Several days later found many important men adjusting their schedules to suit the request of the heir to one of the nation’s great political families. It was not so much that Robert Davenport carried much influence as much as it was that his vast fortune and political legacy attracted the media like moths to a flame. He was the heir to a political dynasty that could match that of the Kennedys, and he knew it.
The scene was a press conference in an elegant meeting hall in the heart of Manhattan. The speakers sat along a raised platform while the press filled rows of chairs directly in front of the newsmakers.
Davenport looked tired, but he had been a public figure from his earliest days, and he knew how to address a crowd. He also knew how to charm the press, and through the press the public. He stood next to F. Scott Monroe, the grinning, balding billionaire who had desperately tried to use his fortune to gain the one prize money apparently could not buy — the presidency.
Now Monroe beamed as his third party, the New Progressives, gained the blinding glare of the media spotlight as young Davenport spoke in his support. Monroe knew this could change his destiny in ways beyond his own reckoning. The small and rather odd Monroe stood up and addressed the crowd.
“Gentleman, this fine young man stands beside me and heralds the dawn of a new era. A New Progressive era that will see global resources employed for maximum productivity and the benefit of mankind. My delight in uniting with what I may call the future of American politics is only secondary to my pleasure in the imagined fruits our labor may produce. No longer shall people suffer from high energy bills and lack of resources due to misguided environmental concerns. No longer shall we see precious resources unmined due to the need for wildlife to roam freely while citizens of the United States of America pay enormous fuel bills. With the support of Robert Davenport, we shall work to gain the reclamation of such now-protected lands for business development!
“Our goal is the acquisition of energy resources through reclaiming certain properties that are now merely nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. We can influence the government to turn such lands with vast amounts of untapped resources over for industrial development. Oil, minerals, and other resources lay useless and buried in such lands while we’re paying through the nose for oil imports, because a few bleeding hearts lament that the bears and the elk need their playgrounds to be untouched.”
The reporters were buzzing at all they heard. Even though they had had some slight idea why they had been summoned to the hastily arranged press conference, none of them could easily come to terms with why the idealistic and politically inexperienced Davenport would embrace the policies of the mercenary Monroe. They also wondered just what his personal influence could do for the billionaire, who clearly lacked much of a chance at claiming office before the New Englander had offered his support and, by implication, the endorsement of his famous family.
Environmental groups were justly outraged, and the scene attracted as much scorn and derision as it did interest and approval. The papers, television shows, and radio spots all fueled intense interest in what this new development could mean for the future election.
Meanwhile, back at Trump Tower, Talia al Ghul stared up at the stars and seemed to lose herself in the night. She stared out at a city full of excitement and energy, but she did not see it as a staggering testimony to the ability of mankind to achieve wonders through modern science and industry. She saw the towering buildings and heard the noise of traffic, but to her these sights and sounds were merely a sad mockery of the pristine forests and clear streams that had once occupied the land centuries before.
“Ubu, this city reminds me of nothing more than the lines from Shelley’s Ozymandias about how frail and inconsequential are the works of man’s pride and hubris when touched by the cleansing hand of time. I long to return this city and this world to a point when ‘boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away,’ yet nothing artificial stands to mar the scene.” She sighed.
“Mistress, why do we linger in this urban jungle?” asked Ubu. “Red Robin lives and has departed from the hospital. He will either perish from the drug, or he will hunt us.”
Talia laughed a silvery laugh and trailed one delicate hand across the railing of the balcony. “Ubu, your childish naiveté amuses one as jaded as me. I want nothing more than for the Detective to find me. I will either offer him a cure in return for joining me as my consort and ally in a crusade to turn the world into the lost paradise it once was…”
“Or what, my Mistress?” asked Ubu.
Talia smiled coldly. “Or I will prove my right to be the Demon’s Daughter by slaying one whose talents mark him as worthy of such efforts. For, make no mistake, should Red Robin live and defy us, then he will be a foe and stumbling block before our sacred path of global purification!”
Ubu listened and shivered. Talia had the very tone of her immortal father, and he now believed her to also be capable of his evil as well.
“You grow nervous from lack of activity. Fear not; I have plans for us. While we await our conquering hero, we shall be busy. I spoke the truth when I told him that political interests motivated my arrival here. I seek not to influence those in power but to remove them. Environmental groups lack any true power, for in this technological age they tilt at windmills when they seek to curb the siren song of progress. The governments of the West follow blindly the voice of industry and commerce.
“Thus only through the use of wealth may one dictate the course of history. I told you how I sought the Wayne fortunes, and so I do, but I also wish to destroy the very policy makers who fuel the growth of all I hate. Rather than demean myself in order to acquire the paltry power of environmentalists, your Mistress shall in fact tame those who pollute the world as one would break a cur! We shall strike at the most outspoken advocate of the rape of natural resources as but the first sign of our war against the capitalists. One of my father’s inventions shall bring us triumph!”
Ubu nodded vacantly. “I live merely to serve, my Mistress!”
Talia smiled and said, “And so shall they all! Ubu, the chemicals our agents acquired are not to be used at the New York Stock Exchange as I had originally hoped. I had hoped to use the hallucinogenic gas my father created to break the market and those who traffic in it and swiftly change the economic face of the western world. Thus would I use those who marred the world to fund my efforts to cleanse it. That will wait. This New Progressive group makes little effort to hide their plans to rape the natural world. I will stop them first. Order our men to use the gas to bring down this band of rogues. They hope to woo the world via their global satellite convention. Well, I shall instead attack them and cut off their serpent-like head before they may spawn!”
The majestic Rook Plaza was the host for the New Progressives’ convention and broadcast. Some saw it as the creation of a potentially mighty third party. Others merely came out of curiosity. Talia came to crush them. She and Ubu crouched above the convention hall in the shadows while a radio link allowed the hulking Ubu to guide their other minions. She wore a leather outfit, while Ubu and her other agents wore dark fatigues.
“Ubu, when the satellite feed begins, have our men release the gas,” she said. “The sight of hundreds of wealthy men going mad will break this group before they can threaten my own crusade.”
“Yes, Mistress. But what of the heroes? Red Robin has not been seen since he left the hospital. Do you think he lives? Will his allies oppose us?”
Talia tossed back her luxurious hair and said, “They would stop us if they knew of our plans, but they will learn too late. Most of the heroes oppose such a party as this, in truth. Red Robin is an enigma; I lost sight of him days ago. I fear he may have fallen victim to the drug after all. Pity.”
“Save your pity for yourself! Your crusade ends here,” said a commanding voice from the shadows as Red Robin stepped into view.
“You live! Excellent. I had hoped you would prove yourself,” said Talia.
“Mistress, allow me to crush him now!” said Ubu. “Our agents must act freely, or all is lost!”
Red Robin shook his head. “As far as you are concerned, all is already lost. You see, when you poisoned me, I took it as a very personal challenge. Rest assured that it did test me, as well as pushed me to do a few things I’m not proud of. But in the final analysis, I remained true to my teachings. That means, when public safety requires it, I put aside personal pride. My friends are below, and at a signal I just gave them, Power Girl, the Huntress and Batwing are rounding up your gang. Your gas won’t do anything when Power Girl exhales it in deep space!”
“If your allies were in place, then you knew all along I would strike at the New Progressives!” said Talia.
Red Robin nodded grimly. “Right. I knew Monroe was exactly that kind of nut that would push all your buttons. I also knew he had little chance to pose any threat to your vision of a pristine world, since no one took him seriously. I deliberately changed that by forcing Davenport to endorse him. That is what brought the media attention to Monroe and made him a perfect and irresistible target for you.”
Ubu charged forward. “I will make you regret manipulating the Demon’s Daughter!”
“Oh, I hoped you’d try something like that!” said Red Robin, sidestepping the charge of the larger man and connecting with three swift jabs. He followed them up with a kick that staggered the man.
Ubu grunted and clawed at Red Robin’s hood, but the more agile man dodged and stood ready for the next assault. Ubu then gripped Red Robin after one desperate lunge and crushed him in a powerful embrace. “I will break you! You are not worthy of the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul!” he hissed.
Red Robin fought his efforts and slowly brought both legs up, until, with a quick thrust of his legs, he broke the hold and flipped backward. He punched again and caught Ubu’s arm. He twisted it backward and braced himself as he exerted more pressure.
“Surrender now!” he said.
Ubu cried out and resisted as minutes ticked by. Finally, the strain of the effort was too much for the man, and he passed out without giving up.
Red Robin dropped him and turned to see Talia. She was unafraid, and she approached him with a look of elation. “Magnificent!” she said. “You triumphed. How did you curb the poison?”
Red Robin grabbed her and said, “I didn’t!” He injected a substance in her arm from a miniature needle and said, “But I did duplicate it. Now give me the antidote.”
Talia’s eyes widened, and she spoke in a breathy tone. “Beloved! You show a ruthlessness that only makes me want you more! For this whole test was designed as nothing more than a means of deciding if you were worthy.” She surrendered a glass vial from her hip flask.
He drank the potion, and she followed suit. “I was bluffing, of course,” he said. “That injection was a mere tranquilizer.”
Talia fell into his arms and said, “You are worthy!”
“Worthy of what?” said Red Robin. “Worthy to fight you and stop your mad crusade? I agree with the ideal of a pure world, but not by your means. I feel as if I wronged myself in using Davenport and Monroe as I did. I would have challenged your schemes even had you not poisoned me.”
Talia smiled seductively and said, “I did not want to prove your worth as a foe, but rather see if you were worthy to be my mate.” She sighed and collapsed in his arms as he scooped up her prone form.
“Great Scott!” he whispered.
Later, he sat with Batwing, Power Girl, and the Huntress. He sat unmasked and spoke with conviction.
“First of all, I want to apologize to you all, especially to you, Jason. I took Talia’s actions as a challenge to prove that I was worthy of being Batman’s successor… or at least, one of his successors. However, I acted in a way he would never have condoned. Jason, no man could ask for a better partner. You proved your worth to me long ago. And, I know, you did it once more when you defied me and called in Kara and Helena after I stormed out of here. I thank you two as well for helping me clean up Talia’s agents.”
Power Girl smiled. “No sweat. I wish I could have been up there to slap some sense into that witch. Imagine setting all this up for a life or death version of the Dating Game!”
“No need to say you’re sorry,” said Batwing. “We understand each other, partner! I’m just glad Talia’s antidote cured you. How’d you know she wasn’t offering you some other drug?”
“Well, this may sound crazy after all her games, but I felt she was telling the truth,” said Red Robin. “I think my life was suddenly precious to her after she saw how I had tricked her. It was like she no longer wanted me dead. She wanted me alive and by her side.”
“Dick, we stopped her gang and their plans to unleash the gas,” said the Huntress. “I understand Davenport also withdrew all support and broke his connection with Monroe. That should leave Monroe out in the cold when the election occurs. It also gives Davenport a lot of ground to recover should he ever start his own political career.”
“I’m not proud of manipulating them as I did,” said Dick. “I had to make Monroe a likely target to draw out Talia on my terms. I also appreciate the way you wiped Ubu’s memory of my secret, although it does astound me that Talia was able to resist all your efforts. She is a remarkable woman.”
He remained silent and pondered her mad crusade as his family gave him comfort by their silent support.