by Syl Francis
"Some say the world
will end in fire,
As it turned to bypass a giant, barred spiral galaxy, a tiny spark of intelligence set off the ship's indicators. Automatic systems, shut down for an eternity, quickly came online. The ancient vessel's independent Artificial Intelligence ran a systematic sweep of the billions of stars making up the young galaxy.
Four spiral arms branched off a "bar" passing through the galactic center, each arm comprised largely of young, blue stars. The bulge at the galactic center glowed brightly with its high density of older stars. Sensors detected evidence of a black hole at the center's nucleus. Finally, a halo comprised of dim stars in globular clusters surrounded the galactic disk.
Forward sensors sent out feelers, tracing the intelligence to its source. There! Within the third spiral arm of the galaxy, in a nine-planet system of a medium yellow star the third planet! Spectral analysis showed multitudinous minerals in abundance. More importantly, the planet was replete with hydrogen and carbon, the necessary building blocks for biological life.
The automatic recorders began to analyze the various languages received. One syntactical linguistic pattern appeared more often than others: subject, verb, direct object. It showed a neutral article, variations for possessives, plurals, and tense, indicating knowledge of time: past, present, future.
Computers, older than the galaxy the craft was about to enter, began their patient analysis of the primitive audio/visual recordings for phonetic markers: glides, diphthongs, fricatives, trills, aspirated, and voiced.
The visuals hinted at a race that could not survive the vacuum of space without protection, a race in its infancy of space travel.
A voice from thirty years past spoke.
" That's one small step for man one giant leap for mankind!"
Although Robin was one of only two without any superpowers, his keen intelligence and unusual maturity combined to make him the natural leader. Sometimes the boy felt resentful that the others always looked to him to solve whatever problems they came up against, although for the most part, he took it all in stride. Today was not one of those days.
"It's not fair, Alfred, they're always looking to me for the answers! Sometimes, I'm afraid that I'm gonna make a big mistake and order one of them to do something that I shouldn't have, and it'll get us killed or captured!"
"All one can do is one's best, Master Dick, you know that," Alfred said. Dick looked unconvinced. Alfred sighed. What could he say to transform the overly serious young crime-fighter back into a normal, mischievous thirteen-year-old boy?
"Master Dick, you of all people should know that one must trust not only one's own abilities, but also that of his teammates. Your parents taught you that. Moreover, you've certainly managed to pass that lesson to Master Bruce as well."
Alfred's eyes smiled fondly at Dick.
"Trust yourself, young sir, and your teammates. Remember, they're the ones who selected you to be their leader. I, for one, am of the personal opinion that they have chosen wisely!"
"Alfred, you're the greatest!" Truth be told, Dick felt happy just to be with kids his own age for a change, to be able to talk to others about problems unique to junior superheroes. It was nice to have friends his own age, a new experience for him.
"Naturally, young sir," Alfred said with refined assurance. "Now, if we don't wish Master Bruce to become put out with the both of us, might I suggest that you hurry down to the cave and begin your afternoon workout?"
"Yes, sir," Dick said smiling. A much happier boy rushed downstairs to what he considered to be the world's greatest playroom. Alfred's eyes followed the boy affectionately, then he turned to the task at hand: Dinner!
The next day, Dick received the news of a lifetime! He was finally going to be allowed to meet the other members of the famed Justice League of America
"Alfred! Guess what?" Dick skidded to a stop at the door to the study where Alfred was dusting behind bookshelves that never moved. "Batman says that the Titans are meeting the big guns today! Gotta go!" He turned, a big grin lighting his bright blue eyes. "This is so cool! And Superman's gonna be there! Can you b'lieve that? Superman?"
The boy didn't wait for a reply. He practically flew down the Batcave's secret entrance. Alfred shook his head and smiled. Dick's hero worship of the Man of Steel went back several years. Alfred recalled how the boy even slept in Superman pajamas when he first arrived at Wayne Manor.
Alfred further remembered Dick's deep disappointment at not being allowed to meet Superman, or rather, the "Super-Alien" as Batman called him, because, while Batman worked with Superman on a few cases, he did not trust him entirely, and therefore would not introduce him to his junior partner.
However, Bruce's reticence never curbed the boy's desire to meet the Last Son of Krypton. Now that Batman was a bona fide member of the Justice League of America, and was even on a first name basis with Superman, his initial distrust was somewhat abated, though not completely.
Robin tried to look nonchalant when introduced to the other members of the JLA, but eventually just gave up. Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Superman! They were all there! And except for Green Arrow, they were all extremely nice, shaking hands with him and the other Titans as if they were equal partners, or something.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman set up a nice "Welcome Aboard" icebreaker for the junior superheroes in order to give them an opportunity to become acquainted with their senior counterparts.
Robin saw that the other Titans looked just as excited as he felt over meeting the JLA. All except Speedy, that is. For some reason, the young archer appeared to be keeping a low profile. Funny, Robin thought. Speedy kept looking nervously in Batman's direction, and somehow always managed to be in the opposite end of the room that the Dark Knight currently occupied.
"Weird!" Robin muttered, shaking his head. His ruminations were interrupted by a friendly voice next to him.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Robin." It was Green Lantern. "I heard what you did against the Joker and his gang two nights ago. Using your grappling hook to bring down the warehouse on their heads was quick thinking. Very impressive!"
Robin blushed under his mask.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "But it wasn't my idea. It's one of the contingency moves Batman planned for long ago. We sort of practice it." GL smiled. Black Canary, who'd walked over with GL, also smiled.
"I see," she said. "You Bat-guys just happen to practice demolishing warehouses as part of your training program. That's very interesting. Tell me more." Black Canary's tone was light.
"Robin." Robin looked over to where Batman was standing exuding disapproval. Robin swallowed. He realized that he was giving away one of their training secrets. This would not be tolerated. Robin turned apologetically to Green Lantern and Black Canary.
"Excuse me, sir ma'am," he said quietly.
GL raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Was it something we said?" he asked. Black Canary shrugged. They both turned to look at the JLA's enigmatic Dark Knight. He was talking in low tones with his brightly garbed junior partner.
"Something set him off," she said.
"Well, whatever it was," GL replied, "I can't let Robin take the fall." He started walking towards the Caped Crusaders.
"Poor kid," Black Canary muttered to herself. "What must it be like being the partner of the World's Greatest Grouch?"
"Excuse me." Batman turned to the intruder. Green Lantern, of course. The Dark Knight faced off against the Emerald Knight.
"I just wanted to congratulate you, Batman. Robin is a fine young man. An excellent example to the other junior heroes. Here he is with no superpowers, no invulnerability, no power ring just sheer guts, intelligence, and the determination to get the job done. Sort of like a test pilot, eh, kid?"
Green Lantern added the last with a smile. In his civilian identity as Hal Jordan, GL had the reputation of being a man without fear, a test pilot who always pushed the envelope. This inner quality translated into his GL persona as uncommon valor in the face of overpowering odds.
GL was happy to see an answering smile light the boy's features, a smile that Robin quickly suppressed. Oh well, at the least the kid can smile, GL thought. He decided to talk to him later when the big bad Bat wasn't in sight. He nodded to Batman then left the Dynamic Duo alone.
Batman watched Green Lantern walk away. He gave a mental headshake. In Batman's mind, GL was too naive, too overly trusting, and too reckless an individual. That power ring of his made him think he was invulnerable. And while the ring's power was awesome, it wasn't impervious to harm. A man with no fear was a foolish man in Batman's assessment.
"I'm sorry, Batman," Robin said softly. "I'll do better, I promise."
Batman looked at his junior partner's mortified
expression and felt a stab of guilt. What's the matter with me anyway?
Batman asked himself. The boy's excited at meeting at the other
heroes. I should relent just this once, shouldn't I?
Batman's eyes narrowed. Like GL said, Robin had no superpowers,
nothing upon which to rely except his wits and his training. To
give away training secrets, even to their allies could come back
and bite them later.
Batman's eyes narrowed. Like GL said, Robin had no superpowers, nothing upon which to rely except his wits and his training. To give away training secrets, even to their allies could come back and bite them later.
Who was to say whether any of these meta-humans might ever go rogue? Batman and Robin needed an edge in order to survive any possible future confrontation. No! It was best to curb this "hero worship" now! These men and women were colleagues, professionals, nothing more.
"We'll talk later," Batman said coldly. "Until then, try not to reveal the location of the Batcave." With that he spun around and walked over to where Superman was about to start the meeting. Robin's look of abject hurt--he had to talk the boy about telegraphing his feelings so openly--stabbed at his heart. Batman was beginning to believe that bringing Robin along had been a mistake.
By the time he took his place in the shadows of the conference room, Batman saw that Robin's face had taken on an inscrutable demeanor. That's more like it, he thought with approval.
"Star Labs reports that the anomaly will enter our solar system within another four to five weeks. Long distance sensors can't determine what it is other than it's big."
Superman paused. He'd been briefing the assembled group for the past twenty minutes. He looked around the JLA conference table meaningfully.
"And I do emphasize big! It's about an eighth the size of our moon." His announcement was met with astonished gasps from the others.
"Great Hera!" whispered Wonder Woman.
"GL?" Superman said over the shocked voices.
"The Guardians have never seen anything like it, so it's new technology to the Green Lantern Corps. They caution my approaching it without further study, because at the moment we've no idea if the ring can go up against it. Spectral analysis indicates that bands of amber crisscross its superstructure could negate the power ring's ability. But that's never stopped me before," he added with a slight grin.
"I've already looked at it with my telescopic and microscopic vision, and it isn't pretty. I saw several of what seem to be weapons emplacements, and what could be hundreds of smaller ships. People, our only conclusion can be that we are about to be visited by an unknown, possibly hostile force. Of course, the only way to ascertain its intent for certain is to either wait and see, or go out there and establish First Contact."
"As our two space-going experts, Supes," Green Arrow interrupted, "First Contact is normally your department!" He looked around and indicated the Flash and the Atom. "I mean Fleetfeet and Short-stuff here may be crackerjack scientists in their fields and all, but hardly of the Star Trek variety."
The Flash and the Atom exchanged cryptic glances. Black Canary closed her eyes and dropped her head into her hands as if she had a sudden headache. Unperturbed, Green Arrow continued his personal assessment of his JLA teammates' weaknesses.
"Manhunter's on some sort of personal quest to find his place in the sun. Aquaman is King of the Seven Seas, not of the nine planets. Pretty Bird's sonic cry is unpredictable. And Diana " He looked at Wonder Woman, who raised her eyebrow imperiously at him; he shrugged his shoulders sheepishly, " Well, I don't know 'bout Diana. As for the Bats and me well, we're just your normal kinda guys. Somehow, I don't think trick arrows and batarangs are gonna prove effective against something an eighth the size of our moon."
Superman's eyebrow went up at GA's description of Batman as a "normal kinda guy," but let the comment pass. Before, he could respond, a shy throat being cleared interrupted him. Superman looked over to where the Titans had been sitting quietly respectful throughout the briefing.
"Go on!" Wonder Girl urged. Robin looked at her like she was crazy. The other kids were similarly urging the Boy Wonder to take center stage, and he was just as determinedly shaking his head in a vehement NO!
"Excuse me, Robin," Superman said, interrupting the pantomime. "Is there something you Titans want to share with us?"
"No, sir," Robin said in a firm voice. He'd already gotten in trouble once for opening his mouth out of turn. He wasn't about to tell the JLA where they could go!
"Yes we do!" interrupted Wonder Girl. She glanced nervously toward her stepsister, Wonder Woman, who raised her eyebrow in mild surprise. "I mean, yes sir, we do. Robin said well, maybe Robin should tell you himself."
Robin dropped his head in his gloved hand. Why me, he asked himself?
"Robin." The quiet, chilled voice cut through his humiliation. "If you have something to say--"
Robin's head shot up. He stared at Batman, trying hard to hide his conflicting emotions. Batman's menacing demeanor offered little assistance, but he'd just practically ordered Robin to speak! Robin swallowed. He was suddenly on his own. He slowly turned his head towards the rest of the JLA. Superman smiled encouragingly, as did Green Lantern.
Why can't Bruce be like them, Robin thought sadly. They were practically strangers and yet had done everything possible to put him at his ease since his arrival at the Hall of Justice. Taking a deep calming breath, Robin took a firm hold of his jangled nerves. Once he knew that he felt in total control, Robin stood and faced the World's Greatest Heroes.
"Sir, the other Titans are exaggerating. All I said was that we should just send the visitors a message or something letting them know that we're aware of their presence. If they're counting on their arrival not being detected, then knowing we're aware of them may give them pause before they continue." Robin shrugged. "I know it's not much, but if they are planning an invasion, they'll know the surprise element is gone; maybe it'll slow their advance." By then Robin felt himself blushing furiously. He dropped his eyes embarrassed. "Like I said, it's a dumb idea, sir."
"Absolutely not, son," Superman reassured him. "That's why we have these briefings, Robin. We bounce ideas off of each other. That's the whole point behind the Justice League, right Batman?" Superman asked pointedly. "Sometimes what a lone individual might miss, a team of people might spot." Batman didn't bother to answer the obvious.
Robin nodded his head, then returned to his seat. He wanted to kill Wonder Girl.
"You know, what Robin suggested may not be so far-fetched," mused the Atom. He was hovering over the others in his miniature chair. A respected physicist and visionary in his civilian identity, Dr. Ray Palmer was a highly sought after lecturer at Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life (SETI) Conferences.
"I've always been amused about the need to having these SETI conferences," Atom said smiling at Superman. "After all, I do work with the most famous extra-terrestrial of them all! However, one of the points of contention always discussed is First Contact! Do we try to establish a dialogue from the beginning, or do we start planning the next phase of our Star Wars technology?" He shrugged. "As my mother always used to say, talking first never hurt. It's certainly a more constructive option than beginning to build the space version of 'Big Bertha'!"
"Who's Big Bertha?" Kid Flash whispered.
"Shh-h!" Robin shushed him annoyed.
"All I asked was--"
"--A big cannon used during the First World War," Robin snapped. "Don't you read anything?"
"Flasheroo can't read! Didn't you know that Bird-boy?" Speedy said laughing.
"Shut up, Quiver-breath!" Kid Flash said.
"Make me, Twinkletoes!" The two boys' argument quickly escalated into a poking match. First one, then the other would reach over and jab the other. Sitting between them, Robin was literally caught in the middle of their childish altercation. Reaching the end of his patience, Robin grabbed them both by the wrists in a vice-like grip.
"Cut it out, guys!" he said sharply, louder than he'd intended. Robin felt all eyes on him. He swallowed and slowly turned to face the conference room table. The senior heroes were looking at the Titans with disapproving glances.
"Robin." He turned to where Batman was still standing in the shadows. Batman moved his head slightly. Follow me. Robin stood immediately, his resolute posture masking the internal turmoil he felt.
Great! Here we go again, he thought. As he stood, Wonder Girl spoke.
"Batman, please, Robin didn't do anything!" She turned to the superhero cut-ups, Speedy and Kid Flash. "Tell him! It was you two." Robin waved her away.
"That's okay, Wonder Girl," Robin said. "I'm responsible."
"Hey, no one's responsible for my actions, 'ceptin' me!" protested Speedy.
"Yeah, me too," piped in Kid Flash. "Batman, Uncle, uh-I mean, Flash it was me'n Speedy being knuckleheads, not Robin. He was trying to listen to the discussion."
"Yeah, GA," Speedy agreed. "The kid was trying to listen, and me'n Twinkletoes were just giving him a hard time."
Batman and Robin stood in the shadows, oblivious to the protests going on around them. Mentor and sidekick were having a one-way conversation. To the onlookers their grim demeanor appeared identical. Neither smiled. Neither telegraphed any body language that could reveal what was being said.
However, to the others' sympathetic eyes, it was fairly obvious who was receiving the tail end of a major chewing out.
"I thought you knew better than to let the other kids get out of hand. If you don't think you can handle the job as Titans' leader, then maybe you should step aside and give the position to someone who can." Batman looked at the other Titans with disapproval. "Although, I don't think any of those children could lead themselves out of a paper sack!"
Robin stood stock-still under the verbal assault. He'd never felt so ashamed of anything in his life. He'd humiliated himself, the Titans, and now Batman in front of the JLA. He wanted to go home. Robin valiantly fought for self-control. He wasn't a quitter by a long shot. He'd show Batman! Robin nodded grimly, lifting his chin in proud defiance.
"Is that all, sir?" he asked quietly. Batman nodded. Robin executed what to the others appeared to be a military about face, and his expression tightly under control beneath his mask, he walked up to the Titans. Standing precisely at military parade rest, Robin addressed Superman. "May we be excused for a few minutes, sir?" Superman nodded. "Let's go, Titans!"
Robin turned and marched out of the conference room without looking back to see if he was being followed. The others glanced at each other with various expressions of bafflement, then wandered off after him. Wonder Girl flew up behind him.
"Dick! Please, wait!" she called worriedly. Robin stopped in his tracks. If he was going to take control, then it had to start now.
"Wonder Girl, how many times do I have to tell you that when we're in uniform we only go by code names?" he asked her sotto voce. "When is that little tiny bit of information going to sink into that pretty brain of yours?" Wonder Girl looked like she was going to burst into tears. Robin wanted to kick himself, but refused to relent. It was time he started exerting leadership qualities, even if it made Wonder Girl cry.
"Don't you know the danger you can put us all into if you let our secret identities slip for just a brief moment during a firefight? You have to remember always, that when I'm on the job, I'm Robin! No one else!" She nodded, her wide blue eyes tear-brimmed, her pony-tail bobbing. "Come on."
Robin grabbed Wonder Girl by the elbow, and pulled her after him into the lounge. The others soon joined them. He looked at them like a schoolteacher particularly displeased with his students' recent conduct.
"Okay, this the way it is, Titans. I'm not your mother. I'm not your father. I'm not your mentor, or your senior partner! I'm a kid sidekick, just like the rest of you. For some reason I still can't fathom, you made your leader. Well, I'm not going to be the leader of a group of irresponsible, lamebrained kids!"
Robin glared into their stunned faces.
"I may be a just sidekick like the rest of you, but unlike most of you, I don't have superpowers! And believe it or not, I'm not ready to get killed yet, either! So, either get with the program and start taking something in life seriously--besides scoring with Wonder Girl, Speedy--or get yourselves a new leader."
With that Robin stalked away, stopping at the huge viewing window. He stood, arms crossed, gazing out at the breath-taking panoramic beauty of Earth floating 25,000 miles below. Robin fumed silently. He cared about the Teen Titans. Forming the group had been his idea and even Batman approved. His mentor believed that it would be invaluable for Robin's training to work with others his own age. Robin simply thought that it might be fun to hang with other kids his own age for a change.
Robin's initial plans for the Titans included exchanging crime-fighting techniques and even cross training. He had definite ideas on how Kid Flash and Wonder Girl might enhance their speed and strength respectively with martial arts.
He'd love to experiment on developing new crime-fighting gadgets with Speedy, maybe even learn a little archery himself if Harper would have the patience to teach him. In exchange, Robin could show Speedy how to execute a quadruple spin well, maybe a single to start with.
As for Aqualad the Atlantean teen was severely limited by his need for hourly rehydration. Maybe Robin could show Aqualad some Eastern mind-control techniques designed to help him control his body's physical needs.
But the other Titans were all so indifferent to learning new crime-fighting methods. They just didn't seem to take anything seriously! They were all approximately the same age, just a few months apart at the most. Robin was probably the youngest, which was why he couldn't understand their behavior, or why they'd selected him to be their leader.
Maybe he was a little too serious, Robin privately admitted. But he led an extremely dangerous lifestyle; he couldn't afford to let his guard down for even a moment. Furthermore, Robin's idea of fun didn't exactly fit with the others' preconceived notion of enjoyment
Robin remembered Wonder Girl's amusement when she caught him reviewing old cases, and studying the differing methods of the villains they'd encountered.
"Don't you ever relax and just have fun?" she asked teasingly. Robin looked at her perplexed.
"I am relaxing." At the time, he couldn't understand her sudden fit of helpless giggles
Kid Flash likewise scratched his head in puzzlement when Robin invited him to help assess their fellow Titans' individual performances with a blow-by-blow analysis of each member's actions.
"What for?" the young speedster asked, his legs kicked up on the lounger, surrounded by various bowls filled with munchies and several opened bottles of soft drinks. Kid Flash appeared to be in as near a state of perfect relaxation as was humanly possible to achieve. He was watching the latest craze in Japanese animation. Something about space aliens taking over the universe, Robin surmised. Robin shook his head.
"Never mind," he said, leaving Kid Flash to his amusements
Robin later tried to explain to a distracted Speedy that as leader, it was his job to make recommendations on how each member could improve his or her performance the next time they encountered the same villain, and also how the team on the whole could improve. Speedy's mind at the moment was on Wonder Girl.
"Yeah? What was that?" Speedy asked. Wonder Girl smiled at him, standing up suddenly to walk outside.
"I said that--" Robin began.
"Yeah, yeah, Bird-boy fascinating! You're doing a great job! Keep it up," Speedy said hurriedly as he followed the young Amazon outside
Later, Robin sat alone in the Titan's conference room. He was reviewing in his mind the exact reasons he'd formed the Titans originally. They seemed juvenile at this point. He sighed, his chin in his hand.
"I guess I should just tell Batman that the Titans are a failure and disband the group," he said quietly to himself.
"Why would you wish to do thus, Robin?" Robin looked up at Aqualad as the shy youngster walked in, unsure of his reception. Robin smiled his welcome. He was always extremely careful to try and make the young Atlantean feel at ease. It had to be difficult feeling literally like a fish out of water, Robin thought.
"Because it's the truth," Robin said. At Aqualad's raised eyebrow, Robin started to explain. He told Aqualad about his plans, his dreams of having like-minded friends who lived his dangerous superhero lifestyle. He confided to Aqualad what he thought was the best part of the job seeing how they could all improve how the Titans could become a viable force to be reckoned with.
"But none of them are interested! I make recommendations and most of the time they just go in one ear and out the other." At the Atlantean's look of incomprehension, Robin explained. "Sorry, that's just a saying It means that the person doing the listening is ignoring what's being said."
"Ah," Aqualad said, understanding dawning in his eyes. "And this causes feelings of disappointment within you. Is this not correct?" Robin nodded. "Perhaps you haven't discovered the correct method to relay this vital information to the others so that they may understand its urgency?" Robin shrugged and again placed his chin on his hand.
"That's an understatement." At Aqualad's look, Robin just shook his head. "Never mind, it's not important. Thanks for listening, Aqualad. You're the only one who has." With that Robin got up and left the Lair, returning home prematurely
Watching the blue marble that was the Earth on its orbit around the sun, Robin believed he would never understand the other Titans. All they seemed to want to do was eat pizza and listen to loud, raucous music. At least Robin thought it was music. He just didn't get it!
On the go since his parents' deaths, Robin never bothered to take the time to learn what was in or out in the pop culture, unless it affected a case he and Batman were working on. He didn't have any real friends his own age. He didn't attend parties, football games or take part in any extracurricular activities. He was still too young date, and since he attended an exclusive all boys' academy, he didn't know any girls anyway. Alfred didn't allow him to eat unhealthy foods, watch primetime television, or listen to certain rock lyrics.
For a kid superhero who'd witnessed some of life's seamier side on any given night, Robin admitted that he lived a rather sheltered life. Ah, to heck with it! Robin thought disgustedly. I don't need this! He whirled to face the others.
"Look, you guys have your fun while the world gets invaded by whatever that thing is out there. Me I'm going back to the conference room to see if there's anything I can do to help. I'll see you later."
"Robin, wait!" Aqualad spoke for the first time that evening. The Atlantean teen was so reticent about speaking that sometimes the others often forgot he was there. Exceptionally shy and quiet, Aqualad seemed almost timid.
"I do not understand what the total problem is," he said in halting English. "But we are all friends. I do not wish to see you give up on the Titans. Robin, you are not the leader because we wish you to be. You are the leader because that is who you are."
Aqualad paused, and noticing the others' confusion, shrugged his shoulders as if he'd just explained a basic principle to a group of exceptionally slow students.
"Atlanteans believe that we are all guided by our destinies. Arthur is King of Atlantis because that is who he was born to be. You make light of your abilities. Perhaps you do not have superstrength and you cannot fly. Perhaps you cannot withstand the great pressures of the deep. However, that is not where your innate talents lie. You are the leader, Robin, because such is your destiny."
"Hey, Gillhead, how come you're suddenly so smart?" asked Speedy derisively.
"You jest because you know that you are not up to the task of leader," Aqualad replied quietly, stating a simple fact. Speedy smirk slipped a bit at this insight. "None of us is as yet; however, Robin has been a young warrior at the side of Batman for longer than some of us have even known our mentors. Even in Atlantis, we heard tell of a young, laughing daredevil named Robin. His exploits inspired me to try to improve my own performance as Aquaman's partner."
Robin's cheeks flushed crimson under his mask at the unexpected compliment.
Kid Flash ducked his head in slight embarrassment.
"Me, too, Batboy," Kid Flash admitted. "I mean, I only got my powers a few months ago. Before that I was just an ordinary kid with no particular skills to set me apart from the masses." He grinned. "Except that I had quite possibly the greatest uncle on the whole planet! Now I get to be his partner. Man, what a life. But, I know that without my superspeed, I'd just be Wally West of Blue Valley, a nothing special kind of guy. But you Robin, I've heard of you since I was ten! I think all the guys in Blue Valley Elementary wanted to be you, the partner to the coolest guy in Gotham!"
"Coolest?" said Speedy. "You mean scariest!" He looked at Robin askance. "How can you work with the Bat-guy? He gives me the chills! Brr-rr!" He pantomimed a shiver.
Robin smiled, a rarity in the others' presence. So that was why Speedy acted so oddly during the icebreaker. He was afraid of Batman!
"Batman's not that bad. He and I just have to be careful 'cause you know, Speedy. Heroes without powers are dead heroes if they slip up for even a split second! So we're always training." Speedy looked at him in shock.
"Always?" he asked. Robin nodded.
"But, Robin," Wonder Girl broke in, "when you're not being Batman and Robin, you must be doing other things?" She was looking at him in shock. Robin shrugged his shoulders.
"Sure, I do other things besides train. I've got school during the day. Homework when I get home. Library if I have to do research. By the way Gotham City has got the way coolest librarian! Babs knows where everything is! I eat dinner. Lights out at ten on school nights. Weekends I get to partner with Batman till way late. And, of course, there's other neat stuff we do: forensics, computer searches, daily workouts." He shrugged his shoulders as if asking, "Doesn't everybody?"
"I thought you were going to talk about what you do when you're not training," Wonder Girl protested.
"What are you talking about? That's the best part!" Robin was grinning excitedly. He turned to the junior archer. "Speedy, you tell 'em! Superpowered meta-humans just don't understand the amount of training and dedication it takes to maintain our level of superhero activity!"
"Uh-h, I can't Batboy," Speedy replied. "Even on my best day I don't think I've ever rushed home to do my homework. I don't know Star City's librarian. Heck, I don't think I know where the library is, and I don't think GA's ever imposed a curfew on any of my activities."
"Never?" It was Robin's turn to look shocked. He mentally reviewed all of the 'Do's and Don'ts' that regimented his daily life. What would a life without rules be like, he wondered?
"We all follow our own paths, Robin," Aqualad said. "You and Speedy have many qualities in common; however, how you utilize those given talents and abilities differ widely. Eventually destiny will lead you on divergent paths, for you must each follow a different call."
Wonder Girl walked to Robin and placed her hand gently on his forearm.
"Robin, please give the Titans another chance." Robin stared long and hard into her gentle eyes. Making up his mind, he nodded and placed his gloved hand on hers as a sign of acquiescence. He turned to face the others.
Putting his hand straight out and palm down in front of him, Robin said proudly, "Titans Together!"
The others quickly gathered round, and their young voices echoed across the Hall of Justice.
"Personally, I don't see how the little guy can put up with it." Black Canary shrugged her shoulders at Wonder Woman and took a sip from her cup. She and the Amazon Princess were sitting in the kitchen having a quiet cup of tea together. Wonder Woman carefully put her cup down and looked steadily at her friend.
"Dinah, I know Batman. He loves that boy. Maybe too much," Wonder Woman said softly.
At Black Canary's raised eyebrows Wonder Woman shook her head reluctantly. While the Amazon Princess was privy to Batman's real identity, Black Canary was not. Black Canary nodded in understanding. Secret identity stuff. Almost all of the JLA had revealed their civilian identities to one another, except Batman. Wonder Woman took a sip from her cup to camouflage the awkward moment, then continued.
"He'll never voice his feelings in public. I'm not even certain he's capable of admitting it in private, but if you watch how he interacts with Robin, see how proud he looks whenever the boy does something exceptionally well, you'd see how proud--"
"Uh, Diana," Black Canary interrupted, "forgive me for saying this, but I haven't noticed any overt reactions from the Bat-guy, other than grim, grimmer, and I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley. Feelings? Roy thinks Batman has ice in his veins."
Black Canary and Wonder Woman shared a small, guilty laugh.
"You should've seen Red!" Black Canary sputtered. "He kept trying to avoid Batman during the icebreaker this afternoon. No wonder GA calls him Speedy! I think he might've given the little Flash Kid a run for his money!" BC smiled at the image, then recalling how Batman treated Robin earlier, she slapped her hand on the table, in sudden annoyance, rattling her teacup.
"I wanted to bust Batman upside the head, you know that? He humiliated that poor little boy in front of everybody! Both the JLA and the Titans! How could he? Robin is the politest little guy! Did you notice how he was calling everyone sir and ma'am? Made me feel like I'm my mother or something. I don't think I've ever heard Roy address Ollie as sir. Hell, I don't think I've ever heard Roy address anybody as sir!"
She giggled suddenly.
"And that little elf costume Robin wears! He looks like he's about eight years old running around in that!"
Wonder Woman smiled at her friend's silliness.
"Perhaps," Wonder Woman acknowledged with a tilt of her head. "But have you ever seen the Boy Wonder in action?" Black Canary shook her head no. "Then I suggest you and I take a little walk down to the training room. I understand that the Teen Titans are going to be doing some training there for the next few hours. Donna told me that Robin has some ideas on how she might utilize martial arts to enhance her strength and her other warrior training."
Black Canary raised an eyebrow, then nodded her head as if to say, 'Lead on.'
"Don't you think you were a bit hard on the boy, Bruce?" Superman asked. He and Batman were in the JLA's control room studying the latest Star Lab readouts of the space anomaly. Batman made a single slashing motion with the back of his hand.
"Back off, Clark," he said harshly. "This is a personal family matter. Totally off limits!"
"Robin looked like he was gonna bust a gusset, as my Dad would say," Superman said. "Meeting all the members of the JLA. I know I was proud to finally meet him. Oh, I know you haven't really trusted me, Bruce. I'm not sure if it's because of my powers because I'm an alien both or neither. It would only make sense that you'd want to protect your boy from exposure to me."
Batman turned to look at Superman's expression. The Man of Steel's countenance bespoke of hurt understanding. Batman turned away and walked out without further comment. Superman watched his retreating form with a mixture of sadness and disappointment.
"I guess it's both," he said softly.
"But Robbie, I'm already trained in a differing number of warrior fighting skills," Wonder Girl said reasonably. "Mother would never have allowed me to return to Man's World with Diana if she did not feel that I was adequately prepared to face danger."
"Understood," Robin nodded, agreeing readily. "If you don't think you need the training " he shrugged his shoulders. "Well, look I've got a few things to do for Batman. So, if you'll excuse me."
Robin turned to go. Wonder Girl quickly followed him.
"Robin! Wait!" She reached her hand to him, placing it on his shoulder. In an instant, Robin grabbed her wrist, turned under her and threw her head over heels to land unceremoniously at his feet.
"Oof!" Wonder Girl inadvertently uttered when she hit the floor. Still holding her wrist, and before she could recover, Robin quickly grabbed her lasso and tied her arms behind her back. He then looped the rope around her a couple of times, but this was essentially overkill. As soon as he'd tied her hands, she was completely at his mercy.
Holding onto a length of her lasso, Robin looked at her with raised eyebrows.
"You were saying?" he asked.
Obediently, Wonder Girl began to repeat, word for word, what she'd said earlier until Robin finally held up his hand and stopped her.
"That's enough! I think we both get the point."
Wonder Girl looked ready to kill him. Robin smiled teasingly.
"Before I untie you, you have promise not hurt me!"
Too angry to respond verbally, Wonder Girl nodded her promise. Robin untied her, and Wonder Girl immediately stood up. It looked like she was using every ounce of self-restraint to keep from hitting her friend, and breaking a few of his bones. Robin held up his hands and smiled disarmingly, an action so uncharacteristic that it caused Wonder Girl to pause. Eventually, she smiled too.
"Whew!" Robin said. "Thought I was goner for sure!"
Wonder Girl giggled.
"You almost were and don't think you're off the hook, yet, Boy Wonder!" She warned laughing. "What was that all about, anyway! Humiliate Wonder Girl for kicks, or something?"
"Of course, not! You know I'd never do anything like that! Too dangerous. You could easily kill me in anger!"
Wonder Girl gave a small laugh, but saw that Robin wasn't joking. "Oh, Robin, I'd never--" she started denying.
"Perhaps not intentionally, but you certainly have the ability, and I have to approach you with that likelihood. Today, you're my friend, but what about tomorrow, WG? What if tomorrow someone takes control of you through your magic lasso and orders you to mop the floor with me, and not to spare the bones? What then?"
When the possibility of what Robin was saying started sinking in, Wonder Girl's eyes widened in shock.
"It would never happen, Robin. I know it!" She stared at him proudly; her chin jutted out stubbornly.
"Wonder Girl, what I just did was no fluke. You left yourself wide open. Of course, I couldn't be sure that you'd follow me and place your hand on my shoulder, but I've seen you do the same thing on at least three occasions against some of the goons we've encountered. When I turned to leave, I counted on you doing exactly what you just did." He shrugged his shoulders. "I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take you down, but I figured that if I could do it, then "
"Then, one of the super-villains that we meet in the future might be able to do the same," she finished. Robin nodded. Wonder Girl studied her serious friend for a moment, assessing the information Robin had just shared about her personal weakness. She wondered if there were any others.
"Okay, Boss Man," she said nodding. "When do we get started?"
Unknown to the two youthful heroes, several people witnessed their entire exchange.
Watching from the training room's observation deck, Wonder Woman gasped when Robin first tied up her stepsister. She wouldn't have thought it possible! She'd witnessed the young man in action before and had been duly impressed by his virtuosity. The boy could almost fly across the rooftops without the benefit of wings. On at least one occasion she witnessed him descending from dizzying heights without the use of one his safety lines until the last possible moment.
She'd watched him dodge the hail of bullets from automatic weapons, by executing some of the most elaborate aerial acrobatics she'd ever seen. And while occupied with the daunting task of avoiding being killed, he'd still kept his cool, throwing either one or another of his array of defensive weapons at his assailants, invariably succeeding in disarming them. All the while spouting some of the most gosh-awful puns she'd ever heard!
But to overwhelm her Amazon-trained stepsister, Donna? To take her lasso and tie her up?
Wonder Woman's jaw dropped when Robin did just that. She turned to Black Canary. Her shock was mirrored on Canary's face.
"I recognize Robin's technique as an Aikido defensive throw in combination with a wrist grab from behind. Nicely done," Black Canary said approvingly. "I heard the kid was good, Diana, but frankly, I didn't know just how good until this moment."
"You and I both, Dinah," Wonder Woman said softly. "You and I both."
From the shadows of the observation room, the Dark Knight allowed himself a small smile. The boy was certainly showing he had the right stuff. Perhaps this trip hadn't been a mistake after all.
"Yeah, yeah, Bird-boy! You're pretty good at beating up girls! Let's see what you can do against someone your own size!" Wonder Girl and Robin turned to the newcomer. Speedy! Robin's eyes narrowed a bit, but he swallowed his retort. Instead, he gave the junior archer a neutral wave.
"Speedy." Robin nodded his acknowledgement, then deliberately turned his back. "Look, I'll be working with Wonder Girl for a few more minutes. Why don't you take a seat or something, and I'll be with you in a moment."
Angry, Speedy began walking to where Robin and Wonder Girl were talking about tactics and the methods to take down someone who was of equal or greater strength.
"Well, WG, like I was saying, if you use this method " Robin carefully put his hands on Wonder Girl in places designed to give him the greatest leverage, " then you can do this!" Instantly Robin had Wonder Girl on the mat, while he holding her in headlock.
Wonder Girl giggled.
"I bet you do this to all the girls!" she teased. Robin instantly tensed and released her. Standing up, he self-consciously placed his hands at his sides.
"Is that right, Bat-boy?" Speedy asked mockingly. "Do you like beating up on helpless girls?"
Robin didn't bother answering. Wonder Girl helpless? Yeah, like a Siberian tiger was helpless! Robin instead gave Wonder Girl a hand up. Resolutely keeping his back to Speedy, he checked her to ensure that she was all right.
"You're okay? No bruises or anything?" he asked worriedly.
"Don't be silly, Robbie!" Wonder Girl protested. "I landed on a soft practice mat! You should see the rock quarry that my warrior sisters use to train in the arts of battle on Paradise Island! I'm okay."
"Well, I'm not okay with it!" interrupted Speedy.
"That's good," Robin said addressing Wonder Girl and ignoring Speedy. "Would you like to continue the lesson? I had you scheduled for another fifteen minutes. After you, I have Speedy, then Aqualad."
"Hey! Bird-boy! I'm talking to you!" Speedy yelled, growing angrier by the minute.
"Of course, I'd love to continue the training, Robin," Wonder Girl said, oblivious to Speedy's outburst. "This type of hand to hand combat is new to me. Would you mind if I taught my sisters on Paradise Island some of these techniques?" Then dropping her voice added, "Would Batman?"
"I don't see why he should," Robin said shrugging. "These are ancient martial arts fighting techniques. We sure didn't invent them!"
"Okay, Bird-boy," Speedy said, coldly. "No more Mister Nice Guy! You'd better put up your dukes!"
Wonder Girl looked at Speedy as if seeing him for the first time. Robin allowed himself a small half-smile.
"Speedy! Just the guy I wanted to see!" Robin began.
"Speedy, is there something the matter?" Wonder Girl asked.
"No problem, WG! That is, no problem as soon as I clean the room with this wiseguy!"
"Clean the room?" she asked puzzled. Wonder Girl still became confused at times with the language idioms she encountered. "Why would you want to do that? The room is already clean."
"I think Speedy meant he was ready for his training session, didn't you Speedy?" Robin asked.
"You bet I am, Bird-boy," he said taking a prizefighter's stance. "Oh, boy! I'm gonna enjoy this!"
Up on the observation deck, Black Canary suddenly slapped her forehead and shook her head.
"What is it about the Arrow-guys?" she said shaking her head. "Roy, don't be a fool. You'll never take him!"
"Wonder Girl, why don't you take a seat over there by the exit?" Robin asked. "I wouldn't want you getting hurt during our training session. Don't worry, this shouldn't take long and then you and I can continue with yours."
The entire time Robin was speaking with Wonder Girl, he kept his back turned to Speedy on purpose, fueling the young archer's anger.
This little punk in the fairy costume was making time with his girl, Speedy fumed. Worse, Robin was putting his hands on her! In Speedy's mind, Robin's only excuse for having a training session with Wonder Girl was so he could move in on her while Speedy wasn't around. He'd show him!
Angry beyond comprehension, Speedy attacked.
As Speedy moved in, Robin kept a running commentary going with Wonder Girl. Keeping his back turned, Robin exploded into action with lightning fast movements, easily countering Speedy's attack from behind.
"As you can see, WG, if a careless assailant tries this rear attack, simply moving like so " Robin shifted his weight at this moment " and placing your hands here and here " Robin demonstrated calmly, grabbing first a wrist, then an elbow, " the intended victim can easily turn the tables on his would be mugger!"
In less than a tenth of a second, Speedy was at Robin's feet looking up the junior daredevil.
"Stay down, Roy," Black Canary muttered, shaking her head. "Don't be stupid, Red. Stay down!"
Wonder Woman smiled at her friend. "Boys will be boys," she said.
"Of course, a determined assailant will probably not give up at this moment," Robin lectured as if oblivious to the attack. "So you have to be ready for the follow on attack."
Recovering quickly, Speedy kicked out, sweeping his legs under Robin's. However, Robin was already gone. He'd leaped into a single back somersault, avoiding the attack from below.
Landing on cat feet, Robin crouched in a ready position. "The key, Wonder Girl, as in all things, is to have patience. Let the assailant come to you. Let him waste his energy!"
From the sidelines, Wonder Girl nodded her head seriously. Everything Robin said made sense. Speedy sure was being a good sport allowing Robin to use him as a teacher's training aid. And he had the cutest red hair and green eyes.
Robin moved his hands in a slow, mesmerizing defensive pattern, while circling the junior archer as a predator stalks its prey. Speedy opted for a frontal assault and ran headlong towards Robin. Robin simply somersaulted over Speedy's head. Landing softly behind Speedy, Robin thought it was time to put a stop to this.
He was having fun at the junior archer's expense, but enough was enough! The junior bowman was becoming more upset by the second. This was no way to treat a teammate.
"I think that's enough training for the day, Speedy," Robin said quietly. "I've been going at it with Wonder Girl for a while now. I think I could use a break. How about you?"
Black Canary and Wonder Woman recognized the laurel leaf that Robin was offering. The boy was mature beyond his years; it was obvious that he could easily incapacitate Speedy, but instead was making a peace overture.
"Say yes, Red," Black Canary urged under her breath. "Think with your head and not with your mouth!"
Speedy turned to face the younger boy. He was slightly taller and heavier than Robin. Speedy couldn't believe the kid's moves! No way was he going to let Bat-boy win this round. Speedy shook his head.
"Uh-uh, Bird-boy! Round one goes to you, because we were doing it your way! What say we do round two my way?" With that Speedy deliberately brought his bow up to bear and cocked a trick arrow. With slow anticipation, he aimed squarely at Robin.
Wonder Girl sensing something was wrong cried out. "Speedy! What are you doing? You'll hurt him!"
"No, I won't Wonder Doll! None of my arrows are designed to kill or injure." Speedy reassured her. Then added in low tones so that only Robin could hear him. "Just temporarily clip your wings, and give you one hell of a headache, eh, Bat-boy?"
Robin immediately assumed a Kenpo defensive posture; he neither spoke nor showed any other response. This was no longer a game. His position had suddenly become untenable. Speedy's accuracy and speed with the bow were second only Green Arrow's. The Flashes might be the fastest man and boy and alive, but the Arrows were the fastest and best archers alive.
Drawing from a deep reserve of inner strength, Robin waited calmly for the inevitable release.
As he waited, Robin said to himself, "Release, fly, block Release, fly, block "
In the next instant, Speedy released his bow. His arrow flew true to its mark, Robin's center of mass. As he released, Speedy saw Robin crouch, his left shoulder slightly tucked, his right hand looking like he was pulling one of his sleight of hands. Speedy immediately pulled another arrow from his quiver, and was just about to cock it, when His eyes grew wide in disbelief.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman both held their breaths. Black Canary couldn't believe Speedy's recklessness. When I get my hands on you, she thought darkly!
Almost faster than the eye could follow, Robin brought his left arm up to a blocking motion, unbelievably deflecting the arrow from its course. Simultaneously, he threw two batarangs, one right after the other. The first struck Speedy's shooting wrist, numbing it instantly and causing him to drop his bow. The second missed him! or so Speedy thought.
The whirring sound of the returning batarang told him otherwise. It quickly started looping around him, tying him up with what appeared to be a heavily weighted nylon rope.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman both exhaled explosively. By now, neither was completely surprised by Robin's skill and expert countermove.
"That boy is a first degree black belt at least. Probably higher," Black Canary mused. "And with those acrobatics of his he's a hell of a formidable opponent, Diana. Hell, I'm not even sure that I could take him at this point! Imagine what he'll be like in a few years, when he's even more experienced!"
From the sidelines, Wonder Girl applauded.
"Yay! Robin!" she cheered. "I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's fallen into one of your deviously evil traps today!"
Robin didn't say anything in reply. Instead, he walked slowly to where Speedy was angrily spluttering about what he was going to do to him, the object of his still smoldering rage; Robin crouched down next to him.
"That was a nice thing you did, Speedy, helping out with WG's training. Brilliant touch, by the way, bringing in the bow and arrow! Gave me a chance to demonstrate how to deflect a fast approaching object!"
"Can it, Bird-boy," Speedy said angrily. "You and I both know that that isn't why I was fighting you out here this wasn't a favor for you I still intend on taking you down! Now let me go!!
Robin's face remained inscrutable as he watched Speedy wrestle uselessly with his bonds.
"You know, there's a very nice girl coming over here right now, who thinks this was all in good fun," he said quietly. "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want her to find out otherwise." He stood up, still looking down at Speedy. "It's up to you."
Wonder Girl reached them by then. "Aren't you done yet?" she asked anxiously.
Robin looked down at Speedy. "Are we done?"
Reluctantly, Speedy nodded his head, yes. Robin immediately bent down and started untying him.
"Good!" Wonder Girl cried out. "You can still take me to dinner then!"
Robin looked up quickly. What? Dinner? They'd never He looked down at Speedy. The archer was giving him a knowing smirk.
"Yep, that's right, Bird-boy! Read 'em and weep. You might've won the battle, but I'm winning the campaign!"
"Campaign? Battle?" Wonder Girl asked confused. "What are you talking about Speedy?" When no answer was forthcoming, she looked at Robin. "Robin, what does that mean?"
Robin looked at her quietly for a lingering moment. Wonder Girl was his friend he knew that and was comfortable with it. He felt a little hurt that she was having dinner with Speedy and yes, he knew that there was an underlying feeling of jealousy. However, neither she nor he had ever intimated anything closer than just being good friends. And, she obviously preferred Speedy to him.
Robin shrugged his shoulders and gave her an enigmatic half smile, an unconscious imitation of his mentor.
"Nothing, WG. It's just a joke between us. You two have fun!" With that Robin turned to leave the training room. He had to get away. He had to think. As he walked out, he could hear Wonder Girl's bell-like laughter echoing from behind him.
"I think I'm gonna have to show Red a few self-defense moves," Black Canary said. "Robin could've maimed him without breaking a sweat. Roy doesn't know just how lucky he is."
"What did you think of Robin deflecting the arrow?" asked Wonder Woman.
Black Canary shook her head.
"Well, at least now I know why he's called the Boy Wonder!"
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This story is © 2000 by Syl Francis
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This piece is © 2002 by the author listed above.
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