by Michael Rees
Black Canary leapt towards the engine block, a stream of bullets passing underneath her. Kicking off from the metal wall, she somersaulted through the air before delivering a devastating kick to the gunman. He crumbled to the floor, followed by his machine gun.
"Are you okay?" Oracle asked, her voice emanating from the specially designed gold earrings that Black Canary wore.
"Aside from some chaffing from the ropes they used to tied me up, I am in the picture of health. Inter-gang should really train their members to be better shots; especially if they're firing inside a giant air balloon."
"It's a stealth zeppelin, virtually undetectable and what it lacks in speed it makes up for in its capacity to carry heavy loads," Oracle commented while Black Canary retrieved the machine gun from the unconscious guard.
"Did Inter-gang send you the press release?" Black Canary glanced down the corridors to make sure no one else had been alerted to the short conflict.
In her Gotham base Oracle rolled her eyes "Have you placed the explosives?"
Glancing towards the engine block she saw that the small white parcels of gelatine were firmly attached and the detonator was blinking away happily "Its all there. So nice of Inter-gang to keep just the resources I need on board. Now are you sure this is the best place to position the explosives?"
The computer screen in front of Oracle showed the zeppelin being torn apart by the simulated ball of flame enveloping outwards from the engine room, "When it goes off the couplings will be torn apart - dropping the main section of the ship into the water as the gasses inside the balloon ignite. You've got fifteen minutes to get off before the fireworks begin."
"I am not going quite yet, I plan on getting the JLA teleporter blueprints back from our good friend Bullik first." Black Canary strode away, clicking the machine gun into readiness. "Can't take the chance that the disk might survive the blast. Wouldn't want anyone recovering it from the underwater wreck. Has the situation changed much since I was captured?"
Oracle shook her head and then realized that Black Canary couldn't actually see that.
"Not much. A plane docked with the zeppelin about half an hour ago from New York. Probably more Inter-gang members arriving to bid for the teleport plans."
"Good, I do love a party. I am looking forward to seeing Bullik again. After I'm through with him that bullet in his arm is going to be the least of his problems." Black Canary smiled at the thought.
"Faster you fool!" Bullik scowled at the gray haired doctor who worked furiously to bandage Bullik's thick arm. "The pain is terrible! Once the negotiations are complete, I will teach that blonde she-devil to trifle with me! My suit is ruined."
To emphasise his point Bullik waved a chubby be-ringed hand at his white suit draped over a nearby wooden chair (with a frayed hole punched through the right arm and blood soaking into the material.)
With a sigh Bullik gestured for one of the Inter-gang members to bring him a bowl of fruit. Unwilling to face Bullik's wrath the young man dashed forward, taking care not to trip over the numerous brightly coloured silk cushions that Bullik had surrounded himself with.
"I trust the officer who lost his gun to Black Canary has been dealt with?" Bullik mumbled as he shovelled grapes into his mouth. "I will not tolerate being shot by bullets paid for by Inter-gang."
"Yes sir," the young Inter-gang member tried to choke back his disgust as his superior slobbered over the fruit, drool running down his jowls, "He was thrown out of the zeppelin as you ordered."
"And I trust it was all video taped?" Bullik chortled as the Inter-gang member nodded. "I shall watch that later."
The doctor stepped back and admired his handy work, fishing into his pocket to retrieve his purple jewelled ring "That's stopped the bleeding, and I can give you something for the pain. You're lucky the bullet only grazed you."
"Doctor Cribb, that's an interesting ring," Bullik licked his lips, his eyes transfixed by the gleaming purple gem, his wounded arm completely forgotten. "Could I interest in you in parting with it?"
Stepping backwards Dr Cribb placed his hand over his ring hiding it from view "I am afraid I couldn't. It was a gift from my wife."
Bullik's face crumpled into an expression of sheer malevolence "It is not wise to defy me Dr Cribb. If you wish to see your wife again I would suggest you hand it over."
Before Bullik could complete his sentence the large door in front of him was kicked open by Black Canary, a machine gun pointed directly at him.
"Hi Bullik, miss me?" Black Canary's finger squeezed the trigger and the gun bucked as it unleashed a hail of lead towards the obese crime lord.
A loud cracking noise filled the room as the window behind Bullik was shattered, creating a future escape route for Black Canary. The guards went for their weapons while Bullik rolled away from where he'd been sitting.
"Take the doctor to the holding cell," Bullik yelled struggling to his feet, his face bright red. "And kill Black Canary!"
"Doctor? You didn't say anything about a doctor," Black Canary was caught off guard by the presence of the dishevelled gray haired man as guards ushered him out of the room via a side door, so much so that she was surprised when a guard kicked her to the ground.
"Searching now," Oracle's fingers danced across her keyboard bringing up police reports from New York, her eyes struggling to keep up as she scrolled through the information. "A Mrs. Cribb rang the police two hours ago saying some men kidnapped her husband. Looks like Dr Cribb's skills were needed here on the zeppelin. Sorry, I should have caught that earlier."
Black Canary rolled to the side as an Inter-gang guard unloaded his weapon into the floor. She lashed out with her long legs, knocking two of the men who surrounded her over. In the confusion she performed a handspring and bounced to her feet.
"Well, that's changed my plan," Black Canary struck one of the guards in the chin with her open palm, and as he lost consciousness, she spun him into the advancing men, knocking them down like ten pins.
"You shouldn't make any future plans, because you'll soon be dead," Bullik came up behind Black Canary and grabbed her by the throat.
Using his impressive bulk to increase his momentum, Bullik charged into the wall, maintaining his vice-like grip on Black Canary's neck, crushing the life from her. The young woman kicked out at him, but his flabby body simply absorbed her blows.
"Look..who's..talking" Black Canary gurgled as Bullik's grip tightened.
With lightning quick speed Black Canary swung her legs up and used her feet to strike Bullik's temples. The sharp stab of pain caused the large man to loosen his grip and that was all that Black Canary needed.
Keeping her tight grip on Bullik's head she wrenched her neck from his grasp. Hanging upside down she snatched the green disk from Bullik's trouser pocket. Doubling up she punched a very surprised Bullik in the face, his nose breaking under the force of her fist.
"Three minutes Dinah," Oracle said, watching the computer count down.
"I've got to get that doctor out first," Black Canary weaved in and out of the bullets the guards shot at her. Bullik hit the floor with a thud behind her.
Quickly slipping the disk into a concealed department in her bodysuit, Black Canary jumped out of the open window, the wind blowing around her. For a moment she started to fall away from the pitch black zeppelin, the ocean waves beckoning her to embrace them, but the grappling cord was already in her hand, its sharp hook flying into the metal surface of the Zeppelin's lower section. The line pulled taught and Black Canary swung like a pendulum, and as she reached the zenith of her fall, she twisted her body so she smashed into another window.
Brushing off small fragments of glass, Black Canary surveyed her surroundings. She found that she was in a thin corridor filled with cell doors. Above the doors were flashing red lights, the drone of an alarm filling the area. As she had predicted, she had swung her way into the holding area.
"Doctor Cribb! I'm here to save you, where are you?" Black Canary shouted glancing up and down the corridor straining to hear a response.
"Here," the quiet voice was almost drowned out by the alarm.
Black Canary wasted no time and rushed to the door which had a number "13" etched on to its metal surface. She ran her hands over the door's edges trying to get a rough idea of how secure it was. It didn't look good. There were several bolts securing the door to the framework of the wall, and it looked like only an electronic key could unlock the door.
"Hold on Doctor, I'll get you out of there," Black Canary punched the door, but it didn't even shudder under the assault.
"One minute Dinah, you've got to go," Oracle shouted into the earpiece.
Black Canary ignored her and kicked at the door with all her strength, a slight dent appearing in the middle of it. She could hear Cribb beating the door, an increasing sense of urgency with each blow.
"It's no good, its not budging," Black Canary cursed herself for placing all the explosives on the engine, if only she had saved enough to blast open this stubborn portal.
Refusing to give up, Black Canary stepped up against the wall, her back pressed against the glass. With a shout of anger she charged the entrance, a stab of pain spreading through her arm as she made contact. Quickly she repeated the exercise, each time the pain getting worse and each time the door refused to move.
"Please, help me," whimpered Dr Cribb " I want to see my wife again. I want to tell her I love her."
A tear formed in the corner of Black Canary's eye. Her fingers sought out cracks in the door, some purchase she could use to leverage it open. There had to be one, otherwise Cribb was going to die.
"Twenty seconds!" Oracle bellowed, the microphone squealing "Get out now Dinah. There's nothing you can do. Go."
Black Canary shook her head. "No, I am not leaving him."
From further up the corridor three Inter-gang guards turned the corner, with weapons in their hands. Two of them struck up firing positions while the third dashed towards her, the muzzle of his gun pointed directly at her.
"You stay, you die," Oracle said simply, her voice almost a whisper " Don't make me lose you Dinah."
Wrestling with her emotions, Black Canary stood pressed against the door. From the door's other side, she could hear Cribb crying and making slight scratching noises - like scratching on metal. She saw the guard's gun jump slightly as a bullet whooshed past her cheek. In her chest she felt her heart beat out the remaining time before the bomb went off.
Finally she pushed back, crashing through the third window in so many minutes. Tears flowing across her face, she pulled her body into a tight ball, increasing the speed of her descent as a fireball ripped apart the rear section of the zeppelin and severed the couplings. Pulling her body out of the spin, Black Canary straightened her body, hands pointed towards the water. The sound of the second explosion, as the flame reached the gas inside the balloon, was muffled as Dinah was enveloped into the waves, freezing water surrounding her.
All Black Canary wanted was to let the cold numb her whole body so she didn't have to endure the mental of image of Cribb being roasted or plummeting to his death, but her own survival instinct kicked in and she started to kick. She swam through the ocean as the remains of the airship dropped into the water with a mighty splash.
The water rolled down Black Canary's suit, forming a puddle on the abandoned wooden pier. Shivering slightly, she stared out across the water, watching the morning light brighten the sky, the wind dispersing the cloud of black smoke near the horizon.
"Dinah, are you there?" Oracle's voice was soft but insistent. "I know you're upset that Cribb died, but there wasn't anything you could do. You tried your best."
Silently Black Canary removed the earrings and threw them into the ocean. They rapidly sank from view, joining the remains of the airship at the bottom of the sea, leaving Dinah alone with the sound of the waves.
Barbara sighed, putting the phone back on its cradle. Once again she had been unable to contact Dinah. It had been three weeks since the zeppelin incident, and the two women hadn't spoken since. Barbara was really starting to worry about her.
After Dinah had broken contact Barbara had anonymously contacted the police to report the incident. They had been unable to locate the zeppelin in the ocean but found enough Inter-gang members floating dead in the water to confirm her story.
Dr Cribb was pronounced deceased, lost at sea.
According to the numerous police reports that Barbara had been listening to, Black Canary had been seen frequently, waging a one-woman war against Inter-gang. Every trace of their operations had been removed from New York, but her tactics were becoming brutal and reckless. The real enemy Black Canary was fighting was herself.
"Dinah, why won't you talk to me?" Barbara said to her reflection in computer monitor. It offered no response.
Wheeling herself over to the window, she looked out across Gotham. It didn't seem so long ago that the city had been in ruins caused by an earthquake. In that tragedy Barbara had found herself in command, ordering police officers to stay and help people in the area rather than going to find their families. It had been the right decision to make and Barbara had never doubted that. Officer Pelwoski had disagreed.
Officer Pelwoski's family were at home in their apartment block when the earthquake struck. Incredibly, they had survived as the floors above them came tumbling down, but afterwards Pelwoski learned that they had been trapped underneath the rubble.
Hurt, scared, and running low on oxygen they had screamed for help but none came. No one else had survived. Later reports indicated that one person could have cleared enough space for Mrs Pelwoski and her two children to escape. The one person who could have saved them was too busy following Barbara Gordon's orders and rescuing strangers.
Officer Pelwoski had resigned from the force, explaining his reasons in a carefully typed out letter to his father. Despite his protests, Barbara had read the letter and learned that Pelwoski believed Barbara had killed his family. Except the exact wording of the letter had used much more explicit language and had not used her given name of Barbara.
Taking off her glasses, Barbara began to shine them on the sleeve of her green jumper. More than most people, Barbara knew of life's cruel surprises, and it was easy to believe that the concepts of "fairness" and "justice" were childish fantasies.
By the same token, Barbara knew that it was possible to continue on. Her own father was the shining example of this. His daughter had been crippled by the Joker, but he had held on to his sanity even when, years later, the Joker returned to take away Gordon's wife. He had faltered, he had fallen, but he got back up and continued on. It was Jim Gordon who had given Barbara strength to carry on.
Who did Black Canary have? Who did she have to look up to and give her faith? Black Canary had been a member of the original Justice League and had been friends with both the Green Lantern and the Flash, but both were now dead. Black Canary was also romantically involved with the Green Arrow. He was dead as well. Under that amount of strain could even Barbara have found the strength to carry on?
Rolling over to the phone, Oracle started to dial. In circumstances like this perhaps Dinah needed to speak to somebody who she trusted.
Sounds of conflict drifted over the rooftops of Greenwich Village. The moon bathed the fighters in a pale yellow light as they battled. Black Canary was using the shadows to her advantage, using them to cloak her moves, never giving the five Inter-gang members a chance to predict her next move.
Two of the biggest thugs ran at her, side by side, creating a wall of muscle, attempting to crush her against the wall of the stair well. Instead of retreating, Black Canary performed a handstand, flipping over them as they rushed forward. Landing just behind them, Black Canary brought her elbows back sharply, striking the men in their backs. Off balance and unable to change their momentum, both criminals crashed head long into the bricks with a thud.
"Not so much fun being on the receiving end is it? I am going to make sure you receive as much pain as you caused your victims," Black Canary snarled at the men standing on the lip of the roof.
All three of them were thin and dressed in skintight dark suits. Attached to their backs were bungee cords, secured to the sides of the roof. Black Canary had learned that they referred to themselves as "Spiders" due to the fact they would drop down to street level and carry away an unsuspecting late night pedestrian. The well-muscled thugs she had just introduced to the wall would then beat the victim into submission. The victim was then either robbed or, if they were young enough, passed to the Inter-gang slavery ring.
Two of the "Spiders" pulled at the couplings on their back, trying to free themselves from the bungee cord. Black Canary delivered a punishing punch to one of the men, sending him reeling and allowing the vigilante to grasp the cord that she quickly used to wrap around the other "Spider".
Bound together, there was no escaping the fury that Black Canary unleashed on them. While they struggled with their bonds, Black Canary delivered wave after wave of kicks and punches until the pain was too much for the criminals and they mercifully lapsed into unconsciousness.
Black Canary's chest heaved as she struggled to get her breathing under control. If she didn't rein in her rage she would kill the two men. Just as the red mist raised she realized the third "Spider" had escaped, using his cord to abscond down the side of the roof. She heard his hurried footsteps as he ran down the street.
Taking a deep breath, Black Canary grabbed the disconnected bungee cord and leapt off the side of the building. The cord stretched and then started to retract as her feet touched the ground. Letting go quickly, she let the cord snap back while she gave chase to the escaping criminal.
In the day the pursuit would have seemed ridiculous, a gangly frightened man in a thin costume being chased by an angry blond woman in equally revealing attire. It was night, however, and they were only two shadows slipping through the ill lit street, Black Canary's anger almost seemed to radiate from her.
The "Spider" was approaching a corner; Black Canary knew that if he escaped her view there were plenty of alleys he could hide in. Clenching her teeth, Black Canary willed her legs to move faster, to close the space between them.
She was not quite quick enough, and the Spider slipped out of view - but not for long. His body was thrown back into sight, propelled by an unseen force. Another figure stepped out from behind the corner, clad in a cat costume.
"Mind if I help, Pussy Cat?" asked Wildcat, rubbing his fist.
"No," Black Canary snapped, leaping into the air only to come down hard on the "Spider's" chest as he attempted to get to his feet, knocking the air from him. "This one's mine."
Groaning with pain, the Inter-gang member never saw the punch coming and passed out. Black Canary pushed his limp body to the side of the pavement before turning to look at the older super hero.
"I assume Oracle sent you," Black Canary stretched her back, attempting to ease the kinks she had developed during the fight. "I suppose it could have been worse. She could have sent Batman."
Sirens pierced the quiet of the night. Black Canary was momentarily surprised, but then she saw that Wildcat was completely unfazed by the noise. She gave him an accusing glare.
"I called the police to deal with the Inter-gang members. I also called an ambulance. It was quite a number you were playing on them," Wildcat pointed a thumb towards the roof top "We've got to talk."
Despite Wildcat setting the agenda, neither one seemed ready to speak. They rushed across the roofs of Greenwich Village, working out all of Black Canary's frustration and anger. Wildcat kept looking at her as they moved, making it clear he was prepared to wait until Black Canary felt ready. Eventually she was.
"How do you deal with it?" Black Canary asked as they leapt the gap between a candle shop and a bakery.
"Death you mean?" Wildcat landed in mid stride and kept moving. "It's part of life. I've lost some good friends and people in my family who meant a great deal to me. Life's never the same, but it still goes on. The very nature of life is change."
"No, not death. The killing," Black Canary looked up at the twinkling stars, they seemed to be judging her.
"It was different in my day. During the war it was kill or be killed. We tried to stop the Nazis with as little force as possible, but sometimes there was no choice. The JSA had many meetings regarding that very subject. Starman, the Green Lantern and Dr Midnight all saw human life as something precious, but the Spectre was all for using any means necessary to punish the evil. Sandman always said we had to be able to give them evil nightmares if we were ever to stop them. It could get pretty heated," Wildcat easily leapt over a chimney.
"Whose side were you on?" Black Canary gave him a piercing stare, watching his response carefully even as she vaulted to the next building.
Wildcat shrugged "I always said that if we could save more innocent lives by killing people who were evil then that's what we should do. If we let them live, they could escape and kill more people. But that was during the War, afterwards I've never deliberately killed someone. There are better ways to deal with them now."
Black Canary came to a stop as they came to the corner of Horatio Street, looking out towards the docks "I suppose what I'm really asking is what about the killing of innocent people?"
The words shook Wildcat and he pointed a finger straight at the young woman and spoke sternly "You did not kill that man. Do you understand me?"
"Didn't I? I injured Bullik, and because of that he brought the doctor on board. If it wasn't for me that doctor would have still been at home, with his wife," Black Canary was staring at her hands, wrestling with the ideas.
"You can't start thinking like that. You can't be worrying about all the what-ifs before you take an action or you'll paralyze yourself. For everyone we save, there are going to be a hundred we can't - so don't beat yourself up over it. You're only human. Heck, even someone who isn't like Superman can't do everything. How do you think he feels, his super hearing detecting thousands of people calling for help? He still goes on," Wildcat placed his hand on Black Canary's arm and stared deep into her eyes "You save peoples lives, that's what matters."
"You didn't answer my question," Black Canary said, unswayed by his words.
Wildcat threw his arms into the air in desperation "Have I let innocent people die? Sure, plenty. In the war there were civilians in some of those military bases we destroyed, and if I could change that I could but I can't. I mourn, but I move on. That's what you've got to do. Don't let this consume you."
"I wish I could," Black Canary hugged herself, watching the waves rolling across the dark ocean "It's the guilt. It won't let me forget."
Gently Wildcat patted her on the back "If you ever need someone to confide in, you know where to find me. Good luck little bird."
Black Canary closed her eyes as Wildcat kissed her cheek. Then he was gone, leaping into the night leaving her with her troubled thoughts.
It was very cold the next day and Dinah was glad she had worn her long black coat to the graveyard. Her black shoes were covered in mud, and autumn leaves landed in her blond hair but she didn't let those things distract her. All her attention was focused on Mrs Cribb.
The memorial had been a modest affair, only a few friends and family. His two children had clung to their mother during the ceremony. Dinah had kept her distance, sitting at the back of the church, unwilling to intrude on the private moments but using her years of training to listen to their words - Finding out more about the man she had sent to the hereafter.
Although he tried, the priest did not provide much comfort for the family. He spoke of Dr. Cribb's achievements, the lives he had saved, and the light he had brought into peoples lives. Somberly he spoke of the tragedy that had taken him from his family and that as cruel and unfair as it seemed, these events were part of God's will and he was with Him now.
After laying flowers on the memorial stone in the graveyard, the mourners began to disperse . The children had gone with a young couple who Dinah assumed must be friends of the family as the children seemed comfortable with the pair but shared no physical resemblance. Mrs. Cribb stood alone by the memorial stone, and Dinah knew what was keeping her there. The widow lacked closure.
The wreck of the Stealth Zeppelin had never been located, so neither had Doctor Cribb's body. Mrs. Cribb would never know what her husband's last thoughts were. Her last recollections of him would always be those of him being dragged away by the Inter-gang members.
"I thought I'd find you here," came Barbara's voice, her approach announced by the slight squeak of her wheelchair.
Dinah saw that Barbara was wearing a similar dark coat to herself and a green, rumpled dress, several years out of date underneath. Even though the sun was not out, Barbara wore a pair of shades. The mud was slowing Barbara's ascent up the slight hill where Dinah stood, but she knew that Barbara wouldn't want any help. As Barbara frequently pointed out, that was why there were no handles on the back of her chair.
"I'm just wallowing in my sorrow," Dinah sighed. "And realizing how selfish I am being. Mrs Cribb is the one who has the right to be angry and upset, not me. She's the one who needs to feel better, not me."
"You've every right to want to be happy Dinah," Barbara drew level with Dinah and put the brake on the chair to prevent her rolling back.
"But her first," Dinah said softly and smiled slightly, "Sorry about the silent routine."
"You needed time to yourself, I understand," Barbara was assessing Dinah's condition with great concern, worried at the dark rings around her eyes that spoke of many a sleepless night. "But beside being Oracle and Black Canary we're Barbara and Dinah, friends."
"I should have spoken to you rather than making you chase after me," Dinah nodded to herself as she let the words sink in. "Something to remember for next time."
Reaching into her coat Barbara retrieved a coastal map of New York. She pointed at a cross marked in red. "The location of the Stealth Zeppelin. It took some doing. Twenty three governments are going to wonder why their satellites are pointing at the sea surrounding New York, and the Pentagon is more than a little annoyed that their super computer has been calculating tidal drift patterns for the last week, but it was worth it. I thought you might be able to find what you wanted there."
"Thank you Barbara," Dinah bent over and hugged her partner, not caring if anyone was watching.
Elizabeth Cribb had hoped that the memorial service would fill the space inside her, but it was still there, hurting her like an open wound. A day had passed, and if anything, she felt worse. The apartment felt so empty without her husband and the children, but she couldn't let them see her like this. How could they be strong when she was crying all the time?
With a sob she slumped on to the sofa in the only place that wasn't blanketed in photos of her husband. She had awakened that morning and realized to her horror that his face was not as clear in her mind as it had been. To rectify that she had brought out all the photo albums in an attempt to memorize every image.
Her fingers glided over the surface of the photo in front of her. "Oh, Alex, why did this have to happen to you?"
Alex looked so happy in the photo. His face was pulled into a wide grin, his hair almost as black as the tuxedo he wore, and a twinkle was in his eye. It had been the night when Elizabeth had asked him to marry her.
She had always been unconventional and she had decided to buy an engraved ring. As they sat round the table with their friends celebrating Alex's first doctor's practice she had brought out the small box.
Bemused, Alex had looked at the purple gem for several minutes before Elizabeth had pointed out that it was inscribed. His face had lit up as he had read the words "be mine" on the inside. Of course he had agreed.
The photo showed him proudly holding up his hand, displaying the ring, his faced pressed against hers. They both had been so happy, a good indication for how good their married life would be together.
Without warning the apartment bell rang, pulling Elizabeth away from her memories. Wiping the tears from her eyes she went to the door, wondering who would be calling. Sarah and Daniel had said they would ring before they brought the children back, and Elizabeth was expecting no visitors.
Peering through the eyehole, Elizabeth couldn't see anyone. Her curiosity piqued, she opened the door and looked up and down the corridor only to find there was no one there. If it had not been for the glittering gem on the floor Elizabeth would have shut the door and returned to the photos. Looking down she saw to her disbelief the ring she had given Alex resting on the carpet.
The tears began to flow again as she picked up the gold band, running her fingers over it, hoping to gain a connection to her departed. As she did so she felt a slight roughness within the band.
Examining the inside, she saw that alongside the engraved message someone had carved another word. It was very faint and Elizabeth guessed that someone must have done it with their fingers or some bit of metal. After the original message was a single word.
Elizabeth clasped a hand to her mouth as she suddenly felt as if the air had been knocked out of her. She barely noticed the puddles of seawater leading down the apartment corridor.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Michael Rees
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