nutcase like me would fit right in. I start Monday.”
The Joker leaned over the blueprints of the Gotham City STAR Labs building spread out over the folding card table. “So it’s all set, then. We strike on Monday.”
Karen Starr smiled cheerfully and said her hellos as Chuck Grayson introduced her to the staff of STAR Labs. “And here we have STAR’s newest celebrity, Dr. Robert Van Winkler, known around these parts as Rip,” Chuck said as he introduced her to the wild-haired, middle-aged scientist. “Don’t let appearances fool you. Rip here’s a brilliant scientist, even if he does have a bad habit of talking to the press prematurely.”
“Nothing I told the press is false,” Rip said defensively. “I truly believe it’s only a matter of time before we defeat the aging process completely. The results in test cases have been very encouraging.”
“But you didn’t provide the whole story,” Chuck said.
“No need to alarm the public at large,” Rip said, brushing his comment aside. “Now on to more important matters, such as who is this lovely young creature standing before me?” he said, taking Karen’s hand and bringing it up to his lips as if to kiss it.
“Karen Starr,” she said, pulling her hand away quickly.
“Relax, Miss Starr,” Rip said. “I realize that a woman such as yourself is far out of the league of a weathered old scholar such as myself. Though rumor has it that you do prefer your men aged… like a fine wine.”
“In some cases, that wine appears to have soured,” Karen said.
“Touché!” Rip exclaimed with a hearty laugh. “Beautiful, witty, and she gives as good as she gets! Having you here will be a joy, indeed!”
“Hmmph,” Karen smirked, folding her arms in an attempt to look indignant. Despite herself, she couldn’t help but break into a half-smile.
As the day progressed, Karen Starr found herself adjusting to her new job setting. Everyone was pleasant enough and willing to accept her into the group, even Dr. Robert “Rip” Van Winkler — who she discovered flirted shamelessly with all of the female staff, not just her — and he was basically harmless. The men he needled mercilessly, which was why Chuck Grayson had felt free to do so in return.
STAR Labs was quick to make use of her talents, and by early mid-afternoon she found herself working on a particularly difficult programming problem. It was during this time when she was staring intently into a screen full of computer source code that she suddenly found herself distracted by the smell of gas.
She looked up from her computer and out at the crowd of employees, exclaiming in alarm as the staff of STAR began to collapse to the floor, doubled over in laughter.
Karen ran out to where the lab-coated staff members were writhing in laughter and leaned down to check on the employee closest to her. The person she looked at was obviously still alive and in perfect health, if perfectly incapacitated. He was simply under the influence of normal laughing gas, rather than the deadly variety normally used by the Joker. If this was his handiwork, he wanted everyone alive.
Her gaze drifted to the glass windows leading to the hallway, and she saw several gas-masked henchmen moving in, carrying machine guns. “Damn!” she cursed under her breath, slumping to the floor next to the other STAR employee and mimicking his helpless behavior. There was no way she could help these people without exposing her secret identity. She reached into her pocket, hit the remote JSA emergency device, and hoped that Dick was close enough to respond before that became unavoidable.
Alfred Beagle stood outside of Jason Todd’s door, trying to get his attention through the blaring music. “Master Jason!” he called.
“No luck?” Dick Grayson said, stepping up behind him.
“I’m afraid I’m unable to pierce the din issuing from his quarters,” Alfred said. “I had thought I escaped the rock and roll incursion when you went away to college in the ’50s. Now, the invasion has come to my doorstep.”
“I don’t know that I’d call this rock and roll,” Dick said.
“Yes,” Alfred said. “It really is quite shocking what young people listen to these days.”
“Actually, Jason describes himself as old school,” Dick said. “Supposedly, a lot of the albums he brought with him belonged to his father.”
“Really?” Alfred said, wide-eyed and bewildered. “We are old, aren’t we, sir?”
“Yes, we are,” Dick said. “That gives me an idea.” He pulled a card out of his wallet, stuck it in the door, and slid it into the lock. “It’s time I got some use out of this new card I got from the Association of Retired Persons.”
He stepped into Jason’s room, completely unobserved by the teen, who was staring into a mirror, primping the huge spikes of his hair. Dick pushed the stop button of the boom-box, cutting off the music. Jason whirled around in shock.
“Whatever plans you were getting ready for, cancel them,” Dick said. “Kara’s emergency signal just went off. There’s trouble at STAR Labs, and she needs our help. Suit up and meet me in the cave.”
Karen Starr pretended to be incapacitated like the rest of the staff as the Joker’s henchmen poured into the area, looking through the equipment, examining the notes, and digging through files. “How d’we even know whut we’re lookin’ fer?” one of them said.
“Ask one of these bozos when they straighten up,” one of the other henchmen said through his gas mask. He reached up and yanked it off, as the gas had dispersed by this point.
“That could be a while. We doped ’em up real good.”
“Ask one of the scientists!” Joker said, strolling into the room, holding a large pistol. “They’re paid to know things!” He reached down and lifted up a young man in a lab coat by his collar. “Are you a scientist?” he asked.
“Huh… huh… no, I’m just an intern,” the young man coughed.
“Wrrronnng answer!” the Joker said, shooting him.
Kara blinked in horror. She wasn’t going to be able to wait for Dick. Suddenly, Will Magnus burst into the room, firing wildly and taking down one of the henchmen. The Joker and the rest of his men jumped behind desks and returned fire. Kara used the confusion to slip away to change.