by Syl Francis
If that were the case, then the scouts' intelligence gathering mission automatically became one of search and destroy, for the mother ship's builders' final quest was the utter destruction of the Krghlm and its descendants
"Green Arrow." GA turned at the grim voice coming from the shadows in the JLA Lounge. Batman slowly emerged into the muted lighting. It was "nighttime" on the satellite. The lights were thus lowered to simulate day/night conditions. Batman stood half in/half out of the darkness.
"Batman?" Green Arrow squinted at the Dark Knight. "What do you want? Look, I'm in a hurry!" GA barked these staccato sentences impatiently, then asked almost in the same breath, "Hey, you haven't seen Speedy have you?"
Batman saw immediately that GA was beside himself with worry.
"This is the third night he hasn't slept in his bed or is it the fourth?" Green Arrow muttered to himself. "I should know dammit! He's my kid! I've gotta find him " he shook his head. "Why am I standing here talking to you? I've gotta find my boy! Tell 'im how I feel that it's not the way he thinks it is! Dinah and me what we have is good, but it doesn't mean--"
Green Arrow stood in the middle of the room looking lost, then spoke softly. "It doesn't mean that I don't love him, too."
"Let's go." Batman spun on his heel and led Green Arrow out of the lounge. GA took a second before he realized that Batman wanted him to follow. By then, the Caped Crusader was halfway down the outside corridor. GA ran to catch up.
"Where're we goin'?" GA demanded.
"LOOK!! I told you I don't have time for this!" GA stopped in his tracks. "Now tell me where we're going or--"
"Here," Batman said quietly. He stood solemnly and pressed for the express elevator to the Forward Observation Deck. "Come."
GA reluctantly followed. There was no conversation between the two heroes to shatter the elevator's eerie silence as it rose through the satellite's multilevels. Finally, it halted and the door automatically opened onto the Forward Observation Deck.
GA gasped at the initial shock of seemingly standing at the edge of eternity. Batman quickly made a slashing motion signaling for quiet. Then he pointed at a small, dark form, curled and sound asleep on the middle of the transparent floor. Batman waited for Green Arrow to recognize his ward.
Before GA could move towards Speedy, Batman pressed the "door closed" button. GA turned in fury on the Dark Knight.
"What's the idea?! That's Roy lying there! I've gotta go to him! Get out of my way, you pointy-eared night rat!"
"That's how you always have your way, isn't it, Ollie? By yelling louder and more obnoxiously than the next guy. By pushing people around giving orders insulting everyone within hearing distance, and taking shots at those who aren't around. I've ignored you in the past because I thought you were basically harmless, and did a good job when the going got tough."
GA pushed by Batman, infuriated with his teammate for keeping him from his boy.
"I don't need to listen to this! I've a kid in there who's hurting I've gotta get to him before it's too late!"
"You're right. Roy is hurting, and you do need to talk. But what are you going to talk about, Ollie? About what great pals you are and how things will be the same or better when you get him back home?"
"MYOB, Batman! This is none of your concern! I don't tell you how to treat your kid Stay out of my affairs!"
"Is it true that you allow that boy to run around at all hours of the night? That you have left him alone without adult supervision for days, sometimes weeks at a time? The list of parental neglect just keeps piling Ollie Do I need to spell each of them out for you?"
"Who are you to talk to me about how to raise my kid? I've heard how you've practically put a straightjacket on Robin everything he does is regulated, from what time he eats to what time he brushes his teeth! I may be a bit permissive with Roy, but at least I'm not raising him to be a little tin soldier who's incapable of thinking for himself!"
"Permissive? Is that what the Star City Child Welfare Services calls child neglect today?"
Green Arrow's face turned an apoplectic purple. "How DARE YOU?!!! How dare you accuse me of child neglect! Who elected you the World's Greatest Dad? Look at you! It's a wonder Robin doesn't wake up each night screaming from nightmares!"
"He does," Batman spoke so quietly GA almost didn't hear him.
"What did you say?"
Batman faced GA without flinching. "I said, Robin wakes up on any given night screaming from nightmares. He dreams about his parents' deaths They were killed in front of him when he was only nine. He's gotten better, though. He used to wake up several times a night. Either a trusted friend or myself used to sit by Robin's bedside, ready to hold him until he was able to go back to sleep. Now, Robin's sleep is disrupted only once or twice a week. Most nights, he sleeps through." Batman spoke softly, matter-of-factly, but GA could hear a catch his voice.
"Bats, I'm sorry. I didn't know I was a jerk to say what I did." Green Arrow looked at his boots, ashamed of his earlier sarcasm.
"No. You were right. I'm not the World's Greatest Dad far from it. I over regulate Robin's waking hours in order to keep his mind occupied so that he won't sit and brood or over-train. I know how easy it can be for a person to fall into a dark abyss." Batman paused, and if it were possible, his voice dropped even lower.
"When Robin first came to live with me, I used to find him in the Batcave at all hours of the day or night, training. His acrobatics were world-class when I first saw him. Now, he was in a class by himself even I couldn't touch him in certain areas. He proved to be a gifted, natural athlete with a razor-sharp intellect. He was obsessed with finding his parents' killers and begged me to make him my partner. Robin was only nine, and already driven by vengeance." Batman turned away from Green Arrow, the pain of those early days evident in his stiff posture.
"With his gifts, Robin would've found his parents' murderer on his own, and possibly gotten himself killed. I felt that I had no choice; therefore, I agreed to train him and take him on as my partner. But only under certain conditions that I made the rules and that he obeyed them without question. And until I said he was ready, he would not take up the mantle again, no questions asked!"
Batman sighed softly, and nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yes, I over-regulate Robin's life, but he's learned to be a kid again. Part of the rules he must follow are to take part in personal outside activities that have nothing to do with being Robin." Batman allowed himself a half-smile.
"So, I've been coerced into attending several Gotham Knights' at home games, dirt biking, rock climbing, and even just the two of us playing hooky for a day and taking off from work and school. Robin's no longer obsessed with revenge, and he's even learned to have fun. More importantly, the nightmares have almost stopped." Batman glared intensely into GA's eyes.
"Nonetheless, Robin is never left alone. He may be a kid superhero who can take down bad guys at twenty-to-one odds, but he's still just a boy, little more than a child but more importantly, he's my child! I'm responsible for him. Ollie, it takes more than love to raise a kid. A child also needs guidance. He needs boundaries that he knows he's not allowed to step over. Rules aren't straightjackets, Ollie. They're like the walls in your home they're there to protect you and make you feel safe. A child needs to feel safe."
GA felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. Roy was only a year older than Robin, and GA had been leaving Speedy alone almost since the time he'd gained custody of the boy. He was astounded at the personal revelations that Batman had professed, and knew they came at a high price. Batman risked giving GA such an intimate portrait of his personal relationship with his protege, because he wanted GA to change his methods of child rearing.
"Ollie, there a lot of people on this satellite who care about Roy and his welfare. But there's only one person onboard whom Roy cares about and depends on. And from what I've seen, that person has failed Roy in too many ways to count."
Batman didn't add that he foresaw serious trouble ahead for Speedy if Green Arrow didn't do something quickly. Sadly, it might already be too late.
GA nodded. Perhaps he had been a little too lax. He looked at Batman, then dropped his eyes.
"Bats, thanks for finding my kid," he said softly. Batman gave no acknowledgement. He pressed the "door open" button, instead. Green Arrow stood at the lip of the door, just watching Roy for a few minutes. God, the kid had grown in the two years he'd lived with GA, but he was still so small! GA stepped stiffly out of the elevator and walked quietly to the sleeping form.
Batman closed the doors on the private moment and pressed for home. Did I make a difference, he asked himself? For Roy's sake, he hoped so.
Green Arrow knelt carefully next to Speedy. He wanted so desperately to take the boy in his arms and promise him the world. But Batman's words haunted him. How could he make it all up to the kid? GA didn't know how to be anything other than who he was. He'd honestly thought that that was enough. He remembered his parents and his own childhood not much love there.
Green Arrow snorted softly at the unhappy memories. Not much of anything, in fact. His father had been obsessed with making money and his mother with Star City society. Their busy lives didn't leave much room for one small boy, so his parents did what they thought was best.
"Yeah, best for them," muttered GA. They sent him away to the best boarding schools in Europe.
"But why do I have to go away?" six-year-old Ollie Queen looked solemnly up at his father. "Why can't I stay with you and Mother?" Despite his best efforts, little Oliver's lower lip began quivering.
"Now, Ollie, none of that, young man!" Oliver Queen, Sr. admonished. "Stiff upper lip! You must face this like a man! Remember, men don't cry, right?"
Unable to speak, Ollie nodded, then to his eternal shame, the tears spilled of their own accord. He tried to sniff them back, hoping that Father didn't notice, but it was too late.
"Young man, to your room without supper! When you're ready to continue this discussion intelligently like a man, you may come out, but not until then!"
"Monsieur and Madame Queen," Monsieur Montblanc, Headmaster of Saint Thomas Academy said regretfully, "I am sorry, but we can no longer tolerate the antics of young Oliver. He is how do you say it? All boy!" Montblanc smiled benignly. "The entire staff has a soft spot for the boy, so it is with great regret that we must do this, but our school has a reputation to maintain. Please understand."
"No!" Queen, Sr. protested vehemently. "I don't understand. What did my son do to get him expelled from your lousy, drafty school?"
Montblanc stiffened immediately at the insult to his school. "Your son, Monsieur Queen, reached new lows of what one can only describe as debauchery! I shall not give you a detailed list of all of his past rules violations; however, I shall fill you in on the last one "
" Boozing! Girls! Partying to all hours of the night! Dancing naked on the balcony! Skinny-dipping in the five hundred-year-old fountain with the statue of Saint Thomas?" Queen, Sr. ranted at his son for the better part of an hour. Ollie was kicked back on his bunk. He didn't care.
"Yeah," Ollie smirked. "That was the mother of all parties, Father! Sorry, you couldn't make it."
Queen, Sr. looked ready to strike his sixteen-year-old son. This was the eighth school in ten years that Ollie had been expelled from. Queen, Sr. turned to his wife. "You talk to him He's your son!"
Katherine Queen looked distastefully at her husband. "Of course, he's my son. Every time he gets himself expelled from yet another school, he's my son. Whenever he does something well--" She glared at her unrepentant son. "--which is hardly ever, Ollie becomes your son!"
"I love you, too, Mater mine," Ollie returned unconcernedly.
"Oh!" Katherine sputtered wordlessly at her recalcitrant son. "Sometimes I wish you'd never been born!" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Katherine wanted to take them back. The look of abject hurt that instantly crossed her son's face was enough to break her heart. "Oh, Ollie, I didn't mean that Please, forgive me."
Ollie dropped his eyes and refused to look at her. He sat very still on the edge of the bed, then slowly nodded. "Very well, Mother. I forgive you but, Mother, truth be told sometimes I wish that I'd never been born."
Katherine made a move to go to her son, but Ollie jumped up and moved away. "Don't start, Mother. It's too late for us. Even five years ago I would've welcomed it, but not any more." Ollie felt the years of loneliness suddenly settle on his shoulders, and his next words rang with bitterness.
"You and Father have never loved me. You've done your duty by me, for that I guess I should be grateful. Queen, Inc. needed an heir and you dutifully provided Father with one. Then, I was tucked away, out of sight, out of mind so that you could pursue your various clubs and committees, and Father could keep making Queen, Inc. the company that will take over the world one day."
Ollie turned and faced his two parents. "You have your plans for me I have my own plans. I won't cause anymore trouble you have my word. But please, don't ever pretend that you actually have real feelings for me. I'm just another asset in Queen, Inc.'s credit column, I know that. So go ahead and stick me in some other school I promise you won't see or hear from me until I graduate."
"You graduate? I should live that long!" Queen, Sr. guffawed.
"You've got yourself a bet, Pater mine! I earn my diploma, you finance my travels to wherever I wish to go, for as long as I wish to travel!"
"Easiest bet I've ever won!" Queen
"I guess I was expelled out of more schools in more countries than any other member in the JLA!" GA grinned ruefully.
During Ollie's last three years of school he had only one escape, which became his life's obsession: archery. When to his parents' surprise, Ollie finally graduated from high school, rather than returning to Star City and taking up his life's role as the scion of Queen, Inc., Ollie collected on his bet with his father and decided not to return home.
Instead, happy with the independence he'd learned by being away from home for twelve years, Ollie traveled around the world, visiting some of the globe's worst troubled spots and secretly becoming an adventurer, aiding the weak and oppressed
" Son, when are you coming home?" Queen, Sr.'s voice asked over the phone. The old guy sounds like he actually misses me, Ollie mused.
"When hell freezes over, Father. We had a bet and I won. But don't worry, you and Mother don't need to think of me except once a month when you write the check "
Both of his parents were killed in an automobile accident the next day. A Mack truck whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel struck their limo head on. Shattered by his last unkind words to his Father, Ollie returned to Star City and took his rightful place as CEO of Queen, Inc. He soon found out about a mysterious vigilante in Gotham City called the Batman, and learned everything he could about the Dark Knight.
Inspired by the Batman and all of his neat toys, Ollie decided to emulate his hero. Green Arrow debuted in Star City within a few short months. And a few months later, a young, cocky redheaded kid with a moth-eaten quiver, and the raggediest bow GA have ever laid eyes on, began appearing wherever GA stopped a crime.
The kid had the moves all right. His bow and quiver might've been ready for the junk heap, but he could cock, pull, and release almost as fast as GA could. And the boy's accuracy was uncanny! He never missed!
"Hey, kid!" Green Arrow yelled, trying to get the mysterious boy's attention, but the boy was gone again! That was the third time this week, an exasperated GA said to himself.
"Who is that kid?" GA wondered aloud. He found out the next day, or rather, Oliver Queen found out.
"Sir, you have an unannounced visitor."
"Oh?" Ollie looked up from the documents he'd been perusing. He decided that he needed a break. "Well, send him in, Jeeves!" Ollie teased. His butler gave a long-suffering sigh.
"That's Smith, sir. Quite an ordinary name, sir. I dearly wish you could remember it." As Smith turned away, Ollie smiled. Smith had been his parents' personal valet, and Ollie had more or less inherited him. Ollie remembered Smith as someone who'd been a friend to a lonely little boy who always seemed to be underfoot all those years ago.
Ollie's face took on a worried countenance. Smith was getting on in years, and his health had recently begun to fail him. What would Ollie do without him? Once Smith was gone, Ollie would be all alone. The thought made him profoundly sad.
Smith returned and announced the visitor, "Master Roy Harper!"
Standing at the door to Ollie's study was the skinny, redheaded kid who'd been showing up at the same places that he did! Ollie's eyes showed his surprise. The kid had tracked him to his home! Ollie studied the boy carefully. He had a headband with a feather stuck in it, and he was wearing buckskins that had seen better days. He was still carrying his quiver and bow.
Deciding to play it coy, Ollie asked blandly, "How may I help you?"
The boy gave him answering smirk, exuding arrogance. "Wrong question, GA! It's how may I help you!"
Ollie quirked a blond eyebrow. "GA? I think you have me confused with someone else, young man."
"I don't think so," Roy said. "See I followed ya tracked ya, Native American style! You really should be more careful. I doubt if Batman would've let me. Hell, he probably would've backtracked and ended up following me!"
"You're Native American?" Ollie asked, eyeing the dark red hair and green eyes skeptically.
Roy's eyes darkened bitterly. "I thought I was. Until my stepfather, Chief Bow died. When he passed away, the tribe disowned me. Said I was an outsider white-eyes." Roy looked intensely at Ollie, his hurt still evident at being abandoned by the people he thought were his family.
"In answer to your question. I am Native American, because that's how I was raised, and that's how I feel inside. But my biological roots are Irish."
"I see," Ollie murmured, an idea taking form. Didn't Batman just take on a kid partner? Wouldn't that be a kicker? Green Arrow and--? And who? It didn't matter. They'd think of a name later.
"So, Roy, what can you do for me?" Ollie asked. Roy gave him that brazen smirk again.
"I don't suppose you've heard about Batman and Robin his new kid partner?" Roy asked as preamble. At Ollie's guileless nod, Roy continued, "Well, I was thinking. If Batman can have that little kid in the cornball costume as a partner, then "
It all happened so quickly then. Oliver Queen dutifully took in Roy Harper and became his legal guardian. As Green Arrow and Speedy, they took the criminal element in Star City by storm
"Speedy?!" Roy protested. "What kind of a dorky name is that? It sounds like I'm gonna be the Flash's sidekick! I was kind of hoping for Red Arrow, or something cool like that."
"Aw, don't be silly. That would sound too much like Green Arrow, Junior! I can't call you Robin, like in Robin Hood, 'cause the name's already taken. And let's face it, kid. When it comes to archery you are Speedy! You cock your arrow, acquire a target, and shoot so fast, I almost can't see your hands move. Plus, you must have the deadliest eye I've ever run across! Where'd you learn to shoot like that anyway?"
"On the reservation, we couldn't afford to shoot an arrow and miss. We hunted for food. Our lives literally depended on our accuracy with the bow and arrow. Chief Bow raised me and trained me on the way of the arrow." Roy shrugged. "I don't know any other way to shoot."
"Well, look, Speedy. Rule Number One in the superhero biz no killing! So, before you go out with me, you're gonna have to do some serious retraining." Roy looked like he was going to balk at the restriction. "Hey, that's the deal! Whaddaya say, kid?"
Roy agreed reluctantly. Two days later, he disobeyed orders and saved Ollie's life
"I thought I ordered you to stay home!?" Green Arrow's nose was less than two inches from Speedy's. His angry voice caused several turned heads from shocked bystanders.
"I seem to recall you saying something like that, GA," Speedy replied unperturbed. "First rule of being a follower never obey a stupid order! You taught me that!"
Green Arrow's moved his jaw without being able to form any words. Finally, he guffawed at being caught in his own petard.
"You're right, kid! I did say that!" GA laughed, slapping the younger boy between the shoulders. "Second rule of the day follow the last intelligent order given!" Both GA and Speedy burst into laughter, sharing a moment of macho male bonding. They climbed into their Arrowcar and quickly returned home
Since then, Ollie had given the boy pretty much free rein. Green Arrow might be the senior partner, but Speedy went his own way. Most of the times, his instincts were correct, so GA began giving the boy more and more freedom.
Finally, the boy's free rein naturally extended to their private lives. Before he knew it, Ollie was the legal guardian of a fourteen year old hellion who was failing most of his subjects in school, partied all night with his friends (whoever they were), and stayed home alone whenever Green Arrow or Oliver Queen were called away on business.
Around this time, failing health finally forced Smith to retire, and Roy was really left home alone
Green Arrow reached out and lightly lay his hand on Speedy's shoulder. Speedy's eyes immediately snapped open! He rolled left, kicked out with both feet, and almost took out Green Arrow. However, GA instinctively ducked just as Speedy kicked out, and therefore, he was just grazed. The major force of the kick missed.
Realizing who he was fighting with, Speedy stopped his attack. He remained crouched in a defensive pose, however. His breath was coming in short, ragged gasps.
"What do you want, Ollie? I thought I told you to stay away from me?"
Green Arrow nodded. "I seem to recall you saying something like that, kid," GA said with a sad smile. "First rule of being the senior partner You don't have to follow orders. I thought I taught you that!" GA held his hands out and shook his head.
"I'm afraid that I can't leave you alone, kid. Not like this. We're gonna talk. I mean really talk. And we're gonna listen to each other. And we're gonna try to fix whatever's wrong between us."
"Why, Ollie? Why do you care so much all of a sudden? Is it because Dinah left you? Are you suddenly feeling alone? Left out? Well, guess what, Ollie? That's how I've been feeling a lot lately. Wait a while it'll get worse!"
"That's what we need to talk about, kid. How we feel. Okay, you've told me how you feel. Now, it's my turn." GA stood up and faced his ward. He struggled for the words that were lodged in his throat. He clenched and unclenched his fist.
"I feel like the lowest kind pond scum, Roy. I've been a lousy partner, and a worse f-fa-father. I guess I just didn't have any good role models in my life, so I started by making the same mistakes they did. Roy, I admit I suck in the parent department, but I-I love you, kid. I couldn't live with myself if we parted with angry, hurtful words that neither of us meant." GA took a step closer to Speedy.
"The same kind of words that I said to my parents when they asked me to come home for the last time. They were dead the next day. I was never able to unsay those words." GA held his hand out to Speedy. "Please, Roy. Give me another chance. I don't promise that I'll ever be the perfect father, but I'll do my best to do better."
Speedy stood uncertainly in the middle of the vast universe, his eyes studying GA's red boots, boots that except for the color were identical to his yellow ones. His eyes traveled up GA's uniform. The Green and red Robin Hood uniform was identical to Speedy's red and yellow one.
In fact, GA and Speedy were so much alike that it was amazing they'd only met two years before. They even tilted their heads to one side and placed their hands on their hips in identical poses. Wonder Girl teased Speedy about that not too long ago.
Speedy's heart listened to Green Arrow's words: "Roy, I admit I suck in the parent department, but I-I love you, kid." Speedy felt the tears start spilling, his chin quivered slightly. He felt thankful that it was so dark in the observatory that GA wouldn't be able to see. To his surprise it was too late.
Green Arrow was suddenly hugging Speedy closely to him, and Speedy could feel GA's own hot tears on his neck. Finally, the two superheroes reluctantly broke the embrace, but GA still kept his hands protectively on Speedy's shoulders. He grinned ruefully at his ward, and playfully wiped the boy's tears from his cheeks.
"Hey, didn't anyone ever tell you that real superheroes don't cry?"
"Oh, yeah?" Speedy asked, sniffling and laughing at the same time. "Didn't anyone ever tell you?"
Green Arrow studied his young ward affectionately. "Yeah, but the man didn't know what he was talking about." Placing his arm warmly across Speedy's shoulder, Green Arrow began steering him towards the elevator. "Come on, kid. It's been a long night."
"We're receiving something, Clark," Atom said. "It's a repeating string of numerical sequences, but neither Barry nor I can make heads or tails of it. We've run it through the JLA's computers for analysis, but no luck."
Superman took the readouts and studied them carefully, his Kryptonian intellect coming to bear on the cryptic message. Unable to decipher the mysterious string of symbols, he finally shrugged his massive shoulders.
"Whatever they're saying, we know one thing," he said quietly. Atom and the Flash looked at him tiredly. They'd been up all night trying to unlock the mystery. "Our visitors are trying to talk to us. We just don't understand the message."
"I'll say," the Flash snorted. "They could be saying, 'We come in peace!' 'Take me to your leader!' or 'Prepare to die, earthlings!'"
Superman's eyes smiled at his friend and teammate. He liked the Flash. Both of them were raised in the great Midwest and shared many of the same small town values and beliefs. Funny, Superman thought, if they'd been raised in the same hometown, they might've been best friends.
"I guess it's time to pay a little visit to our guests," Superman said.
"But, Supes," Atom protested, "their fleet of smaller ships is almost at the periphery of our Solar system. We can't afford to lose you or GL at this time. We're gonna need your powers should this thing deteriorate into war."
"I have to agree with Ray, Clark," the Flash said quietly. "Our best bet is to try and analyze the message. Once we know the question, we'll be able to give them the right answer."
"I agree," Batman said behind them. He stalked into the room, a dark wraith looking even more frightening in the bright light of the computer lab. Batman took the readouts from Superman's hands and studied them briefly. Without asking, Batman took the readouts, sat down at the monitor station and began typing.
The other three heroes looked nonplussed. "Uh, you mind letting us in what you're doing, Bats?" asked Atom annoyed. The mighty mite found an air current and quickly glided to Batman's shoulder. He knelt, chin on fist and watched as the Dark Knight wrote a complicated string of commands.
"Writing a program," Batman replied succinctly.
"What kind of program?" the Flash asked patiently.
Batman continued typing silently. It was soon obvious to the others that no further answers would be forthcoming.
"Look, Ray, Barry," Superman began, "why don't you two guys try and get some sleep? You've been up all night. As soon as we have something we'll get you, all right?"
Atom and the Flash exchanged slightly annoyed looks. They'd just been dismissed! The Flash raised his eyebrow at Atom, his silent message of "Why not?" obvious to his small friend. Atom fatalistically shrugged his shoulders in agreement.
"Come on, Barry," Atom sighed. "I'll buy you a cup of coffee." The two scientist superheroes exited the computer lab. After the other two were gone, Superman turned to his enigmatic friend.
"Okay, Bruce," he began. "You mind telling me what you're doing?" Batman didn't reply for several moments, and Superman resigned himself to being shut out again. To his mild surprise, Batman began explaining.
"I'm accessing the Crays in the Batcave, then I'm jumping them with the JLA's and the supercomptuters at Star Labs. I need more processing power." Batman typed in a few more commands, then added reluctantly, "I need your Kryptonian passcodes to your system in the Fortress of Solitude. I've been able to access your system, but " Batman paused. " I haven't been able to break your codes."
Superman stood, stunned by Batman's revelation. "You've tried breaking into my system?" Superman's safeguards and automatic tracking devices had never indicated Batman's attempts. "Why?" Superman asked simply.
Superman sighed. "You distrust me that much? That you'd try to break into my private system?" Superman waited, but again Batman gave no response. "Bruce all you had to do was ask. I would've given you anything you wanted."
This last stopped Batman. The Dark Knight turned and looked at Superman, clearly not believing what the Last Son of Krypton had just said.
"Bruce, unlike you, I trust my friends. I trust people. Ma and Pa taught me to always look for the good in others." At Batman's look of disapproval, Superman added, "Oh, not to be naive and accept others at face value, of course. But to trust people, give them the benefit of doubt, until they proved that they didn't deserve your trust." Superman looked sadly at his friend. "The same as your mother and father would've taught you if they had lived."
Batman stared at Superman for such a long time that the Man of Steel began to regret his words.
"I'm sorry, Bruce," he apologized, ashamed. "I shouldn't have said that. I had no right--"
"--No," Batman interrupted quietly. "You're right. I don't trust people. Even friends. I should apologize," he added. "I never thought to ask." Batman returned to his programming. Superman stepped up, and gently removed Batman's hands from the keyboard. Then at superspeed, he typed in a complicated string of Krytonian symbols.
Grinning, Superman turned to Batman. "Did you get that? I'll write it down for you if you want me to." Batman looked up his superpowered friend, then gave him one his rare half-smiles, almost flooring the Man of Steel.
"I think I got it, thanks." With that, Batman returned to the problem at hand.
"It's imperative that we make contact with our mysterious visitors," Superman announced to the assembled heroes. "As you can see from the break down of the numerical symbols that Batman was able to analyze, it appears to be some sort of warning. There's a string that keeps repeating. The nearest translation we can come up with is 'Krghlm.'"
"'Krghlm'?" Green Arrow struggled with the word. "Hey, Supes, wanna buy a vowel? What the heck kind of a word is that? Sounds like you're clearing your throat or something."
"Krghlm?" Green Lantern interrupted. "I seem to remember some of the Green Lantern Corps mentioning an ancient race of intergalactic spacefaring marauders called the Krghlm. Are the visitors identifying themselves as such? If so, we are definitely in serious trouble." GL looked grim. "Legend has it that the Krghlm destroyed thousands of the early races. Supposedly left a path of death and destruction across billions of light years and innumerable galaxies."
Superman sighed, shrugging his shoulders. "We can't be a hundred percent sure, of course, GL, but from what we've been able to discern, the message seems more of a warning than a threat. Batman?"
Batman stepped forward into the light, immediately behind Black Canary's chair. Startled, Black Canary jumped, feeling instantly annoyed. Where the heck did he come from?
"The rest of the message's meaning is not clear. However, the visitor seems to be requesting some response from us. Unfortunately, we're not exactly sure what they're asking. Superman and I have come up with a standard greeting of peace and goodwill, acknowledging receipt of their message, and requesting an audience." Batman turned to Superman who took up the briefing.
"We've written it in the same numerical 'language' with which they've contacted us," Superman explained, "and we've encoded it into a string of data packets, which we've sent already. It's been sent via the JLA hyperspace commsyst."
"That's terrific, Supes," Atom said. "But even with the hyperspace commsyst the message will still take a few days to reach the edge of Orion's Arm."
"Which is why we need to dispatch a JLA cruiser and meet our visitor face to face," Batman replied. At his teammates' looks, Batman explained further. "We're not one hundred percent certain about the accuracy of our message. We've tried to send reassurances that the Krghlm are not present here in the Sol system; however, we might have interpreted a numerical string incorrectly. Therefore it's become necessary that we face our visitors and utilize everything at our disposal, to communicate more effectively."
"But Batman," Wonder Woman broke in, "isn't it unwise to go now into the enemy's lair, just prior to what appears to be an invasion? I would not wish to send either Superman or Green Lantern at such a critical time and leave the earth practically undefended."
"You're right, Diana," Superman broke in. "That's why I'm not going. Neither is GL, nor you, nor any of the superpowered members. Instead--"
"--Instead, I've elected myself to go," Batman interrupted. "My usefulness during an alien invasion is negligible at best. Therefore, I am the most expendable member."
"You? Expendable?" Green Arrow burst out. "Was Patton expendable? Eisenhower? I think not! Uh-uh, Bats, if there's one member of the JLA who's expendable, then it would have to be me. I'll go!"
"Ollie!" Black Canary protested.
"Sorry, Pretty Bird," GA said, "but sometimes a man's gotta do--"
"--Can you pilot a JLA cruiser?" Batman interrupted. At GA's silence, Batman nodded. Then unconsciously mimicking Green Arrow's earlier outburst said simply, "I thought not!"
"Maybe GA can't pilot a cruiser, but I can." Robin stood arms crossed, legs spread shoulder wide at the doorway. Batman turned to face his protege and immediately walked up to him. Batman struck an identical pose as Robin's and they both stood facing one another, neither saying a word. Batman finally broke the silence.
"Since when can you pilot a cruiser, chum?" he asked quietly. Robin's face struggled between smiling with pride or grimacing with guilt. The latter finally won out. Robin dropped his eyes for a moment, then swallowing he raised his chin defiantly and faced Batman.
"What do you think I do on school nights when you won't let me accompany you on patrol? You know who won't let me watch television after nine o'clock 'cause he says it's too violent." Robin rolled his eyes. The JLA members looked away to hide their grins. "So, after I finish my homework, I usually go down to the cave before bedtime and I do stuff."
"Yeah, like practice my computer skills, or work on some of the equipment." Robin shrugged his shoulders, then added, "Or clock some hours on the flight simulator."
"You've been clocking sim time?" Batman asked. Robin nodded, guiltily.
"You never said it was off-limits, sir. And I only did it after I finished my homework, or any of the forensic exercises you had me practicing. Anyway, I've managed to rack up over two hundred hours on the simulator. The Titans and I have been running crew drills these past coupla days. We make a pretty good flight crew, Batman! Just check our stats!"
"Robin, you're an experienced pilot. I know that. But clocking sim time and taking a cruiser into deep space and possibly into harm's way are totally different things. I'm sorry, chum, but this is one of those times that I'm ordering you to remain in the rear. I'm proud of you and the Titans for volunteering and for being farsighted enough to plan for such a contingency. But, I couldn't risk you or the other kids." Batman squeezed Robin's shoulder gently, then released it.
"You always do this! I thought we were partners! Well, partners don't stay behind just 'cause the going gets dangerous! I could be of use to you, especially if you meet any of the smaller ships. You can't do this alone, Batman! It'll be suicide!"
"Robin, you know the rules," Batman said quietly, his voice taking on a dangerous timbre.
"Yeah! I know the rules all right! You make 'em, and I have to take 'em! Even if I choke! Well, not this time, Batman! I'm not staying behind and letting you go and get yourself killed I'm not!"
"Robin!" Batman's tone would brook no further outburst from his junior partner. Robin bravely withstood Batman's ominous glare for a few moments longer; however, his real fears finally came to the front and his chin quivered slightly.
"I don't want to lose you, too," he whispered. "I already lost Mom and Dad please, I don't want to lose you, too." Robin held Batman's eyes, then dropped his head in shame. He'd lost control in public. There was no excuse for such weakness. "I'm sorry, sir I'll be in our quarters."
Robin spun on his heel and walked out. Batman stood staring at his boy's retreating back, wanting to go to him, pick him up and promise to never leave him. Instead, Batman forced himself to put the boy's hurt and anxiety out of his mind, and returned to the task at hand.
Green Arrow stared pensively at the Dark Knight, knowing better than anyone else in the conference room what Batman was probably going through at the moment.
"Dick?" Batman spoke softly from Dick's bedroom door. He'd pulled his cowl back transforming himself back into Bruce Wayne. Dick was lying in the dark. He'd returned to his room after his outburst in the conference room and thrown himself on his bed in anger. The tears had followed soon afterwards, and shortly after that, he'd dropped off into a troubled sleep
"Dick?" Bruce walked quietly into Dick's room and sat down at the edge of the bed. Dick was still in his Robin suit. He was curled up inside his cape looking even younger. Bruce smiled sadly, his heart catching in his throat. He wanted desperately to bring a smile back into Dick's eyes by taking him with him, but Bruce couldn't bear the thought of losing the boy in space.
Dick belonged on earth. He should not have to die in space.
Bruce reached over and lightly touched Dick on the shoulder, startling him awake.
"Hey, chum," Bruce spoke softly, smiling. "How many times do I have to tell you that pajamas are for sleeping and your Robin costume for working?"
Dick smiled sleepily. "I'm a slow learner." Then remembering his earlier behavior, Dick's smile wavered. Ashamed, he turned on his side, facing away from his mentor. "I'm sorry I was such a baby today. I know the rules I know what a privilege it is for me to be your partner." Dick sniffled slightly. "It's just that--that--"
Dick couldn't go on. He'd already lost one father. He couldn't bear the thought of losing another.
Bruce reached over, and holding Dick by the shoulders, brought his adopted son up to him. He held Dick in his arms for a few moments allowing him to cry and be a small boy for a few minutes.
"It's just that you're afraid that I may never come back. It's natural to feel afraid, Dick. You lost the two most important people in your life. Now when things finally look like they might be going right again, I volunteer to go on a suicide mission. I'd be surprised if you weren't afraid."
Bruce traced his fingers lightly along Dick's cheek. The boy's bright blue eyes were burning with an intensity of feeling.
"Dick, I lost the two most important people in my life, too. I couldn't bear to lose you, as well. I know it hurts, son, and I know that my decision seems unfair and arbitrary. But in this case, I'm the adult, and fair or not, I have to make the decisions." Bruce met Dick's eyes fiercely, burning with an intensity of emotion he rarely allowed.
"It's my job to protect you, Dick. If I allowed you to accompany me on this mission and something happened to you if I lost you I wouldn't be able to forgive myself."
Dick pushed away slightly and tried to reason with his guardian and mentor again. "Bruce, I know I can be of help if you'll only let me! Please, let me help. It's my planet, too. I guy's gotta be allowed to do the things he can do to help others. It's not right to just sit and wait for something bad to happen, not if I could've done something to prevent it!"
Bruce gazed steadily into his boy's eyes. "You're right, of course, Dick, and the earth is very important me, too. But it's hard for me to really care about people on such a grandiose scale. I can only think about what's really important in my life, and I guess that would be Gotham City, Alfred, and you and Dick, of these, you are the most important."
Bruce wanted to add, "You see I'm not doing this to protect a planet! I'm doing it for you. I'm doing it so that one day you'll grow up, go to college, get married, and even have kids and make me a grandfather!" But the words wouldn't form.
Dick's eyes showed the distress he was suffering. He tried to hold them back, but the tears started on their own. "We're supposed to be partners! You won't let me help 'cause you don't trust me! You don't trust me to do my job when things get dangerous!"
"No! That's absolutely not true, Dick. You know that!"
"Yes, it is you don't think I'm good enough! Dad always trusted me! We were a team! We were the Flying Graysons! He trusted me to be on my mark each time just the way we practiced. Like I trusted him! You and I train all the time but you still don't trust me. You don't believe in me to be able to the job, to carry my end of the show!"
"Dick son, believe me. I do trust you. I trust you with my life. You know that! But Dick, this is different this has nothing to do with being partners. This has to do with personal responsibility. And like it or not, I'm responsible for you." Bruce shook his head. "No, I won't risk you Dick, I'm asking you to understand, son. As an adult, it's my responsibility to protect you."
"So, I have to just accept it, then? I have to sit back and wave, bye-bye, and maybe never see you again? Well, I won't! If you go without me if you get yourself killed because you wouldn't let me help, then I won't care!" Dick threw himself facedown brokenheartedly on his pillow. "Do you hear me?" he asked through his muffled sobs. "I won't care!"
"Dick," Bruce said helplessly, reaching his hand out and lightly stroking his boy's head. "I promise I'll be back," he said, knowing it was a promise that would be difficult to keep. "I'm sorry, son This is the way it has to be."
"I don't care," Dick sobbed. "Please, go away and leave me alone "
Dick heard his bedroom door being closed softly a few moments later, and he found himself indeed alone
Listening intently to the quiet, stealth-like noises from Bruce's room, Dick waited. As soon as Bruce left their quarters, Dick ran out into the living area, quickly crossed over to the exit, opened the door carefully and looked down the outside corridor.
There! Batman was rounding the bend towards the elevators. Robin ran back into their quarters and made his way quickly to the "phone." This was an unsecured intra-satellite local area voice network. He dialed Wonder Girl's code.
Robin waited while the phone rang at the other end.
"'lo?" a sleepy voice answered.
"WG?" Robin whispered desperately.
"Mmmm?" Wonder Girl's response was still sleepy.
"Donna!" Robin hissed. "Wake up, willya?"
"What? Hello? Dick?" Wonder Girl sat up confused. "What time is it?"
"It's time for action! You up to a little trip to the edge of the galaxy, Wonder Girl?"
"Do I get to drive?" Wonder Girl was wide-awake now.
"In your dreams, WG! Nothing doing! Go back to bed!" Robin replied tongue firmly in cheek and awaited for the explosion.
"Ooh! Just wait till I get my hands on you, Boy Wonder!" she spluttered.
"Donna, please! This is an unsecured line! I'm shocked! What would Batman and Diana say? Look I've gotta get the others. Make your way to the launch bay and WG?"
"This is one hundred percent Top Secret! Escape and evasion procedures are in effect!"
"Roger, oh, fearless leader! Over and out!" Wonder Girl said, saluting playfully even though Robin couldn't see what she was doing.
Dick smiled, then proceeded to round up his team.
"So, let me get this straight, Boy Wonder," Speedy began. "In the course of twenty-four hours, or so, this is the second rule that you've broken. Batman's gonna hang you by the cape from the highest stalactite in the Batcave!"
Robin walked up to Speedy and stood defiantly. "That's my problem, junior bowman! You wanna play ball, then be ready to get a little dirty. The same goes for all of you! This mission is strictly off limits! Batman's already told me to stay of it, and the other JLAers are in agreement with him."
Robin took in each of his team's looks of protest. The Titans were standing in the launch bay's darkened observation deck. Movement below caught Robin's eye: Batman and Green Arrow were climbing into one of the cruisers.
"Ollie--!" Speedy said, startled. "He didn't even say good-bye !" After all the promises Green Arrow made, he volunteered for a suicide mission without informing Speedy. Speedy clenched his fist in anger. "I'll show you," he vowed in an angry whisper.
"If you believe that this is necessary, Robin," Aqualad volunteered, "then I am willing to risk Aquaman's wrath. We are a team it is our job to protect one another."
"I'm in, too, Batboy," Kid Flash said. "You need me. We're a team."
"Me too," Wonder Girl piped in.
"I'm in," Speedy said, smirking. "Can't let you kids go out into the big bad galaxy without a gunner, now can I?"
"All right, listen up!" Robin hissed. "As soon as the launch bay is repressurized, we blitz it to cruiser number five. I'll go to the control room and activate the cruiser's crew hatch from there. As soon as the hatch goes green, I'll follow. Any questions?"
"Yeah," Speedy said. "How do we open the launch bay doors once we're on board the cruiser?"
"Each cruiser has a remote activation unit on its control board for emergency launch," Robin quickly explained. "I can't think of a better example of an emergency launch than this."
The launch bay red warning light signaling depressurization changed to green. It was safe to reenter the cavernous launch bay. "Ready?" Robin asked. Each Titan nodded affirmative. Robin carefully opened the observation room's safety hatch. He walked at a crouch out onto a catwalk, which led to the deck below. He signaled the "All Clear" to the others.
"GO!" Robin urged in a loud whisper.
As the others hurried down to the designated cruiser, Robin shot out a jumpline and crossed the intervening emptiness of the giant open bay towards the control room. Releasing his safety line, Robin somersaulted in midair, caught the safety railing immediately outside the control room and easily swung himself over onto the catwalk.
Taking out a palm-sized digital lock-pick from his utility belt, Robin quickly placed it on the control room's outside data pad. He pressed a key on the lock-pick and a red indicator light came on. Within seconds the red turned to green.
The control room safety hatch clicked open. "I'm in!" Robin said aloud. He hurried to the control panel and flipped several switches. The launch bay monitor came on and Robin immediately began typing commands. He found the data bank that provided the remote control commands for the cruisers that were sitting on the launch bay. After a couple minutes of furious typing, Robin uncovered the exact combination for cruiser #5. He noted that the spacecraft had been christened the Avenger.
"Hmm. The Avenger, eh? How appropriate," Robin muttered. Within seconds, he'd successfully opened the Avenger's outer crew hatch. Grinning to himself, Robin took a few extra moments to type in a few more commands. Satisfied, he shut the system down, then hurried out into the bay to join his teammates.
Not bothering to fire off a jumpline, Robin dove off the five-story catwalk, and executing a series of elaborate spins and twists, he managed to grab onto a handhold and thus break his descent when he was about six feet from the ground.
Releasing his handhold, Robin landed lightly on his feet, and took off running towards the cruiser. Speedy, who'd witnessed Robin's descent from the catwalk, could only shake his head in awe.
And I tried to take on the guy, Speedy thought ruefully.
"Heads up, Titans!" Robin ordered over the Avenger's intercom. "As soon as I open the launch bay doors, there's gonna be hell to pay. Donna! Wally! Remember, as soon as we clear the satellite Donna, go to cloak, and Wally activate shields."
"Let's do it, people!" Robin punched the emergency launch button on his control panel, and the interior of the launch bay exploded into a frenzied maelstrom. A warning klaxon went off inside the bay warning of sudden depressurization! A red strobe light suddenly started flashing immediate danger! As soon as the launch bay doors cracked open with a sudden hiss, everything that wasn't tied down or somehow bolted to the floor instantly began flying towards the opening.
"WHAT'S HAPPENING?" Wonder Girl shouted into the intercom.
"Wonder Girl, don't shout into the mike!" Robin ordered sharply. "You'll overload it. The outside's being depressurized, and not in the usual orderly fashion. Instead of depressurizing the launch bay first, and then opening the doors, we've opened the doors first. As soon as the launch bay reaches equilibrium with the open vacuum of space, everything will calm down."
Sure enough within a couple of minutes, the gale force tornado and material being buffeted about came to a halt. Items that were not sucked out of the bay doors, floated freely in the open bay.
"NOW!" Robin called. He immediately fired his start engines and put the Avenger into forward. As soon as the small cruiser cleared the open bay doors, Robin punched for full impulse. "Wonder Girl! Cloak! Kid Flash! Shields!"
The JLA satellite was a marvel of human engineering. Its construction had been a joint effort of some of the best scientists that Wayne Enterprises, LexCorps, and Star Labs had to offer. It was further enhanced by ultra secret Kryptonian, Amazonian, Atlantean, and Martian science. Furthermore, the talents of Dr. Ray Palmer came to bear on the final engineering design of the space station.
On approach from earthside, the satellite appeared to resemble a child's spinning top. The center of the satellite, and the main construction, was cylindrically shaped and several stories in length. An outer ring encircled the inner cylinder. Four axles that radiated outwardly from the cylinder connected the outer ring to the main part of the station.
An array of antennae and solar panels were grouped on the satellite cylinder's "top" and "bottom." Lights could be seen blinking from four endpoints where the axles joined the outer circle. Also, an outsider might be able to make out lights shining brightly from several portholes and viewing ports. In all, the Hall of Justice was an impressive sight.
A sharp-eyed observer might suddenly notice that at the cylinder's lowest level, giant bay doors slowly opened, and inadvertently released interior atmosphere and a confusion of material. Within a few seconds, this was followed by what appeared to be a small cruiser; however, this image was there and gone so quickly, that an observer might have thought his eyes to be playing tricks on him
Wonder Girl and Kid Flash instantly activated the Avenger's cloak and shields respectively. Robin immediately steered the cruiser to one of the satellite's center axles. Very delicately, Robin set her down on the night side and shut down all unnecessary systems.
"What are you doing, Bird boy?" Speedy asked. "We should be heading out of the solar system at full throttle just about now.
"Not quite yet," Robin said. "We wait for now."
"Wait? Wait for what?" demanded Speedy.
"For them," Robin said quietly. He pointed at the flying figures of Superman and Green Lantern zooming out of the satellite's launch doors. As the Titans watched, it became obvious that the two superheroes were conducting a thorough sweep of the satellite's immediate area.
Robin listened in his headset for any transmissions from the satellite. Sure enough, he soon heard the exasperated voice of Atom radioing Superman.
"Supes! We can't join you on the search Someone's sabotaged the launch codes. It'll take a couple of hours to unscrew this mess!"
"Sabotaged them, huh?" Superman's voice sounded slightly amused. "Very well, Atom. GL and I will continue the search on our own. Superman out."
Robin sat back feeling very satisfied. He'd sabotaged the launch codes, of course. It would be relatively easy for someone with advanced computer skills to exterminate the bugs he'd placed in there. Of course, if the JLA couldn't debug the launch codes within twenty-four hours, Robin's sabotage program was set to self-destruct and return everything to normal.
Robin smiled as both Superman and Green Lantern flew off into space in opposite directions. As soon as both heroes were not longer in visual range, Robin began tracking them electronically. When it appeared that both the Man of Steel and GL were continuing their search into deep space, Robin delicately reactivated the Avenger's engines and slowly dislodged her from her perch on the satellite's outer skin.
Robin turned the Avenger 180 degrees.
"Aqualad, do you have that course I asked for already plotted?" Robin asked. As they'd practiced during the sim drills, Aqualad was acting as the ship's navigator.
"Aye, aye, Captain!" Aqualad said happily. The original Star Trek show was one of the many television broadcasts that the Atlantean visual entertainment communications station picked up from above. Aqualad was an avid fan, and he'd often dreamed of being part of the Enterprise crew. He was having the time of his life. "Plotted and on the board, Captain!"
The others turned to give him curious stares. Speedy and Kid Flash exchanged slightly amused glances. Aqualad caught their looks. "Star Trek's my favorite show back home!" he said, his violet eyes gleaming. "It's one of the few land-dwellers' video entertainments that the Ministry of Communications allows us to receive. I think I've watched all of the episodes about a thousand times! Beam me up, Scotty!" Aqualad added the last with a broad grin.
"I prefer the Next Generation," Kid Flash proclaimed.
"You have to got to be kidding!" Aqualad protested. "Captain Picard is so stiff! While Captain Kirk is--!"
"--so fat!" Kid Flash said derisively.
Speedy caught Wonder Girl's laughing eyes and just shook his head.
Robin concentrated on his flying. The course that Aqualad plotted would hopefully avoid the two spacefaring superheroes' search pattern at least until the Avenger cleared the solar system. Once in interstellar space and away from Sol's gravity well, it would be safe for Robin to activate the small cruiser's star drive and jump into hyperspace.
If necessary, Robin would be able to accelerate their timetable by activating the star drive's maximum faster than light jump engines, or max FTL. However, because of the strange "warping" effect that the max FTL could have on the immediate hyperspace bubble surrounding them, this capability was to be used only for extreme emergencies.
Robin was not entirely certain about the physics involved, but Atom had patiently explained that when the JLA cruiser went into max FTL drive, the engine's special isomagnophasic containment field became temporarily disabled, because the ship was literally sent through a "fold" in time. The spacecraft would enter a fold or a crease in the space-time continuum and emerge "somewhere else" an instant later.
To the ship's occupants, space around them would seem to have "warped," with everyone moving seemingly in slow motion. Atom compared the effect to a television monitor that's badly out of tune. Furthermore, while the ship's chronometers going through max FTL experienced a definite gain in time, those in real-time space neither gained nor lost time. It was almost as if time stood still back home while the spacecraft crossed through FTL.
For now, however, Robin would have to fly as stealthily as possible, utilizing the planetary bodies within the Solar system as cover and concealment. The Avenger may be cloaked, but Superman's much vaunted vision powers and Green Lantern's power ring were not to be dismissed lightly.
All characters are DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by Syl Francis
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