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End of Summer
 

Crisis Survivor

by Carl J. Gonzales

Nightwing and Robin stand atop Wayne Tower, looking down at the maze of streets and alleys that make up Gotham City. Nightwing throws his decel line out, then launches himself into space. In mid-swing, the sudden movement of a speeding car in his peripheral vision makes his attention focus to his right. In that heartbeat of time, five high caliber bullets shot from a sniper rifle on a far off rooftop to his left, slam into his side. The hero falls.

The Grand Canyon. Beneath the canopy of stars, a solitary pinprick of light stands atop a towering column of rock like the dying glow of a blown-out candle. We draw closer, dropping down through the nighttime sky like some colossal bird approaching its unsuspecting prey. The ember becomes a raging bonfire, casting red and yellow light all across the rocky plateau. A figure sits cross-legged at the meeting point between luminescence and shadow. Wings are shed and The Batman drops into the murky night, landing just outside the fire's circle of radiance.

Thanks for dropping in. I see you got my message, says the seated man. He only sees the glow of the fire, but his senses can tell someone is there.

Richard Gray... Batman's gravelly voice announces from the concealing shadows. A low security inmate of Arkham Asylum for the past five years. You were freed along with the other inmates by Jeremiah Arkham just prior to Gotham's declaration as a No Man's Land. Two days ago, you fired five high caliber bullets at one of my allies. In my city.

You're coming with me.

You shouldn't feel so bad about it. Your training worked. He guards his left during his swings much better than when he started. The opening was there for just a split second. Only someone who knows him could have taken advantage of it.

Pause. Batman doesn't reply. The seated man still can only see the glow of the flames.

Hmmm... silence. Not surprising. You never were the talkative hero like myself, but such intimate knowledge of, for all intents and purposes, your son must be a little unsettling.

Still, the seated man can only see flames.

That's one of the reasons why I shot him, you know. What better way to get the attention of the Dark Knight of Gotham than to attack his squire? I have to admit, though, part of me did want to cause him a little pain

Batman's gloved hand swings down from the right, but the man blocks the attack, grabbing the hero's wrists and flipping him forward to the hard earth.

After all, what's five bruises beneath a kevlar body suit compared to the loss of your entire existence on the whims of chance and the universe to which you were born?

Batman, on his back, finally gets a look at his opponent. His face is older and a bit wrinkled but is clearly that of Dick Grayson.

Dick?

My Arkham file says I'm Richard Gray, 40-year-old male suffering from hyper-aging, which has caused me to have delusions of parallel worlds. But in... well, some other reality, I am Dick Grayson, ward of the late Bruce Wayne, and last survivor of Earth-2.

Hh. The shock that slipped past the Batman's constant grimace is instantly replaced with hardened anger.

You will leave immediately. Go back. Now. And if you threaten my partners again, I will hunt you down. You won't escape me no matter what hyper-timeline you hide in.

Batman walks away.

Batman, I need your help.

No response.

Batman... The brash, cockiness in Richard Gray's voice is now gone. Bruce, please don't go.

Again, no response.

Don Diego Vega.

Batman stops in his tracks.

Ten levels of encryption, redundant security codes, emergency lockouts for Dick's, Tim's, Barbara's and Alfred's passwords as well as the twenty you reserve for yourself. And for every precaution you've taken, simply typing in Don Diego Vega will override them all.

Batman walks back to Richard.

Zorro's alter ego, the movie both you and my Batman saw just before your parents were killed. Like you, he was a pretty sentimental man. I won't threaten you, Bruce. I just want to talk. Let me ask you, what do you remember about The Crisis?

Batman sits down. A creature called the Anti-Monitor attacked the Earth with anti-matter wraiths. He pulled the planet into his universe, but Superman and other meta-humans were able to return the world to its proper position.

Interesting. Now what would you say if I told you that you were suffering from trauma-induced amnesia?

I would say that you were wrong. I am fully aware of my body's responses under normal conditions. I am exhibiting no signs of memory loss.

That's only because the catastrophe was on such a large scale that your mind had to erase all memory of it for fear that you would go insane.

What you remember was the end of The Crisis. There was more to it. Much more.

There were hundreds of universes before The Crisis, branches sprouting from one common beginning, all existing at a different vibrational rate. The Anti-Monitor systematically destroyed each one, his universe filling the void left by their destruction. Eventually, only five remained:

Earth-1, populated by the Kal-El Superman, Batman and the Justice League.

Earth-X, where the Allies lost World War II to Germany and the Axis powers.

Earth-S, which was home to the Marvel family.

Earth-Prime, where superheroes only existed in comic books.

And finally, Earth-2, my home. The Kal-L Superman and Batman were founding members of the Justice Society in the 1930's. They fought Nazis during World War II. My Batman married Selina Kyle and had a daughter named Helena Wayne. Bruce's identity became public and he... was killed. I continued to fight crime into adulthood as Robin, filling my surrogate-father's role as protector of Gotham City.

The heroes of all five worlds gathered to protect their homes. Eventually, we all broke the time barrier and journeyed to the beginning, to moments before the big bang. We fought the Anti-Monitor there, and prevented the fracturing of the universe. Instead of the multiple parallel dimensions, one universe formed with characteristics of them all.

Batman's voice grows soft. And instead of a world where Bruce Wayne died and you took up the mantle--

I ended up in a world where Dick Grayson was 19-years-old and the leader of a team of Teen Titans. I was-- am an anomaly.

During that final battle, the wraiths dropped a wall on Helena and me. She... died, and with her, my last link to the world I knew. I took her body with me into the shadows. Rescuers didn't find us and assumed that we were dead. Not that it mattered, since soon after everyone forgot we ever existed.

Moments pass as The Batman contemplates this man's story. He remembers the red skies. He remembers shadow wraiths attacking. He remembers looking behind the rubble of a building's wall once the battle was won. But for whom...

That's all well and good, but what do you want from me? Empirical evidence would suggest that, since the breakdown of reality associated by the prolonged presence of Hypertime refugees has not occurred, you are a native member of this universe. You exist in the here and now. Make a life for yourself right here.

Let go of the past, eh? Out of respect for my late mentor, I'll refrain from telling you to practice what you preach.

Batman's voice regains its edge. I know what you want. I can't help you break into Hypertime and find a version of your universe that wasn't attacked by the Anti-Monitor. Even if I had the technology necessary, your presence in another timeline would threaten its stability. You would endanger countless lives.

And what about my life? Richard Gray yells. Tears run down his face. Every day I hear about the exploits of my younger self and have to face the fact that to whatever higher power reconstructed reality, his life was more appealing than mine. I have to dream about my mentor's death at night, then see his mirror image testify in congressional hearings on TV.

Can you imagine what it was like to feel your mind snap at the weight of it all, then find yourself housed in the same sanitarium as the monsters you'd fought your entire career? And then there's my so-called Hyper-aging. Gravity is much stronger in this combined universe than it was on Earth-2. The result is that time passes much more slowly here.

The Dark Knight immediately understands. And since you are an anomaly, you perceive time at a much faster rate.

Precisely. To you, The Crisis happened four years ago. To me it was... at least 15. Your battle with Bane, Azrael's masquerade as Batman and the fight for the mantle? A year for you, but more than two years to me.

Ray Palmer created some equipment for the JLA recently that helped them synchronize with a race living at a different temporal level. We could adapt it to slow you down.

Too little, too late Bruce. I can't stay in this universe any longer. Please, you have to help me break through the Hypertime barrier.

I -- can't. Robin... Dick... if you're anything like the Dick Grayson I know, you would rather die than risk the lives of others. I don't know what to make of your version of The Crisis. I don't remember anything of what you described, but after all the emergencies we've seen, it certainly is plausible.

Bruce, please--

No Dick. You have to stay here-- but that doesn't mean you have to be alone.

I appreciate the sentiment, Batman, but you don't trust me. I knew everything about my partner. The look on your face, I saw it a hundred times on his. It says that you want to keep me close so you can study me and determine just how much of a threat I am.

Well, I decided when I planned this... reunion for lack of a better term, that it would end in one of two ways. Either you would help me find my world...

Richard Gray stands. He turns his back to The Batman and looks out into the night.

-- or the last member of Earth-2's Flying Grayson's would finish the show the way he started.

And with that, Richard Gray a.k.a. the Dick Grayson of a lost world, walks to the edge of the plateau and leaps off. Dropping in the night air, he does a quadruple flip, the same maneuver that his parents were performing when they fell to their doom. Batman launches a grapple at the descending figure, snagging an ankle. Richard pulls out a R shaped knife and cuts the cord. The Dark Knight can only watch with horror as the darkness swallows the man, then hears the crunch from far below of his body making impact.

The Batman returns to Gotham City long enough to change into his Bruce Wayne clothes, picks out a car and drives along the coast to Bludhaven. On the way, he uses the Don Diego Vega password to access the Batcave's computer. As soon as he enters the code, a message from Richard Gray arrives along with an enormous data file.

Dear Batman, I know how you insist on knowing everything about everything. This is my gift to you and my namesake. In this file is every scrap of information I have on the true nature of The Crisis on Infinite Earths as well as descriptions of reality prior to the reboot of the universe. Being an anomaly as well as a detective, I was able to gather data on many of the emergencies that followed, with a perspective uninfluenced by changes in the universe. So included as well, are files code-named Zero Hour, Underworld Unleashed, Contagion, Cataclysm, No Man's Land... etc.

One last thought. I wasn't there when Bruce... that is, my Bruce, was killed. My greatest regret was not being able to tell him how much he meant to me. If you don't mind advice from a refugee from another reality, let Dick know how much you love him.

Dick Grayson opens the door and is surprised that his mentor has shown up in his civilian guise.

I know, I know. You've yelled at me since I was 13 to pay attention to my left while I'm in the air. It's bad enough that Tim can hang saving me from becoming street pizza over my head. I don't need you to come to my town and--

Something makes Dick stop his tirade. He's know Bruce since he was a boy, but the look on his mentor's face... He's never seen it. He steps back from the door. Bruce Wayne enters the apartment, hesitates then sits down. I just... wanted to make sure you were okay.

 
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This piece is © 2002 by Carl J. Gonzales
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