Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Nov-08-12, 01:40 AM (EST)|
AKA Part 3 of the BatCo Trilogy|Friday, June 16, 2409
Planet Tawet-443 IV
Outer Rim Territories
Bruce Wayne awoke and knew immediately, without opening his eyes, that he wasn't in the same place he'd gone to sleep in.
Damn, he thought, you're slipping, old man, and then he opened his eyes and sat up to have a look around.
As bedrooms went it wasn't much different from his own - a little smaller, perhaps, but (if it's possible) even more sumptuously appointed, in a more Gothic style than Wayne Manor boasted. There was a tall French door off to one side that opened onto a stone balcony, and beyond it a vista of some craggy, lofty mountain range with which he was not immediately familiar.
Wayne got slowly, carefully out of bed, found his robe hung over the back of a different chair than the one he'd hung it on when he took it off, and belted it on. His slippers were under the same chair; he stepped into them, then went and tried the door. It opened smoothly, soundlessly, onto a dark-paneled corridor. Faintly - he might be old, but his hearing was still sharp - he picked up the sound of classical music filtering through the partly open door at the end of the hall. Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major, played by an expert.
He went to the door, already reasonably sure of what he'd find there, and opened it to discover that he was entirely correct. The room was a library, richly and tastefully appointed like the bedroom. Sitting at the concert grand in the corner, broad strikes of white showing in his wizard's beard, was one of Wayne's oldest, deadliest, and (perversely) favorite enemies - Ra's al-Ghûl, the Demon's Head.
Seeing the old man enter, Ra's stopped playing, closed the piano, and rose to offer a stiffly formal bow. Wayne's sharp eye caught the hesitancy, the extra stiffness, in his old foe's movements, and he realized with a faint sense of surprise that Ra's was an old man too. Of course, chronologically he was much older than Wayne and (obviously) always had been, but he had a way of cheating death and time that had kept him fit and vigorous for decades longer than Wayne had managed it. Seeing that he, too, was greying and slowing down was thus a faint shock.
"Yes," Ra's said, faint sadness in his voice, as though Wayne had spoken his surprise aloud. "Time catches up with both of us, Detective."
"What do you want, Ra's?" Wayne asked sharply. "Not to kill me. Your people could have done that more easily than bring me here."
Ra's smiled slightly. "Still the detective. Always the detective. In this case, though, you're only half right." He walked toward a side door, beckoning for his guest to follow him. After a moment's hesitation, Wayne did so. The door concealed an old-fashioned cage elevator, which Ra's operated himself. They descended through darkness for a few moments, then emerged into a natural cavern, its ceiling studded with industrial floodlights - a cavern filled with an acrid, clinging chemical stench Wayne recognized immediately.
Seeing Wayne's bemused look, Ra's smiled his dry little smile again and said, "It always seems to be about caves with you and me, does it not?"
The elevator arrived not at the cavern floor, but rather at a metal mesh platform two stories or more above it. This led to a catwalk that extended to the far side, perhaps a hundred yards away. On a platform at the far side stood two people: a slim, dark-haired woman and one of the towering, bald-headed, interchangeable guardsmen who always were to be found somewhere near the Demon's Head. They were too far away for Wayne to make eye contact with the woman, but he nodded slightly to her, and could just make out her own nod in reply.
Ignoring them both, Ra's led the way out to the end of the catwalk, then gestured to what lay below it. The smell had given it away the moment they arrived, but a look through the mesh confirmed it: Far below, its oily-sheened surface gently roiling like a pot of soup just coming to the boil, there was a Lazarus Pit.
"You are not so old a man by this era's standards, Detective," Ra's said, "but your constant pushing of yourself to the brink has undone you. I know you haven't long to live."
Wayne didn't argue. He'd felt as much himself lately - some ineffable internal clue that the fuse was, at long last, reaching its end. Instead he kept silent and waited to see where Ra's was going with this.
"Even a few years ago, my men would never have been able to spirit you from your mansion in the night... and I... well." Ra's chuckled mirthlessly. "I have known the years' pitiless embrace many a time. I know when I am reaching the end of a cycle, and now that end approaches fast."
Ra's removed his long green cloak, hung it over the handrail along the side of the platform, and turned to face Wayne. At his side he wore a long, cruelly curved cavalry saber. In his hand he held another by the throat of its scabbard, its grip presented to his guest.
"You have been a worthy adversary these many decades, Detective," he said. "The worthiest, perhaps, that I have ever had... and so I offer you a chance. We will do battle, you and I, one last time. The winner shall earn the use of this, the last of the Lazarus Pits. The loser shall die." He smiled coldly. "In either event, I win. Either I am rid of you at last, or I die knowing you have abandoned your lofty self-righteousness in favor of preserving yourself."
Bruce Wayne regarded his old foe silently for a few seconds, eyes narrowed.
Then he cast off his robe, stepped out of his slippers, and - standing straighter than he had in years - drew the offered sword from its scabbard.
"So be it," he said, raising the blade in salute as Ra's discarded the scabbard and drew his own saber.
Saturday, January 14, 2412
Pérez Island, New Avalon
As he stepped into the quarters he'd been assigned, Bruce Wayne reflected that the evening had been both depressing and exhilarating. Exhilarating, in the sense of being on the street again, taking up the Mission, back to fulfilling the oath he'd sworn to his parents so long ago. Depressing, in that he now had direct confirmation that he wasn't up to some of the more demanding techniques he knew. The body of a ten-year-old, though much more agile, resilient, and energetic than the aging shell that had originally forced him to give up being Batman, simply wasn't strong or fast enough - even with his intense training to bring it to the edge of what was possible - for things like Muay Thai or Salusian drunken boxing. Because he at first hadn't known, and then for a while hadn't wanted to believe, that, his first evening on the streets in decades had been a painful learning experience.
But, he thought as he unfastened his utility belt and started meticulously inventorying the contents, he was learning things.
Bruce was still suspicious of some of the Titans - for example, the Thawne girl, and the Ravager, because of their family histories; and the witch girl, Raven, because Bruce had long ago learned that only a fool ever fully trusted a sorcerer on first acquaintance. But even after Rose Wilson's somewhat disastrous guess as to his identity, the team had simply put it aside as not important right now and gone out to do their jobs.
Even though he knew it intellectually, seeing Cassandra - Batgirl - in action was a revelation. By herself, she was a weapon, able to dismantle any opponent she faced. With the Titans, she had become something greater. When she, Tim, and Bruce had come across a car collision, they had gone in like they'd planned it. One of the drivers was an elderly Tellarite whose ears showed the deep purple of cardiac arrest. As Cassandra pulled him out of the car, almost casually she tapped him in two places on his chest - using her martial arts skills to give him the Tellarite equivalent of pressure-point CPR and restart his heart.
She'd also learned to read somewhere. When Bruce had known her, she was utterly and profoundly illiterate, one of the many relics of her twisted upbringing she had constantly to struggle against. She not only couldn't read, at least one of the neurologists she'd consulted during her time in the Cave had concluded that - thanks to the way that upbringing had left her brain wired - she probably could never learn to read. Whenever she'd used a computer system involving any sort of text display, she'd had to rely on a neurotrode interface device originally developed for the use of the blind, and she hadn't had an easy time even with that. In any other alphanumeric situation, she was entirely helpless.
But tonight, Bruce had seen read road signs and check the ID of the Tellarite she'd saved. He'd even seen her use a quarian multitool - a holographic multifunction wrist computer manufactured in the Scandia system - to summon EMS to the scene of that crash, and later to coordinate with Red Robin in overriding the security systems as the nanotech lab the Sky Raiders were attacking, the scrolling text of its displays plainly evident. Maybe Terry's joking remark had more truth in it than was initially evident: This town was good for what ailed you.
He smiled darkly, remembering that raid - the centerpiece of the evening, involving a full callout of the whole currently active Titans team. Bruce had stepped back, to serve as a reserve and watch. And watch he did. It was a marvel: the entire Sky Raider heist team barely had time to know what happened before the Titans mowed them down. The organization, the training, the skill shown, with barely any need for anyone on the team to speak aloud (although the Ravager couldn't seem to help serenading the downed Raider team with a swing version of "Enter Sandman"), was a sign of how brilliant a leader Tim was.
And as much as it galled Bruce, he'd spent years forcing himself to be brutally honest with himself. And the honest truth was that Tim was probably the best possible choice to be the leader of this team. New Avalon would be immeasurably the poorer if he hadn't come here - and so would Tim. Now, seasoned and tempered but never beaten down by his years in this city, possessed of a calm maturity beyond his years that was yet leavened by a streak of whimsy, Timothy Drake was perfectly positioned to help Bruce grow back up to be... whoever he was going to be. Batman again eventually, he assumed, but then again, who knew when or if Terry would ever retire?
His introspection was disturbed as something disturbed his sense of the place, and he realized one of the room's curtains moved a bit strangely. As he turned to look, he growled, "What do you want?"
The shrouded figure replied, "To talk to you," in a rasp that Bruce recognized. It was enough that he removed his mask.
The Batman moved away from the windows, reaching up to remove his own cowl. "Hello, Bruce." Dick Grayson shook his head with a wry little smile. "Terry told me, but I didn't quite believe it."
The two regarded each other briefly, years and words between them, and then in a move that surprised even himself, Bruce hugged Dick.
Dick Grayson chuckled and hugged back. "Can't call you old man anymore," he quipped. "And now you're Robin. Jeez, you're younger than I was." The two let go. "Just wanted to see how you were settling in."
Bruce frowned, and for a moment Dick was worried, until Bruce said, "I'm a little tired of being a kid."
With a chuckle, Dick nodded knowingly. "Oh yeah. I know that feeling." Then he sobered. "But what happened? What kind of weird science did this to you?"
Bruce's face stilled. "Ra's al-Ghûl."
Talia bint Ra's al-Ghûl had watched both of these men she cared for battle time and again, to the edges of their endurance and beyond. But this time was different: Bruce Wayne's age was catching up with him despite his willpower pushing him through all the weaknesses it brought; her father, Ra's al-Ghûl, was determined that the force to push the detective into Death's realm would be not be nature, but the might of the Demon's Head himself!
Both men were tired, their limbs moving slowly with the fatigue that plagued them. Their eyes were both glassy from repeated blows, bodies aching with injured muscles and broken bones, the blades of their weapons chipped and scarred. Even the metal catwalk over the Lazarus Pit looked as if it was about to give way, weakened by their battle. The battle was now that of two prizefighters in the 15th round, and neither willing to let down the assault.
Finally, fatally, one made a mistake, and that one was Bruce. The platform shifted, he didn't adjust, and he was open. Ra's eyes flashed with the sense of victory, and he lunged forward for a thrust that would - at last - finish the detective.
His plan was spoiled when a figure in black cycling leathers and a grey hooded sweatshirt suddenly dropped out of the ironwork around the ceiling lamps, landing between them just as he committed to the thrust. The sword failed to strike Bruce... but it pierced Selina Kyle straight through the middle of her body.
"What - ?!" Ra's snarled, eyes going wide disbelief.
"Selina!" Bruce Wayne cried, his grim air of resignation replaced in an instant with genuine dismay. His sword clattered to the catwalk as he took a step toward her, but she - still standing, seeming almost not to care that she'd just been run through - held out an imperious hand to stop him. Her other hand seized Ra's by the wrist of his sword arm, preventing him from withdrawing or releasing his sword.
Both men stared, horrified, as Selina coughed blood up, then pulled back her hood with the hand that wasn't clamped like a handcuff onto the Demon's Head's arm. Though the years had been much kinder to her than to Bruce, who was only a few years her senior, they had still left their mark... but the hard light in her eyes showed that once-legendary fury of the Catwoman still burned brightly.
"You two," she hissed through bloody teeth. "You two and your stupid, macho vendetta and your Manichaean-balance bullshit. I've had it up to here with the pair of you. You want to go out in a blaze of glory? Fine. Let's all go together. I'll drive."
One stomp, then a second, and suddenly the section of walkway on which they all stood was falling, the three of them plunging into the roiling chemical inferno that was the Lazarus Pit.
"No!" Talia cried out. There had only been one other time anyone knew of where more than one person entered a Lazarus Pit... and no one had lived to record the results. She turned away from the acrid fumes as it began to bubble even more, the terrible powers of the Pit unpredictable. Her father's bodyguard, named Ubu as they all were, reached for her, moving her farther away and interposing himself. His logic was simple: If the Master was dead, she was the Master now, and had to be protected; if the Master was not dead, he would be most angry if anything happened to her.
There was a sudden geysering from the middle of the pool, the chemicals of the Pit spraying upwards, splashing back down; Talia cried out in reflexive alarm as the spray barely missed her and a wave of heat and stench engulfed the platform where she stood. An instant later the lights - in fact, all power in the cavern - went out, leaving only the dying glow of the Pit to illuminate the chamber.
Then, as so often before (yet hideously, arrestingly different this time), came the screaming...
"Hey! Are you going to sleep all month? We have to get out of here!"
Bruce Wayne started awake with the sensation of being kicked. Three things became obvious as he did so: First, he was smaller; second, he was in a shabby, unfamiliar hotel room which had unrealized delusions of opulence; third, there was a little girl in the room with him - in fact, she was standing on the bed, kicking him.
She was about eight, slim and topped with a short fringe of coal-black hair, dressed all in snug-fitting black, and she was scowling at him in a startlingly familiar way as she stood over him and gave him one more boot for good measure before declaring angrily,
"Dammit, Bruce, I'm going to have to go through puberty all OVER again because of you!"
Bruce sat up, rubbing at his face; then, ignoring her, he climbed out of bed and stood regarding himself in the full-length mirror standing next to one of the three doors out of the room.
The person looking back at him was a pajama-clad boy of about the same age as his angry awakener, with black hair and unusually solemn blue eyes - the face of Bruce Wayne on, more or less, the day all sense had left his life. Seven, maybe eight years old. On the way home from The Mark of Zorro at the Majestic. I'll take those pearls you're wearing, lady...
He turned away from the mirror, shaking his head, and buried the flashback by remarking to the girl, "Selina, right now I think we have bigger problems. Besides," he added dryly, "I recall it treated you kindly."
Selina sprang down from the bed and put her hands on her (not yet particularly existent) hips, scowling at him. "Yeah. Eventually. And problems like being stuck on a planet on the far end of the Outer Rim, and my ride getting stolen?"
Bruce nodded. "That and the fact that I won't pass any kind of biometric scan to get access to my money any more. However we get out of here, it won't be the easy way." He looked around. "Speaking of which, where is here?"
"My suite at the Hotel Metropole, near the spaceport," Selina told him. "Which I had to sneak into, for the same reasons you were just talking about. Dragging your comatose carcass." She grinned wryly, preening just a little, which looked simultaneously fetching and preposterous on her new face. "Good thing I'm still the galaxy's greatest burglar."
"What happened to Ra's?" Bruce asked.
"Do I look like I care?" Selina inquired archly. "I was too busy dragging you out a side passage before the lights came back on and the Ubu Patrol could get a chance to find us and skin us. Thanks for just going into a coma, by the way, instead of having a psychotic episode. Made you easier to drag." She went to the couch at the side of the room, dug around in a large shopping bag, and threw a bundle of dark fabric to him. "Get dressed. If your boyfriend's people trace me here - which they probably will - we don't want to be here when they arrive."
Bruce nodded, went into the bathroom, and dressed. He wondered where Selina had managed to acquire child-sized commando sweaters and combat pants way out here on such short notice, but decided not to ask. It would make her tetchy, and she was already tetchy enough - albeit for better reason than usual, he had to admit.
When he emerged, he found her finishing a sweep of the room, having eliminated any trace she could find of their having been here. He handed her the pajamas he'd been wearing; she stuffed them into a rucksack with the rest of the evidence, then made him carry it as they slipped into the ventilation system and out of the hotel.
It wasn't until they were on the roof of the parking garage across from the spaceport perimeter fence, mentally working out how they were going to get inside, that either of them spoke again.
"Selina," said Bruce.
"Mm," Selina replied, engrossed in watching the patrol pattern of the security guard who was walking the fence line down below.
"Why did you come?" Bruce asked. "How did you find us?"
Selina took a deep breath, let it out, and replied without turning to him. "When you disappeared, Helena called me," she said. "I don't think you realize how much she loves you, y'know. You took her in, you let her join the gang - let her be something she wants to be. She's wanted to do what she's doing now since she was... " She chuckled wryly. "... about my age."
Now she did finally turn to face him, continuing, "She asked me to find you, Bruce. She said, 'Find him, Mom, for all of us.' I couldn't refuse her. Not when she asked me like that. As to how... well, there's still some people who remember Catwoman. I still have contacts. And I was the greatest burglar of my generation. A little here, a little there, and then I got into that cave... " She shook her head. "And when I saw what it was all about, I just saw red. After all these years, that horseshit again." She cracked a self-deprecating little smile. "Getting run through wasn't actually part of my plan, but by the time it happened I was so pissed off that I just went with it."
"When Ra's stabbed you..." Bruce faltered. For the first time in a very long time, words failed him. He grappled with it for a few seconds, then - as she had in the cave - surrendered to the moment. "I'm sorry, Selina. I'm sorry for being a damn fool all those years ago."
Selina smiled a little sadly. "I know, Bruce. I love you too." She leaned and kissed him slowly, then turned back toward the spaceport, adding with a sly smile, "But anything more than that's going to have to wait until we get back to at least the ninth grade. Think you have room for a new Batgirl in your crew?" She grinned at him, gave him a wink.
"We've got one, but she's in New Avalon. We'll come up with something." Bruce smiled slightly. "Maybe Catgirl."
Selina rolled her eyes. "Yeah, maybe not. Anyway, I think I've got this clown's routine sussed out. You ready to do this?"
Bruce nodded. They got to work.
"A year and a half later, we finally made it back to something like civilization. Selina's back on Earth taking care of some things, but she's going to call Helena and make arrangements to move into the Manor once she's got them dealt with."
Bruce and Dick regarded each other again, and then Bruce looked solemnly towards the floor.
"I heard about the leg, and the regeneration, from Tim. And I'm... sorry I didn't do more for you."
Dick shook his head. "Bruce, you did more for me than anyone else could have, all those years ago. It took losing the leg for me to recognize it, and years more for me to be able to say it out loud by myself." He hesitated, then continued, "Bruce, you were my second father, and I love you for that."
Bruce kept looking at the floor for a moment, and then looked up at Dick. "You saved me in a lot of ways, Dick. You're my son, and I love you."
Again, a moment of awkwardness, and then it passed. "I have to get back to the streets," Dick said, putting his mask back on. "But if you feel like coming out with Barbara and me instead of the Titans some night... there's always room for Robin."
Bruce chuckled, glancing at the utility belt he'd inherited from Tim. "I'll keep that in - "
When he looked back, Batman was gone, and for the first time since he'd dragged himself from the Lazarus Pit, Bruce Wayne out-and-out laughed.
"Nice," he said, and went back to work. He'd need to keep all his supplies and equipment squared away at all times, after all... and there was going to be some old-time Batman and Robin time in New Avalon some night soon.
"Revive" - a Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Geoff Depew
with Benjamin D. Hutchins
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2012 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Geoff Depew - Darth Mephron
Haberdasher to Androids, Dark Lord of Sith Tech Support.
"And Remember! Google is your Friend!!"
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