On the waterfront in Gotham City sat a black sedan. In the back, two men sat with glasses of champagne.
“To success, Frank. In ten minutes, that fusion plant is going to vaporize itself and everyone there for the dedication. I trust that your men placed those explosives at the precise locations that I specified around the inner containment wall?”
“Yes, sir, I checked them all myself. Exactly where you told us.”
“Good. When they detonate, the inner retaining wall will be breached, and the fail-safe mechanisms placed along that wall will be nullified. The reactor will quickly build up to a critical mass, which will consume all surrounding matter until it is cooled by the sea water. So convenient of the engineers from KnightTech to design it so that water will deactivate the fusion core. Eliminates that messy radiation fall-out problem.”
“It’s a hell of a plan, boss.”
“Yes, and when the Englehart Dam mysteriously collapses next week, the only power sources left for Gotham will be those owned by Devoe Industries. I will have the means to control the whole wretched city.”
“You think of everything, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. It’s what the Thinker does best!”
“Merged? How can that be?”
“I don’t know, Beth, but it seems that we are like the characters I read about in an old Heinlein book once. In that case, an old man’s brain was transplanted into a young woman’s body, and he found that her mind was still there along with his.”
“I’ll read it later. For now, I just want to get out of here.”
Kathy Carson had been been looking out through her granddaughter’s eyes and was starting to realize where they were.
“That may not be so easy. We’re in with the fusion reactor, which must have done this to us. And it looks like radiation is getting out through that hole. Is there anything we can block that with?” Though long past, the ethics of the heroic Batwoman were still strong in Kathy. Not expecting to save herself, she thought they could give the other people at the power plant a chance to get away.
Beth looked around. “I don’t see anything. I need something big enough to block the opening.” She waved her hand, pointing at the hole. Fire rushed from her fingertips, flowing toward the opening, where it broke up into a blur of sparks, which then formed into a ceramic-coated steel panel blocking it. “Yipes! What was that?”
“Um, I think you just found something. Or made it. Try making a block on the floor.”
Beth pointed down, thinking of a plastic child’s toy block. Again, fire flowed from her hand, and a plastic block appeared amidst a sparkling cloud. “I did it!”
“The combination of the explosion and the radiation must have given us some kind of control over matter. Quick, while we can, let’s get out of here!”
Beth ran to a heavy door set into the wall. Signs posted on it warned that it could not be opened while the reactor was activated.
“If I open it, we may not be able to close it again. Let me try something, Grandmom.” Beth reached for a section of wall, concentrating on the space beyond it. Suddenly, it was as if she could see right through the ceramic and steel to the corridor beyond. She put her hand through the wall, seeing it emerge on the other side. Quickly, she followed with the rest of her body until she was standing in the corridor where they had originally found the bomb.
“It worked. Whoa! Is that me?”
Beth saw her reflection in the window of the door at the end of the corridor. Her body appeared to be made of living fire. Flames danced over her now-reddened skin, and her short blonde hair was now a mass of flame. Moreover, she didn’t have a stitch of clothing on.
“Beth! We need some clothes before anyone sees us!”
Beth stretched out the fingers of both hands and drew them toward herself in a motion that encompassed her whole body. When she was done, she asked her grandmother what she thought of it.
“Why, honey, that’s so sweet!”
In the image visible in the window’s reflection stood a young woman clad in a yellow satin unitard. A wide red belt, split horizontally, circled her waist, accenting the flare of her hips. Red boots and gloves shimmered as if made of flame. A red mask on her face flared up on either side, looking like flames covering her eyes. A red cape lined in black completed the ensemble.
“I wasn’t sure about all the details. I didn’t get a real close look at your costume.”
“You did fine, sweetheart. Now, before we leave, let’s make sure there’s no radiation leaking and no more bombs waiting to go off. If they placed one in this service corridor, they may have placed more.”
At the urging of her grandmother’s voice within her mind, Beth Kane ran down the corridor, looking for any more suspicious packages. As she ran faster, she felt as if she were being lifted. Suddenly, she realized that she wasn’t touching the floor at all.
“Grandmom! We’re flying!”
“Good — we can cover more ground that way.”
“Doesn’t any of this bother you?”
“Child, forty years ago I was shrunk, enlarged, changed to a gas, teleported, and who knows what all else. Nothing surprises me. Let’s just make sure everything is safe here, then we’ll go home and see what else we can do.”
With that, they streaked through the plant, finding five more bombs that they deactivated by changing them to piles of sand.
“I don’t think you create anything, Beth. I think you are just transforming matter from one element and shape to another.”
“Of course. The law of conservation of mass and energy still applies. But then, what happened to your body, Grandmom? It must still exist.”
“I have an idea, but I want to be away from the danger zone before we try it. First, let’s see if the people are still at the dedication.”
In the conference room, the gathered people were listening to the last of the speeches. A few near the back of the room had heard the muffled explosion, but since no alarms had sounded, they turned back to the speakers.
“How come the alarms didn’t go off?”
“Did you see the clock in the corridor when we came out? No time seemed to have passed since we went in there. I think that, until we came out, everything we did must have occurred in a split second of time, including your blocking that hole. At the speed of thought, you might say.”
At her grandmother’s direction, Beth went into a ladies room.
“Now, Beth, if I’m right, what was once my body should still be within you, or on you. The flames on your body, that is. Now, picture them flowing off you, and to me.”
Beth closed her eyes and concentrated. She felt a pulling sensation and opened her eyes. There stood her grandmother in her evening gown. She looked in the mirror and saw herself looking as she had when they arrived at the plant, right down to her Walkman tape player and purse.
“Do think we can merge back again?”
“We’ll find out later. For now, we’d better get back to the dedication.”
Across the bay in a black sedan, an impatient figure checked the time.
“Damn, something’s wrong. The plant should have blown by now!”
“Boss, they’ll go off. Just wait.”
“No. Something’s happened, and I will find out what.”
Kathy Carson and her granddaughter Beth Kane were having breakfast the morning after their experience at the nuclear plant.
“You know, when I woke up this morning, I thought that was a dream. But I guess not.”
Kathy shook her head. “No, not a dream, but it could quickly become a nightmare if we aren’t careful.”
“What, having powers like that? It seems to me like that would be even better than when you were–”
“Don’t say it. Not all of the staff knows about my old career. Though it will hard to keep it a secret in this household if we start flying around Gotham.” Kathy smiled, thinking of the times she had missed flying on a silken cord over the city, thinking that now she might do it without the rope.
“You know, Grandmom, we don’t even know if we can do it again.” Beth looked up from her plate. “That could be a one-time thing. Or maybe we have to go back into the reactor for it to happen again.”
“That’s a possibility. We’ll check it out this afternoon, when you get home from school. How are you settling in at Towering Oaks?”
Towering Oaks Academy, one of Gotham’s most exclusive private schools, was the alma mater of Kathy’s late husband and their son, Beth’s father. Beth started school there the week before after arriving from California.
“It’s been easier than I thought. All the extra tutoring Mom and Dad did with me so I could help with their protests is coming in handy now.”
“How about socially? Are you getting along?” Kathy worried about Beth making the adjustment after her parents’ death.
“Yeah. In fact, Cassie should be here to pick me up any minute. I’ll see you at three.” With that, the blonde fifteen-year old dashed out of the dining room, leaving Kathy alone with her thoughts.
“Who set those bombs in there? Why destroy that plant, especially when Gotham needs more power every day? How is it connected with Phillip’s death?”
Kathy got up and went into her study. She turned on a computer and dialed out to the Gotham City Library’s public information system. A few carefully phrased queries later, she had some of her answers.
“In addition to the new reactor on Sprang Island, there are two other nuclear plants that serve Gotham, both owned by Devoe Holding Corporation. There are also two hydroelectric plants, the West Falls Dam and the Englehart Dam. West Falls was built ten years ago and is also owned by Devoe. Englehart is owned by the city. Definitely a pattern forming here. And I know just the source to ask about Devoe Holding.”
Kathy flipped through a rolodex, then picked up the phone. She dialed, and at the other end she heard, “Cranston, Grayson and Wayne. How may I help you?”
At the sound of the bell, students throughout the classroom started closing their notebooks.
“OK, I’ll see you all tomorrow,” said the teacher. “Please be sure to read the first chapter of the textbook by then.”
Beth Kane gathered up her purse, textbooks, and notebooks and went to her locker. She exchanged the books for a lunch bag and went to the cafeteria to join Cassie Weeks, one of the friends she had made during her two weeks in Gotham City. They had met during the orientation sessions for Towering Oaks Academy held on the previous two mornings.
“So was Mr. Benton as cute as I said he was?”
“Sure, Cassie, if you like guys twice your age.” Beth took a bite from the sandwich that her grandmother’s cook had made. The leftover meatloaf was a lot better than anything her mother had ever made for lunch.
“Oh, what kind of guy suits you, Miss Bookworm?” Cassie had teased Beth about her sterotypical clothes and hairstyle. “So befitting a girl transferring in here with all A’s in math and science.” The teasing had all been in fun, of course, but the Bookworm nickname had stuck.
“Well, I kind of like that guy over there.” Beth pointed across the room where a boy with black, spiked hair stood out among a crowd of others with multi-colored streaks in their hair. “How did they get in here, anyway?”
“Punk is the hot style among the rich and famous of Gotham, Beth. You just haven’t been here long enough to find out. I don’t know that one, though. Another newcomer. If you want, I’ll ask Pete Johnson, the one with the orange and purple there. He’s in my Spanish class next period.”
Beth had pointed the young man out on a lark but decided to roll with it. “Sure, let me know what you find out.”
Across the room, Jason Todd noticed the bookish-looking blonde sitting at a table of Madonna wannabes. Accustomed to watching for danger on the streets, he had seen her point his way, then noticed her looking directly at him several times after that. Just before leaving the cafeteria, she looked over again. He caught her eyes and gave her a small grin.
“Hi, Grandmom. Sorry I’m late.”
“It’s OK, dear, I got your message. Please do me a favor, though, and go upstairs and change into something nice. We have company coming for dinner — someone that I want you to meet.”
Oh, no, please tell me she isn’t trying to fix me up with one of her society friends’ sons, Beth thought as she ran upstairs. The afternoon had gone well at school, followed by a trip to the mall with Cassie. Along the way, Cassie had filled her in on the boy from the cafeteria.
“His name is Jay, and he’s staying with this lawyer who picked him up off the street. I mean, have you ever?! I guess he’s an orphan and pretty tough. The guys like him, though. I guess he’s been talking trash about his life on the streets.”
“Sounds like he could be bad news, then.”
“Awww, Miss Bookworm, go for it. I found out that he’s in your science lab tomorrow. Why not try to get him as a lab partner?”
Beth was still considering that as she changed into a skirt and blouse. She looked in the mirror and reached for a clip to hold her hair back. Too bad she wouldn’t get a chance to try merging with her grandmother again today, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try it with company coming.
Fifteen minutes later, Kathy Carson met her company at the door.
“Dick, I’m so glad you could come.”
Dick Grayson gave the older woman a hug and a quick pack on the cheek. “I’ve been meaning to stop by ever since I heard about Jack, but my schedule has been murder lately.”
Kathy gave the man she knew better as Robin a knowing look. “So I’ve heard. And who is this?” She turned to the striking blonde waiting patiently beside Dick.
“Kathy, this is Karen — Karen Starr. We’ve been seeing each other for a while now. Karen, this is Kathy Kane Carson, an old friend of mine from too many years ago.”
“Dick, that’s awful! Kathy, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Dick has told me so much about you.”
Kathy wondered just how much Dick could have told her. They had been friends, but not close in their civilian identities.
“Please come in and meet my granddaughter. She’s moved in with me since her parents died.” Kathy led the way into the living room. “Beth, this is Dick Grayson, the lawyer I told you about this morning, and this is Karen.”
With introductions made, drinks were served, and the conversation turned to the main reason for Dick’s visit.
“Kathy, you may have stumbled on a real mess here. Those power plants and dams you asked about are all owned or controlled by one man, a former criminal. Clifford Devoe used to be known as the Thinker, a criminal with a long history battling the Flash over in Keystone City, as well as the Justice Society.”
“I thought the name was familiar. You said former — is there any word on what he’s doing now?”
“According to the police, he’s been straight for the last five years. After all, he’s no young kid. Still, this smells like a setup that he’s planning, with all these plants and the problem at the Sprang Island plant.”
Karen turned from talking with Beth. “What was that problem?”
“I heard that there was a small explosion there, but it’s been covered up. They say it’s safe–”
Dick was interrupted by Beth. “Oh, it’s safe; we made su–”
“Beth, careful, dear.” Kathy stood up. “Dick, could you come out here and help me with the wine?”