Elizabeth Kane looked out into the cave under her grandmother’s house. Stretching across the expanse was a tightrope twenty feet off the floor. Under that was a safety net strung high on poles like she had seen in a circus. There were also three platforms on high poles, and several trapezes hung from bolts in the ceiling.
At one end was a nautilus machine and a stationary bike. At the other a large, old, mainframe computer was housed in a glass room, and an old Honda motorcycle was parked near a passageway that looked like it led up out of the cavern.
“What is this, Grandmother?”
“This is my past, which I keep going back to. I set this up right after I bought the house — before I met your grandfather, when I was still in the circus.”
“The circus? You?” Elizabeth’s eyes grew round as she tried to imagine her proper grandmother under a circus tent.
“Oh, yes. I wasn’t born rich, you see. I inherited several million from a distant uncle when I was in my twenties. I became what some people believe to be a proper lady.” Kathy smiled as she recalled how some of Gotham’s society ladies had laughed at her. “With part of my inheritance, I later bought the circus I worked for, and I’ve kept it on the road ever since.”
“But why all this? And why hidden down here?” It was then that Elizabeth saw the glass case and its contents. One might have mistaken it for a circus costume with the bright yellow and red material. But the utility belt and the scalloped cave gave away the true significance of the costume.
“Batwoman? You were Batwoman?” Elizabeth turned to face Kathy. “But that would mean that grandfather was Ba–”
“Not on your life! I married your grandfather and completely gave up my career as Batwoman a few years later. He knew, of course, but he had no part of it. I’ve only worn that costume one time since 1959.” Kathy recalled that time a few years ago, when she travelled to the Batcave after hearing rumors that the dead Batman was spotted around Gotham City. She had intended to give Dick Grayson a well-deserved comeuppance for trying to fill Bruce’s identity. Instead, she had found another Batman, one from another universe. (*) It was then that she also realized how empty her life had become, laying the foundation for what she was doing now.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Interlude on Earth-Two,” The Brave and the Bold #182 (January, 1982).]
“And now, I work out here at least three times a week. You are more than welcome to do the same, as much or as little as you like.” Kathy paused as she noticed Elizabeth staring at the costume. “And, if you think you can wear it with pride, perhaps we can look into altering that to fit you. If you think it might be needed?” Kathy raised an eyebrow as Elizabeth turned to look at her. The look on the young girl’s face told her that there was a lot of work ahead.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were so talented at gymnastics?”
“You never asked!” Elizabeth Kane swung herself around the upper bar on the uneven parallel bar set, wrapping her body around the lower bar for two rotations, then grabbed the upper bar to launch herself away from the set, landing on both feet ten feet away.
“Wonderful! I had no idea.” Her grandmother rushed over to give her a hug and to wipe the perspiration from her eyes.
“You don’t do so bad yourself, Grandmother. How soon can you start teaching me how to swing like that on the trapeze?”
“We can start tomorrow. One thing, though. If we are going to work together on this, there’s no need to be so formal. You really don’t have to call me Grandmother all the time. Call me Grandmom, or even Kathy, if you like. At least, when it’s just us.”
“On one condition,” said the girl. “Nobody at home ever called me by my full name.”
Kathy reached into a small refrigerator and pulled out a couple of bottles of mineral water. “Oh? What did they all call you?”
“Mom and Dad called me Beth.”
“Very well, then. Beth it is.” Opening both bottles, Kathy gave one to the young girl and raised hers. “To our partnership!”
Beth in turn raised her bottle. “To Bat–”
“Mrs. Carson! Are you there?” The new voice came from an intercom set into the stone of the underground cavern.
“Yes, Janice. What is it?” Kathy spoke loudly enough for the intercom to pick up her voice.
“You asked me to remind you about the dedication tonight. It’s getting on to three o’clock.”
“Oh, I completely forgot! Did you pick up that dress I asked you get?”
“Yes, ma’am. Oh, and there is a package here for Miss Kane from the California Highway Patrol.”
Kathy glanced sideways at Beth. “We’ll be right up.”
Ten minutes later, after warning Beth that Janice was not aware of her old role as Batwoman, the three women were gathered in Kathy’s study.
“Beth, I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of ordering a dress for you to wear to a dedication ceremony tonight. It is the new nuclear plant that your grandfather’s company built.” She hesitated. “I think that your parents may have objected to the plant’s construction. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that before. Please, don’t feel you have to go.”
“Grandmom, it’s all right. They were against the mining that was done for it. They actually did support nuclear power, strange as that might seem. I would be honored to go.”
“Thank you, dear. Now, Janice, you mentioned a package?”
“Right here, ma’am.”
Kathy and Beth opened the box. Inside, they found a torn jacket, two pairs of sunglasses, a pair of prescription eyeglasses, a wallet obviously belonging to Beth’s father, a purse that was her mother’s, a battered tape recorder, several cassette tapes, and a torn and water-soaked notebook. In an envelope was a note:
Miss Kane, enclosed are the personal belongings found in your parents’ vehicle. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by our delay in returning them to you.
Under the typed message was a handwritten message with a phone number:
My most sincere sympathies on your loss. If you need anything or have any questions, please call me.
Lt. Alicia Price.
“That was nice of her,” said Janice, reading the note. “Hardly seems worth the trouble for some music tapes and what’s left of the recorder.”
“Mom always carried that recorder when they were involved in a protest. She would record any interactions with the police or security in case they got arrested or anything. She used it to take notes, too. Easier than taking shorthand, she told me.”
“Why don’t you keep these, Beth, and go through it all later? I can help you sort it all tomorrow.”
“OK, I’ll take them up with me and go change. I may need your help with the dress, Grandmom. I’m not used to formal gowns.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find some old thing for you to wear.”
Beth Kane looked in the full-length mirror in her room and marveled at what she saw. Gone was the mousy-looking teenager with the long blonde hair, dressed in jeans and an oversized Oxford shirt. In her place was a young woman in a long, midnight-blue, off-the-shoulder gown, with a cascade of waving blonde hair falling down around her neck and shoulders.
Two hours with her grandmother had taught her more about makeup and hairstyling than all of her fifteen years with her mother. She took one last look, then reached for her portable tape player and some music cassettes on her desk.
“I’m happy to be going to this dedication ceremony, but I hope Grandmom doesn’t mind if I slip in my earphones during the speeches.”
She was tucking the player into her purse when there was a tap on her door. “Come in.”
The door opened, and there stood Kathy Carson, tall and regal in a flowing, cream-colored dress. Her dark hair, shot through with strands of silver, was coiled atop her head. Beth marveled that this woman could possibly be her grandmother, when she looked more suited to her own mother’s age.
Kathy saw her granddaughter and smiled. “I knew that color would work for you.” Her eye shifted to the purse in Beth’s hands. “A tape player, eh? I wish I could get away with it, but I will be up on the dais in Jack’s place. Please be discreet, dear.” With a smile and a wink, Kathy held out her hand, and they walked out.
“Is everything in place, Mr. Childress?” The speaker sat in the back of the black sedan. “The packages have all been placed according to my maps?”
“Yes, sir. I double-checked it myself, before they made us clear the island along with the other guys setting up for the reception. That was good thinking, sending us in with the caterers, sir.”
“Of course it was. It always is. What about Banks and Oswald? They are going to be there tonight, right?”
“They are going in as waiters, and then they will separate.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That they were to watch for the Governor to throw the switch, then set off the detonators that they are carrying.”
“Did you tell them what the explosives would do?”
“I just told them that it would disable the reactor.”
The man in the car laughed. “You might say that. I think that blowing the whole plant — and the island it is on — into a radioactive cloud of dust certainly qualifies as disabling it.” He threw his head back, laughing, until he was overcome with a fit of coughing.
“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, it is a privilege to have you here with us tonight.”
The typical opening to a typical dedication ceremony, thought Kathy Carson. I’ve been through enough of these that I could probably time the throwing of that switch to within thirty seconds. She sat near the end of the long table of honored guests and officials at the front of the room. Facing her were several hundred more guests seated at small tables, not unlike a nightclub. She suppressed a giggle, picturing herself jumping up and breaking into song on the dais. She saw her granddaughter Beth seated not far away and realized that she must not have kept the thought from showing on her face.
Beth’s expression suddenly changed, a look of concern on her face. Kathy motioned toward the nearest door and quickly excused herself to join the young woman.
“Beth, what’s wrong? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“Maybe I did. Here, listen to this. I think it’s one of Mom’s tapes.”
Kathy slipped the earphones over her ears. Beth pressed a button, and Kathy heard a strange man’s voice.
“What do you think I’m planning, Phil? We’re going to put that plant out of commission even as they dedicate it. Right now, one of my East Coast contacts is bringing enough plastic explosive into Gotham to punch a hole right through the side of the that plant’s containment vessel. They built it far enough out to sea that the only people likely to be hurt when it blows are the dignitaries right there on the island.”
“My God, he’s talking about this plant!” Kathy said.
“Grandmom, that’s about to happen now. Someone is going to blow up this nuclear plant!” Beth put her arms around her grandmother.
“Beth, we have to do something. I saw some of the plans on this place. I think I know where they would place the explosive to do what he describes. Maybe we can stop it.”
Kathy started running down a corridor, fishing in her purse for a special I.D. badge. “I had this for inspections during construction. I hope it still works.” She slipped that badge into a card reader, and a door opened. “Down here.”
Beth spotted it before Kathy did — a gray box blending in with its surroundings but not connected to anything else. “That has to be it, Grandmom!” She grabbed it and found it was too heavy to lift on her own. Kathy got her hands around the other end of it. Together they lifted it and started back down the corridor.
Suddenly, the whole world erupted in a searing blast of light and noise. They heard each other’s screams and the sound of tearing metal — then nothing.
“Grandmom! Where are you?”
Beth Kane was lost in blinding light. The last thing she recalled was lifting the box with her grandmother, then seeing a man in the doorway at the end of the service corridor where they found the bomb. It had to be a bomb, didn’t it? He had pointed something at them, and it blew up. But then, if it blew up, that must mean that she was dead, mustn’t it?
“Death can’t hurt this much after it happens, can it?” The light hurt her eyes. Beth tried putting her hand up in front of her face and found that it really did help. Slowly raising her hand, she could just make out shapes in the light. Feeling started to return, and she realized that she was lying on her back. Standing, she squinted and looked around. To one side was a wall with a large hole in it. “That must be where the bomb punched through.” To the other side, in the center of an immense, round room, was a large, glowing thing.
“That must be the fusion reactor. But how can I be standing here? If the bomb didn’t kill me, surely the radiation should have by now.”
Beth looked around, hoping to see some sign of her grandmother. “Grandmom!” she cried out.
“Wha–? What happened? Where am I?”
“Grandmom! Where are you?” Beth spun around, frantically trying to ascertain where the voice had come from.
“I’m right here, Beth. I–“
“Grandmom? What’s wrong?”
“Beth, I didn’t speak. You are hearing my thoughts somehow.”
“Guide me to you, then.”
“Can you see the hole in the wall?”
“Walk over there, and I’ll watch for you.”
Beth started toward the hole, only to be stopped by another mental cry.
“What’s happening? I didn’t move, but the hole is getting closer!”
“I still don’t see you. Can you move closer?”
“Beth, raise your hand up in front of your face,” Kathy said tentatively, as if she didn’t want to see the results. Beth raised her hand up. “Beth! I don’t know how, but somehow, I’m inside you! We’ve merged!”