Red Robin had little trouble recognizing his surroundings. He knew the city by its smells, sights, and sounds, and no amount of time-displacement could veil that which was uniquely Gotham City from one who had memorized every nook and cranny during his epic career alongside Batman.
Something transported me away from Kara and the Kents, he mused with the keen mind and ready acceptance that had served him so well for so long. I’d wager I’ve been sent through time, based on how people are dressed and what the buildings look like. Robinson Park is not yet fully built. That means I’m in the 1920s. Professor Carter Nichols had often sent Dick Grayson back through time in his youth, and he was no more alarmed by the experience than others would have been at being stranded in a nearby suburb to home.
He smiled as he relived the city much as it had been during his boyhood. But he enjoyed the moment all too briefly, as gunfire echoed and he reacted with trained, perfect instincts. He rolled across the roof and dropped out into space to hurl himself through the death-defying heights to land in an alley where a heavy man and a youth rested from frantic flight.
“We lost ’em! That was mighty careless of you, kid,” scolded the man. “You can’t let your emotions overtake your good sense. By jumping up like that, you attracted their attention.”
“Too late, pops! We found ya and your noisy little punk!” sneered a tall thug who entered the alley.
Red Robin crossed the narrow space in seconds and kicked him flat. A spin and right hook dropped a second gunman.
“Thanks, pal. That costume may be flashy, but you sure can fight,” sighed the relieved man.
Red Robin blinked. Though the man he had saved looked much younger than he had in the old photos in which Dick had first seen the heavyset features, he knew this man.
“You’re Harvey Harris — the detective!” he gasped.
“Yeah, and I’m his partner, Robin,” piped up the red-and-green-costumed boy named Bruce Wayne.
The youth was dressed in the costume Dick had known and worn for years, and which he knew Bruce had used while training with Harris. (*) He was handsome, agile, and yet barely in his teens, if even that old. He was also Bruce Wayne as a child. Dick was stunned, to say the least, by the sight of his mentor as a youth. It was not the first time he had witnessed the phenomenon, since in the mid-1940s a foe’s evil work had once turned him into an adult and his senior partner into a child, yet he could still not readily grasp the weird situation. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Batman was Robin,” Detective Comics #226 (December, 1955) and “Batman, Junior and Robin, Senior,” Detective Comics #218 (April, 1955).]
“Robin, huh? You fly like a bird, all right,” he replied as if reciting from memory.
“I’m teaching the kid about the techniques of detective work,” explained Harris. “The costume is to add to his anonymity.”
“You wear a bird-like symbol, too,” Bruce noted.
“Yes, I do, and for reasons not unlike your own,” said Dick. “Why were the men chasing you?”
“We were trailing them,” said Bruce. “They’re working for the mob. They want to eliminate a gangster from outside the city while he is in town.”
“Listen,” said Harris. “I’m good with facts and plans, but you can handle the physical stuff. Could you help us? We want to stop the gangland hit.”
Red Robin nodded. “Of course I’ll help.”
Bruce grinned. “I bet I could learn a lot from you. You move like an acrobat.”
Dick nodded. “Anything you need. You can count on me.”
They departed and talked over the case in Harvey Harris’ office.
Wayne Manor wasn’t Bruce’s home at that time, mused Dick. His uncle Philip raised him, and I’d guess Alfred’s father Jarvis had gone back to England sometime after the death of Thomas Wayne. The place was deserted then. Come to think of it, I’d say I was just about to be born.
Bruce looked at him with solemn eyes. “You seem sad. You look like you could use a friend.”
Dick smiled sadly. “I’ll find one. I’ve found one in you, right?”
The overweight detective handed Dick a file. “This shows the arrival of mobsters from out of the city,” said Harris. “They’re the ones in danger from some local hoods who resent their moving in. The hit should go down tonight, from what we learned from a stoolie.”
“I suspect they will try to strike out of the darkness when shadows will help cloak their movements,” added Bruce. “The other gang will be moving through about eleven o’clock, according to what we picked up.”
Harris grinned. “The kid is a natural when he controls himself. All he needs is to keep his cool.”
Red Robin smiled at that statement and said, “We’d better get into position soon. I know the area.”
That night, Red Robin and his allies were ready. He had gone over the entire neighborhood and had pointed out many useful facts to his future mentor. He still wondered if he could pull this off. It was so good to be working beside Bruce again, yet it felt so very strange to be in the role of leader this time. He had to keep the raw young Batman safe. Their futures — so many futures — depended upon it. He would not let Bruce down.
Dick Grayson listened as he held up a hand. The car approached the deserted area. He knew it from the early observation of Harris and Bruce. The hitters were inside. Their prey would arrive shortly.
A group of men pulled up in an elegant car. They whispered and waited as the resident gangsters filed out to confront them.
“We don’t want any trouble,” urged the fat leader. “The city is big enough for us all. Why, the new concession for building those giant props to make the city’s downtown stand out is worth a fortune in itself.”
“We see things differently,” sneered the local mob boss. “You aren’t welcome.”
He and his men pulled guns, and Bruce jumped forward in his Robin costume. Red Robin muttered to himself and yanked him down as he hurled smoke pellets.
“Stay back,” he said. “Watch. Learn.”
Red Robin dropped down as gunfire echoed. He knew the number of men, the number of guns, and the amount of ammunition, and he used this skill along with his amazing agility to disarm and defeat them all. Three flips along with a tossed flare immobilized them long enough for him to stun or subdue them all. They lived by the gun and lacked his fighting prowess.
But as smoke cleared, the hero saw a face he could never forget from nightmares and crime files. He gripped the outsider mob boss and said, “Zucco? You’re Boss Zucco!”
Tony Zucco, younger and yet already cruel, sneered, “I hope ta be the boss one day. I like the sound o’ that!”
This mobster had killed his parents. Zucco had been the man behind much that shaped his life. Now he had just saved the life of one who would rob him of the lives and love of his own parents in just over a decade.
“All lives are sacred,” he muttered to himself as he recalled the words from Batman in a candlelit cavern long ago.
Zucco pulled back as the gangsters groaned, and Robin joined his mentor. “Great work!” he cheered. “You were amazing.”
The mobster frowned and drew back. “If you aren’t with us, then we don’t need any witnesses!” He whipped out a second gun and caught Red Robin with the blunt end.
Harvey Harris fired his own weapon as Bruce tackled the gangster and sent his gun to the pavement. Red Robin whirled and punched Zucco flat. “Thanks! You saved me,” he said. “That type of hesitation I just displayed could have been fatal.”
Bruce grinned. “We make a good team!”
Red Robin smiled. “The best team ever.”
Dick Grayson wondered what would have happened if he had allowed Tony Zucco to be killed. He doubted that history would have been changed. These paradoxical matters never worked out the way one anticipated. Plus, his experience with the Stream of Ruthlessness, in which he attempted to kill the old, hospitalized Boss Zucco, had left him certain that revenge was futile and self-destructive in the end. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Divide, and Be Conquered,” Infinity Inc. #6 (September, 1984).]
Red Robin leaned down to the original Robin and said, “Thanks for everything. You were the finest partner and friend a man could have.” He then walked off in the night, leaving Harris to turn quizzically to Bruce.
“Why’d he leave so suddenly?” he asked.
“I think he decided that he had no choice,” said young Bruce Wayne. “I got the impression that he just might have stayed here with us, if he could have.”
Red Robin wondered if he could use a variant of self-hypnosis to send himself back to his proper era long enough to have some JSAer like Doctor Fate or Johnny Thunder come pick him up. But he didn’t need to ponder the question for long, since he flickered back to the present as if on cue.
Superman raced over. “Robin, what happened? Time-displacement?”
Red Robin smiled. “Yes. But in some ways it was like going home again. Now we need to find Kara and Lois.”
At that moment, Lois Lane Kent suddenly materialized. She embraced Superman as they entered the JSA Headquarters.
“Clark, I was sent into the far future. You’ll never believe what happened to me there,” she insisted.
Superman kissed his wife and said, “We experienced our own problems with time travel. I’m just thankful to have you back. I bet Kara will follow soon enough.”
“Time travel!” said the Flash, entering at super-speed. “I’d guess that was caused by our robot friend, here. Chronal energy burst out of his core like some time bomb, if you will. Chuck says he is totally ruined now. The new Robotman is now the one and only. (*) I guess the Red Panzer’s time-scanner ray switched on some virus from back when Mekanique was fooling around…”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robin: Auld Lang Syne.]
Chuck Grayson cleared his throat as he entered behind the fastest man alive.
“…with time,” said the Flash sheepishly. “I was going to say fooling around with time.”