#21 – Made In America, Part 2

Batgirl was much better prepared for the cold this time. She wore a specialized water-proof insulating layer of black fabric under her costume, and one over her head underneath the mask. It both kept her warm, and protected the part of her face that was normally exposed due to the costume’s design. Only her eyes could feel the chill in the air.

Rain was falling again, but it wasn’t freezing as it was the night before. It was still rather chilly – the cold snap affecting Gotham City showed no sign of letting up anytime soon. Completely water proof with her hair tucked inside her costume, she didn’t feel the cold or wet at all.

That gave her the advantage this time, as she was able to sit atop a two-floor apartment in a soaking rain without feeling a drop of it transmitted to her skin. She could sit atop that building all night if she had to, no matter the weather.

Two cops inside a police car below finally exited, batons drawn. They headed over to a large cardboard appliance box, turning it over suddenly. Inside was a man, huddled for warmth, looking up at the two officers as he suddenly found himself exposed to the elements.

Batgirl tensed as she watched the two cops lift the man by his arms, and pull him, stumbling, toward the car. But then she calmed herself when she realized that they were simply loading the homeless man into the back seat. It saddened her to see the poor man arrested for simply taking up space on the sidewalk…but politics wasn’t her business. And while the particulars of right and wrong were worked out, at least the man would be able to stay somewhere warm and dry for a night.

She sighed as the police car moved on. All of that anticipation and time spent stalking the officers, and they simply made a routine arrest and left. Now she would to go home after having spent nearly two hours doing nothing.

But just as she started to rise, she heard voices. Then suddenly the louder shattering of glass. She crouched even lower, trying not to be noticed as she spotted a small group walk toward the building she stood atop…and then across the street, to stand in the doorway of a shop.

There were four of them, and none spoke a single word. They used a series of hand signs and nods…which seemed very suspicious, almost ominous. Two of them were just lookouts, who seemed to be watching the police car which just left. The remaining two seemed to be lighting the top of a glass bottle with a cigarette lighter.

Alarm bells went off in Batgirl’s head. If they were standing in that doorway, they were either going to torch the shop behind them – which would be very dangerous to them – or more likely…

Another alarm went off in her mind when one of the two raised an arm and pointed up at a second floor window below her. Batgirl stood quickly, not caring if she were spotted by the group, and raced for the back of the building. She suddenly froze as she passed the door to the stairway below – it was emitting a telltale rotten-egg smell of gas!

She leapt across to the next building, still running as she realized…with the gas she smelled, it wouldn’t just be one building that blew. A full block’s worth could collapse if the buildings were old enough.

Batgirl removed a small radio device from her belt. She knew she promised never to use it while out on a separate mission from Batman…but she had no choice at this point. There was about to be an explosion, which meant she had to get away – big explosions attracted lots of cops, and the fire department. A stealthy retreat was no longer an option.

With a press of the button on the device, she whispered one word – “Batmobile.”
Batman turned suddenly and looked out through the fourth-floor window of an office building he was making his way through as he heard a familiar sound outside. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the headlights of the Batmobile switch on and the car quickly slip out of the alley by itself. He narrowed his eyes as he realized…the only other person to be given a remote control for the car was Barbara. Since Robin would never steal from her, that meant Batgirl was in possession of the remote.

He wanted to reach for his own car remote and order the Batmobile to stop…but he had not yet secured the floor. He couldn’t risk speaking a word and attracting the attention of someone he had not yet located nearby. Batman had to hope, instead, that Batgirl had good reason for hijacking his transportation.

It didn’t take long for him to understand the reason. An explosion suddenly rattled the windows and shook the floor. He looked in the direction the explosion seemed to have originated – a large cloud of smoke was quickly rising from a faint orange glow.

He raised an eyebrow, pausing for a moment before quickly heading up to the roof. At least up that high, he would be able to get a better look.

Batgirl, a few blocks away, saw the Batmobile approach. She whispered one more command to her remote – ‘Open’ – and then dove from the top of a two-floor building just as the car was approaching. Her timing was almost perfect – she glided to a semi crash landing, bouncing off of the passenger seat and landing face-first into the driver’s seat.

Just as the sound of sirens began to approach, she sat up quickly and closed the canopy, taking control of the car to head back to Batman’s location. It was a rather long trip, considering that she had to go a roundabout way to avoid the approaching police cars and fire engines.

By the time she pulled into the alley next to the building she knew Batman was somewhere near. She felt slightly nervous – she had stolen one of Batman’s most valuable ‘toys’ – there was no way he would remain calm about that.

Batman appeared next to the passenger side of the car suddenly, opening the canopy without a word. Batgirl expected to have to slide over…but was surprised when Batman sat in the passenger seat instead and closed the canopy behind him. He only said two words. “Let’s go.”

Not a word was spoken even as Batgirl began driving away…and the car remained silent even after she arrived at the Bat Cave, and Batman climbed out to head to his dressing room to change.

She removed her mask, carefully stuffing it behind her belt, as she approached the computer terminal in the Bat Cave. Barbara was sitting there, doing some sort of research…and as she turned, she noticed the concerned look on Cassandra’s face.

“Don’t worry, he’s not upset with you,” Barbara whispered as she spun her wheelchair around to avoid having to twist her neck to look at Cassandra, “He just has a lot on his mind.”

Cassandra didn’t respond – she just slumped into the deep office chair next to Barbara and sighed. “I waited too long.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Barbara shook her head.

“The explosion. I could have stopped it.”

“That’s my job,” Bruce’s voice suddenly interrupted. He pulled up a chair and sat down across from Cassandra, smiling for a moment at her confused gaze. “Look, Cassandra…there’s a reason my costume looks heavier and more expensive than yours. It’s not so I can show off…it’s designed to resist bullets, flames, and the like. Yours isn’t.”

He frowned when he heard a dismissive sigh from Cassandra. “What would you have done if those who caused the explosion would have decided to light you on fire instead?”

Cassandra didn’t respond. Instead, she looked at Barbara, her eyes giving away that she felt Bruce was underestimating her again.

“He’s right,” Barbara said, quickly diffusing the tension she could sense between Cassandra and Bruce. “If you light his costume on fire, he’ll walk right through it. You can’t do that.”

“I know.” Cassandra sighed. “But…I wouldn’t give them the chance.”

Bruce suddenly stood, frowning at Barbara again before silently leaving the room. As Cassandra watched him leave, she knew that she had a point…but that she also had exhausted Bruce’s attempts to make his own.

She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to clear her mind. Once again, she had managed to create more confusion by not communicating well. “Barbara,” she whispered as she stood behind Barbara’s wheelchair.

Barbara turned around to face her, waiting for her to continue.

“I understand,” Cassandra whispered. “I just…don’t like people talking like I’m a stupid kid.”

A big smile suddenly formed on Barbara’s face. She leaned forward and held both of Cassandra’s still-gloved hands. “I know how smart you are, Cassandra. You just need to learn how to talk to people while keeping them calm. It’s a valuable skill. More valuable than any device, or combat skill, or any acrobatics…”

Cassandra turned to leave, thinking the conversation was over…but Barbara still held on to her hands.

“…and I want to teach you,” Barbara continued, “Because I want you to be complete.”

A smile and a nod from Cassandra earned a quick hug from Barbara. Cassandra then headed toward the house, almost running into Alfred along the way. She remembered his promise to teach her more about the workings of everything around her in the Bat Cave.

Once she headed into her room and closed the door behind her, she glanced out the window for a moment into the darkness. There was still time to get plenty of sleep. She knew that between lessons from Barbara and Alfred…she would need it.
“What’s that?” Cassandra asked as she entered the kitchen late the next morning. Or what was left of morning – it was actually almost noon.

Sitting in the center of the large rectangular wooden table was an electronic device – a black box about the size of a VCR. The front panel was covered with lights…the rear, small twist-on connectors which looked like they went to television cables.

Alfred raised an eyebrow as she headed to one of the chairs and sat down, watching him adjust some small plastic screws on the back of the unit. “Up bright and early, aren’t we?”

Cassandra smiled. “I needed sleep.”

“This, Cassandra, is what allows all of those television screens downstairs to work.” Alfred paused, making one more adjustment before picking up the box off of the table. “You see, each screen has it’s own identifier, so the computer knows what to send to which screen.”

“I understand.” Cassandra nodded. “Did you build that?”

Alfred laughed. “Heavens no. I ordered it from a catalogue. It was rather expensive, too–”

He suddenly paused as the distant sound of the door bell rang through Wayne Manor. “Odd,” he said as he left the kitchen to head for the front door, “I wasn’t expecting company.”

Cassandra followed too, at a safe distance. If it was someone looking for her – like the police – she was better off not being noticed. She watched as Alfred opened the door…and smiled at whoever was outside. It was someone he knew. Just when she was ready to excuse herself and retreat back to her room, Alfred motioned to her to move closer.

As she approached, the three people who were outside of the door came into the entry hall. Alfred pointed them all to the study, and then gave Cassandra a sideways nod to encourage her to follow. She recognized two of them – a blonde in her twenties, and a slightly taller man with dark hair – but she couldn’t place their names right away, having only met them each briefly. The third, a shorter blonde teenager, was a mystery to Cassandra. And oddly enough, the blonde teen was the only one to notice he presence.

Her curiosity now solidly raised, Cassandra headed into the study. She entered slowly, walking around to a spot behind one of the couches. Once everyone else sat down, she picked a spot on the arm of one chair furthest from the others – she wanted to start as an observer rather than a participant.

“Cassandra, you remember Charlie Lewis and Linda Danvers, don’t you?” Alfred asked.

She nodded. Now that she heard the names, she did remember. The last time the two were in Gotham, they brought trouble with them, and lots of it. That was one of the few times Cassandra might have actually agreed with Batman’s endless hatred for meta-humans – he said that they always seemed to attract trouble.

“And this is Kara,” Alfred added, pointing to the blonde teen. Cassandra immediately felt sorry for her – she sat slumped in one of the large chairs, her eyes staring directly into the cold fireplace in the study. It seemed like she wanted to be anywhere but here. Something about Cassandra’s instincts told her that there was a reason for her presence…and when Batman heard about it, he’d be less than pleased.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” Alfred said as he stood and headed out of the study, “I will inform Master Bruce that you’ve arrived.”

With that, he suddenly left Cassandra alone with three virtual strangers. For a while, Charlie and Linda just stared at her uncomfortably…and Kara kept looking at the fireplace. That’s when Cassandra noticed that the logs in the fireplace were just beginning to burn. She didn’t remember Alfred lighting them.

She narrowed her eyes at Kara and stood up suddenly. “Who…are you?”

Linda seemed confused at first, looking at Cassandra, then at the fireplace, and then at Kara. Once she put it together, she sighed. “Nice going, Kara. Now I have to explain this twice.”

“Nah…don’t bother,” Kara said in a near whisper. “She already knows the answer to her own question.”

Cassandra frowned at that…but the strange teenager was absolutely right. Superman was the only one she knew could light up a fireplace with a stare. That made this teen…an alien. Or an approximation of one, anyway.

She started remembering back in recent history…a hint of a memory…to a newspaper article about an object that fell from the sky and crashed through a street in Metropolis. An object that was attended to by none other than Power Girl…a metahuman. Space junk didn’t require the attention of masked super types…it was something else that fell. “You were what fell to Earth in Metropolis–”

A glance at the look of horror on Linda’s and Charlie’s faces caused her to stop. The blonde teen, Kara, didn’t seem to react to Cassandra’s discovery at all. Without another word, Cassandra quickly retreated out into the hall.

“She’s smart,” Cassandra heard Kara comment as she left the room.

Just when she thought she was going to make a permanent escape, Barbara seemed to come out of nowhere and block her way with that wheelchair of hers. There was no way around it without rudely climbing over Barbara’s head. “Thinking of abandoning our guests?”

Cassandra bowed her head and sighed. “I…sounded like an idiot.”

“I headed up here as soon as I heard what you said through the security camera.” Barbara smiled mischievously. “The alien kid’s right. You are smart. Took you all of five minutes to figure out.”

“It…it was obvious,” Cassandra started to whisper, keeping her voice low enough to prevent the ‘guests’ from hearing.

“To you, me, and Bruce, maybe.” Barbara urged Cassandra to move out of her way with a jerk of her head. “We notice everything that goes on around us. Most people just don’t pay attention.”

Silence passed between the two suddenly as Bruce walked by, headed for the study. He paused for a moment to look at them both, as if he knew they had stopped conversing for his benefit…but then he continued on.

“I’m going to talk to them,” Barbara said, “You can either come along, or return to your room and hide. I promise you one thing…if you choose the latter, you’re gonna miss a lot.”

With that, Barbara vanished into the study. Cassandra stood in the hall for what seemed like an eternity, her mind struggling with the two choices. She knew that if she re-entered the study, everyone’s eyes would be upon her, watching her…waiting for her to say something else – something profound, or stupid.

Ultimately, she decided that so early in the day, she wasn’t quite ready for so much excitement. She turned to head back to her room…hesitant, but feeling sound in her reasoning. That was until she heard a knock at the front door.

She glanced toward the study, and then toward the kitchen – Alfred was in neither place. He had most likely gone down to the Bat Cave to clean up after Bruce, since he was now upstairs. No one was available to answer the door…except her.

Cassandra took a deep breath and quickly opened the front door. She said nothing, and simply stared at a young blonde woman who stood on the stoop.

“Um…sorry to disturb you,” the woman said in a voice soft enough that it was almost as if she were afraid to speak at all, “Is Charlie here?”

A nod from Cassandra, but still no words.

“He…uh…asked me to meet him here. I hope I have the right place.” The woman leaned sideways a little, trying to peek into the main hall.

“He’s in the study,” Cassandra finally said. She stepped aside casually, letting the blonde enter the house, before she closed the door. Having watched Alfred ‘escort’ people to various rooms, it seemed like an easy enough task. All she had to do was head directly to the study, and hover in the doorway as the blonde met Charlie. Then, Cassandra figured, she could return to her room.

But that’s when something which never seemed to happen to Alfred occurred. The blonde stopped, and reached out and tapped Cassandra’s shoulder gently. Cassandra responded by turning quickly, a little surprised at the action. “I’m Lara”, the woman said, “You weren’t told I was coming, were you?”

Cassandra smiled at that. She couldn’t help it – she wasn’t expecting anyone to show up, let alone someone she had never met. Besides, there was something about the mannerisms of this woman which seemed a little familiar…and which began to draw Cassandra out of her shell. This ‘Lara’ appeared to be almost as shy and withdrawn as Cassandra was herself….almost, but not quite.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” she said with a smile. “You must be Cassandra. Charlie told me you were kind of quiet.”

“What’s there to talk about?” Cassandra shrugged.

“You’re right. I much prefer listening,” Lara said, chuckling slightly. “I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”

Another shrug from Cassandra. She didn’t really care, but didn’t want to be rude by saying so. Then again, she felt grateful that this woman wasn’t putting nearly as much pressure on her as Linda, Charlie, or that alien teen.

“I’m a close friend of Charlie’s,” she said quickly. “He invited me to lunch here. I wasn’t sure if I’d show up…but something told me I should.”

All of a sudden, thoughts connected in Cassandra’s mind. She thought of a way to avoid hanging around in the study, looking lost…and Lara would be the key. “Want a snack?”

Lara peered around the corner into the study. The people inside were having some sort of conversation about a man who was opening up sweat shops in Gotham City stocked with migrant workers. She wrinkled her nose, apparently not interested in the topic. “Sure, why not. Conversation’s a little dry in there.”

Cassandra was a little surprised that Lara had agreed to come along, and was following her still as she headed to the kitchen. In fact, she had to turn around a couple of times to make sure Lara was still there. Once she reached the refrigerator, she pulled out a large tray that she spotted earlier – it was covered by various cheese appetizers prepared earlier by Alfred. She noticed it shortly after she woke up, but didn’t try to reason why it was there.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Cassandra whispered as she placed the tray atop the kitchen table and sat down at one end.

Lara slid into one of the nearby chairs and took a cheese cube and a cracker. “I won’t if you won’t,” she whispered with a smile.
“…and the guy only left Metropolis after the Daily Planet exposed his sweat shops, forcing the cops to move in. But you don’t have anything like that here.”

Bruce sat leaned back in one large chair, staring over the large study coffee table at Linda Danvers, as she tried to quickly give him as much information as she knew. She seemed unsure of herself as she spoke…most likely knowing that Bruce already had most of the information she spoke of.

Once she finished speaking, several seconds of silence prevailed before Bruce finally spoke up. “I assume you know why I requested your presence here?”

Charlie and Linda looked at each other, before Charlie spoke first this time. “I guessed that you would like us to help. That this job is too big for just you…simply because of the number of migrant workers involved.”

Barbara looked at Bruce. He remained silent, though it was apparent to her that he was impressed. She’d known for a while now that Bruce would need outside help…but she dared not suggest it. Bruce was a loner at heart, he didn’t like the idea of having to share with others unless he had to.

And in this case, he had to.

Bruce had to keep a clear line between his daytime business dealings, and his evening investigations as Batman. In the case of the sweat shops, that put him at a disadvantage – because it was a situation best dealt with publicly, something he couldn’t safely do as Bruce Wayne.

So he brought in two private investigators he had spoken with before. Two people he knew he could trust – oddly enough, because one of them was a type he usually trusted least…a ‘metahuman’. When not playing private investigator, Linda was known to a trusted few as Supergirl.

Barbara found the whole situation rather strange, as she sat across from everyone where she could observe the entire conversation, and watch people’s reactions. It was her way of figuring out parts of the interaction which were non-verbal – such as each person’s temperament, or how cooperative they were going to be.

Even as Linda and Charlie had a nice conversation with Bruce – as if they were old friends – there was a slight tension in the air. Linda knew, somewhere deep behind those calm blue eyes, that Bruce resented her because of what she was – and during her investigation, any kind of ‘metahuman’ activity would quickly incur his wrath. Nobody liked to make Batman angry. Not even Superman.

“Actually, Linda would do most of the investigating at first,” Charlie said, in answer to a question from Bruce on which steps they planned to take first. “I promised to show a close friend around town first.”

A shock ran through Barbara’s mind as she suddenly remembered hearing the door bell ring a short time ago. She ignored it at the time, as usually in Wayne Manor, Alfred would automatically get the door. But this time, she noticed that the door bell seemed to coincide somehow with Cassandra neglecting to return to the study.

She quickly excused herself and rolled her chair quickly into the main hall, the wheels squeaking against the tile floor as she turned toward the kitchen. She could hear distant voices drifting from the doorway…and the last words she heard echoed in her mind again…’I promised to show a close friend around town first’.
“…so I followed her eyes to the fireplace, and…you know…it lit up.” Cassandra took another cracker and bit into it. She looked toward the doorway, thinking she heard someone approaching.

“And no one else noticed?” Lara chuckled. “That Kara has a strange sense of humor. She probably did it just for you to–”

“Shh!” Cassandra stood suddenly and paused, listening toward the doorway intently. She thought she heard something…the sound of rubber squeaking. Before having a chance to say a word of warning, she snatched the appetizer tray and quickly shoved it back into the refrigerator, leaving a confused Lara at the table. “Someone’s coming.”

Lara turned around just in time to see Barbara roll into the kitchen in her wheelchair. “Um…hi. I’m Lara.” She offered a hand to Barbara.

“Oh…pleased to meet you.” Barbara shook Lara’s hand, briefly giving Cassandra a mock frown, to note that she didn’t approve of whatever Cassandra was doing before she arrived. “What brings you here?”

“She’s Charlie’s girlfriend.” Cassandra joked. She smiled as Lara’s gasped in false shock.

“I didn’t say that!” Lara laughed and pretended to throw a napkin at Cassandra, before placing it back on the table. “I’m a close friend of his, yes.”

“Yes. His girlfriend.” Cassandra joked again, laughing this time. Lara covered her face with her hands and started laughing too.

“All right, you two,” Barbara said, as she turned and headed back toward the study, “We’re almost ready for lunch. Bring out what you’ve left of the appetizers.”

As she rolled toward the ‘small’ dining room, Alfred met her in the doorway. “It appears Cassandra has found an unlikely friend.”

“That figures.” Barbara smiled. “We try for months to break through her shell, and some stranger walks in and does it for us.”

Alfred raised an eyebrow. “I watched the entire conversation, Barbara. This Lara made no effort at all.”

“Really?” Barbara lowered her voice slowly, intent on making sure neither the party in the study nor the one in the kitchen heard her. “How did she do it, then?”

“It was quite amazing, really.” Alfred began spreading out a stack of plates onto the table slowly as he spoke. “She simply sat there, having a snack, and staring at Cassandra. Eventually, Cassandra just…felt obligated to say something. It was a sort of duel of listeners.”

Barbara smiled and laughed suddenly. “Oh, why didn’t I think of this before? You put two listeners in the same room, and eventually one’s gotta speak.”

“Yes.” Alfred nodded slowly, pausing his work to look at Barbara. “And since you, Tim, and Bruce are all rather extroverted…tending to speak to think…it’s no wonder Cassandra’s remained silent. She simply lets you do all of the talking.”

“Yeah,” Barbara sighed, suddenly depressed by the thought that soon enough Cassandra would return to silence again. “Too bad we can’t keep this Lara around so Cassandra has someone to talk to.”

“It is a shame.” Alfred chuckled and went back to work as Barbara headed to the study to tell the others that lunch was almost ready.
Barbara watched everyone enter the dining room and pick their seats at random. She, on the other hand, had to plan carefully. If she raced to a spot at the table, she would end up with everyone falling over her – the wheelchair would no doubt block the way as she set it aside to sit in one of the dining room chairs. It was usually best to wait until everyone else was seated, so she could make sure she had a clear route.

But, she found, she could forget about that habit this time. Cassandra silently stood and strategically blocked access to the last chair at the end of one side of the table…next to the seat she had selected for herself. Once their eyes met over the table, Barbara realized what Cassandra was trying to do – and she rolled straight over there.

Cassandra did nothing as she watched Barbara lift herself out of the wheelchair and into the wooden dining room chair. She simply waited until Barbara was settled in, and then moved the wheelchair aside. It might seem rude to an outsider…but she knew very well how much pride Barbara took in being able to maneuver by herself.

“Thank you,” Barbara whispered, as she unfolded the napkin placed in front of her. Cassandra didn’t respond with more than a look and a slight smile – Barbara knew that was her way.

By the time she sat and looked up, Cassandra realized that Lara was directly across the table, with Charlie next to her. She smiled briefly, and received one in return. Next to Charlie sat Kara, and then Linda. Since there were a total of four places set at either side of the table, Cassandra assumed that Alfred and Bruce would sit at the opposite end on her side.

But just as Cassandra became comfortable with the idea of being at the far end of the table, well away from the middle of the conversation, she found herself cast into the center of it. Bruce managed to pick up the last chair and move to the head of the table, between Cassandra and Lara.

“He just wants to be closer to the pretty girls,” Barbara joked with a whisper in Cassandra’s ear. Cassandra nearly laughed.

“Hey, Bruce,” Charlie suddenly piped up as Alfred began bringing in various light foods, “You’re doing this to deduct the time as a business lunch, aren’t you?”

Bruce chuckled slightly. “I don’t make money being stupid, Charlie. Kidding aside…do you and Linda think you can help?”

“If there’s money in it, yeah,” Linda interrupted. “We’re not exactly loaded with cases lately.”

“I don’t think I have to stress that I’m hiring you in an investigative capacity only.” Bruce took a sip of the soup place before him, looking at Linda as he did. He waited for some kind of angry response from her…but he saw none. She simply nodded slowly, knowing exactly what he meant – no appearances by Supergirl in Gotham City.

“Bruce, there’s no need to speak in metaphors.” Charlie glanced at Lara for a moment. “Lara knows everything we do.”

Cassandra cringed for a moment. Even though Bruce was not looking directly at her, she could feel his soul hollowing for a moment, as if the spirit of death itself had taken possession of his body. At the thought of someone else learning his identity through a third party, he became angry. And when Bruce becomes angry he becomes, at least at heart, Batman.

“Everything, you say?” Bruce said in a low, almost threatening tone.

“I figured out the Batman part myself,” Lara said with a slight laugh. Her smile suddenly disappeared when Bruce turned his icy gaze upon her. “I…read about your parents’ murder by this Napier guy…and you seem to have this grudge against him–”

“And neither of you tried to deny it?” Bruce looked at Linda and Charlie, neither of whom responded.

By that point, Cassandra was getting tired of Bruce’s accusatory tone. She finally spoke up. “It is kind of obvious. The grudge, I mean.”

He then turned his attention on Cassandra – but his cold look was lost on her. She simply returned one of her own…and it was obvious that she could stare silently as long as he could. He finally gave up after a few seconds and returned to calm conversation.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked Lara.

“I’m an actress.” Lara smiled. “Well…not in the classic sense. I get paid to make appearances and such.”

“So you live in Los Angeles?”

Lara nodded. “Part of the time.”

Bruce leaned back and smiled. It was obvious by now that he was springing some sort of trap. “You must have a lot of frequent flyer miles.”

Without looking away from Bruce’s gaze, giving any sort of telltale pause, or even a disarming laugh or smile, Lara simply ended the line of questions with, “You could say that.”

Cassandra held back a smile. She remembered what Lara confessed about herself in the kitchen a short time ago…but Cassandra decided to keep it a secret. Bruce didn’t have to know everything, after all…and it was kind of nice knowing something he didn’t. Rather than do something to give away the fact that she knew, she just quietly returned to eating.

“What steps do you have planned in your investigation?” Bruce asked, abruptly turning his attention back to Charlie and Linda.

“First, we will attempt to get someone inside,” Charlie said. As he spoke, he glanced across the table, directly at Cassandra. “Or possibly two people. I’d like to learn how they do business.”

“And how would you earn their trust?”

“That’s where I would need your help.” Charlie leaned back in his chair. “I need to create an identity, one which has a reputation as someone who would be very important to the sweat shop’s business. Perhaps someone from whom they would fear blackmail.”

“We’re halfway there.” Bruce smiled. “I managed to collect some of their files. Very interesting reading.”

“Excellent.” Charlie smiled too. “All I need to do is convince them that I have information, and arrange a meeting–”

“And then they try to kill you,” Linda added. She turned to face Charlie, even as he looked annoyed at the interruption. “If you send me to meet them instead, they can at least try and fail.”

“That’s not the best idea,” Bruce responded, his tone lowered as if he meant to be both polite and threatening, “If they learn there is a metahuman in town, they’ll become more cautious. They’ll send the people and files we need elsewhere.”

“Yeah, but…by then, it’ll be too late for them,” Linda suggested.

Before Bruce even completed his frown, or came up with another excuse to keep Linda out of the investigation, Cassandra suddenly stood and leaned over the table. “I’ll do it.”

Once again, all eyes were upon her. But this time, it wasn’t because she said something bordering on nonsense – in fact, she made perfect sense. Bruce’s eyes told her that she was better off keeping quiet…but she ignored that.

“You won’t,” Bruce said. “I can’t afford to have you–”

“As a courier,” Cassandra said, “People give papers to couriers. Even important papers. I can bring them to Charlie.”

Barbara smiled as Charlie and Bruce looked at each other. “I told you she was smart.”

“Yes. Yes, this can work.” Charlie leaned back again. “I can call the office, and tell them I’m sending someone to pick up paperwork. Since you trained Cassandra, Bruce, I doubt anyone can follow her back to me.”

Bruce shook his head again. “Absolutely not. It’s too risky.”

“Why don’t you let me decide?” Cassandra suddenly growled, as she leapt to her feet and leaned close to Bruce. She didn’t see Barbara’s reaction first-hand, but she could sense the look of shock on her face. Charlie and Linda stared in awe, and Kara…her attention seemed to be elsewhere. But Lara, on the other hand…she seemed perfectly calm, as she split a piece of bread in half, and began chewing on a piece.

With an exasperated sigh, Cassandra shoved her chair aside and quickly left the room. For the second time, she had to bail out on a conversation with these ‘guests’ because she knew she was in way over her head.

“I like Cassandra’s idea,” Lara said, quietly, her voice trailing off when she realized she was treading on dangerous ground. She pushed her chair back and stood slowly. “Excuse me. I’d like to talk to her,” she said, before following Cassandra into the hallway.

“Unusual woman, isn’t she?” Charlie asked, as Bruce watched Lara walk through the doorway.

Bruce gave Charlie a questioning look, but said nothing.

“That’s why I love her.” Charlie smiled.


Cassandra heard someone approach her as she sat in the small garden just outside the kitchen at Wayne Manor. Unlike usual, she had to turn around to see who it was – she heard footsteps, but they were lighter than Bruce’s, and the stride was smaller than Tim’s. It was someone who was female, and not very tall.

“I have a pretty nice garden at my place,” Lara whispered, as she sat cross-legged in the middle of the path, next to Cassandra. “Don’t worry, I won’t talk much. I know you come here for quiet.”

The first thought Cassandra had was that Lara had been sent out by Bruce, or maybe Charlie, to try and coax her back into the dining room. But after several minutes of perfect silence, it was apparent that her first assessment was wrong.

In fact, Lara seemed to become completely absorbed by the garden’s environment. She sat very still, leaning her chin on one arm, watching a colorful bird fly overhead with her eyes.

“Do you think I’m wrong?” Cassandra suddenly asked. It was a question that had been on her mind since she left the dining room.

Lara leaned back, placing her palms on the stone path for balance. “Well…you were a little rude. But you were also right.”

Normally, Cassandra would have felt insulted. But the smooth, calm way which Lara’s words just flowed out without pause had to make her smile instead. “Very honest. That will hurt you one day.”

“It hasn’t yet.” Lara shrugged.

“What should I do?” Cassandra asked, looking down as if she felt ashamed to ask such a question.

“You know Bruce better than I do,” Lara chuckled, “But…it seems that it’s pointless to argue with him. I think…you should just work around him. Help Charlie if that’s what you want.”

Cassandra considered the possibility that Lara was simply agreeing with her to get her to go back inside and re-join the pointless discussion. But another look at Lara made it easy to tell that she wasn’t in such a hurry to go back in, either. “You think I should?”

Lara turned her head slowly, giving Cassandra a sly smile. “It’s what a true hero would do.”

That moment, as Cassandra stood and straightened herself, was when she realized that this woman, who was a stranger to her only hours earlier, was proving to be an intriguing mystery. But first, she had another mystery to solve…one that could lead to her helping to save people’s lives. Whether Bruce agreed to it or not.


Trolling The Galaxy, Part 3

Never before had sailing her small boat on the Pacific ocean made Reya feel so tense. She simply sat at the bow and stared sadly at the stern, where Natalie stood, watching the wind toss the waves below. The mood between them was far from happy. They were both terrified.

This time, their trip out onto the ocean wasn’t for pleasure. The two were hiding – and at Sharon’s urgent suggestion, they left land quickly for their own safety…for Natalie’s safety…while their friend did some reconnaissance.

Between the two of them, Sharon was the weaker – which worried Reya – but she also knew that Sharon was very adept at gathering information while keeping a low profile…or in short, spying. It was how she safely kept tabs on nearly every being living on Earth who wasn’t native to the planet, and chronicled each.

“I feel like we’ve been out here forever,” Natalie said, almost in a humorous manner. Reya had to smile in spite of her own mood. Natalie was like that – always the one to use humor to break a melancholy mood. It was one of her Terran-like traits.

“It’s only for a couple of hours. Sharon will call when she thinks it’s safe–”

As if to punctuate Reya’s words, the phone rang, causing her to jump suddenly. She almost dropped her cell phone into the water as she answered it. “Yes?”

Natalie watched her mom’s face change quickly from hopeful to sadness. She nodded slowly as she talked on the phone, each time bowing her head further so her long hair would hide her reaction from Natalie.

“What?” Natalie asked, as soon as her mom put the phone down.

Reya sighed. “Sharon found a Messenger. It turns out that the Arions do know about you, and they want to–”

“They want to capture me, right? Or kill me?” Natalie stood up and walked across the length of the boat, kneeling beside her mom. Reya was shaking with fear…terrified that she would lose Natalie. “Mom, I won’t let that happen. I promise.”

“How?” Reya placed her face in her hands and rubbed her eyes slowly. “How will you stop them? Natalie, you’re only barely stronger than a Terran, and just as Earth-bound–”

“Not anymore.”

Reya watched in amazement as Natalie slowly rose from the deck of the boat, until her feet were a yard above the deck. She even did a quick mid-air somersault, and laughed about it as well. “How…when…?”

“I don’t know. It happened after I left school.” Natalie dropped back to the deck gently, trying her best not to jar the boat too much. “I was running…faster than cars on the street. I leapt to avoid something and…”

“…And you went airborne.” Reya nodded. “It was the stress. It forced you to use abilities you’ve never had to before.”

“That’s nothing, mom. Watch this!”

Natalie rose from the deck of the small boat once again, this time more slowly, and to a much higher level. The wind whipped through her dark hair as she twisted around and headed out over the waves of the ocean. The wind seemed to follow her as she went, tossing her hair and clothing as she passed a few yards above the water.

Reya gasped as she watched Natalie’s flight go from simple beauty to utter amazement. A wake formed in the water below her, as if she was dragging an invisible boat along the water with her. Reya could feel a breeze moving away from Natalie as she made a small circle, the wake below her tossing the boat mercilessly atop waves generated by forces usually only available in nature.

That’s when it occurred to her – her daughter was able to project energy outward much more efficiently now. Natalie not only could will herself fly…but she herself could become a force of nature if she so desired. All of a sudden, Natalie’s limited power reserve seemed like a trivial effect of nature.

Once Natalie returned gently to the boat, she smiled as she watched her mom breathing quickly, looking up at her daughter with surprise. “I know, I know. It’s a little weird, isn’t it?”

“No, absolutely not.” Reya shook her head as she stood quickly to hug her daughter. “It’s wonderful. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Natalie smiled. “I learned something cool. I can control all of it with my mind. The size of the wake, the air around me…”

“Oh my God.” Reya sat down again quickly and ran her hands through her hair. “That’s what they meant.”

“That’s what who meant?” Natalie sat down next to Reya, looking a little worried.

“The creators of the Velorian race. Our bodies were given to us as gifts…but our minds are ours to develop. But all through school, we’re taught that there is a tradeoff. I never understood what that meant…until now.”

“So…What I’m missing physically is more than made up for?”

Reya nodded. “You’re the next step, Natalie. You use the energy you tap much more efficiently than I can, which is why you don’t need as much.”

“So…” Natalie sat down on a bench along the port side of the boat. “…Maybe I could visit where you grew up one day? Meet my grandpa for the first time, ever?”

“I really don’t know, now.” Reya sighed and looked behind her at the setting sun. She glanced at her cell phone again, wishing Sharon would call already. “Anything’s possible, I guess. I just woudn’t want to risk it until we’re sure.”

“Mom, I’m just a teenager.” Natalie smiled and leaned back against the edge of the boat. “I have plenty of time.”

Reya smiled. “I sure hope so, Natalie.”

Natalie’s smile disappeared as she saw fear cross her mom’s eyes. She slid over next to Reya, and hugged her as best as she could. “Everything will be okay, mom. I promise.”

“I can’t promise anything, Reya.” Sharon’s voice sounded a little panicked as she spoke to her friend over the phone.

She had just given Reya some very bad news – that the Arion she was shadowing had managed to attract the attention of the Los Angeles Police and FBI, and were currently holding an evacuated hotel downtown hostage.

But that’s not what frightened Sharon. Normally, an Arion would simply plow its way through the police barricade and continue on its way. This one was cunning, and very methodical. She had a plan – she wasn’t killing just for sport.

“Reya, if the cops go in, they’ll be killed. You have to help.”

At the other end of the phone line, Reya held her cell phone with two shaking hands, looking up at Natalie. She spoke half into the phone, and half to Natalie. “But…what about Natalie? What if I don’t make it through this alive? You know I’m out of practice.”

Natalie frowned and walked away from Reya, toward the other end of the boat. She sat down and folded her arms, staring across at her mother, making no secret of the anger she was trying to express.

Reya eyed her daughter feeling worried as she clung to the small cell phone with both hands, only half-listening to Sharon. The last words she remembered Sharon say were, ‘You wanted your daughter to grow up in a place like this…now you have to fight for it.’


“Mom–” Natalie’s first word sounded like an accusation as she stood and gave Reya a frustrated sigh. “Sharon’s right. You have to protect Earth before you protect me. It’s your destiny.”

“No.” Reya shook her head. “You mean everything to me, Natalie. If you were hurt–”

“Then why am I here?” Natalie picked up a soft drink can she had left nearby, hurtling it out over the ocean, watching it sail through the air until it disappeared from view. “Why did you bring me into this world, only to watch everything you’ve ever wanted be destroyed?”

“If I’m the cause of this world’s destruction–” Natalie sat back down, curling into a ball as she turned away from her mom to do her best to hide the tears she was trying hard to hold back. “–I don’t want to live anymore.”

Reya stood, her mouth hanging open, as she watched her daughter rocking gently at the opposite end of the boat. As Natalie’s words echoed in her mind, she began to feel numb all over. Where could she have gone wrong? But then it was clear to her…she hadn’t gone wrong. She taught Natalie to stand up for herself and fight for her beliefs. The thought of her mom violating those beliefs, considering running and hiding, seemed wrong to Natalie.

And she was right.

Reya hovered high above the Five Star Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, as of yet unnoticed by the police and SWAT team surrounding the building on the streets below. She took a deep breath – and immediately felt a little constricted.

For the first time in years, she wore a form-fitting silvery outfit made of metallic fabric – it was the same one she had arrived on Earth wearing over sixteen years ago…and she was surprised that it still fit. Having lived a mostly civilian life on Earth, it never occurred to her to wear the outfit…until now.

She watched the hotel from above as the wind blew through her hair. It seemed so…normal. From the outside, it was hard to tell that a creature capable of reducing the building to rubble in mere seconds was within. For all it seemed, it could have simply been a single human being with a gun keeping police at bay.

But when she spotted Sharon standing on the curb across the street, she realized that it was no false alarm. Inside that hotel was destruction incarnate…and Reya was the only one who could stop her.

She descended to the roof slowly, trying as best as she could to land without a sound, racing to the stairway door quickly as she heard a police helicopter approach. It was best, at this point, to remain undetected to prevent the officers from deciding unwisely to race into the building to rescue her.

It was a stroke of luck, however, that the helicopter happened to fly overhead. It appeared to be circling a suite at one corner of the hotel – which saved Reya the trouble of having to search for the room where the Arion hid.

Her hands began shaking now as she tiptoed down the carpeted hallway, trying her best not to alert the woman she was stalking of her presence. She had to move silently, her soulless silvery boots making soft impressions in the plush red carpet with each step. She considered flying, but she realized that it would cause wind to rush down the narrow hall, alerting the Arion for sure.

She stopped suddenly and stared at a blue painted door, noting light oozing from beneath it, shivering from head to toe as she reached back her fist to punch through the gold chrome door lock. She stared at the white wall next to the door for a moment, noting the small torch lamp hanging alongside the door. Reya’s memory rushed back to her police training – never, ever rush through a door. A perpetrator would always be expecting that.

Reya smiled as she pondered that thought, and stared at the wall. Luckily, she had one trick up her sleeve that wasn’t in any police handbook.

A quick leap sent her to the room next door, a slight bit of pressure against its door admitting her to the room with little more than a muffled ‘crunch’. She raced in, and looked around – empty, lucky for her. She walked backwards between the twin beds, aiming herself directly at the television set on the opposite wall.

Confidence finally began to dominate her thoughts, and adrenaline gave her the strength she needed, emotionally, and physically, to break through her fears and do what needed to be done. She raised her arms in front of her, and launched herself at the television…and in an instant, she crashed through into the next room.

Reya only caught a glimpse of a dark-haired blue-eyed woman in blue jeans and a white sweater before the room became entirely filled with a cloud of plaster dust. She tried to reach for the last place she saw the woman…but no one was there any longer.

It didn’t take Reya long to find her, though…in a manner of seconds, she found herself in a headlock, her face forced down to the surface of the bed. She heard a female voice speak a language she didn’t understand, and felt paralyzed…it was some kind of immobilizing hold used by a seasoned warrior. At that moment, Reya knew she was in serious trouble.

“Where is she? Where’s mom?”

Sharon didn’t even bother to turn around as she heard Natalie behind her. She simply pointed up at the top floor of the hotel, toward a room on one corner…and almost on cue, glass from one of the windows rained down to the street below, causing police to run for cover.

But that was when Sharon realized something was amiss. “Natalie, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to stay out of sight!”

Natalie scoffed. “I’m supposed to stay home while mom’s being killed by some alien? I don’t think so.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad. Maybe Reya’s winning.” Sharon frowned and looked up at the hotel room, and shivered at the sudden silence. A real fight should be doing a lot more damage. She looked at Natalie, unwittingly revealing the fear she felt in her eyes. “Or…maybe not.”

“I’m going up there.” Natalie stepped toward the street, but found herself stopped quickly by Sharon. “I have to help her, Sharon.”

Sharon shook her head slowly. “You have no idea what you’re up against, Natalie. Your mom is a lot stronger than you are…a LOT. If she’s losing to this alien, you don’t have a chance.”

“But maybe the two of us together–”

“No!” Sharon gripped Natalie’s shoulder even tighter. Her eyes seemed desperate to try and convince Natalie. “You’ll die…she’ll kill you almost instantly, Natalie. I promised Reya I’d look after you…I can’t let you go into certain death.”

Natalie took a deep breath, her eyes never wavering as she stared at Sharon. She grabbed Sharon’s hand, seeming almost like she was going to peel it off of her shoulder…but instead, she held it in her own smaller hands tightly. “Sharon…we both know what we have to do.”

Sharon closed her eyes and turned away. Natalie was right…and she knew it. She was simply trying to deny what seemed to be destiny. When her eyes reopened, Natalie was still staring at her, waiting…demanding an answer as if she already knew what it would be. Sharon sighed…she knew as well. Her hand tightened around Natalie’s as she looked up at the hotel room above.

“Let’s go.”

“Are you sure this is the place?”

A blonde woman dressed in head to toe in a silvery form-fitting costume, complete with a cape and boots, turned to face a man who was suspended from one of her arms, as she held him airborne by his belt. They hovered in the clouds several hundred stories above the Five Star Hotel…but the blonde woman was unaware of the reason why there were so many police around the building – it was merely convenient that she could snatch one of the officers and raise him high above.

He nodded quickly…and that was all she needed to drop quickly – faster than the fastest elevator on Earth – and deposit him on the roof of the hotel, before rebounding quickly back to the clouds.

She had only arrived on Earth a few minutes ago, her mission simple. She had been pulled from duty as Protector of a quiet nearby planet, sent by the Velorian Council to retrieve the Protector assigned to Earth, Reya’ann, and her rumored daughter.

The only information she had was that Reya’ann lived in Los Angeles, and she was a police officer. It was simply luck that police officers happened to gather at the one place where she had managed to track an Arion using local news reports as a guide. It was simple enough to guess, given the level of destruction and death noted by the reports.

And her luck didn’t run out there. She watched from above as a tall blonde woman and a dark haired teen entered through the front door of the hotel. A minute or two later, chunks of the hotel flew from the upper corner room – a battle was in progress, most likely between the planet’s protector and the Arion.

She turned upside down quickly, and aimed herself at the roof above the corner room like a missile, accelerating purposely to try and enter and hit the Arion before she had a chance to even make a move to protect herself.

As plaster, concrete and steel rained down around the seasoned Protector, she inverted her flight quickly and aimed herself directly at a pair of blue eyes shining at her from behind black hair and clouds of dust. She slammed into the Arion, embedding her into a concrete dividing wall.

She turned her attention to a blonde woman in the room, who was lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by shattered glass and wood. The woman was unconscious – and the Protector had arrived just in time to prevent her death.

But then came her first unlucky moment. Just as the Arion freed herself, the blonde and the teen from downstairs entered the room. She recognized the blonde as Shara’lynn, a Scribe – no match for an Arion warrior. Reya’ann was still unconscious – which meant that the Scribe and the teen were extremely vulnerable. There was only one Protector now between them and death.

And almost as if she were able to sense the Protector’s thoughts, the Arion immediately homed in on the weakest of the four people in the room – the dark haired teen. The Protector moved quickly to try and intercept…but not quick enough.

Then came a surprise. She watched as the Arion charged the teen…but seemed to freeze in mid-stride before she managed to reach her. The teen stared at her intently, one hand in front of her as if she were conducting some kind of force. The Arion seemed angry as she tried to fight something, and cursed in her native language…yet she couldn’t budge.

That’s when the Protector realized…the teen was Reya’ann’s daughter. And just as the Velorian Council’s genetic computers predicted, her power was indeed focused by her mind more than her body. She was very efficient in focusing energy from across the Rift.

“Scribe Shara’lynn, I am Protector Kara’shar, sent by Council. I demand to know what is going on.”

Sharon shook her head as she circled around Natalie and the Arion, still trapped in suspended animation. Natalie didn’t acknowledge either Sharon or Kara’shar, she seemed to be in deep concentration. “I’m as confused as you are.”

The Protector stared for a few seconds, watching the Arion struggle. She did her best not to laugh – she most likely never had to deal with anything like this during Arion warrior training. “Who is she?”

“Her name is Natalie. And I’m sorry, but I won’t tell you anything else about her. I’m bound by a promise.”

Kara’shar stared at Natalie for a few seconds before finally barking an order. “Release the Arion, Natalie.”

“No.” Natalie barely acknowledged the Protector as she remained completely motionless, her eyes remaining fixed on the Arion she held in mid-air a few feet in front of her.

“She can’t,” Sharon volunteered, “If she releases the Arion she’ll die…unless someone’s holding the Arion back.”

“No–” Natalie tried to shake her head slowly without breaking her concentration. “Mom…Get mom out of here.”

Without another word, Sharon nodded and raced over to where Reya was still lying on the floor, unconscious. She had very little energy stored within her – she felt heavy as Sharon lifted her and carried her into the hallway, over her shoulder like a firefighter.

She ran straight down the hall, and kicked in the door of a room as far from ground zero as possible, almost throwing Reya onto the bed. There wasn’t time to be gentle – she had to return to the Arion’s room quickly, and snatch Natalie out of there before whatever power she was using to hold the Arion gave out.

But when Sharon returned, she found something else instead – the Arion had already been released…but she wasn’t attacking Natalie or the Kara’shar. She was calmly sitting on the floor, looking from the Protector to Natalie, and then to Sharon.

The Arion seemed rather childlike and lost sitting there. It was as if she were a runaway just trying to find her way home, rather than one of the most violent and destructive killing machines in the universe.

“Natalie, what’s going on…?” Sharon looked at Kara’shar, hoping for an explanation.

“The power of irony,” Natalie replied, as she turned to face Sharon. “She’s my age. And get this…her name is Terra.”

Sharon looked down at the Arion, who stared back up with determined eyes. “Why did you release her?”

“Because she asked nicely.” Natalie smiled, and almost laughed, as she grabbed Sharon’s arm and pulled her closer. “Come here…Don’t worry, she promised to stop fighting.”

“And you trust her…?” Sharon’s voice trailed off as she leaned closer to the Arion, looking up at Sharon with a hint of fear and contempt in her eyes. “Terra…why are you here?”

“I was…sent to…” The young Arion stopped in mid-sentence, finally giving up trying to make her point in broken English. Instead, she pointed at Natalie. “Her. My people want–”

“–To kill her?” Sharon attempted to finish the sentence for Terra, noting that the Arion seemed to bow her head as she nodded. She looked at the rather fancy, yet torn suit that Terra wore. It was most likely stolen from the first store which the Arion encountered immediately after arriving on Earth.

Natalie smiled and folded her arms. “Fat chance of that happening. She’s one of their elite warriors, and even she couldn’t come near me.”

“I failed.” Terra kept her head bowed as she spoke softly and stared at the floor. “My people will…kill–”

Sharon and Natalie looked at each other almost simultaneously. It would be just like the Arions to kill one of their best-bred warriors because she failed to complete one objective. Sharon watched as Natalie stepped closer to the Arion, and sat on the floor in front of her. She tried to stop Natalie – but was immediately waved away by the teen.

“You didn’t fail.” Natalie spoke softly as she sat only a foot from Terra. “You learned. And you don’t have to die, Terra. You can stay here.”

“Natalie!” Sharon shared a frightened look with Kara’shar. The idea of an Arion warrior living on Earth was terrifying. Natalie obviously had no idea what she was getting into. “We can’t, Natalie. We simply can’t–”

“Yes, we can!” Natalie’s voice was forceful, angry, as she turned her head to look at Sharon with her determined blue eyes. “She has as much right to be here as you do, Sharon. We don’t belong here, either. If there’s one thing mom has always taught me about this place…it’s a haven.”

“This, Sharon–” Natalie pointed at Terra and rose to her feet quickly, facing Sharon. “–Is your huddled mass yearning to be free. What’s she going to do…go home and face death? Or maybe you’re prepared to go against everything you believe in and kill her?”

With those last two words, Natalie briefly cast a threatening glance in Kara’shar’s direction, almost daring her to move a muscle and take that challenge. But not even the seasoned Protector could break her conditioning to do just what her title implied – protect, not murder.

“So–” Sharon looked at Kara’shar, and then at the Arion and Natalie. “What do we do?”

Reya awoke with a blinding headache, opening her eyes to a room spinning out of control. She sat up quickly, blinking a few times to try and stabilize herself before slowly rising and balancing herself on her feet. Once she began moving, slowly, she began to feel a little bit better – except for the pounding headache. Having such quick healing ability was a big bonus to being born Velorian.

She stepped out into the hallway, and began to home in on distant voices she heard echoing down the hallway. She recognized two of them – Sharon, and her own daughter Natalie. But there was another female voice, and another speaking in broken English. Either one of the other two could be the Arion.

A twinge of fear burned down her spine as that last thought crossed her mind. An Arion, in the same room with Natalie. That couldn’t be a good thing. Natalie could be–

She shook her head to dismiss that thought, and mustered all of her strength to race down the hallway toward the voices. She couldn’t move at her top speed yet – her muscles and bones were much too sore, and she felt her energy level waning quickly.

But as she rounded one last corner and headed into the corner hotel room blindly, she found exactly the opposite of what she expected.

A teen with black hair and blue eyes, wearing a torn, expensive dark blue suit, sat cross-legged on the floor in the center of the room – Reya recognized her as the Arion who had attacked her earlier. Natalie stood above her, looking angry…but not at the Arion. Sharon stood in front of Natalie, looking at Reya as she entered. And there was another tall, well-tanned blonde with blue eyes in the room – a Protector sent by Velor, no doubt.

Reya took a step back toward the hallway as the Protector moved toward her. She instinctively knew that the Velorian had been sent by Council to retrieve her and Natalie. It was something she knew would happen for a while…it was only a matter of time.

“Hold it right there, Kara’shar,” Natalie threatened the Protector. This time, however, Natalie wasn’t fast enough to stop her before she snatched Reya by the throat, lifting her several inches off of the ground.

Natalie wrapped her arm around the Protector’s neck from behind, and tried, in vain, to force her to release her mom. She tried biting into Kara’shar’s shoulder…but the Velorian’s skin was too tough even for her teeth. “Let her go, or I’ll kill you!”

Sharon almost laughed at Natalie’s threat as she tried to intervene – but the seasoned Protector was stronger than both Reya and Sharon put together. Sharon found herself easily shoved across the room into an opposite wall. Natalie was then tossed across the room like a stuffed toy, bouncing off of the far edge of the bed and knocking over the nightstand.

“You hurt my friend.”

Sharon froze as she watched Terra slowly rise to her feet and approach Kara’shar. The Arion gripped the Protector’s left arm and began twisting. Sharon could hear tendons and muscles stretching to their limit, some tearing…and then the Arion drew back a fist, aimed directly at Kara’shar’s face.

“No! Stop!”

Terra froze and turned to look at Natalie, who had just risen from the corner she had collapsed into seconds earlier. She was still unharmed.

“Enough. No more killing.”

“You must be reasonable. It is my job to bring Reya and Natalie back with me.” Kara’shar winced as Terra responded to her by twisting her arm even further.

“Look who’s talking about reasonable?” Natalie vaulted over the bed and stood in front of Kara’shar, who showed pain on her face. Her eyes met Terra’s, and she nodded, signalling Terra to loosen her grip on the Protector. “Did you think about how you’d get me to Velor? Fact is, I’d never survive the trip.”

Kara’shar looked lost for a moment as her eyes tried to verify the truth of Natalie’s words with Sharon, who responded by nodding slowly. Her confidence suddenly seemed lost as she sighed deeply frowned at Reya, who stood at the opposite end of the room. “What am I to do? I…I can’t just ignore–”

“Yes, you can,” Sharon volunteered. “I’m a Scribe, a first-hand witness to everything that goes on around me. Let me tell you…Velor’s information about Reya and Natalie is seriously outdated.”

For the first time since she arrived, Kara’shar laughed. Natalie smiled, too – she seemed amused that a seasoned protector, someone who she pictured as a walking destructive force, would even have a sense of humor. She looked at Terra, who still appeared sad as she still held onto the Protector’s arm, yet only barely. She seemed to be losing concentration, as if her mind was elsewhere.

“Sharon, do you think we can set Terra up someplace so she can get used to living here?”

Both Sharon and Kara’shar seemed upset by Natalie’s suggestion. They both simply froze for a moment before turning to look at each other. The mere thought of an Arion living on such a fragile planet went against everything they had ever been taught. Reya, on the other hand, simple smiled in a self-satisfied way. Her daughter had indeed learned from this planet’s peaceful nature.

Perhaps Natalie was right, Sharon thought. Unfortunately, in the Arion quest for better breeding of warriors, they let some intelligence slip through – enough so their young missionary, sent to destroy and maim, seemed more like a homesick and lonely kid than an angry and destructive cyborg.

And Sharon, for one, wondered just what Natalie did to cause the Arion to stop fighting. “Natalie, what did you say to Terra to get her to stop?”

Natalie smiled as she gently took Terra’s arm in her hand, and led her out toward the hallway. She shrugged as Sharon followed. “I just asked her if she wanted to go home.”

Getting an Arion warrior past a police line was never easier. Since none of the cops had gotten close enough to her to identify her, their description came out of legend more than reality. They were seeking a six-foot, 150-pound dark haired thirty-something woman in a blue suit.

So, of course, they did nothing when a police officer they all knew, Reya Prince, walked right through the police line in civilian clothing – supplied by Sharon – with her daughter, and a fairly small dark-haired teenager, now wearing blue jeans and a tee-shirt ‘borrowed’ from the hotel’s first-floor gift shop. Following them was a woman the officers also knew well enough as Reya’s best friend Sharon.

For effect, Reya grabbed a blanket from a nearby rescue unit and tossed it over Terra’s shoulders. To anyone watching, Reya seemed like a hero, as she emerged from a building under siege by some virtually unknown person, with a rescued teenager under her wing. It worked all too well – as she headed through the crowd of police officers, some began cheering, and offering her handshakes.

Natalie kept one hand tightly on Terra’s left arm. She was becoming a little concerned, as the Arion teen seemed frightened by all of the attention. Natalie’s tight grip would give the Arion both a little warning, and a little reassurance.

Once they cleared the crowd and disappeared around a corner, the four formed a chain and headed for the skies. And just as she promised, they spotted Kara’shar bolting from the roof of the hotel, providing a much needed distraction. The cops would be watching that for a while.

By the time they reached Reya’s home, it was almost midnight. The streets were completely silent, enough so the sounds of their various types of sneakers contacting the sidewalk upon their landing echoed off of the neighboring houses and cars parked on the street.

Reya headed inside first, and for some unknown reason, Terra followed quickly. Sharon started to wonder if she had a fear of open space – it was possible, since Arions often raised the level of paranoia of their warriors to make them more dangerous.

“Natalie–” Sharon grabbed her shoulder to stop her before she entered the house. Natalie turned around, her smile disappearing when she realized that Sharon was about to ask her a very serious question. “You do know that she killed Allen, don’t you?”

“I know.” Natalie sighed deeply, looking down for a moment as she paused in thought. “But…revenge has to stop somewhere, you know? Or pretty soon…everyone ends up dead.”

Sharon stood on the front lawn of Reya’s home, dazed, as she watched Natalie head inside and turn on a lamp next to the door. ‘Revenge has to stop somewhere’. She bit her lip as memory of all of the journal entries she sent back to Velor flooded back to her. Death, destruction, hate, dominated most of them.

She remembered lovers, friends, people she cared deeply about dying – and then her tears, which soaked the paper she wrote on as she struggled to clear her thoughts enough to make a record of what had happened. It was only then that she fully appreciated the true role of a Velorian Scribe – to immortalize those who had died before their prime, those who had fought for a greater cause…and lost.

After all she had lost, it seemed ironic that Natalie, a teen who lived her life on such a peaceful planet, knew so much truth. Revenge was indeed an endless, violent cycle, a constant of the universe which would never stop…until everyone ended up dead.

In a moment of inspiration stronger than any she had in a long time, she slipped a small paper pad and a pen out of her pocket, tapping the end of the pen against her chin as she decided what to write. She had so much swimming through her mind…but after some thought, it seemed to boil down to only a few words:

‘There is hope after all.’

Trolling The Galaxy, Part 2

He felt so lost, so small. His destiny was unknown, and all he knew was about to be left him behind forever. As he stared up at the setting twin suns of his desert wasteland home, he instinctively knew he would never return.

For some reason, that image of Luke Skywalker in ‘Star Wars’ haunted Renee since she saw the movie during her first week on Earth. She could relate to it so well, having left her beautiful home and all she cared about to take up residence on some strange planet where she too felt lost, and small. She remembered crying the first time she saw that one scene. It felt so real to her.

But as Renee slept, her eyes and mind closed to the world around her, she found one clear difference between herself and Luke…in the end, he proved himself to be strong, someone who was in control of his destiny. Renee, on the other hand…proved herself only to be a victim, someone who found herself hopelessly tossed by the currents of fate.

“Reya?” She heard a soft voice calling her name, from far, far away. She closed her eyes tighter and turned away from it. She didn’t want to see the world again. As far as she was concerned, it was gone…and she was happy to see it go.

She felt a soft touch on one arm, instantly bringing her senses to life. She silently cursed the one who brought her back. Renee wanted to drift away, to keep herself in a place where she wouldn’t have to relive her humiliation again…


Her eyes slowly opened, giving her a blurry view of someone very familiar to her, a pair of blue eyes and strands of blonde hair hovering over her. She unconsciously smiled – her only true friend had found her. Renee turned her head away as tears began to flow from her eyes…and she began sobbing as memory of her harsh reality flooded her senses again. “No…I don’t want to…”

“Reya, it’s me.” Sharon leaned closer, gripping Renee’s hand tightly. “I’m here for you. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“Not…fine.” Renee kept her eyes away from Sharon. But her hands could feel a warmth, a power…almost as if she were touching pure energy. It filled her with feelings of euphoria, like a drug…but she still resisted.

“I have to restore you, or you’ll die,” Sharon whispered softly as she held Renee’s hands tighter within her own. “Your energy is low–”

“No…I…I want to die–”

Sharon suddenly let go of Renee’s hands and took a step back, leaving Renee suddenly feeling cold and drained. Renee’s words echoed in her mind as she watched a pair of blue eyes turn to her from the hospital bed. Those eyes…the looked empty, cold…they were missing the energy which was usually behind them.

“My God, Reya…You’re…you’re willing yourself to death? What happened to you? Please, talk to me.”

Renee frowned and slowly began propping herself up in the bed. She could feel every muscle cry out to her with pain…not from injury, but rather from…disuse? She felt something burn in her arm…it was an needle inserted by the hospital, to feed her nutrients – and it was pierced through her skin. That man…he must have known what she was…and he stole her energy as well as her dignity.

“I–” Renee took a deep breath, trying to slow the dizziness she found herself which was her reward for speaking too quickly. “I was attacked. I…I–”

“The police told me about that. But…God, Reya–” Sharon walked over to the bed slowly and held Renee’s hand, careful not to try and flood her with energy this time. “You’ve been out for almost two weeks.”

“Huh? Two–” Renee nearly sat upright, but more dizziness prevented it. She began feeling…terrified. Two weeks? She began to understand why she felt so confused and weak – a Velorian could not survive on the simple sustenance provided by the needle in her arm for any length of time. Velorians needed pure energy as well. But she still didn’t understand how she could have used all of her remaining energy while dormant. “What happened to me?”

Sharon continued to hold Renee’s hand gently and sat down on the edge of the bed. She seemed a little concerned as she took a deep breath and began to explain. “You were attacked by an Arion, Reya. He was on a rampage and you…well, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“An…Arion?” Renee suddenly gasped and sat upright, her breathing speeding up suddenly to compensate for the sudden dizziness. “He raped me! Am I…?”

A few seconds of silence prevailed before Sharon closed her eyes and nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re pregnant. That’s why all of your energy has been drained. But you don’t have to suffer through this…I can take you back to Velor, and–”

“No…I want this to happen.” Renee suddenly tore the needle from her arm and slid out of bed, stumbling into Sharon’s arms as she struggled to steady herself. “I will not be a victim any longer.”

Sharon laughed as she caught Renee, her amazing strength propping her friend to her feet quickly. She felt better as she noticed Renee trying to stand under her own power. It was a sign…a good sign, that her friend Reya had not given up yet.

“Are you sure about this, Reya?”

The smile which formed on Renee’s face gave Sharon inner warmth. It felt like she had given life to the lifeless…or given her friend a second chance at life. “I’ve never been more sure of anything, Sharon. What happened to me is in the past…”

Renee placed both of her hands on her stomach, her eyes reflecting a little contentment…and a little hope…as she looked at Sharon. “This is the future. I want it to be a future where no one ever has to fear as I did.”

Sharon nodded and let go of Renee slowly, smiling as she noticed that her friend was now retaining her own energy, standing steadily on her own two feet. “That’s the Reya I know.”

‘That’s the Reya I know.’ Reya smiled at the words floating in her mind. For some reason, they stuck with her since that day in the hospital…that day when Renee permanently changed her name to the one she had been born with, and decided to embrace her lost heritage.

Humans were a fragile species. Yet they walk the Earth, totally oblivious to the fact that they had such sort life spans, and a frailty that most conquering species in the galaxy would love to prey upon if given the chance. They were fairly fragile beings, both physically, and in their tendencies to become so dependent on one another.

But it was those same traits which made them stronger, more powerful, and much more resilient than any other species. They tended to bond together, to find comfort in numbers…and then they would defend their numbers with a vengeance.

Earth…a backwards, primitive place torn by war, hunger, and battles between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Or so it would seem to an outside force. But a closer look reveals a hidden power, potential beyond imagination. And admittedly…the all-powerful Velorian race was one always flirting with extinction, the Ancient Ones were gone forever…and even the Arions wouldn’t survive long with their tendencies toward self-destruction.

In the end, it would be the backwards species…like humans…which would ultimately inherit the universe. And with them, they would bring peace. It was almost humorous to consider – but when looked at closely…it made perfect sense.

As Reya lay back on her small sailboat off the coast of southern California, watching the sunset, her mind filled with philosophical thoughts. Earth was a majestic place, a world hidden away from the unthinkable terror and chaos which filled most of the universe. It was almost as if…some God intended it that way. Almost like some higher intelligence meant Earth for greater things.

She could tell those greater things were far off into the future…but not too far. The months she spent with a child growing inside her were evidence of that. Reya knew she would raise her daughter to be not a protector of Earth…but its guardian. Someone who would look after the sweet backwards little planet.

Since Reya was a child, she remembered reading about Earth, how its technology was feeble compared to that of the simplest Arion weapons. And how the Velorians must prevent Arions from destroying the place at all costs. She always wondered…if the Arions were so capable, so bent on destroying Earth…why didn’t they?

As she grew up, she learned that no one else knew that answer, either. Sure, the Arions have tried…but some little glitch always managed to cause them to fail. There was always something – as if an invisible, higher power were making it impossible for them to do so. Or perhaps it was simply…fate?

Reya laughed at her own thoughts as she stood and unfurled the small sail on her boat, preparing to head back to shore. Fate. That was such a human concept…and yet, the proof was there. In a matter of weeks, fate would become reality – a child would be born…and Earth would never be the same.

“Relax, mom, I know what I’m doing.”

Reya sighed as she watched the brunette, blue eyed teen tug at the rope which pulled a giant sail up along its mast, to unfurl it to its full potential…as both a large decorative symbol and the sole method of propulsion for the small boat as it bobbed along the waves of the Pacific Ocean, dyed orange by the setting sun over the horizon. The symbol on the sail meant nothing…but to Reya it meant everything.

She couldn’t believe it was sixteen years ago when she used to go out in a smaller boat for solitude, and to commune with natural forces which dwarf the power of even the heartiest of Velorian protectors – none would be a match for the relentlessness of the oceans.

“I know, Natalie,” Reya said as she watched her daughter quickly reel in the rope, hand over hand as she’d been taught, with the skill of a career fisherman, even though she had only been shown how to do it once. “Frankly, I’m more worried about the boat, and the sail.”

A splash of water hit Reya, just as she began laughing. The two discovered, something interesting during the last few years, something which Reya feared telling anyone, especially other Velorians, including Sharon.

Natalie had the ability to project small amounts of energy outside of her body. She had yet to master the ability, and could do little more than throw small objects or splash water without any physical contact. It was something which made Reya feel very proud – though Velor didn’t know, Natalie was the next evolution of Velorian.

But Natalie’s ‘advancement’ left her at a disadvantage. She was shorter than most of her kind, almost fully grown at only five foot six. Her own mother looked like an amazon next to her. Her reduced size meant she had a lower threshold for energy storage, meaning two things – she needed to eat more often, almost as often as humans, and she could never store enough power to visit Velor on her own. She may be the next stage of Velorian…but one who is doomed to exile from Velor.

Reya was not saddened by that fact, however. In fact, she was relieved – upon finding out about her pregnancy, the Velorian council had ordered her home several times. She refused, knowing full well that it meant she could never return home without facing a harsh judgement from the Velorian council.

But that was a moot point now. Earth was her home, because it was her daughter’s home. If before by choice, now it was from necessity…and no one could take her or her daughter away.

“Mom, why are you always so lonely?”

Thinking that Natalie was kidding, Reya looked up smiling – only to notice that Natalie wasn’t. She sighed deeply – she had pretty much dedicated the last sixteen years to raising and protecting Natalie…but hadn’t really thought much about herself. “I…I don’t know, Natalie. I guess I never really made the time for anything besides work and us.”

“You know, I can help you–” Natalie smiled and walked across the small sailboat, sitting down next to her mom. She knew that her mom saw her as a success – she was thoroughly entrenched in the ways of Earth. She went to school just as a normal teen did, had a boyfriend at one point…her blood was not of Earth, but her mind sure was. “I know, it sounds stupid…”

“No, no. It’s not stupid at all.” Reya smiled at her daughter, hugging her gently with one arm. “I’ve always tried to make you a better person than I was. I want you to experience everything I’ve missed, and never feel the pain I had to feel.”

“I remember. It’s so sad, your having to leave everyone behind to come here alone.” Natalie smiled again, her bright eyes easily giving away a sudden thought which burned behind them. “Hey…maybe you should write a book about it.”

Reya laughed…only there was a little seriousness in that laugh, as if she too wished she could. “It’s not something that’s safe to write about, Natalie. Velor has scribes like Sharon for that purpose…they are trained to know what they can safely write without arousing suspicion.”

“So? Maybe Sharon can help you.” Natalie turned around to look behind her, noticing that the shore was approaching slowly. They were almost home. “Your story is too good not to tell! You can’t just let it fade away into nothingness.”

“Natalie–” Reya paused and smiled in spite of herself. She knew that Natalie was pushing her relentlessly, but with good reason. Her daughter was a creative type, she hated watching good material go to waste – whether it be physical material, ideas, or history. “I’ll think about it…all right? In the mean time, give it a rest.”

Natalie laughed. “Okay, mom.”

Not another word was spoken between the two until the boat finally struck land. They didn’t need words at that point – both simply enjoyed the cool Pacific air, and the glow of the vanishing sun from the horizon. It was a rare moment, meant to be shared in silence.

“I saw, it.”

Reya swallowed hard as she looked across the living room at her friend, Sharon. Or so she thought, for the past eighteen years. Now Sharon stood before her, accusing Reya of hiding something from her. The worst part was that she was right. “I’m so sorry, Sharon. I couldn’t tell you–”

“Why? Why couldn’t you tell me?” Sharon folded her arms, her eyes firey with anger.

“Because–” Reya leaned forward and dropped her face into her hands, allowing her hair to hang down dangerously close to the floor. She wished she could hide herself between her own hair strands, slide down, and gradually vanish into the floorboards. “It’s your job to report everything you see and hear back to the Velorian council. I couldn’t ask you to keep this from them.”

“Don’t you think they deserve to know?” Sharon sighed, her anger dissolving as she watched her friend Reya hiding her eyes, most likely close to tears. She had such a difficult life, and most of the time she made the best of it. Yet she still remained as sensitive as the day she arrived from Velor.

Sharon glanced toward the kitchen as she sat down next to her friend, rubbing her back reassuringly. Natalie was in the kitchen, attempting to make chocolate chip cookies after briefly mentioning that she needed sugar. “Natalie is very special, Reya. She shouldn’t have to be hidden away, she may be the next evolution of us. She may be the future.”

Reya nodded slowly. “I thought about that. Maybe she is what the Ancient Ones had in mind. Maybe the reason they vanished was because the constant war between Velor and Aria meant their failure–”

“Maybe you should have become a philosopher instead of a protector.” Sharon smiled at Reya for a few seconds before Reya finally burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, Reya. If Velor is to find out about Natalie, it will be in an appropriate way.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Sharon. I do.” Reya stood and swept her hair back nervously, looking at the floor rather than at Sharon. “I’m…just afraid you’ll underestimate them. You might think everything will be fine, when it’s–”

She paused and smiled as she watched Natalie enter the living room from the kitchen, carrying a plate full of hot chocolate chip cookies, straight from the oven. Natalie walked around the couch carefully, placing the plate onto the coffee table before sitting down.

“You guys are talking about me, aren’t you? Don’t forget, I can hear every word.” Natalie sat down, grabbing a cookie and taking a bite out of it as she smiled at Sharon and Reya. Both noticed that the cookies were fresh out of the oven, far from being cool enough for normal humans to eat without being scalded.

“Nothing you need to worry about, Natalie.” Reya glanced over at Sharon for a moment, giving her a half-smile, half warning.

“I think you should tell them about me.” Natalie shrugged, ignoring Reya’s horrified expression. “I don’t care. There’s not a lot they can do about it.”

Sharon laughed out loud as she reached forward to grab a cookie. Reya seemed less than amused. “She has a point, Reya. They can’t take her back to Velor, after all.”

Natalie nodded. “Besides, I can defend myself. I took Karate last year in high school.”

“What?” The question came in unison from both Sharon and Reya. The two looked at each other, before realizing that Natalie had neglected to tell either one.

“How did you get a signature for that, young lady?” Reya folded her arms, giving an almost mock gaze of anger to Natalie.

Natalie bit her lip, trying not to laugh as she answered. “I forged it. Same as when I took archery two years ago.”

Sharon began laughing out loud again as Reya covered her face and shook her head slowly. “I love this kid, Reya. I really do.”

Natalie cursed to herself as she parked her small electric motor scooter in front of her high school. She could hear the warning bell ringing as she entered the parking lot – meaning she had about five minutes to grab her books and get to class.

As soon as she removed the key, the wheels locked and raised off the ground, activating its built-in security system. Earth technology may not even be close to what her mom described on her home planet, but it was pretty impressive.

She pulled her backpack free from the cargo net, and raced for the front doors of the school. Most of the people who were loitering outside as she drove up had already gone inside to head to class, with the exception of a few who had no plans to do so.

“Runnin’ late again, Nat?”

Natalie smiled as she heard a familiar voice, pausing to turn and greet the source of it – her boyfriend. Actually, they were more like best friends – they spent most of their time together just hanging around each other and talking. “Hey, Allen. What’s new?”

“Nothing much.”

She gave him a quick hug, ignoring the sound of the second bell as it echoed through the halls, officially marking both her and Allen late – that meant they would be unable to go to class without a pink slip, which wasted further time. “Looks like I have to go to the office again. Want to come along?”

Allen smiled and held up his hands in an exaggerated shrug, his backpack nearly sliding off of his shoulder to add to the drama. “Do I have a choice? You made me late.”

Natalie laughed and shoved him gently before grabbing his forearm and leading him down the hall. She walked backwards as she talked loudly in a dramatic voice. “It’s off to the principal’s office for you, Allen! Let’s go!”

The two were laughing by the time they both entered the school administration office, earning them both a stern look from the older woman sitting behind a tall desk. “Shouldn’t you two be in class?”

“We were late.” Natalie leaned her elbows on the counter, smiling across the linoleum border at the woman, trying her best to raise her to the same mood she felt. “We need pink slips.”

The woman frowned further, resisting Natalie’s attempts to cheer her up, even adding a shake of the head. “Natalie, that’s six times this quarter alone. I can’t possibly excuse this absence.”

“So…make it unexcused?” Natalie shrugged. “I don’t care, I just need to get to class.”

“And you, young man,” The woman continued, “Have four unexcused absences of your own.”

Allen shrugged as well, but decided against commenting. The woman rewarded him by handing him a signed pink slip. He took it and patted Natalie’s shoulder as he left the office. “See you in class.”

Natalie sighed, her smile disappearing as she watched the woman behind the desk – quickly becoming her nemesis – motion for the vice principal to come over. The two began discussing something behind the desk – and Natalie started to concentrate, trying to tune her hearing into what they were saying. They spoke of giving her detention, or even suspending her–

“What? That’s not fair!”

She didn’t realize that she had been eavesdropping beyond the capability of humans until both the nemesis behind the desk and the vice principal looked at her in shock.

“Young lady,” The vice principal quickly admonished, “It’s extremely rude to eavesdrop. For your effort, you’ve earned yourself a three day suspension, effective immediately.”

Natalie restrained her enthusiasm as she left the office, purposely shuffling her feet as she headed out into the hallway. As soon as she was clear of the door, she raced for a classroom at the end of the hall, her feet barely touching the floor.

“Nat, wait up!”

She stopped quickly, her shows squealing against the polished floor as she realized that Allen had been waiting outside the office on a bench the entire time. She turned around and headed back, slowly.

“Geez, you can run fast!” Allen laughed as he spoke, seeming a little surprised that Natalie didn’t seem the least bit tired or winded. “You should try out for the olympics or something. Did you get a pink slip?”

“No.” Natalie shook her head quickly, the smile never leaving her face. “They gave me three days off.”

“They suspended you?” Allen shook his head slowly. “But you’re already so far behind…how are you supposed to catch up now?”

“I can always join the olympics.” Natalie bit her lip as she started laughing.

Allen joined in as he gave her a quick good bye hug. “I’ll see you later, Nat. Good luck…uh…lounging around at home. Don’t fall off the couch or anything.”

“See you when you get home from school…sucker.” Natalie shoved him a little and laughed again as she turned to head out of the exit doors at the end of the hall. Allen didn’t even realize that it was a fire exit, and would set off an alarm – but Natalie did. It was to be a last bit of revenge before she went home for her mini-vacation.

But as she headed for that door, something stood in her way. A tall woman with jet black hair and blue eyes stepped out of a doorway to stop her by grabbing her shoulder. She wore an expensive dark blue jacket and matching slacks, which sort offset between her eye and hair color. She looked too young to be a teacher…but why else would she even be wearing such an outfit?

“I’m not wandering the halls, I’ve been suspended,” Natalie said, a little contempt in her voice. “Ask the vice principal.”

The well-dressed tall woman said nothing – she simply grabbed Natalie by her throat and threw her, sending her sliding quickly down the polished hallway floor until she crashed into a set of lockers nestled in a corner of an intersection.

“Hey!” Natalie stood quickly, not even noticing that the lockers behind her looked like a small truck had plowed into them. The doors were bent in, and its frame was severely twisted. “You’re gonna pay for that!”

Before Natalie had time to react, she watched the woman in the blue suit approach Allen quickly. She stood in front of him for what seemed like an eternity, staring at him with interest. Allen froze, either paralyzed by fear or from assuming that the woman had to be on the school’s staff. Or maybe both.

But it was that pause which cost him dearly. The woman placed one hand on his chin, and one on his shoulder. He simply looked up at her, confused by what she was doing…and then, in the blink of an eye, she violently pushed down on his shoulder and up on his chin…

…and Natalie screamed as she watched Allen’s head detach from his body, and fall to the floor. A fountain of blood shot up from what was left of his neck, drenching the woman’s clothing and covering her face with a thick layer of red. She began shaking her head as the woman’s attention turned to her…it had to be a dream. It couldn’t be real.

Natalie screamed again as she turned and burst through the doors at the end of the hall, ignoring the sirens which went off inside the building as the bar marked ‘Emergency Exit Only’ went flying into the schoolyard. Her screams turned into sobs as she cleared the stairway with a single leap, not even pausing as her feet finally touched the sidewalk.

She kept running until she reached her small electric scooter, parked at the edge of the lot – she knew the woman was still chasing her, even though she couldn’t see it.

Natalie was crying hysterically by the time she stepped onto her scooter and raced its small motor beyond its tolerances – it screamed as she tore through the center lane of heavy traffic at nearly fifty miles per hour. A traffic light changed to red, but she wasn’t stopping. She spotted a truck, too late…

As her eyes closed, and she screamed once again, the small scooter slammed into the side of the truck hard enough to cause it to shake. The truck stopped almost immediately – the driver realized something was wrong.

She stood up and looked at what was left of her destroyed scooter, now trapped under the truck’s tires. The side of the truck’s fuel tank was crushed, and fuel spilled onto the pavement. The driver was outside, yelling something…but she didn’t pay attention. She had to get somewhere safe.

Now lacking her electric scooter, she began running alongside the street. At first, it seemed difficult, her lungs burned and her muscles protested…but after a while, she felt herself settling into a sort of rhythm. Her breathing began to slow, and she actually picked up speed as her muscles began to relax. She smiled as she watched the other pedestrians jump out of her way as she easily breezed past them, dodging a few who couldn’t move fast enough, even leaping over a baby in a stroller.

Natalie just happened to glance to her left as she ran, noticing that she was moving much faster than the surrounding car traffic. At first, she figured that maybe there was a traffic jam, and the old joke about walking to get there faster rang true once again…but after a quick comparison, she realized that the cars were moving along just fine – but she was moving faster!

Exhilarated, she purposely started taking longer strides, trying to push her legs and lungs past some imaginary limit which she had obviously shattered a while ago. She didn’t even blink as she approached an intersection where cars had begun driving over the crosswalk – she simply paused her running long enough to drive both of her feet against the sidewalk, launching her into the air, and hopefully across to the other side of the crossing.

She miscalculated her leap – only instead of crashing to the ground and causing a multi-car pileup, she launched herself with blinding speed high above the familiar sidewalk, into what was, to her, another world. Suddenly, she found herself looking down at rooftops – the ground below, the people walking, and the cars on the street all became smaller and smaller as she kept ascending.

Then she suddenly felt terrified – still ascending? Just when she wondered how she could stop, she held her arms out to her sides, and simply willed herself not to climb any higher. She could feel the air in her lungs shift rapidly as she came to a sudden stop, hovering high in the air.

Once she regained her senses, her memory reminded her with horrific graphic reality that she had to go home. Her new discovery would have to wait until another time…until she was safe.

But she wasn’t ready to return to the ground just yet. It only took her a little more effort to learn that she could control her travel – just as she willed herself to stop climbing, she found that she could will herself to travel forward or turn as well. It was like swimming, only without having to tread water.

By air, she made it home in mere minutes. Not having mastered landings yet, her feet slammed into the concrete sidewalk outside her house, causing it to spilt and part of it to sink – but she had more important worries at the moment. Natalie burst into the living room, slamming the door behind her as she headed into the study.

“Mom–” Before Natalie even got the rest of the sentence out, she was already sobbing. She ran over to the overstuffed chair where Reya sat and buried her head in her mother’s lap. “Mom…it was horrible. A strange woman showed up and killed Allen…she tried to kill me too–”

Reya wasn’t sure at first if Natalie was making up some creative excuse for why she returned from school so early…but the fact that her daughter couldn’t stop crying, and she was in shock – pale and shaking – quickly changed her mind. A wave of panic rushed through Reya as she grabbed the television remote and turned on the local news.

“No…Oh my God, no.”

Reya and Natalie sat silent as they watched the high school which Natalie had left less than an hour ago. Police, fire engines, and ambulances surrounded the building, and dozens of bodies were lying on the lawn, covered completely by dark sheets. Blood covered rescue workers as they struggled to save those that they could.

According to the latest report, scrolling across the bottom of the screen, there were forty five reported dead. No explosion was detected, no weapons were reported. Each of the teachers and students killed were simply butchered by what looked like extraordinarily strong human hands.

After an evacuation, A police search of the entire building turned up no one…whoever had committed these atrocities was long gone.

“If it weren’t for the quick thinking of someone who managed to set off the fire alarm,” The school principal was quoted as saying, “The other students may not have had a chance to escape.”

Reya and Natalie shared a look for a moment, one which required no words. Reya just knew it was her daughter who had set off the alarm during her escape – while she was raised as any other child on Earth, she was still a Protector at heart. She hugged her daughter tightly, as she began to shed tears of her own – tears of thankfulness that, above all, her daughter found the power to save herself.

“I love you so much, Natalie…”

After watching an hour of local news footage, it was Natalie’s turn to hold a sobbing Reya instead. She didn’t understand why her mom was crying – she knew very little of the history behind it. Her mom did tell her about a violent, conquering race of enormous power called the Arions, and that one had attacked and beaten her viciously. But Natalie always thought of these Arions as something distant, or rare. She never thought she would see one.

Reya wasn’t sure, either – and once she got over her moment of terror, she called Sharon. As soon as she told Sharon that Natalie had seen one close up, Sharon cut the conversation short.

“I’ll be right over”, she said. It wasn’t so much the words which scared Reya…it was the slight quiver in Sharon’s voice, as if every nightmare she had ever dreamed or written was coming true at that moment. Sharon wasn’t nearly as upset when she heard about the male Arion who attacked Reya – but the woman Natalie described seem to terrify her.

“Natalie, this is very important,” Sharon slowly spoke, her voice a little condescending. “What did she look like? What did she say?”

Natalie shrugged. “She was tall, jet black hair, blue eyes. And she didn’t say anything, she just threw me into some lockers and then attacked Allen.”

“I don’t get it.” Reya shook her head slowly and sat up slowly in her chair, trying to dry her tears. She was far from completely calm, but she didn’t want to be left out of the conversation. “Sharon, you told me that Arion scouts visit here all the time. Why is this one so much more destructive?”

Sharon frowned, her eyes telling the story before she even spoke a word. “Because she’s not a scout. She’s a warrior. They don’t bother to try to keep a low profile.”

“But–” Natalie sat up suddenly, looking between Sharon and the television. She already knew the answer to her next question…but she couldn’t believe it until she heard it from someone else. “Why here? Why my school?”

Reya looked at Sharon with fearful eyes, as she began to put together the mystery as well.

“I fear,” Sharon said, “That she’s come here for you.”

Trolling The Galaxy, Part 1

The late evening sun glinted off of the soft waves of the Pacific Ocean. Far off the coast of southern California, a small painted wooded fishing boat named Alexa bobbed back and forth gently, a stiff, cool wind blowing across its deck. It didn’t come any better, or more beautiful.

For most people, it simply wouldn’t be safe at that time of the evening to travel so far off the coast in such a small fishing boat. But Renee Prince was no ordinary person. In fact, the six foot tall tanned blonde hated resented having chosen that name for herself each time she heard it. The name itself, and the method she used to choose it, were a reminder of traditions of her birth place which she wanted to leave behind forever. She always liked the name Reya much better.

Unspoiled. Yes, that was the word to describe what she watched around her. She could be the master of all she surveyed if she chose – yet she found it so much more satisfying and intriguing simply to take part in it, to accept her small share of this place and enjoy it as much as she could.

And enjoy it she did. In fact, Alexa didn’t even have any kind of engine on board. It was strictly a sailing boat…and Renee planned to use the stiff winds which blew into the beaches of Los Angeles every evening with the tide to navigate back home.

It was time.

Renee stood quickly and gripped a three inch thick hemp rope with both hands. She pulled it quickly, effortlessly, hand over hand. A twenty foot high heavy canvas sail unfurled quickly, expanding to its full width as it touched the wind. Renee took a step backward as the small boat began to suddenly accelerate, picking up speed very quickly to match the velocity of the breeze itself.

The cool wind rushed through her hair, warm salt water splashed her skin as the small wooden boat crashed through the waves of the Pacific. She watched a few seagulls flying just above her, a smile creeping onto her face as she considered joining them for just a moment – but this trip on the boat, at least at the moment, was much more thrilling.

Her muscles ached a little as she held the rope tighter in her fingers. Rather then tie off the end of the rope, she held it in her hands…if only to feel the awesome power of the wind which pulled her small boat along the surface of the water. It was a struggle even for her, as powerful as she was, to hold back one of the planet’s most daunting and relentless forces with just the power of her own muscles.

Darkness began to descend over Renee as the sun finally sunk below the horizon – yet in her eyes, it was only a minor inconvenience. She could still clearly see the ocean, the coast, and all of the crisp colors around her. And the scents surrounding her…the tide was coming in, she was sure. The smell of the ocean was different during high tide. It smelled clearer, somehow more refreshing.

She could feel her senses enhancing in the encroaching darkness. The scent of sand reached her nose, along with a mixture of smells from the beach – various kinds of food and drink sold along the shore, suntan lotion, and…people?

Renee squinted toward the shore, wondering silently who would be out there after the private beach had been closed for at least an hour or two. Normally people on the beach wouldn’t affect her – but in this case, it hampered her carefully laid-out plans. She hadn’t bothered to park her car and boat trailer on the sand of the beach before she started her little cruise, planning to simply fold down the sail and drag her boat up to the parking lot above once the beach closed. But if people were there…she would have to either convince them to leave, or come up with a new plan.

She wrinkled her nose and frowned as a new smell flooded her senses – alcohol. These were kids on the beach, hoping to drink beer undetected in the darkness. Renee sighed deeply as she snatched her official-looking dark blue and yellow jacket, dark blue baseball cap emblazoned with the letters ‘MPD’. and . Sometimes she regretted taking a job with the Malibu Police Department. Even on her days off, she could never have a real vacation.

“I need a vacation, Sharon.”

Even as Renee Prince spoke to her best friend, Sharon, she leaned back in one of Sharon’s porch chairs, her ‘MPD’ baseball cap over her eyes. She was still wearing her dark blue uniform jacket – and the dark blue and yellow painted Mitsubishi Eclipse Limited issued to her by the Malibu police department was parked in front of Sharon’s home, it’s predominantly dark color hiding it in the darkness.

“A vacation?” Sharon smiled. “What would you do on a vacation?”

Renee, or Reya as Sharon was more fond of calling her, had just arrived in Los Angeles a few months ago from someplace distant, a place Sharon was all too familiar with.

The two women had one thing in common – though they both appeared human, they were much more then that. They were from a distant planet called Velor, bred as an advanced form of human for a single purpose…to protect the universe.

Starting at an early age, every young girl on Velor was trained in the art of war. They were trained how to use every part of their bodies as dangerous weapons – and a popular demonstration was when a long-haired instructor would carefully form her hair into a single braid, and literally use her own hair to shred solid metal, simply by whipping it around faster then the eye could see.

It was fun at the time, for young girls to learn how to destroy targets with their hair, or with beams of heat with their eyes. Little did they realize they were being trained for a war – a danger that was hard to imagine for a child growing up on Velor.

Little did they realize at such a young age…that years later, the war around their calm little planet would take the lives of many of their classmates. The population of Velor was dwindling, slowly dying out. Everyone knew it, yet the Velorian leadership would not sway in it’s mission to protect the universe from threats.

The biggest threat of all was from the people of Aria. While the Velorian people have always trained for war, they still had a culture of their own. Aria’s culture itself was war. Their planet was simply a factory, producing weapons, troops, and one generation after another of genetically altered warriors. While they didn’t necessarily see Velor as their only threat, they did recognize it as their greatest.

And so as another proud father watched his daughter of Velor, smartly clad in a form-fitting silvery metallic uniform, prepare for her first launch into cold, dark space, he felt the requisite pride…along with a healthy dose of fear. He had already lost his lifelong mate to the same fate. She left one cool morning, promising to return before her daughter’s birthday. He was notified of her death the next morning.

But his daughter made no such promise. She knew better…while her mom had vanished before she was even old enough to enter her training, she remembered. She gave her father a weak smile, knowing that a part of her would be with him always. As a heavy glass tube began to close around her, preparing for her first launch into space, her brave smile quickly crumbled as her feelings betrayed her. She watched her father crying, through the glass. He would be all alone.

Her hands clasped together tightly, her eyes closed as she could feel the tethers of gravity release her limbs. She began to cry silently, inwardly, praying…even begging to be sent back home. Suddenly, she couldn’t bear to leave her father by himself.

But as she opened her eyes again, a sudden calm washed over her. She was coasting through space, her metallic suit reflecting the orange-red glow of the Velorian Star. Her long blonde hair seemed glued to her skin as moisture permeated it, collected from the atmosphere of the planet, beads of water running all along her body as she travelled at unthinkable speeds through toward some unknown destination – some backwards, innocent planet known as Earth.

The stars seemed a blur around her as she stared straight ahead. The sadness at leaving her father, her home, behind tore at her heart as she blasted toward something bright in the distance – a star. A yellow star. It was only seconds before she could feel its power flowing through her veins, as if her own blood were lit aflame. It was exhilarating, even a little painful as wavelengths of pure energy not available from the Velorian Star began to penetrate her skin, and run through her body.

She looked down at her hands – they were glowing slightly from the sudden infusion of energy. The surplus simply leaked out through her skin, tracing an orange-red line through space behind her as she passed by the star. She remembered from her lessons – this star was known as Sol.

Seconds later – just as in the simulations – she flipped onto her back, and dove through the atmosphere of the third planet. On her back, she wore what appeared to be a metallic cape – it was a heat shield, designed to protect her clothing upon descent through a planetary atmosphere. It was designed to tolerate much more heat then her clothing, as well as provide resistance braking to slow her against the atmosphere itself.

She cringed as she felt a jolt, and the sudden shock of cold water touching her skin. Her descent hadn’t slowed as fast as she had hoped, and she had to aim toward a large body of water called the Pacific Ocean to break her fall. At the speed at which she was travelling, she would simply cause too much damage falling on land. The salt water quickly soothed her slightly burned skin as bubbles of steam surrounded her. She quickly regained her equilibrium and swam toward a bright light just above her.

“…And I saw the most beautiful thing in my life, Sharon. Lightning…I’d never seen it that close up before. I was so sure I was dead.”

Sharon laughed out loud. “You told me that whole story already, Reya. Just tell me what you’d do on a vacation.”

Renee gave Sharon a sly smile. Sharon was always the most impatient Velorian she had known. She guessed it was an Earth influence that she herself would learn in time. “Storm chasing, Sharon. Doesn’t that sound thrilling?”

“Eh.” Sharon waved one hand from side to side, silently offering Renee more tea. Renee declined. “I’ve had much more exciting things happen to me already. You just got here, Reya! Give it time, something scary will happen to you too.”

“Scary?” Renee shook her head. “The scariest thing that’s happened to me so far are those kids I kicked off the beach. They were drinking stuff I wouldn’t even touch. It’s practically jet fuel!”

Sharon choked on her tea at the mental image – kids sitting around a fuel truck from the airport, sipping the contents through a hose. “I’m sorry. It’s just funny, a mighty Protector fighting the dangers of alcohol abuse.”

“Hm.” Renee gave Sharon a mock frown. “I never liked that title. Not since I arrived here. I envy your job…at least you can legally go home once in a while. As far as Velor is concerned, this is my home until…until I’m reassigned.”

Sharon looked at Renee and froze as she took a sip of her homemade herbal tea. “You do know, Reya, one day you will be reassigned. Everyone is.”

“Hell, no!” Renee stood up and paced across Sharon’s covered porch, stopping to lean against one of it’s wooden support posts. “I love this place, Sharon. No…I’m in love with it. I don’t want to be sent to some war-torn cesspool just because this place is a little boring by Velorian standards.”

Sharon watched in silence as Renee retreated back to her chair and sat down quietly. She seemed to be saddened by discussion of the prospect of leaving Earth.

“I know that’s treason or something…but I can’t go. I’ve lost everything that was good in my life, Sharon. If I lose this place…I swear, I’ll go insane.”

Renee’s saddened eyes affected Sharon deeply. She remembered when she went through the same thing once…only she was weaker. She followed her duties and obligations – and regretted it ever since.

Sharon sighed deeply and slowly rose to her feet. Renee still sat in the chair, her eyes carried the fear and sadness that Sharon imagined she shared with her father on the day of her assignment. “Look, Reya…this is your destiny. You were brought up for this life–”

“Well…maybe I wasn’t ready”, Renee interrupted in a soft voice.

“You completed the rites, Reya. It’s a contract…you’ve accepted the task of serving Velor.” Sharon kneeled next to the chair Renee sat in and gently hugged her across the shoulders. She began to worry that maybe, just once, a Protector was released before she was ready. It was already unusual that she had been released from Velor at the age of 20 instead of 18, as was custom. “I understand how you feel. Do you know how many times I had to leave everything behind?”

Renee nodded softly as Sharon urged her to rise to her feet. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have you to help me.”

Sharon smiled. “Then you’d learn just as I did…the hard way. Now go home and get some sleep, Reya. You had a long day.”

The highly tuned four-cylinder engine of Renee’s police car roared a metallic growl as she took a hard corner to the right. The tires protested noisily, the scent of overheated rubber reaching her nostrils through the cooled air blowing in through the vents in the dashboard. A hard turn to the left corrected a slight drift of the car’s rear as she rounded the corner. Luckily, the car was built for speed and handling, or she may have eaten the concrete wall next to the freeway entrance for lunch.

She had turned off the audible sirens several minutes ago, as the high-pitched sound they made ate away at her nerves. She figured that in the sparse traffic around her, people would just notice the red, yellow, and blue flashing lights on the roof of her car, as well as the strobes hidden within all of the car’s lights.

It made her nervous to chase the red Dodge onto the freeway. The car was stolen, and had run from her when she attempted to stop it for simply driving through a stop sign. Bringing a high speed chase onto the freeway raised the stakes – speeds would be higher, and more lives would be in danger.

Renee breathed a sigh of relief as the Dodge zipped off of the next exit. It meant that he was hoping to lose her in the maze of streets in Los Angeles. But she knew that he would probably end up getting lost himself, first. A quick glance at the small flat-paneled terminal suspended from the dashboard between the driver and passenger seats told her that backup was still a couple of minutes away.

Another hard right turn, this one much too close. Renee worked hard to prevent her police car from skidding into a truck waiting to turn left onto the street she just exited. The Dodge had no such concerns – it left a red streak along the side of the truck’s trailer. Renee shook her head and tapped a couple of buttons on the small terminal, alerting the dispatcher of the crash.

Just as quickly as the chase started, it came to an abrupt end. Renee locked the brakes of her car as she watched the Dodge enter a narrow street too quickly. The driver of the Dodge didn’t realize that he was going too fast to drive between the cars parked on both sides safely – and promptly wedged his car painfully between two parked cars with a loud crash.

As soon as Renee stopped her car, the driver of the Dodge, a tall, skinny man with dark hair and light complexion, was off and running.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Renee jumped out of her car and took off after the man. She hardly ever had to run in the course of her patrols. In fact, this was the first time in months – most of her duties consisted of writing traffic tickets, and making the occasional domestic violence or passing bad checks arrest.

The man turned around suddenly and reached for something behind his belt. Renee ducked briefly as she heard several loud ‘snap’ sounds, and felt something hot tear through the air close to her face. He turned to run again, the weapon still in his hand. She felt a sense of urgency as she looked ahead of him – he was headed into a crowded restaurant district. She had to catch him, before someone got hurt.

Renee froze suddenly, drawing her police-issue nine millimeter automatic from her belt holster, aiming it steadily at the man. As she looked at the back of his head over the end of the gun, she paused just before squeezing the trigger. It felt wrong to gun him down as he ran away…as if there was no challenge in it. Shooting a man from behind, never giving him the chance to see his assailant, just seemed an uncivilized way to stop him…something worthy of the Arions she remembered from Sharon’s tales.

“Aww, dammit!” Renee holstered her gun quickly and took off again. She had to make up some ground, the man had put quite a bit of distance between himself and her when she paused to aim at him. But unlike him, Renee was not the least bit tired or winded…and she had plenty more where that came from.

She didn’t even realize, as she raced down the street, her toes barely touching the sidewalk as she ran, that she was passing cars moving down the street at nearly fourty miles per hour. The wind rushing through her hair, Renee was focused on the man she was trying to stop before he reached the restaurants at the end of the street. She was gaining on him very quickly.

The man turned suddenly as she stiffened both of her knees, using the friction from her rubber-soled boots to slow her quickly. He raised the gun, firing off two more shots in her direction as she slammed into him at over thirty miles an hour, knocking him off his feet to tumble into the street, the gun sliding clear across the concrete to the other side of the street.

Renee grabbed the man’s arm and flipped him over in an instant, snapping her handcuffs over one of his arms, and then the other. She didn’t even realize that he was unconcious until she tried to lift him to his feet.

As the sound of sirens filled the air, everything around Renee seemed to go silent. People on foot and in cars stopped to stare…at her. She glanced around slowly to see what the attraction was. That’s when she realized that her boots seemed to be smoldering, thin grey smoke trickling from the soles – and there were two twenty-foot black streaks on the sidewalk, leading up to the point where she collided with the man.

But it was one more measurement Renee took with her eyes which shocked her, and no doubt anyone else who had witnessed it. She herself, a seemingly normal blonde woman wearing a police uniform, would weigh a lot less then the tall, skinny man even in her most ideal condition – yet when she collided with him, he was thrown by the impact, the air driven from his lungs, and sent tumbling into the street as if it was a subcompact car he encountered rather then a blonde female police officer. He probably didn’t even bother to get out of the way, guessing that she would take more damage then he would.

Renee’s mouth dropped open in surprise once again as she hovered over the man, looking down at his unconcious form. Something didn’t look right. She kneeled next to him, and began examining him – his vital signs seemed fine, though his blood pressure was a little bit low. But what scared her was the fact that his limbs wouldn’t react naturally to touch. It was as if he was…

“Oh my God. Oh, no–” Renee fumbled with the radio on her belt and began to turn pale as she realized what had happened. Her collision with the man had much more in common with a car-human collision then she had anticipated. His spine had either been damaged or broken from the impact. Her hands began shaking as she found the call button on her radio. “Five Mary Seventeen to dispatch. I need a medic, code three.”

“Seventeen, is an officer down?”

“Negative, a suspect with possible life-threatening internal injuries.” Renee swallowed hard, her voice wavering a little as she completed the radio call. “I repeat, code three.”

Her facade of calm finally shattered as other officers began to arrive on the scene. She fell to her knees and began crying quietly, shaking violently as the other officers told her in vain that she did a great job, about all of the lives she had saved by keeping this criminal out of the restaurant district. But all she saw was a man’s broken body lying in the street. She had never killed before…and she promised herself she never would.

There would be no paperwork, no reports. Nor would there be an investigation against Renee Prince. At the end of the day, she simply walked into her supervisor’s office and place her badge and gun on the desk.

“You’re quitting?” Renee’s supervisor’s question sounded more like an accusation then a query. But Captain Lindsey Corren’s eyes told Renee that she was sorry to see a fellow female police officer give up so easily.

“I’ll be back”, Renee reassured, with a halfhearted smile. “I just need some time to get away from all of this for a while.”

“I understand.” Lindsey smiled. “I did the same thing when I shot my first suspect. Take all the time you need, Renee. But don’t forget that we need you.”


A quick handshake between the two officers made for a dignified farewell for Renee Prince, as she turned and walked out of the door. Her peers watched her in silence as she left – most of them had been in the same situation, and had taken the same walk out that door, unsure of when or if they would be strong enough to return.

Unlike them, Renee already knew she would be back. For even as she rejected her Velorian heritage to live on Earth in peace, justice was in her blood. She could feel it.

Most people who believed themselves to be logical didn’t see a human-sized object fall through the atmosphere of Earth, and crash-land just outside Los Angeles. Or maybe those who did see made themselves believe that they hadn’t. After all, objects falling from the sky always had a logical explanation behind them – a human being falling from the sky simply wasn’t possible.

It wasn’t the falling man which suddenly brought a flood of calls to the Los Angeles Police Department. It was the fact that the object that had fallen was indeed a man – a naked one – who then proceeded to walk through the backyards of several suburban homes.

The impact he made with the ground had already destroyed one home, bringing an immediate flood of calls to the Los Angeles County 911 dispatcher. Fire engines were rolling immediately from the closest fire station. It was several minutes later when frightened residents again flooded 911, reporting a naked man running from the vicinity of the explosion. Police were dispatched in a leisurely manner – a naked man was no danger to the public.

But then the call escalated as one small child called 911. “He’s in my house”, the little girl said in a whisper.

The dispatcher, Kelly, began trembling slightly with fear, her heart beating quickly as she wished she could leap through the phone and help the little girl. “Who’s in your house?”

“A naked man. He’s digging in daddy’s old clothes.”

Kelly flushed suddenly as she waved for her supervisor and placed a clammy hand over the microphone on her headset. The supervisor nodded and signaled the police dispatcher. The call had just been escalated to a Code Three emergency, lights and sirens.

“Unit Seventeen, on scene. ETA on backup?” Officer Tom Parker was no rookie. He knew it was dangerous to enter a residence alone during a robbery in progress. He sat in the dark in his car, no lights, waiting for at least one more officer to arrive.

“Two minutes”, another officer replied.

Tom heard a high-pitched scream from inside the house. He jumped out of the car and drew his gun quickly, racing up to the door and flattening himself against the outside wall. His heart was beating quickly, reverting to his police training was the only thing keeping him from becoming a trembling mess.

“Police! I’m coming in!” Immediately after his warning, Tom clicked on his flashlight and aimed it alongside his gun, kicking the old wooden entrance door, hard. The doorway shattered, giving way for the door to swing open violently.

“Police! Come on out!” His voice trembled this time as he began shining his flashlight through the entrance room of the home, hoping that whoever was in the house wasn’t armed.

He walked around the corner into the hallway…and immediately felt nauseous. The telephone handset was lying on the floor, soaked in a pool of blood – and the little girl who had called 911 was face-first on the floor next to the phone. “Oh my God…Oh my God, no–”

Tom suddenly heard a noice next to him. He pointed the gun in its direction. “Police! Come on out, now! Put your hands behind–”

Someone rushed past him, quickly, nearly knocking him off his feet. His flashlight slipped from his hand and bounced off of the floor. Just as backup arrived, he caught the siloutette of a man racing toward the front door in the glare from the headlights outside. Purely on instict, he fired five shots at the man, the sound of each loud snap from his gun causing him to cringe. He figured that he missed – the man headed straight out of the door.

As Tom Raced after him, he heard two more officers outside ordering the man to lie down on the ground. Looking outside, Tom felt a little relieved. Three officers in two cars were on-scene, pointing flashlights and guns at the suspect, as he stood on the stairs, seemingly bewildered by all of the attention.

“I am Sey-len”, the tall, imposing man said slowly. He was wearing clothing, only it didn’t fit him well. It was obvious he had stolen it from inside the house. “You will stand aside, or I will destroy you all.”

In the bright lights, Tom could now see that each of his five shots did indeed hit the man who called himself ‘Sey-len’. There were five holes in the side and back of his shirt – yet he still stood. “Oh, great. He’s on PCP.”

Tom picked up his radio, intent on informing the other officers that the man was on some sort of drugs. But he had no idea he would be changing the call he was attempting to make on a moment’s notice.

He watched Sey-len walk straight over to the police car, smiling at the two closest officers. The two mistakenly relaxed for a moment, thinking he would surrender peacefully. They were surprised for only a moment before their gruesome deaths, as the tall Sey-len simply gripped the front of their car and flipped it over on top of them as if it were a hamburger on a grill. The third officer outside simply caught fire and melted somehow, as if someone had turned a powerful heat source on him. He screamed in terror for several minutes before finally losing conciousness.

Hands now shaking, Tom clicked the ‘talk’ button on his radio, and struggled to find his voice through the paralyzing fear he felt coursing through him. “Officers need assistance. All my backup is…dead! They’re all–”

He paused as Sey-len turned to face him. As Sey-len approached him, he fell to his knees, his thumb still pressing the button on his radio as if it would somehow save his life.

“As I walk through the valley of death…I shall not fear.” The 911 dispatcher, Kelly, began crying softly as she heard Tom’s wavering voice uttering his last prayers. She could do nothing to help him. “I shall not fear…I shall not fear. Please God, no—”

The 911 dispatch center suddenly grew silent. Kelly looked at her supervisor, her eyes red with tears. He said nothing as he silently signalled the police dispatcher again.

He paused for a moment as he looked at the 911 dispatchers in the center. They all knew Tom. He was a gentle soul, someone they all loved. They never expected to listen to him die over the air. He swallowed hard. “All available units…Code 99. Officers down. Approach with extreme caution.”

“Can I help you?”

A clerk in a small clothing store in Malibu Square watched a large man enter and pause, looking around slowly as if he were taking in the atmosphere. He wore older clothing which fit him badly. The clerk became suspicious as the man began pulling clothing off of the racks without even answering.

“Excuse me, sir–”

He retreated back behind the counter as the behemoth of a man gave him a terrifyingly chilling stare. As he frantically tapped the panic alarm below the desk, he turned pale, hoping the large, silent man would simply take what he needs and leave quietly.

But such would not be his fate. He began to back away slowly as the monster approached the desk, slowly. With shaking hands, he tapped the release button on the cash register, and opened the drawer, quickly, throwing the cash at the approaching behemoth in the hopes of getting him to take the money and leave.

“I am Sey-len. You fear me…that is good.”

The clerk smiled weakly, as he watched Sey-len extend a hand in what seemed like a courteous greeting. He reached out to meet the man’s huge hand, in the hopes of preventing his own injury or death.

Once again, the clerk would not be so lucky. As soon as his hand reached Sey-len’s palm, he felt what seemed like a sudden tug against his shoulder…only as he watched, Sey-len stood in front of the clerk, waving his own detached arm in front of him. He wanted to cry out for help, but he suddenly felt both weak from blood loss, and frozen from panic and shock.

The last thing he remembered as being clubbed by his own elbow…and then, nothing.

Renee sighed to herself as she watched four Malibu police cars race down the street shortly after she parked her car in Malibu Square, the same retail area where she remembered knocking down that suspect. She even remembered the exact spot that the man lay unconcious, even though cars were driving over it at the moment.

She wanted so badly to know where the police cars were headed in such a hurry – deep down, she was still a cop. She had to take a deep breath and calm herself, tell herself that she was on vacation, and that the other officers were more then capable of handling the situation on their own.

Sliding on a pair of sunglasses, Renee focused on a small coffee shop fairly close to where she had parked. Sharon had asked to meet her there to talk over lunch.

As soon as she stepped through the doors of the coffee shop, she spotted Sharon sitting next to the window. Sharon still had a little bit of warrior in her – she always sat, stood, or hung around where she could see everything and everybody who came her way. She was never content just to hide in the back corner in peace and quiet.

“Enjoying your vacation?”

Renee smiled at Sharon and sat down at the table, tossing her sunglasses in front of her. She looked at the various pastries and extra cup of coffee that Sharon ordered in anticipation of her arrival. “It’s very relaxing. But I’m also getting a little bored. How can you stand to do this every day?”

“I’m a writer, Reya.” Sharon smiled as she shoved her cup of coffee around in a circle. “Writers find entertainment within their own minds. And if that fails, we just watch TV or go out for a while.”

“I have to tell you the truth, Sharon. Those stories of yours scare me a little. You must have destroyed San Francisco a half dozen times already.”

Sharon laughed quietly, trying not to attract too much attention from other customers in the coffee shop. “They’re just stories. The Arions have no idea this place even exists yet. We just got here first.”

Renee sighed and leaned back in her chair. She suddenly seemed a little upset by Sharon’s implication – that eventually, the Arions would come to Earth…and destroy it. “I love Earth. It’s such a peaceful place, Sharon. Even as I grew up…as we grew up…back home, there was always an undercurrent of fear, and hatred. I want my children to grow up in a place like this…knowing what peace and tranquility truly are.”

“Children?” Sharon smiled and took a sip of her coffee. “You’re thinking about children? Do you have any idea how much trouble you’d get into if you tried to raise a family here?”

Another sigh from Renee as she produced a small steel scroll from her purse and slid it toward Sharon. “I’ve been called elsewhere, Sharon. But I’m not going. I want to stay here.”

Sharon slid her chair back suddenly, turning a little pale as she used an amazing amount of strength to uncurl the small scroll. It was almost as if she had to confirm that what Renee told her wasn’t a prank. “But you can’t…I mean…it’s a death sentence if you–”

“The messenger would have to find me first.” Renee sounded confident as she took the scroll back and stuffed it into her purse. “And even if he does, I’ll just turn him away. It’s funny, really…messengers are supposed to enforce these things, but they’re forbidden to fight a Protector.”

“No, no–” Sharon leaned closer to Renee. The deep serious look in her eyes caused Renee’s smile to vanish, and a chill to run down her spine. “They won’t send a messenger. They’ll send a recovery team…of experienced protectors.”

“But–” Renee bowed her head and paused, trying to curb the feelings of frustration and sadness she felt. She felt like crying. She didn’t want to be forced to leave this place. “Can’t I…appeal this or something?”

Renee bowed her head further as Sharon shook her head sadly. She could tell that Sharon was becoming involved, emotionally. To her, that was a bad sign – between the two friends, Sharon was always the strong one, telling Renee not to let things eat away at her.

After she left the Malibu police station the night before, she went directly to Sharon’s house. Sharon accepted her warmly, even though she already had company of her own. She listened quietly as Renee poured out her heart in her kitchen, handing her a box of tissues as she began to cry. To Renee, Sharon was a rock, someone stable and caring enough to trust with anything.

“You really can’t handle this, can you?” Sharon smiled softly and held Renee’s hands between her own as Renee responded by shaking her head slowly. “I’ll tell you what, Reya. I’ll do what I can for you. I can’t promise anything, but–”

“Thank you”, Renee whispered softly as she reached across the table to hug Sharon tightly. She knew that the odds were stacked decidedly against her – but just the thought that Sharon was on her side was enough to give her the courage to do what she had to.

Renee wiped away a few remaining tears as she waved at Sharon and headed back to her car. It was impractical for them to walk to their cars together, given that they had parked at opposite ends of the block. Even so, Renee made sure to wait until Sharon reached her car, waving at her as she climbed in and drove away slowly. Sharon waved back as she passed by.

She guessed it was part of her cop instinct that always caused her to make sure everyone else was safe before leaving herself. Maybe, as a trained police officer, she felt she could handle anything which may befall anyone she watched over. Or perhaps it was something genetic, from her breeding as a protector back on Velor. Whichever the case, she realized at that moment that she had been absolutely, positively wrong.

As soon as she turned and headed toward her car, she felt a strong hand grip her arm. She was literally lifted off of her feet and slammed into a brick wall in an alley hard enough to send a crack down the center of the building. Her head spinning, she looked up at a very large man…and immediately felt terror surge through her body. It was as if some nightmare of hers had suddenly come to life before her eyes. But somehow, she realized that the nightmare had just begun.

She turned and tried to run away – but his steel-like grip on her arm stopped her in her tracks. He grabbed her hair with his other hand, and pulled it, hard, sending a searing pain through her scalp. He then used his body to pin her flat against the wall. Once she realized that she had been immobilized, she began screaming as loud as her lungs would allow.

Renee felt a blow to her head. It felt like a large truck had slammed right into her. Another blow, and another pull of the hair. She tried to push him away, to kick and claw at him, hopefully causing him enough suffering that he would choose to leave and pick on someone else. Yet he still held her against the wall, his foul breath entering her lungs as he laughed at her attempts to fight him off.

She screamed louder as she felt her clothing being torn, like tissue paper. She used all of her strength to try and push him away desperately, as she turned her head away to avoid that foul breath. He seemed amused by her struggles. That scared her more then anything else.

Her eyes widened with terror as something changed – he gripped her neck tightly, and suddenly shifted position to pin only her torso to the brick wall. She tried to cry out – but with her air diminishing, she couldn’t make a sound.

Every muscle in her body burned, and cried out to her as the man suddenly overcame all of her possible defenses, and invaded her in a most personal way. She closed her eyes and began to cry quietly, imagining to herself that this was all a horrible dream, a nightmare from which she would wake at any second. Or possibly that this was the first level of hell.

If it was hell, it lasted beyond an eternity…she hoped, and prayed that sweet death would take her. And as she collapsed to the ground, she closed her eyes and curled into a ball. There would be no more fighting. There would be no more warmth. Only cold darkness. So it will be written…the end.

#20 – Made In America, Part 1

A young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old strolled down a street in Gotham City just after 8 p.m., carrying a bag full of groceries. His parents were going to be home soon after working a twelve hour shift at the factory – and it was up to him to bring the raw materials to make dinner home.

He walked with his head down, cringing at every voice, every crash of breaking glass, or clink of aluminum cans hitting the street. Just like every week, he prayed that he would be left alone to complete his small mission – or that he would simply slip through unnoticed.

But tonight, he realized as he saw tall shadows blocking his way, that would not be the case. There were three shadows – one took the paper grocery bag from him and began emptying the contents onto the street. Another shadow shoved him into a brick wall. The three shadows then began laughing as they picked up the most valuable of the grocery items and wandered off, fading away into the darkness of the street.

The boy sighed as he looked at what was left – a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce, both purposely torn open and cast into the rain-slicked street. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down again, quickly shuffling toward home. His mom and dad would be very disappointed…again. For the second time this month, they would spend the week hungry – sadly, there was no more money for groceries.

One day, he remembered his dad tell him, they would have enough to move away from this place. Enough to afford food for the entire week, and to be able to safely transport it home. And maybe enough to have a real home, with electricity and telephone.

As the boy rounded the corner into an alley between rows of crumbling apartment buildings with boarded up windows, he sighed. For now, this was home. And in spite of his dad’s dreams, he instinctively knew that there was no escape.

One day he would be bigger and stronger, like the shadows which took his groceries…and maybe he could become a shadow himself. Someone who rules this place, instead of being crushed by it. One day…he would be king.


It was unusually cold that night, as Batgirl crouched inside a window well alcove several stories above the street to shield herself from the icy rain which was falling, as she silently watched and waited.

Robin sat next to her, casually leaned back against the wall of the building next to the window. He seemed so relaxed, he could have well been asleep – while Batgirl, on the other hand, wrapped herself in her cape and hoped that Robin wouldn’t notice her shivering.

“A little chilly out,” Robin whispered. He looked at Batgirl, who still crouched at the end of the rear of the alcove, wrapped in her cape. He could see her breath as clouds of smoke as she stared straight ahead, refusing to speak or gesture a response. “I know Bruce asked us to wait outside…but he didn’t say where.”

Batgirl looked at him for a moment as he carefully forced the window open and slipped inside the building, motioning for her to follow. She did so, without speaking a word…but she did silently wonder where he was leading her, and how upset Batman would be when he found out they weren’t outside.

Batman was in the building across the street, which was taller than the building she was following Robin through at the moment. He was the one who picked the alcove because it gave an excellent view of the street and most of the building across the way.

As she followed him up a flight of stairs toward the roof, she began to wonder if he’d been in this building before. He seemed to know the place pretty well. She followed him through a door and onto the roof, only to be greeted by icy rain pelting her leather costume. She was almost ready to curse him for luring her up there…

…until she realized where they were headed. One corner of the roof, just above the alcove where they were hiding earlier, was covered by a glass pyramid. It was some sort of greenhouse.

Robin opened the glass door, and she followed him in quickly to get away from the relentless icy drops of rain. He closed the door behind them, offering her one of three plastic lawn chairs left there by the garden’s caretaker.

She sat down quickly and rolled into a ball, wrapping herself in her cape. It wasn’t much warmer in the greenhouse than in the alcove…but at least it was dry and less windy.

“You’re hopeless, you know that?” Robin joked. He leaned over Batgirl suddenly…and she turned around to see that he was turning on a propane heater installed in the greenhouse which had been installed by its builder to keep the plants from freezing on cloudy Gotham winter days. It was powerful, too – warmth began oozing from pipes along the bottom of the walls almost immediately. “How are you going to survive the winter?”

“I wear more layers under this in winter,” she replied in a whisper.

“What’s under the costume now?” Robin asked. He almost didn’t expect an answer after Cassandra gave him an icy glare.

“Not much,” she replied, eyeing him as she suspected her answer might make him more curious. “Something, but not much.”

“Ah. Underwear.” Robin leaned back in his chair, ignoring the even colder glare Batgirl sent his direction. “Does it match the costume?”

“Shut up,” Batgirl warned. “At least I wear mine inside the costume.”

Robin whistled out loud. “Ouch. That hurt, Cassandra. You’re becoming more like Barbara every day.”

Batgirl gave Robin an icy glare before removing a set of powerful binoculars from a pocket on her belt, quickly unfolding them to look at the building across the street. It was a four floor office tower stacked atop a four-story factory, totalling eight floors tall. The roof of the building she was on was about the level of the sixth floor across the street.

And Robin was right. They did indeed have an excellent view – the sixth floor was where she caught fleeting glimpses of Batman moving from office to office. He was searching for something, trying as much as possible not to leave any evidence of it by moving furniture or leaving drawers open.

“The factory across the street’s a sweat shop,” Robin whispered as Batgirl silently watched. “That’s why it’s camouflaged to look like part of the office tower.”

Batgirl nodded silently, dropping the binoculars in her lap as Batman vanished across the hall to more offices. “In Gotham?”

He nodded. “The workers probably live in broken down apartments near here.”

“Or under here.” Batgirl pointed around the greenhouse at the sparse foliage and hand-cleaned panes of glass with rusty steel between them. “This is…hope, put here by someone who has none.”

Robin looked around at the greenhouse quickly as he remembered the empty, crumbling apartment and dark stairway they used on the way up to the roof. “You know…you’re probably right. Nice going, I didn’t know you were so observant.”

She smiled, her eyes closing for a moment as she remembered the rose bulbs she had planted somewhere on the grounds of Wayne Manor, and watered daily. She made a mental note to herself to check on them later. It was own her symbol of hope.

“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?”

Batgirl turned to face Robin just as she raised the binoculars again, giving him a suspicious look.

“It’s just that…most of the time you’re either fighting with Bruce, or hiding from him. Sure it’s a big house, but–”

“Sometimes I do”, Batgirl interrupted. She paused long enough to smile at Robin. “But you’re always nice to me…so are Barbara and Alfred. I survive.”

Robin smiled and waved a finger at Batgirl as she returned to her binoculars. “Don’t let Bruce hear you use the word ‘survive’. He’ll tell you a whole story about bats being survivors.”

Batgirl shrugged. “I’ve heard it.”

She looked up suddenly as the sound of the rain suddenly changed from a light tapping on the glass to louder clacking. It was falling harder now, and leaving a shiny coating atop the glass panes of the greenhouse.

Robin removed a small electronic device from his belt and pressed it against the glass for a few seconds. A number flashed on its small display for just one moment. “It’s dropped below freezing. The building’s going to be really slick.”

“We’ll just stay in here.” Batgirl looked at Robin for a moment, and found him looking back, before she wrapped herself in her cape again and leaned her head back against the glass behind her.

A few seconds of silence passed as Robin removed his binoculars and watched Batman attempting to open a safe in an office across the street. “Might as well. Batman’s doing a thorough job, he’ll be there for a while.”
“I hate freezing rain.” A young man, perhaps eighteen years old, wrapped his jacket tightly around him as he watched his friends approach through the darkness through a window. Well…they were less friends, and more like employees – though he let them think they were ‘partners’.

They would rob neighborhood residents of money and food, and return them to their hiding place – not that they needed one, since the cops never lifted a finger to stop them. The hideout happened to be a storage room for a factory which was closed at that time of the night. The factory’s owners had no clue that the room was being used after hours…and they probably didn’t care.

“Big score, Zeke,” one of the returning ‘partners’ said, “Some old guy was carrying 1200 bucks.”

Zeke held out his hand and waved his fingers in the younger man’s direction. “Great. Hand ’em over.”

“But…what about my cut?”

With that, Zeke whipped out a switchblade in a blur, slicing open a gash on the younger man’s arm, forcing him to double over in pain. “There’s your cut. Now hand it over.”

He handed the bundle of money to Zeke, and started backing out of the small room quickly. “You’re crazy man. You’ve totally lost it. I’m not coming back here again.”

“Yes you will,” Zeke said calmly, “Or the others will be hunting for you tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Get the picture?”

The younger man, blood flooding down his arm, backed up until he felt the wall behind him, and then slid down to the floor. He mumbled something unintelligible to himself…but the expression on his face confirmed the realization that he knew he had no choice.

“Any competition yet?” Zeke asked.

Most of the young men he’d recruited from the street shook their heads, bringing him a smile…almost. One young boy simply bowed his head, avoiding Zeke’s gaze. “Who is it?”

The boy looked up slightly, but remained silent at first – up until the point where Zeke drew his blade again and took a step toward him. He stammered something quickly just to stop Zeke from slicing him to bits, though at first it made no sense.

“J-Joker’s g-gang has been m-moving in.”

“You’re lying,” Zeke said, dismissing the boy as he turned to walk away.

“I’ve seen ’em. Guys with white painted faces wearing purple and green. I’m tellin’ you, they’re around.”

“Me too. I’ve seen ’em too.” another youth volunteered.

“Anyone else seen ’em?” Zeke asked. Another round of shaking heads. “All right…I’m getting us some weapons for tomorrow night. I’m not letting ’em on my streets. I’m still the king around here.”
The minutes seemed to run together as Batgirl sat in a plastic chair, leaning her head back against a glass pane and looking straight up through the glass insulating her from the freezing rain falling outside. Inside the greenhouse, it was warm…toasty, even. She wrapped herself in her cape more for comfort than to conserve heat.

Robin was still all business, and highly vigilant. He divided his attention between looking through his binoculars at Batman sneaking around the office building across the street, and glancing around the greenhouse to make sure no one was visiting the roof.

Batgirl, on the other hand, had her own method of watching the area around them. She remained perfectly still and silent, until she could hear every frozen raindrop tap on the glass around her. It wouldn’t take much of a sound to break her concentration and earn her attention…only problem was, every time Robin moved, she felt disturbed by the sound of the fabric of his costume rubbing together.

“Let’s go.” Robin suddenly said.

The two words Batgirl found most irritating – just when she had warmed up and relaxed, now she would be forced back out into the cold. She stood reluctantly, cringing as Robin opened the door, allowing a blast of icy air into the warm greenhouse…

…and promptly slipped and fell on his back. “Ow,” he groaned, slowly propping himself up against the doorway.

Batgirl removed a cable launcher from her belt, waving it under Robin’s nose. “Want to try that again?”

He frowned at her before removing a launcher of her own, waiting for her to lead the way. She aimed at a ledge on the building across the street…and then Robin stopped her.

“No. It won’t be able to retract if ice forms on the cable. We’ll have to walk down.”

“You walk down,” Batgirl responded. She tossed her cape behind her as if to underscore what she planned to do – dive off of the building, using the cape as a parachute. She knew full well that Robin’s lighter, smaller cape lacked that ability…but she didn’t care, as she still felt annoyed at having been pulled from the warm greenhouse.

“Hey, wait,” Robin whispered behind her. He waited for her to stop and turn to face him. “How much weight can that cape support?”

She sighed and waved for him to move closer to her. “One way to find out.”

Robin barely had time to scream silently as Batgirl suddenly clipped two climbing hooks to his belt and pushed the both of them off of the edge of the roof. He heard a loud ‘whoosh’ as Batgirl grabbed the fringes of her cape tightly in her gloved hands and strained it, trapping as much air as possible beneath the cape to slow them both. But…

…they were still going too fast. She heard Robin audibly gasp as she purposely aimed for a large car parked on the side of the road. With a crunch of metal and the sound of exploding glass, the two of them tumbled from the roof of the car onto the hood.

Batgirl quickly unsnapped the two climbing hooks and stood, tumbling off of the ice-slicked car onto the pavement. She didn’t let it slow her, though – she stood quickly, placing one hand on the slippery pavement to stabilize herself before she raced quickly to the alley, where the Batmobile was parked.

Once she slipped the Batmobile’s remote from a pocket on her belt and opened the car, she glanced behind her. Robin was doing his best to keep up on the slippery street – his softer shoes, designed more for acrobatics than traction, weren’t making it easy for him.

“Come on,” Batgirl slid back to the entrance of the alley once she realized that he had been hurt in the fall, which was slowing him down even more. She pulled his right arm across her shoulders, gently helping him into the Batmobile, climbing in herself a moment later. “Are you okay?”

Robin nodded, pausing to take inventory of himself again before giving her a weak smile. “Yeah. I just…landed badly.”

She closed the top of the Batmobile and slipped her mask off, sliding into the passenger seat as she watched Robin crawl into the nearly non-existent back seat and curl into a ball. He seemed to be in pain, yet he was trying to be brave about it. She didn’t quite understand why at first…but then she figured it out by recreating the landing in her mind.

A slight smile formed on her face, but quickly disappeared, as she realized how insensitive that was. A light throb from her leg confirmed her suspicions – when she had landed on the car, she attempted to break her fall by extending her feet below her, collapsing her knees, and rolling onto her back, just as Batman taught her to do.

What she forgot…was that she was carrying a passenger – and that the act of breaking her fall had caused her knee and thigh to slam into…well…everything between the legs and chest of her passenger during first impact. Cassandra didn’t even think about it before – because when she released the climbing hooks and sat up, Robin was on his back on top of her. She remembered having to push him off.

“I’m really sorry–” she started to say, before Robin finally sat up and leaned back in the rear seat.

“It’s okay. Really.” Robin whispered. “I’ll take a little pain over becoming road kill any day. Besides, if you hadn’t jumped off of the building voluntarily, we probably would have slipped and fallen off due to the ice.”

“The ice.” Cassandra bowed her head and gently smacked her forehead. “That’s why we came down so fast.”

“That’s right.” Robin nodded slowly and smiled to spite himself. “The freezing rain made your cape too heavy.”

“I’m so sorry,” Cassandra apologized again.

“You know, Cassandra,” Robin continued, “Maybe Bruce is right…maybe you are a little reckless and crazy. I was never more terrified than the moment you threw us off the building.”

“I’m–” Cassandra started to say again.

This time, Robin interrupted her by covering her mouth before the word ‘sorry’ came out again. “On the way down, however, it was one heck of a thrill. Sure, it ended kind of…painfully. But at that moment…” Robin smiled suddenly. “Now I know. I understand perfectly.”

Cassandra gave Robin a confused look. “And?”

“It’s because you can see the result…you can see how everything will work out–” Robin leaned closer to the front seat wincing as he felt pain from his ribs. “–and it all seems so easy to you. Easy as falling off a building, in this case.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra leaned back against the front passenger seat and shrugged. She hadn’t actually thought about any of that before…which is why Robin’s thoughts rang true. It was indeed easy for her, and her actions were as quick as her thoughts. Need a quick way down? Just jump off the building. It truly did seem so simple and logical to her. “Maybe you’re right.”

Silence suddenly took center stage as the shadow of Batman approached the car. Cassandra slipped her mask back on just as he opened the car and climbed in, removing it again after Batman was secured inside. He gave her a cold look as a result – he knew what she was up to – but she ignored it.

“How did it go?” Robin asked.

Batman shoved a folder in Batgirl’s lap – it was full of newly made copies. He began driving the Batmobile as finally spoke. “Zachary Key, known to his friends as Zeke. He watched his parents die at the Joker’s hands.”

“Just like–” Cassandra looked down at the folder as she caught an icy glance from Batman.

“Except he vowed to take the city from Joker. He’s forming his own gang–”

“So why was he on file at this office?” Robin interrupted.

Before Batman responded, a half hour of silence passed. It was almost as if he couldn’t concentrate both on speaking and driving at insane speeds toward the Bat Cave. Once the Batmobile pulled into its parking space and stopped, Batman opened the door, and Cassandra and Robin followed. He then paused to finish the conversation he started a half hour ago.

“It’s a sweat shop. Zeke and his gang have been employed by the factory to make sure none of the employees – all illegal aliens – become brave and decide to turn the owners in to the authorities.”

“But I think,” Bruce said, as he pulled off his mask suddenly and headed toward his computer console, “The file on him was placed there just in case. So if police ever search the factory’s records–”

“I think I get the picture,” Robin said. He then headed up a stairway toward the house to change.

Cassandra, on the other hand, simply stood there, looking at the file still in her hands, and then at Bruce. He glanced for a moment at her, and then at the small steel closet where he would store his costume.

After a moment’s pause, he pointed at the folder. “Give this to Barbara,” he said, before disappearing into the small steel closet.

Before even bothering to change herself, Cassandra raced up the stairway into the house, and headed straight into the study. Her guess paid off – Barbara was there, seated in a comfortable chair with her wheelchair nearby. She was quietly reading a book in front of the fireplace.

Cassandra headed straight for her, approaching her from behind. Without a word, she waved the folder under Barbara’s nose.

“What’s this?” Barbara asked. She ended up answering her own question before Cassandra spoke a word, as she opened the folder and began leafing through it. “This is interesting. Very interesting.”

“What?” Cassandra asked. She sat down on the arm of the chair, trying to look over Barbara’s shoulder.

“I know this Zeke,” Barbara said, holding up a few papers from the folder. “Back when I was–” She suddenly stopped, worried that she was about to tread on a gentle subject.

Cassandra followed Barbara’s gaze down at the yellow bat symbol on her chest. She gave a slight smile to show that she wasn’t the least bit offended by Barbara’s trip down memory lane.

“When I was Batgirl,” Barbara continued in a softer voice with renewed confidence, “I broke up his gang a few times. He started forming it as a teenager.”

Cassandra shook her head slowly. “He’s gonna get himself killed.”

“Yeah, I know,” Barbara whispered, “One of these days, he’ll anger someone powerful, like the Joker.”

Nodding politely, Cassandra looked at her own gloved hands, wondering to herself if they would end up killing again. She happened to be referring to herself…not Joker. She didn’t want to tell Barbara that…because it scared her.

But she didn’t have to. Barbara could read her reaction. “Are you worried that he’ll force you to kill him?”

Without giving a verbal answer, Cassandra gave her a weak smile, just for a moment, before looking down at her hands again. That’s when Barbara reached over and squeezed both of Cassandra’s hands in hers.

“These doubts you’re having are good, Cassandra,” she said calmly, “They show that you’re learning and growing as a person. But don’t let them affect your judgement. Lives are at stake every time you go out at night.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. She knew Barbara was right, because her own fears were not the source of the doubts running through her mind. She was more afraid of disappointing Barbara, Tim…or even Dick and Bruce.

“One more thing,” Barbara said, looking around the room for shadows before lowering her voice again. “This…sweat shop you found tonight. Families are being hurt by this place…and kids, too.”

“You…want me to shut it down?” Cassandra smiled and rose to her feet, slowly. To date, only Batman had been allowed to take on such ambitious projects. Batgirl and Robin were simply a support team.

But Cassandra’s hopes were momentarily crushed when Barbara answered by shaking her head quickly. “If you do that, the families will no doubt be deported. See, that’s the handle the factory owner has on them. He virtually owns these people.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra rubbed her chin gently, leaning back against the arm of the second chair alongside the one Barbara sat in. “So how…?”

“They can be freed…but it would take a huge sympathy vote by the people of Gotham to keep them here.” Barbara smiled and leaned on one arm. “We’d have to secretly get the press involved. Batman has done it before, but it takes a lot of planning. That’s something the computer in the Bat Cave can help us with.

Cassandra noticed Barbara attempting to pull herself out of the chair to climb back into her wheelchair. She moved stood in front of Barbara’s chair, offering her a hand…but wasn’t at all surprised when Barbara declined.

Instead, Cassandra watched in amazement as Barbara slid forward in the deep chair, placed both hands on one of its arms, and then launched herself over the side of the chair and into her wheelchair. She was smiling as she straightened herself, and noticed Cassandra staring. “Pretty amazing for someone who can’t walk, huh?”

“Yeah,” Cassandra laughed. She led the way down to the Bat Cave as Barbara followed.
A Gotham City police officer stopped his car and sighed as he noticed a man in a tattered coat and long, scraggly beard curled up in the doorway of a closed shop. The steel blinds covering the windows and door were a fairly good indication that the store wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, prompting the officer to check the man out.

He turned the car’s spotlight on the doorway and climbed out of his car, grumbling about the fact that he had to leave the warm comfort of his car to brave the freezing rain and deal with some miscreant.

“All right…on your feet.” the officer said. The man ignored him completely…so he approached cautiously, pulling up on the man’s coat as he got closer. “Let’s go. This isn’t a hotel, bub.”

The man still refused to budge. Even as the officer pulled him up by his arm, he just hung there like dead weight, shivering.

“Possible code six,” the officer said into his radio, looking down the street at the nearest intersection. “I’m on sixth street. Request backup.”

The man finally looked up, shivering uncontrollably as he tried to force a few words from his quaking jaw. “C-Can’t…w-walk. S-some o-one stole…wh-wheelchair.”

He slumped back into the doorway as another police car pulled up, red and blue lights flickering throughout the street. A large officer stepped out and headed toward him.

“Clarkson, right?” the larger cop asked.

The officer who had arrived first nodded.

“You’re new here,” the larger cop said, as he slowly drew his nightstick from his belt, “You don’t know how to deal with these types yet.”

“No…p-please!” the old man sputtered.

“Hey, wait,” Clarkson started saying, “He was saying that he can’t–”

Before Clarkson finished his sentence, the first blow from the larger officers’ club struck the shoulder of the old man. He howled in pain, his screams echoing off of the surrounding buildings.

“Stand down, officer!” Clarkson yelled, his voice nearly muffled by the sounds of the old man crying and begging as the larger officer raised his club again. “I said, stand down!”

“I outrank you, Clarkson!” the larger officer yelled back, “Either back me up…or don’t bother to report for duty tomorrow.”

Before Clarkson could protest again, the larger officer brought his club down upon the old man again. More screams of pain. Clarkson became numb as the other officer brought the club down again, and again. The echoing of the old man’s screams began to fade into the darkness around him…and then it stopped.

Clarkson took a step forward to look closer as the larger officer backed away. He was lying in a quickly growing pool of blood, which ran with the rainwater across the sidewalk toward the drain. “Oh, hell,” he whispered as he began walking backwards slowly, “What did you do?”

“Hey, the mayor himself wanted these filth off the streets,” the larger officer said calmly as he slipped the night stick back onto his belt, “He didn’t move when I asked him to.”

“What the hell did you do?” Clarkson yelled this time. He angrily shoved the larger officer…who promptly shoved him back. “I’m reporting this. There’s no way–”

“You do, and your career is over.” The larger officer stood in front of Clarkson, pointing a finger accusingly at him. “You’ve got a wife and a new kid, Clarkson. Think they want to see you go to prison?” He tapped the gun at his side gently. “Or worse?”

“Are…are you threatening me?” Clarkson asked, his voice wavering slightly.

The larger officer shoved him again. “Go home to your wife. Go on…get out of here.”

Clarkson sighed, hanging his head as he returned slowly to his car. Before he opened the door, he glanced up at the top of the buildings nearby…but there was nothing. He remembered hearing the urban legends about a man dressed as a bat…and he kind of hoped that such a man would be a witness to what had happened this night. No such luck.

He did go home to his wife that night…and he told her everything he had seen. When she asked him why he didn’t do anything to stop the larger officer, he only shook his head and began crying.

That night, as he awoke during one of his bouts with a fitful sleep, he realized that he had a visitor. A large shadow, the shape of a tall man, wearing a cape. One eye blink later, the shadow disappeared. But after that, he was finally able to sleep soundly. There was indeed a Batman…and he had seen everything.
Cassandra walked through the Bat Cave, noting as she did that the Batmobile was missing. He apparently had returned earlier just to bring her and Tim back – and then he went right back out again. She felt a little jealous that she wasn’t invited along, but she also could appreciate his need to work alone once in a while. Sometimes she wanted to work alone, too.

Barbara rolled across the concrete floor of the Bat Cave in her wheelchair, just ahead of Cassandra. She was rolling down a wide ramp, heading directly toward the computer center.

It amazed Cassandra to see how quickly and easily Barbara worked with the computer system – she must have truly been a marvel as Batgirl. Cassandra was far from being technically illiterate, but, as Barbara’s expertise seemed to accent, there was always room to learn more. Barbara knew everything; every inch of Bruce’s computer system, and how each of his devices were designed.

She watched for a moment as Barbara began looking through the public library computers with frightening efficiency. They weren’t exactly open to just anyone…but Barbara seemed to find their security to only be a minor distraction.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Cassandra suddenly asked.

“Huh?” Barbara seemed confused at first, her concentration on her work having been broken by what seemed like a question out of the blue. But after a second or two, she figured out what Cassandra meant. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I could. You really want to learn this stuff?”

Cassandra nodded. “I want to be as good at it as you are.”

Barbara stifled a laugh. “That takes a lot of time, Cassandra. If you want to do something to impress Bruce, then learn more about the Batmobile than he knows.”

“No.” Cassandra shook her head…but then paused thoughtfully, and smiled at Barbara. “Well…maybe. But not to impress Bruce. I just want to know things.”

“That’s good.” Barbara smiled. “Sure, I’ll teach you. If you really want to know a lot, though, the man to ask is standing right behind you.”

Cassandra turned around slowly, expecting to see Bruce standing behind her. After all, he had an annoying habit of sneaking up on people and just standing there, silently, until he would be discovered by accident. But instead, in his place, was Alfred…just as silent, as a result of training himself to stay in the background.

“Alfred?” Cassandra asked.

“Sure,” Barbara laughed, “He sees everything that goes on around here. Even things I don’t know about. Right Alfred?”

“Absolutely, Barbara.” Alfred smiled at Cassandra. “When shall we begin our lessons, Cassandra?”

Cassandra looked at Barbara, and then back at Alfred. “Won’t Bruce be upset?”

Alfred chuckled and placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “Why Cassandra, who do you believe taught Bruce? Did you assume he was born with the knowledge?”

She had to smile at the mental image of a small child named Bruce Wayne skulking around the dark corners of Wayne Manor. Of course, the concept was ludicrous…he had to have a teacher.

“Uh-oh.” Barbara whispered, loud enough to attract the attention of both Cassandra and Alfred. “Remember when the mayor said he wanted to clean up the streets of Gotham? Looks like some cops took it too seriously.

Cassandra leaned over Barbara’s shoulder at the computer screen. A small homeless advocacy newspaper showed fuzzy pictures of a bloodied old man with a beard, with the headline, ‘Mayoral Decree Claims First Victim’. The neighbors, who wouldn’t be identified, said that the police did it – and that the victim was a Vietnam Veteran who couldn’t walk. The local news web sites had no such information…as if the story were simply being swept under the rug. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Barbara whispered, “I really don’t know.”

With that, Alfred headed back into the house to finish a few errands…and Cassandra wandered outside, this time in a heavy raincoat. She wandered to the edge of the property, to a spot she had visited many times before.

She was a little afraid as she approached the small grove of trees next to the walled-in border of the Wayne Manor grounds. It had been raining off and on lately, but she had forgotten to return and water the rose bulbs for a few days. She feared that nothing would be left but shrivelled buds and overturned earth. But as she approached, she realized there was a lot more.

Several small leafy vines were beginning to grow, but they lacked support. They leaned away from the tree line, looking like they were in danger of falling over. She looked at the small piece of green wire mesh she had stolen from the gardener’s shed and carried out there – she brought it just in case her fear of the roses’ demise was unfounded. Now it would come in handy.

Cassandra gently shoved the wire mesh into the ground as close to the rose vines as possible, making sure it was secure. When she drew her hands back, one of them brushed against a vine…and came away with a scratch. They had thorns already. She felt a little amused that something she had planted learned to defend itself before it did anything else.

Then she just stood and watched them for a moment in the moonlight as the freezing rain pounded on her raincoat, and left a glittering icy coating on the vines in front of her. The image of the old homeless man with a beard, beaten to death in a doorway, flashed through her memory for a moment. It was done by cops, the people charged to protect the citizens of Gotham.

She frowned and took a deep breath as she watched the rain come down. It wasn’t fair – Bruce thought she was dangerous…yet she couldn’t stomach the thought of an innocent man, unable to run away…beaten to death by clubs. Her hands clenched into fists. What if the next victim would be Tim, or someone else she knew? Or…she thought with a painful cringe…what if it were Barbara?

Something had to be done…she knew that much for sure. And something would be done. Tomorrow night, she would put a stop to it once and for all.


#19 – Savior, Part 2

As the Batmobile came to a screeching stop, it was obvious to Batgirl that Batman wasn’t just driving around frantically out of aimless anger. He knew exactly where he was supposed to be headed, exactly where the Joker had been holed up since he was forced from his last hideout.

A converted warehouse on the edge of town, painted purple.

Batgirl exited the car, mentally kicking herself for not noticing the place before. Joker always had a flair for being blatantly obvious – why should his latest dive be any different?

She suddenly focused her attention as she watched Batman leap out of the driver’s side of the car and head straight for the warehouse, pausing only to fire a steel cable up at the roof and take off. It was well known that entering one of Joker’s places through the front door was a deadly proposition – he made sure to place armed guards and traps to catch those who lacked such knowledge.

Then again…it was also his nature to be unpredictable. The only sure way to catch him was to be thoroughly unpredictable–

Batgirl’s mouth hung open for a moment as her own thoughts led her to a revelation. Joker had been studying Batman’s style! He always knows what Batman would do…and those who follow in his footsteps as well. That’s why Batgirl has been able to come close to killing Joker, while Batman seemed unable to do the same.

To Joker, she was completely unpredictable – an ‘X factor’ that he couldn’t seem to figure out or get a handle on. And because he was a certified nut-case…he somehow translated that to believe that he had a crush on her. No, wait…it wasn’t all insanity. It was because he thought of her as…an equal?

She shuddered at the thought of Joker considering her in the same league of mental instability as himself, placing a cable launcher in her left hand to ready herself. It had been several seconds since she managed to catch a glimpse of Batman on the roof. He was either holding still to stalk someone or…he was in trouble.

But then something else caught her eye…a possibility. A light on the second floor of the warehouse turned on, and she watched Joker walk past a window for just a fleeting moment. She knew exactly where he was…and clutching the cable launcher, she realized that he was within reach.

Batgirl held the launcher at arm’s length in front of her, aiming it directly at the window. Her heart was beating quickly – she planned to let the claw at the end of the cable crash through the glass, and then come flying through herself before they could react.

But the plan changed suddenly…when Joker stepped in front of the window and looked outside. Batgirl knew that he could see her standing outside. It was all too obvious, especially when he seemed to give her a salute through the glass. And worse yet…if he knew she was there, he knew Batman was around somewhere as well.

Her teeth clenched tightly as she gripped the cable launcher with both hands now, reaching for the trigger with her right thumb. She had no choice, it was now or never. The cable launcher fired, a crashing of glass…

…and there was a horrifying scream as the claw dug into Joker’s right shoulder. Batgirl could see a few of his henchmen rush to help…and she reacted quickly again, throwing her full weight backwards against the cable.

Joker began cursing as he tumbled head-first out of the window, a streak of his blood smearing across the windowsill as he fell on a narrow ledge a few feet below.

She tugged hard on the cable again, intent on bringing Joker to the ground hard, leaving him tangled in steel cord and vulnerable. It was perfect, easy…way too easy.

…and just like that, it was over.

As she pulled hard against the cable, she watched helplessly as a Bat Wing thrown from the roof whisked past, slicing the steel cable and sending her tumbling onto her back. She stood quickly, frowning, as Batman came running toward her from having just landed at the side of the building.

“Get in the car!” he said in a low, threatening voice as he climbed into the driver’s side himself.

Batgirl complied…and as the car drove away, she continued frowning at him until they were out of view of the warehouse, waiting for some kind of explanation that would never come.


The silent treatment continued even as the Batmobile came to a stop inside the Bat Cave, and Bruce climbed out. But then he did something unusual which made Batgirl cringe – he tore off his mask and threw it across the room.

As Cassandra slipped her own mask off, tucking it behind her belt, she watched Bruce pace to the far end of the cave, and then back toward her, wearing an angry frown. She gave him a frown of her own…only Bruce’s should have warned her away from pushing her luck any further.

“Idiot,” Cassandra said in a low whisper, gritting her teeth, her voice seething with anger as her mind relived the scene of the Bat Wing snapping the cable which would have led to the capture of Joker. “Why?”

Bruce seemed even angrier now as he leaned close to Cassandra becoming intimidating enough to force her to lean away. “I will capture Joker, and I alone. Is that too much for you to understand?”

“What’s your problem?” Cassandra asked, this time in a more accusatory tone. “You’re as crazy as he is!”

Cassandra cringed as Bruce pulled one of the monitors out of his research station and threw it across the room to shatter against the concrete floor. He had an angry, fiery look in his eyes when he turned to face her again…and she squinted and turned away, almost sure that she would be the next object thrown across the room.

But instead…he just silently left. Cassandra stared at the closed door, her heart still beating quickly. All of the anger she felt had slipped away by that moment, and had been replaced by fear. Not for herself – for Bruce. If he was indeed crazy, there was no telling what he would do next.

“That wasn’t too smart.”

Barbara’s voice was calming, as usual, tinged with a little humor as she spoke. She was always the voice of reason of the Bat team, someone who was very good at resolving conflicts with nothing more than a little wisdom and a smile.

“Why not?” Cassandra asked.

“Because he’ll never let go.” Barbara rolled her wheelchair closer to Cassandra, spinning around quickly to face her just as Cassandra sat down in an office chair.

“Deep in his mind somewhere, he’s still that little boy who’s parents were killed in front of his eyes…and one look from the man who was once Jack Napier terrifies him. He knows he needs to face that, but he can’t if someone gets there first.”

“That’s crazy,” Cassandra said, “What if someone else kills Joker…or he kills himself? Will Bruce go insane?”

The solemn look and sudden silence from Barbara gave Cassandra her answer…and her heart sank when she realized just how sad Bruce’s situation was.

“Damn–” Cassandra whispered, shaking her head slowly. She stood and headed toward the stairway up to the house. “I have to tell him I’m sorry.”

“Hey, Cassandra.” Barbara announced as she rolled after her, “You’re a lot more mature than Bruce gives you credit for. Always remember that.”

Cassandra nodded and raced up the dark stairway to come out behind a clock in the study inside Wayne Manor. She snapped the clock shut carefully and headed straight to Bruce’s office – she knew he would be there, it was the one place he went to seek solitude.

When she entered the office, Bruce was sitting at the desk, elbows on the blotter in front of him, his hands clasped behind his bowed head. In front of him sat a small crystal glass filled with a clear liquid which, even across the room, smelled like alcohol. The room was dark with the exception of a small amount of light from a lamp on the desk.

She sat on the edge of the desk silently, reaching between his elbows quickly to snatch the crystal glass from next to Bruce and place it just out of his reach. “I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you.”

Bruce looked up slowly, staring at Cassandra before reaching for the glass…which she just moved farther away. “No need to apologize. It’s just something you just don’t understand.”

“I want to understand.” Cassandra picked up the glass again as she noticed Bruce eyeing it. She dumped its contents onto the carpet next to the desk. “So tell me…what’s it like?”

Bruce sighed, looking at the empty glass for a moment before picking up a letter opener. “I believe I’ve told you that story already.”

“No, not the story.” Cassandra shook her head. “Your feelings. What did you feel?”

“Cassandra, I will tell you the same thing I told Barbara when she asked the same thing. You’re not a professional therapist, and if you were, I wouldn’t need one.”

“You wanted to kill him, didn’t you?”

A few seconds of silence passed between them…but Cassandra was already sure of the answer. The letter opener Bruce held was being subjected to torture between Bruce’s fingers, twisting and bending as he was lost in thought for a moment.

“Yes,” he finally answered, “Yes, I did. But I was only a kid…so I didn’t stand a chance.”

“And now?” Cassandra asked.

Bruce gave Cassandra an icy look, dropping the letter opener onto the desk. “I think you know the answer to that.”

Cassandra suddenly frowned as Bruce leaned back in his chair and stared at her over the top of the desk. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing – Bruce was actually admitting failure? He believed that he still didn’t stand a chance at catching his ongoing nemesis? Then again…he was probably still reacting to having just missed catching Joker again.

“Why didn’t you let me capture him?”

Bruce frowned again, nearly launching into another lecture…but he paused and seemed to calm himself as the door to his office opened wide, and Barbara rolled in without saying a word.

“He would have forced you to kill him,” Bruce said calmly, his confidence seemingly boosted by Barbara’s presence, “And if it came to that…I’m reasonably sure you would have.”

“He…what?” Cassandra looked at Barbara, seeming confused, as if to verify with her whether Bruce was correct, or simply paranoid as usual.

“See this wheelchair?” Barbara spoke softly as she wheeled closer to the desk. “I was put in it because I wasn’t willing to kill Joker…and because Bruce didn’t.”

“But–” Cassandra shook her head and slid off the edge of the desk, looking behind her at Bruce. He suddenly turned silent, and was looking down at the desk’s surface.

“Cassandra…the longer Bruce fights with Joker, the more he loses. His parents, his friends…and maybe one day his sanity.”

Bruce looked up as he heard that last part, prompting a weak smile from Barbara. “You’ve seen what happened to Barbara,” he said, “I don’t want the same to happen to you.”

“And,” Bruce added, interrupting Cassandra with a raise of his hand, before she could reply, “I’m certain you wouldn’t allow it to happen to you. Which is why I believe you would have killed Joker to protect yourself.”

“Who will protect you?” Cassandra looked at the sad expressions on the faces of both Bruce and Barbara. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment before quietly slipping toward the door.

As she turned to close the door behind her, she gave the two of them one last look. “Let me know when you decide to trust me.”

Bruce sighed out loud as he leaned back in his chair. Barbara sat across from him, giving him a sly smile.

“What?” Bruce asked.

“Oh, nothing. I just remember saying the same thing to you once.” Barbara turned her wheelchair around, intent on leaving Bruce alone in his office…but paused along the way. “She’s a smart girl, Bruce. Maybe she just needs a chance to prove it.”

“She’ll have her chance–”

“–when it’s ‘safe’…right?” Barbara indicated toward Bruce’s computer with her chin. “There’s your daily journal. Read through it…and when you find something that looks ‘safe’, you be sure and let me know.”
It was pouring down rain when Batgirl went out again, lightning flashing like an out of control strobe light, thunder crashing loudly enough to set off car alarms on the streets. She drove the Batmobile into a dark alley between two tall gothic designed buildings downtown, only one of which was her destination.

She figured that Bruce could learn that she had taken the Batmobile at any moment, so she had to use her time wisely. The canopy of the car opened quickly, and then shut, leaving her only a second or two to clear it. She did so on purpose, to minimize the amount of time she had to spend in the rain.

Her destination was the Gotham City Public Library. Ironic, however, that she was entering at such a late hour…because during the daytime it would be an ideal place to seek shelter during a storm. She wasn’t there to seek shelter, however…she was attempting to satisfy her curiosity by doing some research.

Bruce’s computer in the Bat Cave was very efficient with its task – to store and organize information in as pure and as dry a form as possible. It was all raw data. But she wanted more.

Cassandra slipped off the mask once inside the library, reasonably sure that no one would be inside the dark building at that time of the night, especially during a storm. She headed straight to a computer which indexed the newspaper archives, immediately searching for any article referencing ‘Wayne’.

Newspaper articles contained more than just raw data. They contained eyewitness accounts, interviews…feelings. The facts of what happened to Bruce’s parents were terrifying enough. But she had to know more…like what people around him thought, or whether he was well taken care of after it occurred. That’s what the Bat Cave computer was missing…and what Bruce held close to his heart.

But to her dismay, she learned that much of the newspaper articles were a lot like Bruce’s computer’s archives. Not much was really known about the Wayne family itself – they kept a shroud of secrecy around themselves, no doubt because of their wealthy status in Gotham City. The only witness interviews mentioned just what the police reports already had – gunshots, and fleeting glimpses of a possible perpetrator.

A flash of lightning quickly put an end to her research as the screen flickered off and on, causing the computer to restart. She shoved the screen hard…and it slid off the desk to crash to the floor.

The last image she saw on the screen stuck in her mind. It was a specific newspaper, published on a specific date. Something prompted her to dig through the microfilm file for it…but it was gone. The slot for that date was clearly marked, but there was no film.

Before the computer had been knocked out, she had paged forward through a few days’ worth of newspapers published after Bruce’s parents murders. One thing in particular caught her attention – a single rose placed on the site of the Wayne murders days later. The caption below claimed that it was placed by a man who’s description sounded a lot like Alfred’s.
“We need to talk.”

Alfred turned around and smiled at Cassandra, who stood behind him wearing jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. Her clothing was dry, yet her hair was wet – it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she had just returned from an excursion in costume.

“Certainly, Cassandra. Would you like some tea?”

Cassandra nodded as she sat down on one of the couches in the study, staring into the roaring fireplace until Alfred returned with a tray carrying two cups of tea. He sat down across from her, placing the tray on the table between them.

“Tell me how Bruce felt after his parents were killed.” Cassandra took a sip of her tea as she looked across the table at Alfred.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Alfred responded quickly, seeming to be unaffected by the weight of her question, “Master Bruce is entitled to his privacy.”

“It’s very important to me.” Cassandra leaned toward Alfred, keeping her eyes steadily on him as she placed the teacup on her hand back on the table. “I have to know.”

“Very well.” Alfred took a deep breath. “However, if I betray Master Bruce’s trust, you will have to betray your own secrecy. Agreed?”

Cassandra blinked once and nodded, leaning back with her tea cup, eager to listen to every word Alfred would tell her.

“At first, he simply cried. For days, weeks…I honestly can’t recall. But I do remember that he seemed to fear leaving his room. He even took his meals there. It was almost as if he believed if he waited there long enough, his parents would return and ask him to come out.”

“How did you get him to come out?” Cassandra asked.

“I didn’t,” Alfred continued, “Eventually he did so on his own. He began asking me lots of questions about death, and about heaven and hell. He told me once that one day he would die…and he hoped it would be soon, so he could see his mum and dad again.”

“But just when I had begun to worry about him, he suddenly returned to normal. He returned to school, and excelled in his studies. He became driven to success at the expense of his childhood – it seemed he was obsessed with leaving it behind.”

“As he aged, however, the anniversary of his parents’ deaths haunted him more and more every year. He would eventually spend weeks surrounding the date miserable, and deeply depressed. He never would tell me why, but I suspected it was because his parents never had the chance to be proud of his success.”

“Is that when he became Batman?” Cassandra interrupted.

“Yes, in a way, it was. One day, he read an article in the newspaper about a child who had been killed in a gang dispute. He cried for days after reading it, as if he had returned to the moments following his parents’ murder.”

“Literally days later, he started channelling a lot of his time and resources into a strange project – remodeling a cave which was adjacent to the Manor. He begged me to help him without asking a single question – and I did so. The cave was outfitted with impressive technology, computers, furnishings…but one item which arrived finally caused me to break my promise of silence.”

“The costume?”

Alfred nodded. “Smart girl, Cassandra. The costume. I confronted him about it, telling him that his behavior was bordering on insanity. I still remember what his answer was – ‘Insanity is allowing murderous criminals to rule the streets while we hide in our homes, afraid. It’s time they were afraid.’ It was a rebuttal to which I could not, in good conscience, argue with.”

Cassandra’s eyebrows raised with interest. “So then you agreed to help him?”

Alfred shook his head. “Not ‘help him’. Rather I forced myself upon him. At first, he thanked me for understanding, and told me I needn’t become more involved. But I insisted upon it.”


“I suppose it was the excitement of the whole thing. The sense of adventure.” Alfred looked down at the table and sighed. “And because I knew…deep down…that he was absolutely correct. We Gotham citizens have been afraid of criminals for much too long. We’ve been hiding like frightened children while they turn our streets into their own private playground.”

“I haven’t been hiding.”

“And that’s the next topic, Cassandra.” Alfred sat up, placing his empty tea cup on the table. “Why are you not afraid?”

Cassandra shrugged and looked down. “I used to be. But I stopped being afraid when–”

“When your parents were killed.” Alfred nodded when Cassandra suddenly looked up, giving him a quick nervous look. “Do you feel any remorse at their deaths?”

“No…no, I don’t.” Cassandra shook her head slowly. “They deserved it. But I feel bad that I had to be the one…”

Alfred turned slowly as he noticed Barbara entering the room silently in her wheelchair. Cassandra had stopped speaking as soon as she entered.

“Continue,” he said.

“It’s kind of like–” Cassandra took a deep breath and purposely looked away from Alfred. “I knew something bad had to happen to them…because of everything they did to me. It’s almost like…the fire was meant to happen.”

“Why did you find it so easy to kill them?” Barbara suddenly asked. She noted that Cassandra seemed to cringe at her question.

“I didn’t at first. I cried…but because I was the cause. But then–” Cassandra gave Barbara a sad look for a moment before returning her gaze to the table in front of her. “–then I felt…free.”

“What about the ‘bad guys’ you killed on missions?” Barbara asked. Alfred gave her a warning look, telling her that she could possibly be digging too deep.

“I…I remember the freedom I felt. And I want it for other people, too. I can’t let an innocent die because I was afraid to kill.” Cassandra calmly stared at Barbara as she spoke. “You understand…right?”

“How do you know those people were going to kill?”

“Because I grew up in that world,” Cassandra whispered, “I know.”

“I’m really sorry if it seems like I don’t understand,” Barbara said, wheeling backwards a little, “But I just can’t think that way. I worry about if someone I’m faced with has a family, or loved ones, or someone who cares–”

“Is that what you think about the Joker too?” Cassandra asked, rising from her seat on the couch and kneeling next to Barbara’s wheelchair, “Or do you want to see how many more he can put in a wheelchair?”

“Wh-what?” Barbara leaned back in her chair slightly.

“He shot you, and put you in this chair. He took your whole life away.” Cassandra leaned her elbow on the arm of the chair, noting the look of anger which swept across Barbara’s face. “Would you like to see him do the same to someone else? Like me, or Bruce? Or would you rather see Joker die?”

She looked at Alfred for a moment as Barbara hid her mouth behind her trembling right hand. It was clear that Cassandra had hit upon one of her worst fears.

Cassandra rose to her feet quickly and frowned at Barbara, and then at Alfred. “That’s what I thought.”

As she headed out into the hallway, Cassandra could hear whispers from inside the study. Barbara sounded truly shaken…and Cassandra’s heart sunk as she heard Barbara’s voice asking Alfred if Cassandra even understands what happened to her.

She bowed her head and slowly walked back into the study, heading directly toward Barbara, noting the fact that she looked away. She kneeled next to the wheelchair and looked at Barbara’s eyes. “I’m…sorry I said that. I don’t want you to be angry with me.”

“I’m not angry, Cassandra. Not anymore.” Barbara smiled slightly as Cassandra stood again and left the room. She was glad that Cassandra had displayed evidence of a strong conscience. It meant that she was more reasonable than Bruce, in some ways.

She looked up slowly to watch Alfred stand and head toward the doorway with the tea tray in his hands. “I was right all along, Alfred. Do you believe that?”

Alfred turned and nodded. “Yes. Master Bruce will be pleased to hear that.”

“I don’t think it’ll be long before he does,” Barbara said, as Alfred left and headed toward the kitchen. “Right Bruce?”

A grandfather clock on the study swung open, and Bruce stepped out, closing it carefully behind him. “You knew I was behind the clock all along?”

“It was a guess.” Barbara shrugged.

“What are your thoughts on Cassandra’s behavior?”

Barbara took a deep breath and frowned. “She’s cocky, even a little arrogant. She may be even more dangerous than you–”

“More dangerous?” Bruce interrupted.

“–But she’s also more sensitive, too. She seems to know when she’s pushed things too far…but sometimes, she doesn’t care.”

Bruce sighed. “That makes her an extreme risk to herself…and to me.”

Barbara shrugged again. “Maybe so. But with her watching my back…I’d could be sure that I have nothing to fear.”

“What I’m saying, Bruce,” Barbara yelled after him as he turned to leave the room, “Is that it’s good thing that she’s on our side. What we have in her is some of what makes your worst enemies powerful…but controlled, and with a sense of what’s wrong or right.”

“And what makes her so powerful?” Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Always go to the heart of things, don’t you?” Barbara smiled. “She doesn’t let fear cause her to hesitate. It’s something that’s caused each of us to fail. Me, you, Dick, and even Tim.”

“Sometimes, lack of fear can be worse.”

Barbara shook her head. “She feels it. She just never lets it slow her down. And yes, it can be dangerous – but so far, she’s managed pretty well.”

“Until she gets shot.”

Bruce and Barbara cringed in unison at his words. They both knew what it was a reference to. Barbara looked down, sighing loudly. “Let’s pray she doesn’t.”
Cassandra shut the door of her room and launched herself onto the bed, to lie on her back and stare at the ceiling, her hands lying across her stomach. She knew that Bruce and Barbara were talking about her down the hall…about how dangerous she was, and how much of a risk she was to the ‘team’.

She wanted so badly to explain herself…to answer their persistent questions. But she didn’t know the answers herself.

Her eyes closed as her mind went backwards through time.
she remembered feeling anger as she pushed a man off a building…and then the feeling of terror as she realized she had just sent him to his death. She tried to capture her thoughts at the moment when she pushed him – that she was smaller than he was…and if she allowed him to get too close, he would hurt her.

Cassandra’s mind went back even further…to a time when she was even smaller. She sat on the carpeted floor below the window in her bedroom, holding something in her hand…it was a dictionary. She felt anger, and someone…her dad…stood in the doorway, screaming. She was threatening to throw the dictionary at him if he came closer – so he cursed at her, and then shut the door and locked it. He thought he was punishing her by locking her in. But she felt safe in that locked room, protected.

She took a deep breath as she finally began to realize what had been plaguing her for so long – a need for control she had been lacking through her childhood…and a feeling that she required solitude whenever she felt trapped. A feeling that was so powerful, she was willing to kill to achieve it.

But should she tell Bruce and Barbara? Or would that just lower their opinion of her further? She knew that they never truly listened to her – they asked her questions, but then came to their own conclusions. Asking questions for them was simply a test of their own theories.

No…it would be better if they didn’t know. The mystery Cassandra left for the two of them was one of the few things that kept them interested in her. Otherwise, Bruce would simply go back to treating her like a child, making up nonsense rules and insisting that she follow. As long as he saw her as a confusing mystery, he would be more careful with her.

She smiled and moved her palms behind her head, still staring at the ceiling. She felt a little bad about purposely misleading them…but she also feared that the truth about herself could be much more damaging.

“They think you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

Cassandra didn’t even look up as she heard Tim’s footsteps and voice enter the room. He closed the door behind him to make sure no one else could sneak in behind him.

“Good,” she replied.

“Good?” Tim sat down on the edge of the bed, looking down at Cassandra with a questioning gaze. She didn’t seem to notice, as she continued staring at the ceiling. “It’s not good. You don’t really want to get yourself killed, do you?”

She shook her head ‘no’. “Of course not.”

“So why don’t you tell Bruce the truth, then?” Tim asked, his voice sounding more desperate. “Or at least me?”

She shook her head again. “You’ll tell Bruce.”

“If you don’t want me to tell him, I won’t. Just…I’m worried about you is all.”

Cassandra sat up suddenly and eyed Tim suspiciously. “You won’t tell him?”

“I promise I won’t. Even if it’s something he really should know.”

“Okay.” Cassandra nodded and straightened herself, taking a deep breath, purposely acting as if she were about to say something Earth-shattering. It worked, she could see the anticipation in Tim’s eyes. “It’s very simple. Bruce has his mind games, I have mine.”

Tim sat with his mouth hanging open, half an expression of horror, and half an expression of surprise, for several seconds. He almost spoke a couple of times before finally gaining enough coherence to put together a sentence. “You’re trying to outplay the master, are you?”

“I’m winning, too.” Cassandra looked down, trying her best to stifle a laugh. “Look, Tim…I’m not crazy, really. I don’t want to die. Every time I’ve killed was either to protect myself…or you.”

“Oookay.” Tim pressed his hands together and held them to his mouth for a moment as he took a deep breath. “What I’m not clear on, Cassandra, is why you react so violently to danger. And why you take so many dangerous risks.”

“I do get scared out there, you know,” she responded quietly, “Just like you do. When I get scared…I become protective. Of myself, and even you.”

Tim nodded. “And the risks? Why do you keep coming back here with bruises and broken bones?”

“Because I want to be the best,” Cassandra replied. “I can’t if I hold myself back.”

An amused smile formed on Tim’s face. “You know what? Everything you’ve told me makes perfect sense. Why didn’t you say something before?”

Cassandra shrugged. “I guess I didn’t really know the answers myself.”

Tim slid off of the bed and nudged Cassandra’s shoulder. “None of us do, really. So tell me…how has Dick been getting along with you?”

“We got some ice cream and talked.” She shrugged again. “Nothing special.”

Tim turned and headed toward the door. “Just keep one eye on him. He kind of has a reputation with the ladies.”

“How about you?” Cassandra smiled as Tim stopped suddenly and turned to face her with a look of surprise. “You know an awful lot of blondes.”

“That’s none of your–” Tim stopped himself and sighed. He expected Cassandra to be honest with him, and yet he lashed out when she asked him to do the same. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do. Does that bother you?”

She shook her head. “No. Just something I noticed.”

“Kind of like when I noticed you were growing your hair longer?”

Cassandra laughed, bringing a smile to Tim’s face for a moment before he turned to leave again.

But then he paused again, and pointed toward Cassandra. “It looks nice. Don’t let Bruce talk you into cutting it short again.”

“Hey, Tim,” Cassandra said, as he opened the door and headed into the hallway. She slid off of the bed suddenly, holding the television remote in her hands. “You’re a good friend.”

Tim smiled and stepped into the hallway, sticking his head into the room again to add one last comment. “For a dark haired girl, you’re not so bad either.”

She laughed again, pretending to throw the remote at the door as Tim closed it quickly. Then she switched the TV on, sitting on the edge of the bed to watch some mindless entertainment and relax for a while.

Cassandra needed to unwind – it had been a long, stressful night. While she liked matching wits with Bruce and playing mind games to occupy his time, it took a toll on her nerves – because he also supplied the tools she used for her late-night ‘recreation’ atop the buildings of Gotham City. At any moment, she could push things too far…and be left as a boring civilian as a result.

She couldn’t allow herself to be left as weak and helpless again as she was the day before she left her childhood home. She couldn’t allow it. What she was now…as Cassandra, and as Batgirl…gave her a feeling of power, and gave her a purpose. It would be hell to lose it.

Her mind drifted away as boring late night television began to hypnotize her, finally bringing her racing mind to silence. Sleep then overtook her quickly…and she could only wait for tomorrow.


#9 – On Wings Of Eagles

Kara walked slowly through a thick mist. She placed one foot in front of the other, as if she were walking a tightrope, afraid of falling if she deviated an inch from her course. She felt chilled as the mist touched her face and hands. Not a sound was around her, except for the faint noise generated by her own clothing and shoes.


The sound of her voice, nearly a whisper, echoed as if it was projected through a mountainous valley. She turned completely around, trying to get her bearings…but all that she could see was that mist.


She nearly leapt out of her skin as she watched a tall, dark figure approaching her through the mist, without making a sound. She backed away a little as the figure loomed larger…as well as another…and another…all approaching her slowly.

As she spun around quickly, she realized that she was surrounded by people…and they looked like her. The terror began to seep out of her as she took a look around. They seemed…sad? Why?

“What’s the matter?”

“You,” One old woman piped up. She stepped forward, and gripped Kara’s chin tightly – Kara struggled, but couldn’t get away. “You let us die….We needed you!”

“No…I don’t understand–” Kara tried to back away again, but the old woman held her still. “What did I do?”

“You’re a coward,” A man in the crowd piped up. “You ran away when we needed you most!”

“No…I didn’t, I swear!” Kara shook her head, trying to back away from the old woman as tears began to stream from her eyes. “I just woke up, and–”

Kara froze as another man appeared from the crowd, one which she recognized immediately – it was her father? “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…”

He shook his head slowly, taking Kara from the old woman’s grip, and holding her gently. “I didn’t want you to leave…but it’s too late now. What’s done is done. Take care, my daughter. I will live on…in you.”

“No…” Kara’s eyes widened as he let go of her, and began backing away. She turned around quickly to see the other figures backing away as well. “No…please don’t leave me–”


Kara awoke to darkness, soaked in sweat, as she cast aside the covers of her bed. The glow of the television lit the room only slightly, but made it feel familiar as she tried her best to calm herself. She reached behind her and turned on a lamp.

As soon as the room was bathed in light, she remembered where she was. The previous day, Linda had decided that Kara was capable of a remarkable amount of independence. Being held like a prisoner in the Kents’ home, forcing them to look after her, was fair neither to the Kents nor to Kara. So she had been given a hotel room a short distance from Linda’s and Charlie’s rooms…and a large measure of independence.

She stood up and walked outside onto the balcony, letting the cool wind high above Metropolis whip through her hair. She thought about how wonderful it would be to fly around the city…but alas, a flying blonde teenager zipping past windows in such a place would become front-page news in a matter of hours – especially if she were still wearing a borrowed night gown.

The biggest rule of packing – always make sure you bring pajamas – had been violated…which brought Kara the embarrassing fate of having to borrow someone else’s. She was rather disappointed that Linda had developed such fancy tastes in clothing, causing Kara to end up with a rather breezy night gown made of a light fabric.

Kara tore herself from her thoughts as she noticed movement in her darkened room. That alone didn’t alarm her – because it was possible that Charlie’s dog Rupert had been left there by Linda. She took a deep, slow breath, and started to listen carefully. It was a human being…she could hear someone else breathing in the room, too slowly to be a dog.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” A soft British voice whispered from the darkness, as the movement came closer. Kara tensed a little bit, but relaxed as she realized that the voice’s sound was more curious than ominous. “You’re the reason we found the gateway.”

Kara took a step forward, closer so she could clearly see a dark-haired young woman, not much taller or older than herself, dressed in jeans and a black shirt, as well as soft leather hat – and carrying only a light beige backpack. “Who the hell are you?”

“Such language,” The woman scolded, “My mum would have washed your mouth out with soap. The name’s Sharon Holmes.”

“And should that alone impress me?” Kara gave Sharon an amused frown and folded her arms stubbornly.

Sharon shook her head in frustration as she tossed her backpack on a table in the center of the room and sat in a chair next to it. “Don’t Linda and Charlie tell you anything at all?”

“No.” Kara shook her head and paused for a moment. “I never know what’s going on. What’s this ‘gateway’?”

Sharon nodded knowingly, and placed one hand atop her backpack as it sat in the center of the table. “Get dressed, Kara. We’re taking a little midnight stroll.”
Linda awoke to the sound of a motorcycle’s engine starting up outside the hotel. It wasn’t at all unusual to hear one once in a while…but for some reason, at that late hour, the sound grated on her nerves.

She slid out of bed carefully and walked over to the window, gently shoving the heavy curtains out of the way. As she slid the glass door open and stepped onto the balcony, she could see the motorcycle below – two people riding one of those Japanese racing bikes – tearing down the street quickly.

Just as Linda was about to dismiss the bike completely, she recognized the young passenger – it was Kara! She raced back out onto the balcony, her heart beating quickly as she began to fear that the teen was being kidnapped…but another quick look confirmed that the driver of the motorcycle was Sharon Holmes.

She sighed with relief, knowing that Kara was in no danger…but she also felt anger. Why would Sharon take Kara somewhere in the middle of the night without saying anything, or even leaving a note?

“Calm down, Linda,” She told herself quietly as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Kara’s practically an adult. It’s none of your business.”

But it was! Linda promised Clark that she’d look after Kara…and practically right on the heels of that promise, Kara managed to sneak away. Linda frowned as she sighed again. She’d never be able to get to sleep anyway with so much worry on her mind…

In a blur, she raced across the room to her backpack, stored in a corner next to a desk…and changed into her costume in an instant. Without even thinking, she raced out onto the balcony, and launched herself into the air in two steps.

Just as she’d done a few nights before.

And just as before, she found herself careening through the air, feeling almost out of control until she steadied herself. She still hadn’t yet mastered takeoffs…but at least she knew she wouldn’t be plummeting back to Earth, as long as she concentrated on staying aloft.

Her heart was beating quickly, betraying the fact that she was once again an amateur in the skies. It took concentration. If she ever had to battle anything in the air…she shook her head, trying her best to discard such thoughts. Instead, she watched the motorcycle speeding along below – it seemed to be headed to…the airport?

The motorcycle finally stopped next to a small fixed-wing dual turboprop plane, parked on the edge of the airport’s lot. Linda watched as Sharon jumped off of the bike, with Kara following, and opened the left side door of the plane.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Linda descended quickly…but then realized that she did so much too quickly. She was paying too much attention to the plane, and too little to her landing. “Nuts…oh, nuts!”

Her feet slammed into a concrete taxiway, and collapsed under her, sending her tumbling a few times before she finally stopped. Linda stood quickly and tried to dust herself off…but it didn’t do much good. She now looked like she had been doing road construction all evening.

She stood quickly and raced toward the airplane, just as it began slowly moving toward the runway. If she attempted to stop the plane now, she would most likely destroy it – so she decided instead to tag along for the ride. Linda grabbed the tail of the plane as it sped down the runway, clinging to its moist, slick surface as best as she could. She’d find out where it was headed…one way or the other.
Sharon spun around in the pilot’s seat, after setting the airplane’s autopilot, turning to face Kara who sat directly behind her. She smiled, noting how amused Kara seemed, watching the clouds breeze past her window. “First time in a plane?”

Kara nodded. She was hypnotized by what was outside the window. “It’s loud in here…but it’s so warm and comfortable. No clammy air, no drops of water crawling on my skin–”

“All right, all right.” Sharon laughed as she stood and headed toward the small galley behind the cockpit. “Like a glass of water?”

“No…no thanks…I just want to watch.” Kara leaned her forehead against the inner plastic layer of the window, staring outside at the clouds whisking by.

“Suit yourself.”

Sharon had only left the cockpit for a few seconds before an alarm started beeping, accompanied by several flashing lights. She raced back to the pilot’s seat, and seemed panicked as she started making adjustments to the controls.

“Bloody hell!” She finally slammed her fist against the panel in front of her before leaping to her feet and racing to the back of the cockpit – where she tore open a small panel and removed a backpack, pausing before she could remove a second one. “I trust you can fly on your own.”

Kara nodded. “I can. Why…are we crashing?”

“Yes, Kara, we are.” Sharon nodded as she slipped the backpack on quickly. “Something’s gone wrong with the elevator control. We’re losing altitude.”

“Wait–” Kara stood up and blocked Sharon’s way. “Maybe I can just go out there and fix it?”

Sharon nearly laughed, but suppressed the chuckle to only an amused smile. “Really? How much do you know about airplane mechanics?”

“Well…we can’t do much worse. We’re already crashing.”

It only took a moment of thought to convince Sharon that Kara was right. The worst she could do would be a failure to repair the tail control…and there would still be time to bail out.

Without another word, Sharon pulled a lever on the airplane’s exit door and pushed outward, forcing it open against the outside air pressure. She stepped back quickly, trying to balance herself against the sudden rush of wind, as she watched Kara slowly approach the opening.

“Good luck, Kara,” Sharon shouted over the sound of the engines and buffeting wind noise.

Before Kara stepped through the opening, she turned around and smiled, giving Sharon a silent ‘thumbs-up’ gesture. In another instant, she leapt into the wind…and vanished into the clouds.
Linda was so shocked to see what looked like a human being whisk by above her, she nearly lost her grip on the left tail wing. She looked up quickly to see a small hand gripping the upper tail section, and two legs wearing jeans extending from behind the steel structure. She felt confused for a moment…it would be impossible for an ordinary human to survive such an encounter with an airplane, let alone be able to grab the tail.

She watched as another small hand gripped the edge of the tail as well…and then the owner’s head popped out from the other side. A teenager with blonde hair and bright blue eyes was staring back at her…a teen she recognized. “Kara! What are you doing out here?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Kara looked down at the tail wing Linda held onto tightly, noting that the corner of it – where the fixed part of the small wing met the mechanical part – was bent, jamming the mechanism. “You broke the plane, didn’t you?”

“No, I didn’t break–” Linda moved the edge of the mechanical part of the wing, shaking it up and down a bit to see if it still was working. She cringed when she heard metal squeaking against metal. She did indeed break it by accident. “Okay, maybe I did. I’ll fix it, if you tell me where we’re going.”

“Kansas, of course. Sharon wants me to see some gateway she found with you.”

There was a short lull in the conversation as Kara waited for Linda to bend the wing section enough to free it, so it could operate as it was supposed to. She launched herself toward the still open door, waving for Linda to follow.

As soon as Linda was inside, Kara planted her feet firmly inside the airplane and grabbed the door’s handle, pulling against the resistance of air moving past at two hundred and fifty miles per hour…and slammed it shut as if it were no more difficult than closing the barn door back on the Kents’ farm.

She latched the door and turned to face Linda. “Now tell me why you followed me.”

Linda smiled weakly, trying to dismiss her question with a light chuckle…but Kara stared at her with an almost threatening seriousness. “I was worried. I didn’t want Sharon to take you somewhere unfamiliar, or–”

A short silence filled the space between them as Linda’s smile turned to a frown, and she bit her lip. “Wait a minute. The gateway? Now I’m glad I followed you, Kara! You could have ended up stranded on some strange planet light years from here!”

Kara folded her arms and smiled, seemingly amused at the anger Linda displayed. “Yeah, right. I’m not completely brain-dead you know. I can think for myself.”

“Are you amused by this?” Linda glanced at Sharon, who stood leaning against the doorway to the cockpit, a big smile on her face.

“As her about the dreams, Linda.”

Linda’s eyes switched back to Kara again, waiting for the teen to fill in the blanks of what Sharon had just started.

“Something’s calling me, Linda,” Kara said as she walked past her and sat down in one of the rear seats of the cockpit. “It’s like this…mystery that’s tearing at my heart. These dreams were depressing me, and I didn’t know why…until Sharon mentioned the gateway.”

“She told me that she had a dream of being thrown from a platform, and falling into the middle of a city.”

Linda looked at Sharon again, and then back to Kara. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Because…you were kind of a mess, too.” Kara looked down and began fidgeting with her watch, an obvious attempt to avoid eye contact with Linda. “And…I’ve already been enough trouble to you and Clark.”

“No, no no.” Linda sat down in the seat across from Kara, ignoring Sharon as she walked past to sit in the pilot’s seat. “Kara, you’re like the sister I never had.”

“Then why did you leave me with the Kents, and then with Clark and Lois…when you knew they couldn’t deal with me? Do you have any idea what if feels like to be unwanted?”

Linda’s mouth hung open as she watched Kara look down, eyes closed tightly as if her own honest words stung her. She began to understand why the teen had always been so silent, so introverted – because she was afraid of hurting and shaming those who had taken care of her.

“I had no idea you felt that way, Kara,” Linda whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry is for losers, Linda.”

Kara sat, arms folded, without speaking a word as Linda tried her best to respond – but Linda was coming up empty. Luckily, she found a small interruption which would ultimately end the conversation.

“We’re here,” Sharon announced, before putting on a headset meant to contact the nearest tower and make sure she could land in a nearby field safely without hitting any other planes.

A think, depressing silence filled the cabin of the airplane as it slowly headed back to Earth. Linda kept giving Kara sad looks, wishing she could say something to brighten her word. But Kara didn’t see any of them – she stared out the window, once again lost in her own world.
“Excuse me…Have you seen Kara?”

Charlie looked up from his newspaper slowly to see Clark Kent standing in front of his desk in his office. He laughed as Clark pushed his glasses up from the end of his nose, amused at how the man could become so deeply immersed in his civilian persona when the world knew his alter ego as Superman.

“I haven’t seen her, but I know where she is.” Charlie dug in the pocket of his jacket, hanging on the back of his chair, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. “Sharon’s taken her to Kansas to see the Gateway. I assume Linda’s gone, too.”

Clark frowned. “She just up and left in the middle of the night?”

“I guess she’s a night owl.” Charlie shrugged. “And Sharon…well, I have no idea what kind of hours she keeps–”

They both turned abruptly as a soft tap at the window sounded through the nearly silent office. Charlie frowned as he noticed who it was – Power Girl.

“Oh, bloody hell.” Charlie pulled the window open abruptly, allowing Power Girl to enter the room before closing it. “You know, if you super hero types keep dropping by, my rent will go up.”

Power Girl smiled and gave Charlie a quick laugh before approaching Clark – who had a confused look on his face. He’d never seen her laugh so easily before. “I just talked to Kyle this morning, Clark. He says the Guardians know about the Gateway, and–”

“Wait, wait–” Charlie suddenly stepped between Power Girl and Clark, raising both of his hands. “This isn’t the JLA headquarters, you two. Must you hold these kinds of meetings here?”

“As I was saying–” Power Girl frowned at Charlie and stepped around him, ignoring him as she continued. “They want it destroyed, and Kyle is on his way to do their dirty work. I figured since Kara and Linda are on her way there–”

She turned and looked directly at Charlie, giving him and ‘I told you so’ look, raising her voice a little. “–At least one of you might be interested in knowing.”

“Um–” Charlie smiled weakly. “And you’re planning to fly over there?”

“What do you think?” In a blinding blur, Power Girl grabbed Charlie’s left upper arm quickly, pulling him quickly enough to the window that both of his feet left the carpeted floor. Before he could even open his mouth to object, he was airborne alongside her, being held only by one arm…yet he didn’t feel like he was being pulled.

“Wait a minute. Linda has always had to hold me aloft by–”

“I’m not Linda. My flight power’s a mystery.” She gripped Charlie’s arm tighter and made a gut-wrenching turn, heading toward the west. “Now shut up, or I might lose my concentration and drop you.”

Charlie swallowed hard, obeying her request. He hoped it wouldn’t be long before they landed.
Once the plane had stopped completely, Sharon opened the exit door and extended the small stairway to allow everyone to exit. She stood in the doorway like a flight attendant, waiting for Linda and Kara to leave first. As soon as they did, she returned to the inside to get some equipment.

“Linda, I’m sorry.” Kara turned around to face Linda, but then looked down at the ground. “You’ve been nothing but notice to me…I shouldn’t have lashed out and insulted you.”

“You call that lashing out?” Linda smiled. “Kara, when I was your age…God, that makes me sound old…your ‘lashing out’ would have been what I did on a good day.”

Kara smiled mischievously, walking backwards for a few steps before turning and walking, ahead of Sharon, toward the entrance of an underground cavern only partially hidden in the a field about a quarter mile away. Linda shook her head and followed.

For Linda, the walk through the field in Kansas was nothing new – she had gone through the same journey with Sharon and Charlie once before. But she was amazed at how Kara had spotted the entrance and headed straight for it. It was almost as if she too somehow remembered where it was located.

Linda suddenly found herself bathed in green light. She froze, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end, for a moment unsure of what it was. But then, her mind finally connected the color with her memory…Green Lantern?

She looked straight up, nearly giving herself a neck cramp as she searched the skies for the familiar green and black costume of Kyle Rayner. It didn’t take her long to find him – he was descending quickly from just below the clouds, surrounded by a green halo.

“I should have known you’d be here,” Kyle joked as he slowly settled to his feet, “Every time there’s trouble, you’re nearby.”

“Chaos, actually,” Linda pointed out as she smiled. “Every time there’s chaos, I’m nearby.”

Linda suddenly ducked as she noticed something flying toward her. It was a loose rock made of sand – it pelted Kyle, breaking into dozens of small pieces. She turned quickly – Kara stood a short distance away, dusting off her hands and smiling.

“If you two are done with the so-called witty conversation, can we follow Sharon inside?”

Kyle looked at Linda and rolled his eyes. She laughed and followed Kara down the slight hill toward the hidden entrance to the Gateway. “Is this the place I’m supposed to destroy?”

Sharon and Kara wheeled around at the same time. Neither seemed happy as they gave Kyle a threatening stare. Sharon decided to speak first. “You’re planning to do what?”

“Didn’t you know?” Kyle looked at Sharon, and then at Linda. “Nuts…I thought Power Girl would have told one of you by now. I met with the Guardians, they think this…Gateway…is dangerous.”

“Dangerous? Of course it’s dangerous!” Sharon laughed as she removed a crystal from her backpack, waving it in front of a hidden door. It slid open silently, as if by remote control. “So are nuclear weapons. Why don’t the Guardians destroy those?”

“You don’t understand.” Kyle shook his head slowly as he attempted to block Sharon from entering the underground cavern. “This Gateway doesn’t only work one direction, Sharon. If we can open it, so can beings on the other side. Earth isn’t ready for that.”

Sharon frowned, glancing into the cavern around Kyle. “Then find a way to secure it. What bloody use are you super-types if you can’t even do that?”

“I can.”

Kyle and Sharon both gave Kara a look which told her they either thought she was lying or crazy. Kara responded by smiling.

“Really, I can,” Kara continued as she walked between Sharon and Kyle into the cavern. “I…remember this. It’s so clear to me now. I know how to use it, and…”

She wheeled around quickly to face Kyle, deliberately looking at him. “…and how to disable it. It has two keys…one opens the gateway, the other locks it.”

Sharon held the crystal in her hand at her own eye level. “This is obviously the key to open it.”

Kara nodded as she walked toward the wall of solid crystal in the back of the room. She paused for a moment, looking over the surface of it. It seemed to be giving off a light of its own. “See that light? That means it’s activated. There is another crystal inside here somewhere.”

Linda and Sharon looked at each other as Linda passed through the doorway. Neither had any idea what Kara was doing – but Linda watched without speaking a word. She somehow knew that this place was helping Kara recover some of her lost memory.

Kara walked slowly around the perimeter of the room, looking from floor to ceiling – as if she knew something was there. Yet she had no idea what she was searching for. She knew only that she would know when she found it. And just as she had hoped…

“There it is!” Kara pointed high above the glowing crystal wall, where a small, faintly glowing crystal was embedded in a slot near the ceiling of the cavern. Sharon shook her head, wondering how she could have missed it the last time she visited.

But just when she prepared herself to perform a quick leap and snatch that crystal, Kara turned suddenly at the sound of a muffled groan, and a struggle just outside the doorway. Linda turned too, heading immediately outside – but Kara wasn’t far behind.

Power Girl stood outside on the tall grass, one hand over Kyle’s mouth, and her other arm gripping him in an inescapable headlock. Charlie stood a few feet behind her, trying his best not to be injured by accident as Kyle swung his arms wildly, trying to free himself from his captor.

“Let him go!” Kara ordered, trying her best to sound as impressive as possible. She was surprised when Power Girl actually did so, allowing Kyle to collapse to the ground.

Kyle stood quickly, and frowned at Power Girl as he dusted himself off. “What did you do that for?”

“I came here to stop you from destroying this place…with Kara in it.”

“Do I look that stupid?” Kyle immediately realized that his response practically demanded an insult from Power Girl – he waved her off before she had a chance to respond. “Look, Peegee, we had this whole thing worked out before you even showed up.”

Power Girl pointed a finger at Kyle angrily, and frowned. “First of all, don’t call me that, you Nightwing wannabe. Second…how in hell was I supposed to know that?”

“Nightwing wannabe?” Linda whispered to Charlie, trying her best not to laugh. Charlie shrugged, and then pointed to Sharon – she had the second crystal in her hand, tossing it up in the air slightly to emphasize the fact that she spent her time much more wisely than anyone else.

“It no longer matters,” Sharon interrupted as she walked past Linda and Charlie, waving the crystal at Kyle and Power Girl. “The gateway is disabled now.”

“Good. Then maybe certain destructive people can go home…” Power Girl purposely looked at Kyle again, ignoring his frown. “…And tell their puppet masters to mind their own business.”

“Hey! The Guardians don’t control me, Peegee! I’m my own man!”

Power Girl rolled her eyes. “A one hundred percent fictional sentence if I ever heard one.”

Before Kyle had a chance to respond, Power Girl launched herself skyward in a blur. He was still fuming over her attitude…but it would be worthless to follow her and argue with her further.

Instead, he was surprised to see that Kara raced skyward behind Power Girl…and she was fast! Kara caught up with her in only a matter of seconds.

“Words hurt, you know.”

Power Girl suddenly stopped, seeming surprised to hear a voice so close to her. She hovered, looking at Kara for a moment before speaking. “Do they now?”

Kara nodded. “What if after right now, you never saw Kyle again? The last thing he’d remember was you treating him like garbage.”

By the time Power Girl had taken a deep breath and thought of a harsh response, the picture Kara had drawn in her mind had already taken form. She sighed, her eyes turning sad. As super heroes, there was always a possibility that one may never see another again. It was a very risky job.

“You’re right, Kara. Tell him I meant well…okay?”

“Why can’t you tell him?”

Power Girl sighed again. “Because, Kara…when you know Kyle as long as I have, you’ll learn that he can be as grating as myself sometimes. I don’t want that to be the last thing I remember, either.”

Kara frowned as she watched Power Girl fly away quickly. She had initially been used to seeing simple, cooperative relationships. Clark and Lois, a typical married couple…and Linda and Charlie, two friends who regularly behaved as if they could be a couple as well.

The relationship between Clark and Lois, however, deepened in complexity the longer she knew them. Kara even understood things that even they themselves didn’t, or refused to admit. She knew the hurt Clark felt every time Lois went on an ambitious assignment, leaving him alone…and the deep fear that Lois felt every time she watched Clark put on that costume, knowing that this time he might not come home.

She knew that the distance Linda and Charlie kept from each other was for that very reason – but neither one would admit to it. They each feared investing too much in each other…because they feared losing each other. The friendship they had was more comfortable than any other kind of relationship…because it was safe.

Kara wondered still how two heroes like Power Girl and Kyle can work together in spite of their bickering. She guessed that it meant some sort of level of comfort was between them, one where they each knew they weren’t hurting the other that deeply. Kind of a warped type of reassurance.

She shook off her thoughts as she returned to the ground and headed back to the underground cavern, smiling to herself as she noticed Kyle, back to his cheerful self. Maybe that guess wasn’t far off after all.
“I guess we should get everyone home, then.” Linda took a quick count of everyone present at the entrance to the underground Gateway cavern. “I don’t think I can carry all of you, and Kara’s not strong enough. So it’s up to you, Kyle.”

“What about Sharon’s airplane?” Kara’s interruption drew stares from Charlie and Linda. They two of them looked a little sad – it was easy to tell that Sharon wasn’t planning on coming back with them.

Sharon smiled weakly, dangling the crystal in front of Kara. “It’s quite simple, really. As long as I hold this crystal, it’s my responsibility to send it to a place where it’s difficult to recover…for the safety of humanity.”

“I understand.” Kara nodded and smiled half-heartedly.

“Unless–” Sharon walked closer to Kara. She kneeled down to look up into Kara’s eyes, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “You know you’ve come through that gateway, don’t you? Wouldn’t you like to discover your origins?”

Kara smiled, looking at the crystal in Sharon’s hand. “I will…one day. But for now, I’m satisfied.”

“Are you now?” Sharon asked.

“Yes.” Kara nodded. “I now know my place in the world. I know what I’m supposed to do here.”

Linda and Charlie looked at each other, to confirm silently that they were both confused by what Kara was saying. It gave Kara a warm feeling to see that – whenever Charlie and Linda began communicating non-verbally, it meant that everything was right with the world.

And Sharon…Kara wondered if she had some sort of latent psychic ability…or maybe she was just extremely perceptive. Sharon managed to follow Kara’s eyes…and then her laugh told Kara that she knew. She saw the same thing Kara did.

But what Kara remembered about that empty, lonely field somewhere in nowhere, Kansas was one thing – for the second time since her arrival on Earth, among confusion, she had managed to cause every hero in Metropolis to gather, and work together. Not because of danger…but because they all cared about her safety. She had managed once again to do what she believed she was intended to…

…Bring people together.


#18 – Savior, Part 1

Cassandra looked up from a small table in the kitchen of her next door neighbor’s home. Her eyes showed the hurt she felt, and her disheveled hair and torn clothing made her seem like a teenager who had just escaped from prison…or someplace worse.

The slight bruise on one cheek told the rest of the story. Yet she didn’t cry, or even speak a word, as the kindly older woman slid a bowl of chicken soup under her nose. Perfect communication existed between them…yet neither spoke a word.

A gentle clinking sound was made by a metal spoon as Cassandra dipped it gently into the bowl, taking a scoop of noodles, and raising them to her mouth. She blew on the spoon slightly, silently, to cool the soup enough to eat it.

Finally satisfied that the teen was eating, the older woman quickly headed into the living room, where her husband paced back and forth, staring out the front window, and stewing.

“I aught to call the police,” he mumbled as he paused to stare at the house next door, “He threatens me, and then hits his own daughter with a bible. A bible, for God’s sake! There has to be a way to stop this.”

“No, Harry, don’t,” his wife whispered quietly. “If it backfires…they might really hurt Cassandra next time. They might–”

“I know, I know.” Harry sat down on the couch, slumping as he looked down at the floor. His wife sat next to him, wrapping her arm around him comfortingly. He looked at his hands, tightly squeezed together into fists. “If I weren’t a peaceful, God-fearing man, Mary…I swear I would buy a shotgun tomorrow and put a stop to this. I’d know I was right, too.”

Cassandra stood in the doorway of the kitchen, the light behind her as she focused on what the two were saying about her as they sat on the couch. She swallowed hard to keep her emotion in check as she watched the woman who had fed her the chicken soup – Mary, her name was – hold the man in her arms as he began crying over what he had seen in the kitchen only minutes earlier.

She turned around and headed back into the kitchen, noticing a bottle of lamp oil sitting atop one of the cabinets in a large glass bottle. It was a pale orange-red color. Quickly grabbing the bottom edge of the cabinet, she slipped one knee atop the kitchen counter and raised herself to her feet, quickly grabbing the bottle of lamp oil before gripping it with both arms and leaping to the floor.

Cassandra then dug through two of the kitchen drawers she remembered Mary sifting through to find a key one day. Just as she figured, it was a junk drawer…and it contained matches. She had all of the supplied she needed now. It was time to put a stop to the rein of terror.

She looked back toward the living room toward the couple, cuddling each other on the couch, sharing their misery. Shedding tears over what her father had done to her. It was time to end it, to stop the horror from spreading any further. Cassandra loved Harry and Mary, they were close friends to her. There was no way she would allow that crazy man back home to hurt them any longer.

Mary heard the back door slam suddenly. She stood up and headed into the kitchen…and just as she guessed, Cassandra had left as silently as she had arrived. The soup bowl was empty, which was good…but she also noticed that the bottle of lamp oil she stored high up atop the cabinets was gone – as well as a box of matches.

“Dear God, Harry,” she said, turning around in a panic as he entered the room, “What if she heard you?”

Harry never answered Mary’s question. He turned and headed back into the living room, a mixture of relief and fear mixing in his mind. He worried for Cassandra…but he could also sense that she was about to buy herself much needed freedom.
Batgirl stood in an alley between two suburban houses, facing a home across the street which was all too familiar to her. The front of the house was completely lined with the same flowers she remembered, and parked in the driveway was the same dark blue car. She missed Harry and Mary so much…she wanted to tell them she was okay. But she made a decision to break away cleanly from her past after Batman rescued her from that fire.

Only Dick’s words kept echoing in her mind…’can’t go forward until you’re willing to go back a little’. While the rest could fade into history, she longed to touch at least that one part of her past.

She crouched down, leaning her back against the brick wall of the house she was closest to as she waited patiently. Bruce had figured out that Shiva was responsible for a fire which broke out at the police station. Suspiciously, the fire seemed to be centered around the desks of the two detectives looking into Cassandra’s case. All evidence of her official existence had been completely destroyed.

He mentioned that she had a meeting with Shiva. Batgirl didn’t know where Shiva planned to meet her – but it only made sense that Shiva would seek her out in a place she knew Batgirl would head – across the street from her childhood home, looking on from a safe distance.

“You remembered my promise,” a voice whispered in the darkness.

Batgirl looked both directions before she saw movement from above. She looked up, just in time for Shiva to slide down from the roof directly above. She didn’t even bother to stand – she knew Shiva was no threat this time.

“How does it feel to be free?” Shiva asked. She paused for a moment, before waving away her own question. “No…on second thought, don’t tell me. Just think of it as a gift you’ve earned.”

“What now?” Batgirl asked, looking up at Shiva steadily.

“Well…” Shiva started, looking to the empty house across the street. “I find some people with money. By morning that house…that awful memory of yours…will be gone. Nothing.”

“I meant with us. What now with us?”

Shiva smiled. “We’re both professionals. This city’s big enough for both of us…as long as your name is never whispered to me again. Is that fair?”

Batgirl nodded, rising slowly to shake Shiva’s hand. “Fair enough.”

Shiva never bothered to reach for Batgirl’s gloved hand. Instead, she suddenly raced through the back yard of the home Batgirl stood next to, heading to the next street down. Batgirl didn’t bother to follow to figure out where she was going. She had another agenda in mind.

It was late night on the street, making it fairly safe for her to dart across the deserted street unnoticed. She passed by the flower beds in front of Harry and Martha’s house, running around the side past the slightly buzzing electric meter she remembered passing so many times.

The back of the house hadn’t changed much either – three steps up to the wooden deck, stare at the old rusty charcoal grill for a moment, and grab the corroded brass knob of the wooden back door to the kitchen.

She paused for a moment, her hand freezing just before she turned the doorknob. She was hesitating – something which had been foreign to her since the day she put on the Batgirl costume. Nodding to herself, she re-affirmed in her mind that she had to be decisive, and act without dwelling on it too much.

She stood on her toes and reached above the door’s sill, revealing a key she knew was there all along. A click of the lock and a turn of the doorknob, and she was in.

The kitchen was completely dark and silent. Harry and his wife were no doubt deeply sleeping in the next room…or were. Most likely, the sound of the door would waken Harry, and he would be on his way to the kitchen once he confirmed that the sound wasn’t generated by his own mind.

Cassandra slipped her mask off and slid into a chair, dropping the mask into her lap as she looked around the room. It was all so familiar…she remembered sitting in the same chair, her face and muscles feeling sore. She remembered the horror she felt, and the flashes of images of what had happened to her minutes before she walked through that kitchen door.

Light suddenly flooded into the kitchen. Cassandra looked up, seeing the shocked faces of Harry and his wife Mary looking back at her. Harry held a baseball bat in one hand, and Mary hid partially behind him.

“My Lord in heaven.” Harry whispered in a soft voice.

“It’s me,” Cassandra said in a soft voice, smiling at the two of them.

Harry remained frozen, but Mary shoved past him, snatching Cassandra out of the chair, hugging her tightly. “My God…we thought you had died in that fire! And…what’s with this costume? Are you a burglar now?”

“She’s not a burglar, Mary,” Harry said as he walked completely into the room, “It looks kind of like that…Batman’s costume. What’s going on, Cassandra?”

She beamed with a big smile on her face as she held the mask up at eye level. “I’m Batgirl now.”

What may have been a warm reunion suddenly changed as Harry suddenly gasped, clutching at his chest as he tried to steady himself against the edge of the table. The table simply slid out of his way, sending him tumbling to the floor.

“Harry! No!” Mary raced to his side, pointing frantically at the phone. Cassandra didn’t see…she was already dialing. She handed the phone to Mary, who began speaking to the dispatcher in a panicked voice.

Then Cassandra remembered something…a bottle Batman had given her long ago. No…two bottles. One was Potassium Chloride, used to induce a heart attack in someone. He instructed her to use it if someone with a big mouth learned her identity. The second bottle…

…was the antidote. She slipped the bottle out of a tiny pouch on her belt, holding it up to the light. The antidote was a liquid in a gelatin caplet, to allow it to be squeezed out if the victim couldn’t swallow.

She knelt beside Harry, removing one of the small caplets from the bottle. She gently brushed her leather gloved fingers through his hair as she gently squeezed the contents of the caplet into his mouth with her other hand. “Everything will be okay.”

Time seemed to stand still in the room as Harry’s breathing went from labored to strained, and then to normal. Nothing moved, not a sound was made…until the siren of the ambulance outside suddenly broke the silence. Cassandra suddenly snapped back to reality. She had to leave.

“Mary–” Cassandra said, as she reached for her mask.

Without a word, Mary nodded in agreement. “I understand. Thank you…and I hope to see you again soon.”

“Count on it,” Cassandra said, as she slipped her mask back on and raced out the back door. The paramedics never knew she was there – and Mary could not explain how she managed to stabilize Harry before they arrived.

But by that point, the most important thing was the paramedics’ last announcement before they left with Harry – “He’ll live.”
Cassandra felt exhausted as she slipped into Wayne manor through a hidden back door and walked into an interior hallway, pulling off her mask as she headed toward her room to change. The whole place was almost completely dark and silent – Batman and Robin were out somewhere, and Alfred was taking a short nap before their return.

But she didn’t count on one other person to still be around. As she headed from her room to the kitchen for a drink of water, she almost passed right by the study…until she noticed a fire burning in the fireplace. Dick sat on one of the couches, just staring into the flames.

“Hey.” Cassandra said softly, barely loud enough for Dick to hear over the fire. She approached him from behind just as he turned around to stare at her – he seemed surprised by the attention. “Thanks…for the advice.”

“What advice?” Dick asked patiently.

“You know…not leaving the past behind. I…visited someone I knew. A kind neighbor of mine.”

Dick almost let her confession slip by for a moment – before realizing that she had just returned from an outing…in costume. “Wait…you’re telling me you visited someone you knew in costume?”

Cassandra shook her head and took a step back. “I took off the mask. I didn’t want to scare them.”

“That’s even worse.” Dick closed his eyes and sighed, rising slowly from the couch. “Look…you trust those people you dropped in on, right?”

“Yes.” Cassandra nodded. “They were the only ones who cared for me.”

“All right.” Dick smiled slightly. “Just be careful, okay? And don’t tell Bruce about this, he’ll give you the standard lecture.”

“I know.” She smiled.

“Are you kind of bored?” Dick looked at the fire again, shrugging as he turned back to Cassandra. “I mean, hey, I’m staring at a roaring fire. That’s pretty boring. What would you like to do?”

Cassandra paused for a moment, staring at the ceiling with an exaggerated thoughtful expression, before smiling at Dick again. “Get some ice cream?”

Dick nodded. “Let’s go.”
As the Gotham City scenery flew past at terrifying speeds, Cassandra couldn’t help but feel a little amused. She sat on the back of Dick Grayson’s motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket, gloves, and a helmet – the latter at Dick’s insistence – holding on tight as he tore through the streets at speeds which seemed dangerous even to her.

She was grateful for the helmet at least because it prevented the slight cool drizzle from pelting her skin like small knives. The two were going fast enough that she could hear each small drop hit the plastic shield across her face.

“Here we are,” Dick announced, as he suddenly locked the brakes, sliding the bike across the wet pavement to stop next to the curb. She just knew he was showing off a little…or maybe he was so used to showing off that he made a habit of it. It’s part of the reason she balanced herself by holding on to the bike – holding on to him would give him feedback to when she felt uncomfortable, encouraging him to show off further.

Cassandra stepped off of the motorcycle, placing the helmet gently on the seat as she followed Dick toward a small convenience store. It was one of the few places in town to sell ice cream so late at night – but Cassandra still wondered why he had to pick a place in such a seedy neighborhood.

Only a short distance away, a group of teenagers dressed in baggy clothing eyed the two of them – Cassandra could hear them talking about the motorcycle. She pretended to ignore them, keeping tabs on them with only her ears. She assumed Dick was doing the same.

She entered the small convenience store, watching Dick as he ordered two ice cream cones. The clerk seemed less than happy to fill ice cream orders so late at night, but he did so anyway, gouging the price no more than usual.

By the time Dick turned around, however, Cassandra was outside, standing a few feet away from his bike. The teens in baggy clothing had crossed the street, and were too close to the motorcycle. Cassandra was standing guard, silent and with arms folded, in spite of jeers from the small crowd as she gave them all a cold stare.

“Don’t let her catch you messing with my bike,” Dick told the teens, “Or you’ll all have to deal with me.”

Cassandra frowned for an instant as she sat sideways on the seat of the bike, slowly eating her ice cream cone, watching the teens walk away slowly. “Why are they afraid of you?”

Dick laughed. “Because I’m a lot bigger than you are. A lot of intimidation is sheer size. But you did scare them a little, Cassandra. In this neighborhood, they’d steal the bike, the helmet, and your shoes if they didn’t–”

Cassandra turned her head to see why he had suddenly stopped talking. Across the street there was an argument going on among four people. It was becoming heated. At first, that didn’t concern her a bit, as it wasn’t happening all that close by – but then she gelt alarm as she realized that the group of four was made up of two pairs of men wearing different colors.

“Time to go.” Cassandra whispered.

Dick didn’t move at first. He continued to stare across the street at the argument, as if he were interested in what was going on.

“Let’s go.” Cassandra said, more insistently. She sensed that the argument was about to become dangerous. The men wearing different colors were from rival gangs, and were most likely armed.

Just as Dick started up the motorcycle’s engine and started rolling away from the curb, Cassandra spotted a car turning around the corner toward them. It was an older car, and moving very slowly. Without speaking a word, she reached forward and turned the steering hard. Dick was forced to make a quick U-turn to avoid having the bike tip over, before he stopped suddenly.

“What are you…?”

“Go!” Cassandra hit him in the back of his ribs hard enough to cause him to wince. He accelerated quickly, staring straight ahead blankly, seeming as if he were afraid Cassandra would hit him again.

But he discovered why soon enough – he heard four loud sounds behind him…and without turning around to see what it was, he revved the engine of the bike, sending them careening down the street quickly. Cassandra had spotted a drive-by shooting in progress – and since his bike faced the same direction as the car, it would be coming this way soon.

Once he felt they were far enough away, Dick slowed down a bit to avoid attracting attention from traffic enforcement police, but didn’t say a word until they ended up back on the grounds of Wayne Manor. When he stepped off of the bike and looked at Cassandra, he noticed that she had been finishing off the ice cream cone during the ride. His sat half-melted in the center of the bike’s console.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Head bands,” Cassandra said, just before she stuffed the rest of the ice cream cone into her mouth. She paused for a few seconds while she waited for the sudden sting of an ice cream headache to dissipate. “They wore different colored ones.”

Dick chuckled as he walked inside ahead of Cassandra. “You’ve been watching too much TV, kid.”
Cassandra had only entered her room seconds ago, giving her enough time to remove her shoes and sit up against the headboard of her bed, snatching the television remote control from her nightstand to check what was on. She had been so busy lately, she didn’t have much time just to relax.

She almost frowned when Tim knocked on the partially open door and slowly entered, because her quiet relaxation was about to be interrupted. But then she remembered…she hadn’t talked to Tim in a while.

“I saw what you did,” he said as he slid one of the chairs next to the bed and sat down, leaning toward her to whisper. “I saw you visit that house.”

Cassandra looked at the ceiling for a moment and sighed. “Did you tell Bruce?”

“Of course not.” Tim smiled, seeming happy as Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief. “I followed you because I knew you were going to meet Shiva. I was worried, and…I wanted to even the odds a little.”

“Thanks.” Cassandra mumbled, staring at the television once again. “But I can take care of myself.”

“Who were they?” Tim asked.

Cassandra sighed, apparently uncomfortable with Tim’s questioning. But she knew he wouldn’t give up easily if she simply dismissed him. “They were friends. They took care of me when no one else would.”

“Oh,” Tim said, suddenly falling silent as he stared across the room at her.

She was surprised that he didn’t comment. It was almost as if Tim were purposely trying to avoid discussing Cassandra’s past, as if it upsetting to him. Or maybe he wasn’t prepared for such a quick, simple answer. Or perhaps he knew something…

Just as Tim headed for the door slowly, Cassandra slid off of the bed and raced to the doorway ahead of him, checking the hallway before slamming the door shut. “He knows, doesn’t he?”

Before Tim said a word, his eyes looked down. She knew his answer already, before he even opened his mouth.

“Sit,” Cassandra said as she sighed at the thought that Bruce knew where she went. She knew that it meant a lecture later. “I’ll tell you more.”

She waited until Tim turned one of the chairs next to the table in her room around, and sat down. He patiently faced her, waiting for her to continue. Cassandra sat down too, one fist squeezed into her opposite hand, looking down at her lap, making it obvious that she was about to speak on a very uncomfortable subject.

“He…my dad…used to go crazy sometimes. He would throw things at me. When I knew he was like that…I used to run next door. Harry and Mary would talk to me, make me feel better.”

“Did you go there before you burned…?” Tim asked. He seemed shocked at his own question, stopping halfway. But it got no reaction at all from Cassandra other than a slow nod.

“I wanted my dad to fear me for a change.” Cassandra continued nodding slowly, as she now stared steadily, directly at Tim, with her brown eyes.

Tim leaned forward, holding his breath as he prepared to himself to ask the one question he had been asking himself about Cassandra since he first began working with her. It would make the difference between him fearing her, or finally understanding her. “Do you want me to fear you? Or Bruce?”

With the long paused and cold stare from her that followed, Tim was almost sure the answer would be ‘yes’. A chill ran down his spine…she was a lot more like Bruce than he ever imagined. As Batman, Bruce intimidated both friends and enemies almost equally with a cold, menacing, uncaring personality. He hoped Cassandra would be different…and she seemed to be sometimes, allowing raw emotion to pierce her tough exterior.

A second later, as Cassandra rose from the chair she sat in, he realized that his assessment of what her answer would be was completely wrong. It was easy to tell that she felt insulted as she walked away from him, picked up the television remote off of the bed, and stared at it as if she meant to do something, but couldn’t find the strength.

“Cassandra, I–”

He could feel a chill as she whispered only two words to him, never looking up or meeting his pleading gaze. Just two words, softly whispered, said everything, left Tim no doubt how she felt about his question.

“Get out,” she whispered softly.

With a sigh, Tim hung his head and slowly slipped out of Cassandra’s room, closing the door silently behind him. He knew he was so close to understanding her. So close. But then he had to say something stupid.

He walked down the hall toward the study, pausing to lean his forehead against a door along the way. He sighed to himself, shaking his head slowly. “Tim, you’re an idiot.”
Cassandra sat in costume, with the exception of the mask, on the edge of a counter in the Bat Cave, patiently waiting while Bruce did some research. She found it rather annoying that Bruce always asked her to show up in costume, yet he often wore civilian clothing until just before they were ready to leave.

It had been almost a full day since she last saw Tim. She kind of hoped she would see him on this mission, or at least before she left. But just her luck, Bruce sent him out on his own, and asked her to work with him this night instead.

She still felt a little guilty for kicking him out the night before. She wanted so much to trust him, and have him trust her. But there was still this underlying fear Tim felt, as if he was afraid she would lose her mind one day and kill him and Bruce. Cassandra found that insulting…and it made her feel alone.

As she watched Bruce work alone on the computer, requiring her to remain almost silent to maintain his concentration, she wondered if he felt the same way – if he too had the same underlying fear. She had to wonder if she was, for the most part, alone in the world.

Luckily, one person seemed to understand her. She could hear Barbara Gordon’s voice leaking slightly through a headset Bruce wore as he talked to her. Barbara seemed to be Cassandra’s voice when she was too fearful of her own words to speak.

Cassandra now knew that it was Barbara’s influence which finally encouraged Bruce to try and relate to her, to treat her like a peer, not a child lacking in discipline. It worked – Cassandra could now talk to Bruce, and vice versa, without the conversation erupting into a power struggle.

But Cassandra felt there were still underlying problems. She could tell that both Bruce and Tim were uneasy around her. Even a conversation she had with Barbara earlier in the day didn’t seem to solve her concerns.

“It’s because you’re female,” Barbara told her, half-jokingly.

Cassandra nearly laughed when she heard that…but then she couldn’t help but wonder. It just didn’t seem true to her…but it was possible. After all, the team of Batman and Robin could be equated with a father-and-son team, or two guys with similar interests working together in the same field. But then…why did Dick leave?

It was all so confusing. Maybe Barbara was partially correct, or perhaps Bruce and Tim were a little afraid of Cassandra because of her past. She could only hope to learn the truth one day.

“I’m very disappointed,” Bruce said.

At first, Cassandra wasn’t sure that was aimed at her. But after a long paused, and feeling his eyes finally turned toward her, she broke free of her own thoughts and gave him her full attention.

“I know where you went last night,” Bruce said, his gaze steady and cold. She could tell he was Batman already. “But I don’t know why.”

Cassandra thought about giving Bruce the silent treatment she had become so fond of giving him, usually leading to a cold shoulder from Bruce which makes the North Pole seem like a paradise. But something in her wanted to put Bruce on the defense for a change. Maybe it was the conversation with Barbara, or what had happened with Tim the day before. Or maybe she had finally reached some kind of limit.

“I’m disappointed too,” Cassandra said softly, giving Bruce a serious look. “I thought you trusted me. Instead you spy on me.”

At that moment, Cassandra realized that she seriously underestimated the level of arrogance and self-importance which Bruce carefully hid behind a calm facade at the request of Barbara. That facade crumbled quickly, revealing a solid frown and a set of cold eyes which chilled her to her core.

“Don’t try to stare me down, Cassandra. You’re way out of your league.”

“And you’re out of your mind,” Cassandra blurted out suddenly. A glint of fear, for just a moment, crossed her face. But once she realized that Bruce was now literally staring her down…as Batman…she cleared all emotion from her expression, and stared back.

She quickly realized the reason why a stare from Batman was so fearful. It wasn’t his hidden eyes, or the glassy stillness of them, leaving you wondering if those eyes were real. It wasn’t even the fact that he literally would not blink. Instead, it seemed to bring on the combined fear of everyone who had ever been large, frightening, intimidating in your life. His eyes made a person feel like a child before him, only seconds from being whipped into submission by an angry headmaster.

Cassandra, however, had another reaction to it. His eyes conjured up the image of someone who used to frighten her, but would no more. She launched herself at Bruce suddenly before she had a second to think.

As she suddenly found herself airborne, she regretted not taking a moment to plan better, to think about the consequences of attempting what she did. She closed her eyes and rolled into a ball as she cringed, waiting for the inevitable crash to the ground, tumbling through a few chairs and a table as she landed.

By the time she rose to her feet again, he was there, right in front of her, waiting. It was easy to understand why he was such an unbeatable foe out on the street – he would always be there, right on top of you…but you could never touch him.

“Want to try and be smarter this time?” Bruce asked, obviously taunting her.

“Go to hell,” Cassandra mumbled in reply. She turned and headed away from Bruce, walking just fast enough to keep him too far behind to reach for her.

“Cassandra, wait.”

She stopped and turned slowly. Not because Bruce demanded it, or ordered her to. This time was different – his voice sounded like he was pleading, as if he genuinely didn’t want her to leave.

Cassandra stood still as Bruce walked closer, standing in front of her with his arms folded. He still didn’t look happy…but the coldness in his eyes had vanished. He was just Bruce now.

“I admire your spirit,” Bruce said. “You might have lost the physical battle, but you managed to break my resolve.”

She continued staring at him, waiting for an apology that would never come. In Bruce’s case, apologies were rare – but she did manage to get the next best thing. He gave her respect instead.

“Let’s put this aside and do what we came here to do.” Bruce extended his hand, offering to shake Cassandra’s.

“Agreed.” She nodded as she shook his hand twice slowly, letting go to slip her Batgirl mask over her head and run to the car to wait for Bruce to change. It would only take a few minutes.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Alfred joked as he held open the door to the small closet which held the Batman costume.

Bruce didn’t react – but having known him since childhood, Alfred knew he would have, if he hadn’t shielded himself behind his emotionless alter ego. There was cause for celebration after all – Cassandra and Bruce nearly fought…both won, and both lost. But in the end, they set aside their disagreement in favor of something they both enjoyed.

Alfred smiled as he watched the Batmobile head out into the cool, rainy night. Calm would prevail tonight.
The Batmobile arrived at the center of downtown Gotham City just in time for it’s huge, dark modern art museum to explode. Chunks of brick, glass and concrete flew into the rain-soaked streets, leaving the sounds of car alarms and distant sirens to break the silence.

Batgirl braced herself as the Batmobile came to a screeching halt, and large chunks of concrete and brick pelted the car from above. She heard Batman curse – and event in itself – and watched helplessly as he punched the console in front of him repeatedly until shards of plastic dropped onto the floor of the passenger side.

There was only one man who could make Batman so angry…and as he looked at Batgirl, still breathing quickly, she realized immediately who it was. It had to be Joker. That’s why Bruce was on-edge enough to pick a fight with her, and why he spent an unusual amount of time researching. He wanted to beat that lunatic just once…but the raining chunks of building and flames all around meant that he failed again.

“All of that work,” he whispered, “This building held some artists’ entire lives. Now it’s all gone because I was a second too late to stop–”

“No.” Batgirl suddenly sat up on her seat. Something didn’t seem right to her. “He…he took them. He had to.”

“Took them?” Batman shook his head. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“He always says he’s ‘an artist’. He didn’t destroy anything…he took it.”

Batman looked toward the burning building again, staring for a few seconds before turning back to Cassandra. “You’re right. Let’s check it out.”

Batgirl usually hated heading into burning buildings. Her heavy leather costume offered her little protection from the heat and smoke, yet kept her from remaining cool enough to work efficiently. But this time was different – she knew she was right, it was simply a matter of proving it to Batman and satisfying her own curiosity.

Luckily, they didn’t stay inside the scorching hot museum for long. They couldn’t anyway, considering that the fire department and police were literally moments away. As soon as they walked into the first exhibit, it was overwhelmingly obvious that the entire building had been cleared out. Empty rectangles marked the wall where paintings had been taken, and a dust-free shape on the floor indicated where a statue once stood.

Without a word, Batman motioned toward the exit. The sound of sirens outside grew dangerously close, and it was time to get out quickly. Batgirl followed, passing him quickly and racing across the street just as the first police car turned the corner.

By the time she climbed into the Batmobile, Batman had just dropped into the driver’s seat from above. He used a cable launcher to swing across the street, where he would be out of view of the approaching police car.

Just as Batman reached for the ignition, Batgirl pulled his hand away. “Wait.”

Just as she predicted, the two police cars which just arrived turned sharply as they approached the front of the museum, pointing their headlights and spotlights at the front door. A fire engine came around the corner about the same time.

Batman started up the Batmobile and drove away slowly, giving Batgirl a suspicious look as he turned the corner away from the museum. “You’ve been getting much too close to police, Cassandra.”

“Not anymore.” Batgirl smiled…’much too close to police.’ It brought images to mind of those two cops who came by Wayne Manor to question her. They wouldn’t be bothering her again for a while.

But Joker on the other hand…she shivered at the prospect of meeting him again. Every time she ended up close to him, either she almost killed him or he almost killed her. The last time, she almost killed him…but didn’t out of a promise to Shiva. She only hoped that the next time, the odds would be in her favor.

She took a deep breath as she watched Batman’s expression change from its general seriousness to one of anger. His driving was becoming more dangerous by the second. She could hear him breathing, feel the anger in the sound of it. His Batman persona was slipping, just as it did a little more with each encounter with his greatest foe.

Batgirl’s heart began racing. That’s why Joker kept winning – because he knew he scared Batman. He could feel it, taste it, smell it. But Batgirl, on the other hand…she didn’t know to fear him. That made her an even greater threat to him than Batman – and as well, made her Batman’s best protection.

She squeezed her leather-gloved hands into fists as the Batmobile exited the roadway and headed toward a warehouse at the end of a loading pier on the edge of Gotham City. She knew her mission now. She had to protect Batman from Joker…and from himself.


#17 – Running In The Dark, Part 3

Everything turned to hell so quickly.

Broken glass littered the concrete floor of the basement of the Gotham City public library. Billows of smoke began pushing through the huge boiler room as flames licked at the ceiling.

Batman carried the weakened Batgirl over one shoulder, and the unconscious Robin over the other. He was the only one of the three to have a breathing filter with him – he wasn’t immediately overcome by the smoke and heat. The night vision added to his mask allowed him to navigate through the totally darkened room toward the stairs.

Once he use a fireman’s carry to race up the stairs and out to the street, he realized that Robin was in much worse shape than he originally thought. His hands and arms had been burned somewhat…while the skin wasn’t severely damaged, it was bright red.

He pulled a small tool from his belt and opened the valve on a fire hydrant nearby, letting the water douse Batgirl and Robin as he pulled a high-tech burn kit from inside the Batmobile. Time was running out – the sound of fire engine and police sirens began to echo off of nearby buildings. There wasn’t time to stick around.

He heard a cough and sputter, and watched Batgirl sit up quickly and begin to take in her surroundings.

“I need your help,” he whispered almost immediately, giving Batgirl little time to overcome her weakness and dizziness, “Robin’s in bad shape.”

Without another word, she returned to her feet quickly and doused herself in the stream of water from the hydrant again, before kneeling next to Robin’s head.

“Hold him still,” Batman said, louder this time, “We need to get him taped up and out of here before the cops show up.”

“You hold–” She tried to speak, but ended up choking and coughing instead. Rather than try to explain again, she snatched the first aid tape from him gripping her own wrist tightly to demonstrate that her costume was looser-fitting, allowing her to move faster. He nodded in agreement, and held up Robin’s left arm.

It only took Batgirl seconds to wrap the cooling pad and tape around his arm, and switch to the other. Batman then lifted Robin quickly, and placed him in the passenger seat of the car.

Just then, the first police cars arrived on the scene. Batman froze, and turned briefly to look at Batgirl – he didn’t say a word, but she knew what to do. She jumped into the driver’s seat, and drove away quickly, leaving Batman to keep the police occupied. She was sure he would escape – he always did – but the priority was to keep Robin, and her weakened self, from being captured.

“What happened?”

That was the first question Alfred asked as he helped lift Robin out of the passenger side of the car. Cassandra didn’t answer right away as she pulled off her mask, revealing her soot-covered face. “Oxygen”, she said, her voice cracking.

As she was handed an oxygen mask, she watched Alfred wrap larger cooling pads with straps around Robin’s arms and, and place corresponding gloves on his fingers. He plugged the small tubes from the pads and gloves into a pump below the medical bed he had placed Robin on top of.

He still hadn’t woken up, even after an oxygen mask had been added. The look Alfred gave Cassandra told her that it would be a long night. But that’s what happens when everything turns to hell.


“What happened, Cassandra?”

Alfred sat across from Cassandra at a small wooden table which could very well be called a kitchen table if it were actually in a kitchen – but instead, it was located next to a stairway in the Bat Cave. He drank tea, brought from the house along with a huge mug of streaming hot cocoa Cassandra drank slowly. It was both to soothe her nerves, and help restore her voice.

“It was a trap,” Cassandra said. “The boiler in the library…exploded. Tim was burned by the water.”

Alfred looked confused. Her wording didn’t make sense, and she was speaking in fragments – most likely, the trauma of the evening still left Cassandra feeling confused. “Why were you in the basement of the library?”

“Chasing…we were chasing a man who broke in.” Cassandra leaned over her cup of cocoa and took a deep breath of steam as he voice began to make her throat feel sore. “It was…Joker. We didn’t know, and he…he blew up the basement.”

“My God.” Alfred looked at Robin worriedly, and then back to Cassandra. “You two are lucky to have made it home alive. And Master Bruce?”

As if to punctuate Alfred’s question, a door slammed at the far end of the Bat Cave. He stood and headed toward it quickly – Cassandra did the same, only walking slower to avoid over-exerting herself too quickly.

But she began moving quicker when she heard Bruce’s strained voice, and Alfred saying, ‘Easy, Master Bruce.’

“He’s been shot, Cassandra. Fetch a first aid kid, quickly,” Alfred ordered.

Without a second thought, Cassandra raced across the room and pulled out the largest first aid kit she could find, tearing open the box quickly. She delivered it to Alfred in another second, placing it on the edge of a medical table Bruce was sitting on.

“It just barely punctured the armor and cut my skin,” Bruce said, producing the bullet in his palm.

“I’ll still need to clean and disinfect the wound,” Alfred said, as he began pulling off the rubber and kevlar alloy armor and tossing pieces of it onto the floor.

Cassandra wanted to watch at first, but ended up taking a step back when she saw just how much blood was hidden behind Bruce’s costume. She heard him groan in pain as Alfred began cleaning the area slowly with rubbing alcohol. Then he said the inevitable…

“This cut is too deep, Master Bruce. I shall have to stitch it.”

“Do what you have to, Alfred,” Bruce said, wincing in pain once again.

By that point, Cassandra was determined not to watch any more. She raced back to her room quickly, determined to wash the scent of the fire out of her hair and skin, and change into clean clothing, placing her costume into a special chamber where it would be electronically cleaned, removing the smoky odor it carried in a day or so. It was a good thing she had two, something which was necessary when the costume got so much daily use.

But once she stood in the shower, with the warm water cascading through her hair, the urgency she felt to try and escape her memory had vanished. Images of what had happened – the explosion, the Joker’s horrifying laughter, Tim screaming in pain before he passed out…they all came rushing back to her.

She remembered the burning feeling in her lungs, everything fading away…and Batman lifting her off of her feet when she didn’t have the strength to stand on her own any longer.

Then she thought about something else – about how easily they were beaten by one madman. They didn’t even see it coming – and given another set of circumstances, they could all be dead. Cassandra remembered Tim, still lying on the medical bed unconscious, his arms wrapped in cooling pads…and she worried that one of them still could be.

By the time she stepped out of the shower and got dressed quickly, that last thought dwelled in her mind. If Tim died, it would be her fault. Why didn’t she see it coming? Why didn’t she tell him not to try and duck behind the boiler when the explosion went off? Why…wasn’t she the one burned instead of Tim?

Her mind was spinning by the time she reached for the doorknob…but then she hesitated. Out there, outside the bathroom, was reality. For the moment, it seemed one that was much too harsh to be true.

And the fire…she remembered the fire around her, the burning in her lungs. She remembered once, being in a fire, reaching for the doorknob. She remembered opening the door, and feeling such a powerful heat…and screaming as she knew that everyone on the other side of it was dead.

Cassandra could feel the heat in the room as she tried to run away from the door, and slipped. She backed away from it across the floor, placing her back against the first solid object she could find, curling into a ball…and cried, wishing for freedom and a better place.

She heard a sound…and looked up to see Bruce standing in the doorway of the bathroom, looking down at her. He was leaning against the doorway, looking shocked as she sat on the floor, curled up, and sobbing.

“It was the explosion and fire we were in, wasn’t it?” Bruce asked in a soft, almost concerned voice. He walked into the bathroom and kneeled on the floor next to Cassandra, wincing as he did so. “It brought back things you would rather not remember.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. leaning her chin against her knees as she wrapped her arms around her legs. “And Tim…I’m…afraid for him.”

Bruce opened his mouth for a second, almost ready to give her some canned response, some reassurance which was intended to make her feel better. But he started to understand that it didn’t work with Cassandra. She valued honesty above all else. Instead, he decided to tell her his true feelings.

“I’m afraid too, Cassandra.”

The hug that Cassandra gave Bruce suddenly reminded him of another Batgirl he used to work with…one who he still knew well, and hoped would become a role model for Cassandra. It was a sign that maybe hope would become a reality.
Cassandra returned to the Bat Cave to check on Tim, hoping that he would at least be awake by the time that she returned from her shower. Unfortunately, he was still unconscious…which quickly soured her now calm mood.

“Tough break, huh?”

She heard Dick Grayson’s voice, but didn’t look his way, trying to avoid letting him see the sadness and fear in her eyes. She could hear him approach from behind her, and could see his shadow tower over her as he leaned close to check on Tim.

“Look…For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I got so upset about my bike.” Dick walked around to the other side of the bed, leaning his palms on its edge and staring at Cassandra to try and get her attention. He was wearing his Nightwing costume, but not his mask. “I like you, Cassandra. You show imagination…something you-know-who lacks.”

He seemed satisfied with himself for a moment when Cassandra cracked a slight smile for just an instant. Satisfied enough that he decided to try and make peace with this Batgirl he barely knew. He held a gloved hand under Cassandra’s nose. “So…what do say? Truce? Hell, maybe we can even work together one day.”

Cassandra shook his hand slowly, finally giving him a half-hearted smile that told him she had other things on her mind. That’s when she finally spoke to him. “You’re too eager to please.”

Dick laughed out loud. “Cassandra, you’re the first person who’s ever said that to me.”

She looked down at Tim again, her smile vanishing suddenly as she watched him quietly sleeping, his body trying to heal itself. “Want to help?”

“Help?” Dick looked confused as he watched Cassandra stand and head up the stairway to the house. He tried to follow as she raced ahead of him, walking quickly through a darkened hallway until she suddenly stopped in a large room which contained Bruce’s ancient weapons collection.

She turned around looked up at an old decorative Japanese Katana sword mounted over the doorway, and pointed. “Get that for me.”

“You want to see that close up, do you?” Dick ran into the next room, snatching a big chair from the dining room. It wasn’t nearly tall enough – but with his skills, he could easily stand on the back of the chair and balance long enough to reach.

“No.” Cassandra shook her head and took a couple of steps back and watched Dick place the chair just in front of the doorway and jump up to its back in two leaps. “I want to use it to kill.”

“Wha…?” The chair wobbled suddenly, and Dick crashed to the floor as Cassandra leapt out of the way quickly. “I hope you’re joking. It’s one thing to play with Bruce’s collection…but it’s another to–”

“I’m not joking.” Cassandra stood the chair back up and looked at the sword again. “Joker almost killed Tim. Will you help me, or not?”

Dick stared into Cassandra’s angry, determined eyes, his mouth hanging open trying desperately to respond. He wanted to say something profound, which would make Cassandra reconsider. But at the same time…she was right. Bruce would disagree…but that was one of the very things which caused Dick to constantly fight with him, and eventually go out on his own. Bruce was never willing to go far enough.

Without another word, Dick climbed the chair again quickly and snatched the sword off of the wall. He jumped to the floor and held it out to her…but then drew it back before she could reach it. “First, I want you to promise me something. Promise me that whenever you carry this weapon, you’ll think of me before using it.”

Cassandra gave him a questioning look, apparently confused by what he had said.

“I’m a great judge of people, Cassandra,” Dick explained further, “I know that you trust me more than Bruce…but you’re also more intimidated by me. I want you to think about what I would do before you use this. That’s all.”

A few more seconds of silence passed before Cassandra smiled and held out her hand. “Deal.”

Dick gently placed the center of the sheathed sword in Cassandra’s palm, and folded his arms. “Don’t forget what I said. Otherwise I’ll have to take this back.”

Cassandra laughed and headed toward the hallway quickly with the sword in hand, intent on returning to her room to hide it until she would go out later and make use of it. But at the last second, she paused before she left the room. “Dick?”

“Yes?” Dick said, sticking his head back into the room from the doorway at the other end, carrying the chair back to the dining room.


Dick smiled and put down the chair for a moment. “Good luck, kid. If you need anything else, just tell me.”

Cassandra walked into the hallway smiling as she carried the sword toward her room. She didn’t have the heart to mention that she had already borrowed his name…but he would find out soon enough.
It was raining again when Batgirl went out later that night. But instead of the rain being soothing, or relaxing, it gave her a sense of power. She felt as if nature itself was urging her on.

Besides her usual costume, cape, and belt, Batgirl carried the Japanese Katana taken from Bruce’s trophy room, still in its sheath. She had a specific target in mind – the man who had set the trap for herself, Bruce…and the still unconscious Tim. She had to teach him that there were direct consequences…and that he must fear hurting the ones she cares about.

She believed that more than anything…but as she crouched atop an apartment building, looking down at a purple limousine parked across the street, her hands shook and her heart was beating quickly. Damn that Dick Grayson…his words left her mind spinning, unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

But she knew she had to. Her heart started beating loudly in her ears as she saw a light turn on in one of the apartments across the street. She pulled a pair of small binoculars from her belt and looked through the window. It was…him. He had just punched one of bodyguards in the stomach, and was heading toward the window. She watched as he stopped just short of the window, and moved his purple suit jacket aside, slipping a silver gun from a holster under one arm.

Batgirl felt a sense of alarm as he started to turn slowly. She tossed the binoculars aside and quickly aimed a double anchor cable launcher directly above the window across the street, tossing her cape behind her as the other end of the cable lodged noisily into a brick chimney a few yards behind her. She grabbed the launcher with both hands and launched herself toward the Joker…

…and with a loud crash, and a shower of glass, she found herself pinning him to the ground with her knees as his gun went sailing across the room. She eyed the two frozen bodyguards, as she reached down in a flash and launched Bat Wings at the weapons they held. The Bat Wings each hit their target with an audible metallic ‘clang’ before lodging themselves into the wall.

She then turned her attention entirely on Joker, introducing herself only by slamming her gloved fist into his face. She could feel the cartilage in his nose snap, giving her a moment of satisfaction – but she wasn’t done yet.

Batgirl rose quickly, the wind blowing the rain in through the window behind her as she held the Katana’s sheath in her left hand, drawing out the blade with her right. She eyed the two bodyguards…they were too close again. A quick sweep of the Katana fixed that.

But she didn’t realize how sharp the blade was. She watched as the right hands of each of the two men, raised to protect themselves as the blade swung past them, went tumbling to the floor with a soft, wet ‘thud’. A shower of blood covered the carpet and the opposite wall as the two began screaming, and retreated to the hallway.

A little shaken by the power she held, yet somehow feeling more confident, Batgirl placed her left foot firmly in the center of Joker’s chest, and wrapped both of her gloved hands tightly around the Katana’s handle. She raised it above Joker’s head, feeling nothing but anger as she watched him begin to chuckle – he was laughing at her on the eve of his death.

Her arms started to weaken as his chuckles turned into laughter – but through her boots, she could feel the tension in his body. It was pure terror. The man reacted to fear by laughing…and he had absolutely no control over it.

She took a look around the small apartment as laughter began filling the room. The kind of life this empty soul led…it was no life at all. He had no home, no loved ones. He knew only murder, death and…seedy apartments like the one he hid in now. Batgirl started to feel a little lucky, a little privileged. Bruce had no idea what he had over the criminals he chased every night.

As she looked down at the Joker one more time, she remembered words she heard recently…’Spare the life of someone who you consider evil beyond redemption’. There was no one more evil in Gotham than Joker. He was born and bred into evil, and could be nothing else.

Batgirl sheathed the Katana quickly and removed her foot from Joker’s chest, watching the confused expression on his face. He was even confused enough that he had stopped laughing.

She headed over to a phone next to a doorway on the room, and dialed nine-one-one, tossing the handset on the floor purposely. As a last gesture, she flipped the Katana around, slamming the handle hard into Joker’s temple, knocking him unconscious. It was better that way…the police would find him lying there, and would be able to arrest him safely.

But there was still too much evidence of her presence. She leaned out the window, grabbing the metal base of the cable launcher, using the small motor inside to quickly pull up to her previous location atop the building across the street. She then grabbed the cable and pulled hard, dislodging it from the building across the street, taking the time to manually wind the cable back into the launcher.

Once she had latched the device back on her belt, she headed back to the alley below, satisfied that firm evidence of her presence had been eliminated. She quickly climbed on Nightwing’s motorcycle – ‘borrowed’ yet again – and headed quickly to the Bat Cave. She had done her good deed for the night.
Cassandra awoke the next morning with a start. Someone was shaking her – and as she rolled over, she discovered that it was Tim. She looked at her clock – it said ’10:45′. He was saying something to her…but she only caught part of it as her senses slowly began to tune into the real world. He said something about…cops?

“…they’re waiting in the study,” Tim continued, “Come on, hurry up!”

“Shower–” Cassandra mumbled as she slid out of her covers onto the floor, hands first. She finally rose to her feet and grabbed some clothing quickly before heading into the bathroom. She could hear Tim giving a frustrated sigh, but she wouldn’t care until she woke up more.

Finally emerging into the study fifteen minutes later, hair still soaked, she stopped in the doorway. Sitting on a couch, listening to Alfred talk, were the same two detectives she had talked to at the police department a couple of days before. Tim was not in the room, but Bruce wore reading glasses, and sat in the opposite couch, looking at an old text.

“Here she is now,” Alfred announced as Cassandra walked through the doorway.

She froze for a moment as the two turned to look at her. Neither seemed happy – but she put on a slight smile anyway, to try and un-nerve them a bit.

“Cassandra Grayson? Is that what you told me your name was?” One of the Detectives stood and looked down at Cassandra. “What’s your real name?”

Without saying a word, Cassandra laughed slightly. She knew she had been caught in a lie…but it was one that was fairly harmless. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to tell the Detective…or Bruce…or anyone her real name. She wanted to leave it behind forever. Luckily, she didn’t have to spend much time arguing about it.

“She doesn’t remember,” Bruce interrupted. “If you must know, Alfred and I found her wandering the neighborhood, confused. We took her in, and found that she had almost no memory of where she came from or who she was. She told us later that she had been rescued by…Batman…from a fire.”

The two Detectives looked at each other. It was easy to tell that neither believed the part of the story involving Batman. One of the two spoke up again. “And why did she give us the name Cassandra Grayson?”

Bruce laughed and leaned back comfortably on his couch, giving no indication of being uneasy. He was an expert at that – he could tell any lie, and make it more believable than most people’s truths. “A man named Grayson was here a few days ago. He’s a business associate from out of town. She simply borrowed his name.”

“Any relation to a cop named Richard Grayson?” the other Detective asked.

“I don’t ask my business associates personal questions about their relatives.” Bruce shrugged. Cassandra tried hard to not to smile too much. She enjoyed watching Bruce spin such a complete story.

The two detectives finally rose, one of them heading toward the door as the other stopped to shake Bruce’s hand as he stood as well. “I’m sorry to have taken your time, Mr. Wayne.”

“Not at all, Detective,” Bruce said in a smooth, quiet manner, “I feel a little more secure knowing that Gotham’s finest are looking after my welfare.”

As soon as Cassandra heard the door close, and the two Detectives were outside, she started laughing out loud. Bruce frowned at first, but then began smiling once he realized why.

“It takes a lot of practice to do that, Cassandra.” Bruce squeezed her shoulder as he walked past her, and headed back to his office. “You’ll learn one day.”
Detective Callahan tore through the streets of Gotham City, his partner, Detective Williamson, clinging to the dashboard as he took corners quickly. A blue light spun quickly just in front of the windshield, and a siren blared to tell traffic to clear the way.

Moments earlier, when the two had just left Wayne Manor, they got word over their radio that the police station was on fire. All Detectives were requested to report to the station ‘Code 3’ – that meant lights and sirens, with total disregard for traffic safety.

Callahan practically drove onto the lawn of the police station, leaving forty foot long skid marks on the pavement as his car screeched to a halt. His partner leapt out before the car had even come to a complete stop.

The two raced for the doors of the police department – but were immediately grabbed and held back by two fire fighters loaded down with gear.

“Whoa, whoa,” one fire fighter told them, “If you two go in there, you’ll both end up extra crispy.”

“What’s going on?” Williamson asked.

“A fire. Duh,” the other fire fighter responded.

Callahan shoved the ruder of the two fire fighters aside, becoming impatient as he purposely tried to intimidate the other. “Where’s the fire chief?”

Williamson and Callahan headed toward the fire chief after being pointed toward him. When they approached, the chief was busy yelling to a few men on a fire engine about hooking up another hose.

“Any idea what’s going on?” Callahan asked.

“Looks like a fire started in one of the garbage cans near the homicide office,” the chief said, “The contents of a few desks and file cabinets have been burned. My guess is someone was smoking in the office.”

Williamson looked at Callahan. “One of your cigars?”

Callahan shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I toss my matches at you, not into the trash can.”

“Chief, as soon as you get some information, let us know,” Williamson said.

“No problem,” the chief replied.
“You took my motorcycle again. I can’t believe this.” Dick Grayson paced around the dining room at Wayne Manor, attempting to hold a conversation with Cassandra. But he found only frustration as she continued eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream and reading a book, seemingly oblivious to his presence.

“You know,” he added, pausing for a moment as he watched Tim enter the room, “I check the mileage on that bike every day. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

Dick turned around quickly as he heard a snicker from Tim. “Do you think this is funny?”

“No,” Tim said, barely containing laughter, “What’s funny is she stole your last name, and you’re busy whining about your bike.”

Cassandra smiled slightly, trying in futility to bury her face in the book she was reading in the hopes that Dick wouldn’t see that she was amused. His mouth was hanging open, and she could see the veins in his forehead stand out – he was left wordless by the anger he felt.

“She told the cops her name was Cassandra Grayson,” Tim added. An angry look from Dick told him that he wasn’t helping.

“I need you to understand, Cassandra,” Dick said slowly, “I need you to promise that you’ll stop stealing my bike.”

“It’s just a bike.” Cassandra didn’t even look up from her book as she spoke, seeming not to worry even the slightest bit about the fact that he was angry.

Dick turned to look at Tim, who was smile smiling in amusement. He motioned for Tim to leave…and then again, more urgently, after Tim didn’t take the first suggestion seriously.

As Tim finally left the room slowly, reluctantly, Dick leaned over Cassandra’s shoulder, carefully prying the book from her hands and lying it down on the table. Cassandra turned and gave him a quick glare.

“The day I stopped being Robin, Cassandra, I was prepared to leave here as an outcast…to be a nobody again. I wanted to make a clean break. I didn’t even want to see Batman or Bruce ever again.”

“What happened?” Cassandra asked.

Dick stood up and took a deep breath, looking at Cassandra for a moment as if he wasn’t sure if he should tell her any more. “He gave me the bike. No strings attached, no questions, nothing. He’s never said a word about it since – he’s never held it over me.”

“It was a gift of love.” Cassandra had turned completely around now, her arms hanging over the back of the chair as she gave Dick her full attention.

At first, Dick visibly cringed at Cassandra’s assessment. He remembered hearing so many sick jokes about his old Robin costume, he didn’t like the implications of the word she used. “I wouldn’t say ‘love’, exactly. More like a gift of mutual respect.”

Cassandra nodded and smiled. “I understand.”

He continued staring at her as she kept smiling at him, just knowing that somewhere behind it was one of those jokes he dreaded so much…or perhaps he’d just become paranoid after hearing so many of them. “So lay off the bike, all right? If it were ever damaged or destroyed, I’d lose a precious gift. You understand, right?”

“Yes.” Cassandra nodded again, still smiling. Dick began to feel a little frustrated, wondering what kinds of thoughts were swimming behind that calm expression of hers.

“Any questions?” Dick asked, almost sarcastically.

“Just one,” she said, her smile disappearing as she looked up at Dick. “You wanted to leave this all behind…so why did you come back?”

Dick opened his mouth to answer, but found no words. He sighed as he looked down at Cassandra, knowing full well that she had seen right through his tough exterior to his core. If she had any talent worthy of the Bat-family, that was it.

“Sometimes, I’m not sure myself. But I have discovered over time that…you really can’t go forward until you’re willing to go back a little. Keep that in mind, Cassandra.”

Just as Dick turned to leave the dining room, Cassandra slipped out of her chair and grabbed his arm tightly, stopping him before he took more than a few steps. “What do you mean…go back?”

“I mean no one can just abandon their past. It always comes back to haunt them.”
It was just after dusk as Bruce entered his office, neglecting to turn on the light as he approached his desk. He had accustomed himself to seeing fairly clearly in near darkness – which was no small feat considering that he was at an age where he needed reading glasses to see the morning newspaper.

As he entered that office, he could tell something was different. A quick glance around told him exactly what it was – Cassandra was sitting in his desk chair, her black costume boots propped on the surface of his desk. She had the leather seat leaned way back, and she was fidgeting with a letter opener.

“You watched your parents die…just like I did.”

Without saying a word, Bruce swallowed hard as he approached the desk, and sat down in one of the chairs in front of it. He knew very well that the two situations Cassandra likened were very, very different…and he already didn’t like where the discussion was headed. But he learned to be patient with her, to listen.

“What was it like for you?”

“Well–” Bruce shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t like talking about that event in his life, but he hoped opening up would bring Cassandra into an actual conversation. “–At the time, I was just a kid. When you’re a kid, you think everything lasts forever. And then…”

“Go on,” Cassandra urged, noting the pause from Bruce.

“And then,” Bruce continued calmly, “It’s all taken away. Not just one thing, like a bike or a toy that’s lost. Everything. My whole world had been taken away from me.”

“Did you cry?”

“No. No, I don’t remember ever crying.” He paused for what seemed like an eternity, as he dug through his memory to make sure he was correct. “It’s strange…that something so traumatic could happen to me, yet I didn’t cry. I guess I was in shock.”

“Oh. Good.” Cassandra looked down, away from Bruce, continuing to fidget with the letter opener.

“Why did you ask, Cassandra?”

“I wanted to know if I was normal.” She shrugged, looking at her reflection in the letter opener. “Because I didn’t cry for my parents either.”

Bruce stood suddenly and leaned over the desk, finally deciding to go for as much information as he could get. She seemed ready enough to talk.

“I know why you set the fire that killed your parents, Cassandra. I know you only meant to scare them…but you didn’t understand how fire worked.”

Cassandra sat up slightly, suddenly giving her full attention to what Bruce was saying – but she didn’t give any indication to whether he was right or wrong.

“You expected them to run from their room, screaming in terror while you laughed. You did hear them scream…but they never came out. The fire, however, did…and forced you to the protection of your room.”

A long paused was filled by the slight audible sound of Cassandra rubbing the point of the letter opener against her fingernails. “I didn’t know they died until after you brought me here–”

“–And you knew you couldn’t tell anyone. Especially me…because you didn’t want me to be afraid.”

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. She looked sad for a moment, like she was expecting some kind of penalty. After all, she had spent the entire time she’d known Bruce lying to him, even though he offered her a home and a large part in the Bat-family.

“I know your real last name, Cassandra.” Bruce picked up a green folder which had been lying in a bin on the desk the entire time. “It’s on the former title to the house. This is the only remaining copy after the bank took possession of it.”

Cassandra cringed as she watched Bruce open the folder slowly and glance inside. She had a look of panic on her face for a moment as he looked directly at her…and then Bruce quickly shoved the entire folder into a shredder positioned next to his desk. A loud grinding sound, and a flutter of paper chips was all the noise that the infamous folder had created. She felt grateful for what he had done…but she wondered why.

“A man named Jim Gordon discovered Batman’s identity once,” Bruce began to explain calmly, smiling in an almost amused manner at the expression Cassandra gave him, “He almost used it to bring me down. But then he decided against it. He invited me to his office, and shredded the file before my eyes. He gave me the freedom to start over…and I’ve given you the same.”

She shook her head slightly, seeming calmer now. “Why are you doing this?”

Bruce simply smiled and turned to leave the office, heading toward the door quickly. He paused for a moment just before he cleared the doorway. “I believe you have a meeting with Shiva. Don’t be late.”


#16 – Running In The Dark, Part 2

The sounds of cursing filled a suburban street as Detective Williamson stood outside the former home of a young girl they knew only as Cassandra. They had returned to the burned-out shell of a building to seek evidence…a specific kind of evidence.

He came, with his partner, to try and decide whether the window of the girl’s bedroom had been blown out by fire, or if it had been shattered – either by the girl herself, or by someone on the outside. Williamson’s theory was the latter on both counts.

But by the time they had arrived, they almost immediately realized that the crime scene had been tampered with since their last visit. The cursing only started after he realized that the car which just drove past them with the brights on most likely contained those who did the tampering.

“Fred, are you sure you didn’t get anything on the car?”

Detective Callahan shook his head as he held a cell phone next to his head. His current task was to call a supervisor and re-secure the crime scene. He and his partner would have to wait for a uniformed officer to arrive to guard the scene.

Williamson sighed and kicked some debris on the sidewalk outside the house. “Someone’s playing games with us, dammit.”


Tim knocked on the half-open door to Cassandra’s room, peeking inside when he heard no answer. He immediately discovered why – she was wearing a set of expensive earphones taken from Bruce’s study, using them to play a console video game without making any noise. He approached her slowly, tapping her on the shoulder once he was right behind.

Cassandra turned around abruptly, tapping ‘pause’ on the joystick in her hand before sliding the earphones around her neck. She didn’t say a word -she simply stared at Tim, waiting for him to explain his interruption.

“Bruce wants to talk to you, Cassandra. He sent me to find you.”

She sighed and rose to her feet slowly, carefully placing the joystick and earphones on the floor, almost turning toward the door before realizing that she was wearing only socks on her feet. She glanced around looking for her black sneakers – Tim was holding them, dangling them by their laces as if to taunt her with them.

As she took the sneakers by the laces, she smiled at Tim, thanking him silently as she quickly put the shoes on and headed toward the Bat Cave. Her detective skills were improving – she figured that the surprise Tim registered at seeing her with Bruce’s expensive earphones meant that Bruce wasn’t in his office. He would have noticed them missing.

Doing her best to move silently, she entered the Bat Cave via a back stairway, to make sure she wouldn’t have to open any doors. She snuck up behind Bruce as he worked on his computer and took notes. He didn’t even flinch or react as she approached and sat in a rotating office chair next to him – yet she was sure that he had already noticed her enter as soon as she stepped off of the staircase.

“You’re planning to go out alone again tonight, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” she replied in a calm voice. Cassandra leaned back in her chair, sliding her feet underneath her. She didn’t feel the least bit intimidated by Bruce, especially since his question had been posed without any implication of superiority. It seemed to be just…a question.

Bruce looked up from his work for a moment and looked at Cassandra before reaching for a piece of paper he had left on one corner of the counter in front of him. He handed it to Cassandra, and leaned back in his chair as well. “That’s everything the cops know about you. Lucky for us, they have a habit of storing everything in reports.”

Cassandra looked at the piece of paper for a moment, reading through the dry information on it quickly. The one thing she immediately realized was that Bruce had been over-reacting. The entire report consisted of knowing her first name, and the address of her childhood home, as well as a couple of accounts from neighbors.

“That’s not all there is,” Bruce interjected as Cassandra tossed the paper back onto the counter, “They suspect that Batman rescued you from the fire. After that, they have no idea where you’ve gone. Problem is…they also have pictures of you. Sooner or later, they’ll spot you, and then trace you here.”

“So what?” Cassandra shrugged and looked down.

“If they do that,” Bruce said patiently, “I’d become the target of the investigation. Yes, I could say I adopted you, but they’ll want to know how and where.”

Bruce paused for a moment, waiting for some kind of response from Cassadra…but got none. “You’re wondering why I’m trying to help…aren’t you?”

She shrugged again.

“Would you believe that Alfred asked me to?” Bruce smiled and leaned back in his chair as he watched Cassandra look up, satisfied that he got her attention. “I’ve always trusted his opinion, Cassandra. And so far, he’s never been wrong.”

“You’re afraid.” Cassandra pushed against the counter, closing her eyes as the chair began spinning slowly. “Afraid of the spotlight, because of the secrets you keep.”

Bruce chuckled a little and smiled. “Maybe you understand me better than I thought. I try to keep a low profile, just in case. I want to seem as boring as possible, so no one will–”

“I have secrets, too.”

He stared as the chair holding Cassandra spun around twice more, her eyes closed, unsure of what to say at first. His mind filled with dozens of questions, as images of he and Robin rescuing Cassandra…and that fire…and the deaths of her parents…filled his head.

It seemed to him that she wanted to say something – but he didn’t want to push her, for fear that she would shy away. Bruce knew he would have to be patient…and let the answers come in their own time.

“Want to know what happened?”

Her eyes were open again, and she was smiling. Bruce’s mouth hung open as, for the second time now, he found himself unable to form any words.

Cassandra seemed amused by Bruce’s sudden silence. She smiled as she stopped the spinning chair and slid to her feet. Without a hint of dizziness, she headed back toward the stairway. “One day, Bruce.”


Batgirl knelt on the edge of the roof atop a familiar building, watching people walk by. It was only midnight, and a weekend – people hadn’t yet returned to their homes to sleep. Usually she wouldn’t go out until hours later…but this time, she had to catch someone who would have been gone by then – Catwoman.

Almost like clockwork, she could hear the almost imperceptible squeak of the door to the roof opening, and Catwoman’s thick-soled boots just barely crunching along the gravel covering the roof’s surface. It sounded louder than the last time – Batgirl was almost sure it was because Catwoman wanted her to know she was there.

“I found the info you asked for.” Catwoman knelt beside Batgirl, looking over the edge to see what was so hypnotizing down there. “The poor kid wasn’t in any gang. He was the target of an initiation. He was murdered so new members could prove how tough they are.”

Batgirl sighed quietly, never taking her eyes off of the streets below. She could hear the sadness in Catwoman’s voice, knowing that there was more…and that she wouldn’t like it.

“The parents didn’t answer the door, Batgirl. They didn’t on purpose.”

Her heart suddenly beating quickly, Batgirl’s eyes widened as she turned to face Catwoman. “Why?” she whispered.

Catwoman sat down on the edge of the roof, holding on to its edge with her hands. “Because in that neighborhood, Batgirl, you’re either in a gang or killed by one. The parents were in a gang…but the kid wasn’t. They simply thought he was being ‘jumped in’. Boy, were they surprised–”

She suddenly stopped as she noticed the cold stare from Batgirl. But it only lasted a few seconds before Batgirl returned to staring down at the street.

“Don’t take it personally, kid. If you do, you might as well hang up your leather and belt, and become a cop or something.” Catwoman rose to her feet quickly, and took a deep breath, holding her arms skyward. “Personally, I’d rather do this. The fresh, cool air, the excitement…and I really do look good in black.

Batgirl finally smiled for a moment as she slowly rose to her feet as well. She looked down at the street once more before turning toward Catwoman – who stood in front of her, leaning against a discarded storm window.

“Go ahead, toss it,” Catwoman invited, “It’ll make you feel better. Breaking things always makes me feel better.”

Still smiling, Batgirl walked past Catwoman and headed toward the stairway. She heard a loud crash as she entered the stairway, screaming people on the street, and Catwoman laughing. Batgirl knew that Batman, at that point, would have returned to the roof to debate public safety…but she was no Batman.


It only took an instant for anyone passing through the neighborhood to spot the point where a kid was killed by a gang, right in front of his home. While the crime scene tape was long gone – Gotham City Police didn’t like to stay in that neighborhood any longer than they had to – neighbors and relatives had left an array of now dried-up flowers on the doorstep.

Batgirl watched from the second floor of a small abandoned apartment building across the street. She hated having to hide there – it smelled sickening, and she could hear rats and bugs running rampant in the place – but hiding atop the angled roof on a two-story building would have been too obvious.

She stared for the longest time at the door across the street, her mind drawing images of a teenager frantically trying to open the door as others crowded around him, and began hitting him with baseball bats and sticks. What her imagination saw sickened her, and made her angry.

Suddenly torn away from her thoughts, Batgirl sensed movement in the room with her. She froze, and slowly turned, backing up against the window which was now behind her. She saw glint of steel for a moment, and some fabric – but she thought only that it made a good reference point to keep an eye on the other person.

Everything after that happened in a flash. A glint of steel swept past Batgirl’s head – she ducked barely out of the way. She swung wildly with her arm, hoping to hit someone…and did. She could hear a knife being drawn, and she swung a foot at random trying to hit someone – this time she missed. It was time to bail…she turned and tried to dive out the window…

…but she was too late. Her head slammed into the window frame, and she could feel the cold steel blade against her neck. She closed her eyes, expecting to feel the blade slide through her costume and skin. Batgirl waited for the moment pain, the drained feeling…and then the darkness.

“Don’t know, do you?”

Batgirl opened her eyes slowly, turning to face her assailant as she felt the knife move away from her neck. It was a woman with short, dark hair, only slightly taller than herself, wearing a red robe which resembled something out of a martial arts movie over what seemed like a simple black jump suit. She vaguely recognized her.

“You don’t know why I’m here.”

The woman stepped closer to the window, finally allowing the light from the street outside to illuminate her. She seemed to smile as Batgirl’s stared at her – she remembered the woman from Batman’s files. No…her picture wasn’t in her files. It was a wanted poster Bruce had hung next to his desk, which he gave a wary glance every time he approached his desk. The one person who, if he knew was in Gotham, would upset him greatly just on principle – Shiva.

Shiva slipped the knife back into a sheath on her belt, and walked closer to Batgirl, grabbing her chin tightly as she gripped the top of the mask with her other hand, yanking it off with one smooth motion.

Seeming satisfied with herself, she took a step back, enjoying the look of shock on Batgirl’s face. “That’s different. I didn’t expect you to look so…warm. So…innocent. I expected something cold, heartless…like Batman.”

Batgirl reached for her mask with one hand, snatching it just as she spun around quickly and slammed the back of her left leg against the side of Shiva’s head. But just as she finished her spin kick, she found her leg held fast under Shiva’s surprisingly strong arm. Her back slammed onto the floor as Shiva pushed her down with very little effort, holding on to her leg for leverage.

“What’s your name? Your real name?”

Cassandra stared up from the floor for what seemed like an eternity, trying her best to be uncooperative. But Shiva seemed infinitely patient – she just stared back, holding that leg with little effort, pinning Cassandra to the floor. Cassandra was at a disadvantage, being in such a painful position.

“Cassandra,” she whispered softly.

“Good. Now, Cassandra…Are you going to be a good girl if I let you go?”

A quick but painful nod from Cassandra led to her leg being let go slowly. She sat up and began massaging the twisted muscles and tendons in her leg and knee as she watched Shiva kneel down beside her.

“I will be honest with you,” Shiva said as she leaned close to Cassandra and tapped her knife, “I was hired to kill you. But…I don’t like to kill innocents. I want my target to know exactly what is happening and why. I don’t believe you know.”

Cassandra paused for a minute and stared at the smiling Shiva. This woman, a seasoned assassin, wanted to spare her? “Who wants to–”

“–kill you?” Shiva laughed. “I’m sure you know I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that it is someone I do not trust. Someone who’s motives I question.”

With a painful sigh, Cassandra propped her back against a wooden box left on the floor and continued massaging her leg. She didn’t respond even as Shiva stared at her again – but she began to get the impression that Shiva found her to be pitiful somehow.

“However, Cassandra, I also cannot just let you walk away. So I’m going to give you a chance to prove yourself worthy of being spared. Would you accept such a challenge?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Cassandra nodded slowly.

“You must spare the life of someone who you consider evil beyond redemption. You must control your anger. When you are able to show that restraint…you will earn my respect. Then I will protect you.”

Cassandra stood frozen, feeling confused, as she watched Shiva walk toward the stairway and disappear into the darkness. She emptied her lungs in a sigh as soon as she heard the soft footsteps disappear.

She quickly glanced out the window, across the street at the collection of flowers on the doorstep of that home again. Trying to focus on the task of watching the neighborhood proved more difficult now – her mind was swimming with questions about Shiva, and what she meant by ‘someone you consider evil beyond redemption’. Gotham City was a strange place…and Cassandra was sure that she had encountered one of its strangest inhabitants.

It was time to go home and call it a night. By this point, even the most predictable sounds of Gotham were starting to make Cassandra feel uneasy. She didn’t fear Shiva’s return…rather she dreaded it as yet another interruption in her evening. Unfortunately, it seemed that just one visit was already enough to ruin Cassandra’s night watch.


Batgirl walked into the Bat Cave, in search of silence. It was dark in the large high-ceiling room carved into solid rock – and it was still early enough in the evening that she was convinced that Batman was still out patrolling Gotham City. It felt good not to be tied to him, to make her own schedule.

She pulled her mask off and headed silently to Bruce’s computer. That’s when she froze suddenly. The screen was glowing faintly, spreading a blue-green glow across the room. That meant someone was using it.

“You’ve met Shiva.”

Cassandra frowned, but didn’t bother to turn around at the sound of Bruce’s voice. Instead, she grabbed a rolling chair and sat down quickly, folding her legs beneath her. She felt a little annoyed that Bruce was still playing stealth games with her – by this point, it happened so often that he wouldn’t even give her the usual commentary about being ‘too loud’ or ‘too obvious’. She already had guessed it by that point.

Bruce walked around her slowly, sitting down in the chair across from her. He looked at the computer screen for a moment. “That’s how you knew I was here, wasn’t it?”

She nodded and smiled. “She was hired to kill me.”

“I know. I also know what else you’ve been up to.” Bruce didn’t seem the least bit surprised. He didn’t even blink at the news. Taking advantage of the lull in the conversation, Bruce stood quickly and headed to a table across the room. He grabbed an envelope and handed it to Cassandra. “Don’t open it. Give it to Catwoman next time you see her.”

“What is it?” Cassandra looked up at Bruce as he approached again and sat down. She took the envelope, folded it in half, and placed it behind the collar of her costume.

“Legal papers. She made me a promise, and kept it. This is what I promised her in return.”

Cassandra nodded and slid out of the chair, heading toward the stairway quickly. She paused after ascending partway up, and turned to look at Bruce. He had resumed working at his terminal, no doubt doing more research that he would use tomorrow night.

As she walked down the hallway toward her room, she noticed light peering out from under her door. She slowed down, moving silently – she didn’t remember leaving the light on. After her last encounter with Shiva, she was feeling a little paranoid.

Opening the door slowly, silently, revealed that it was just Tim, sitting at the table in her room, waiting for her to return. He didn’t look up even as she entered and threw her mask onto the bed and stood over to him, arms folded.

“Wonder why Bruce is working so hard to be nice to you?”

Cassandra leaned closer to Tim, looking down at him. She did want to know…but she was so grateful for Bruce’s sudden, unexplained cooperative attitude that she didn’t want to sour it by asking too many questions. Besides, she had to learn to trust him at some point.

“It’s because he’s afraid of losing you.” Tim leaned back and turned his head around to face her. “Barbara and I had a talk with him that night you left on your own. He was afraid you weren’t coming back. He’s afraid that if you do, he may end up having to fight you one day.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she smiled at Tim. She sat down across from him at the table, noting the worried look in his eyes.

“I was afraid you’d left, too.”

Cassandra took Tim’s hand in her still gloved one, and squeezed it gently as she looked directly at him. “I can’t leave. Who’d look after you?”

Tim laughed quietly. “I believe that’s the longest sentence I’ve heard from you all week.”

Cassandra smiled again and placed her index finger across her lips. She stood quickly and grabbed some clothing left in a pile atop a dresser and headed toward the bathroom.

“Hey–” Tim interrupted as he stood and headed toward the doorway, “Are you letting your hair grow longer? Bruce won’t like that.”

She could hear Tim leaving the room as she shook her head, and closed the bathroom door. She had to change quickly and get some sleep…something she’d been lacking much too long. There was a certain peace she felt now, an overwhelming calm which came from the satisfaction of finally holding her own.


“We got it!” Detective Williamson slammed a crumpled piece of paper on his partner’s desk. “We know where the girl is now.”

Detective Callahan raised an eyebrow and looked at the piece of paper carefully before frowning, and looking at his partner as if her were insane. “Wayne manor? Are you kidding me? Where did you get this?”

“One of our officers spotted a girl with her description in a shop in one of Gotham’s suburbs this morning. He followed her to her car – it was registered to Bruce Wayne at this address.”

“And?” Callahan shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “Maybe he’s looking after her. Maybe he adopted her. He’s done it before, you know.”

“I talked to the butler of one of Mr. Wayne’s neighbors,” Williamson added, “He said he’s seen the girl around off and on, exploring the grounds.”

“So what do we do? Knock on the door and ask for the teenage girl of the house?” Callahan paused for a second, before he stood quickly and grabbed his jacket, motioning for Williamson to follow as he headed toward the exit. “On second thought, that’s not a bad idea.”

“Wait…Fred!” Williamson raced ahead of him, blocking his way. “What are we gonna do, arrest her?”

“Only if we don’t shoot her first,” Callahan joked. “What was her name again?”



Hearing her name faintly through the earphones she wore – expensive ones she had stolen the day before from Bruce’s office – Cassandra turned quickly to face the door, unconsciously tapping the ‘pause’ button on her video game system. Tim was standing in the doorway with Alfred behind him.

She looked at the window quickly, worried that she’d been playing so long that it was already dark outside. But the sun streamed in – it wasn’t even dusk yet.

“Alfred says two police detectives were here earlier,” Tim said, looking dead serious as he sat down on the carpeted floor next to Cassandra. “Callahan and Williamson. They were asking about you.”

“Me?” Cassandra looked at Alfred. He seemed serious, as well as a little nervous – yet he kept up an almost blank expression at all times.

“They asked for you by name, Cassandra,” Alfred added.

“We need to talk.” Tim gently took the earphones off of Cassandra’s head and gently put them on the carpet in front of her. She bowed her head slightly as he did. She was starting to feel afraid…that everything she’d known over the last year or so would soon vanish from around her.

Cassandra watched Alfred left the room quickly, leaving the door open as he went. Tim was still staring at her…waiting for her to say something? “I…don’t understand.”

“Bruce doesn’t know yet…but he will,” Tim said, “I asked Alfred not to tell him right away, but he will find out eventually. He always does. And then–”

“What?” Cassandra sat up suddenly when she noticed Tim biting his lip firmly. “What will he do?”

“Think, Cassandra. Nothing means more to him than protecting his secret identity. If it even has a hint of being compromised…”

She suddenly stood and straightened her jeans and black shirt quickly, heading out into the hallway without a moment’s hesitation. She didn’t care that Tim had followed. “I’ll talk to them.”

“What if they want to arrest you?”

Cassandra shrugged. She knew that she had nothing to lose. There was no saving herself – it was simply a matter of whether she would become a victim or a willing participant. At least with the latter, she had a fighting chance, and might come out of this without a scratch.


She stopped walking for a moment to turn and face Tim, giving him a questioning look.

“I’d like to come too. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

At first, Cassandra just stared at Tim, making it clear that he was completely nuts. But after a few seconds, his eager smile finally made her chuckle…and she waved him to follow her.

It took her a half hour to drive into town and find the Gotham Police Department. It was much more difficult to find downtown buildings from ground level during the daytime, considering that most of the time she would be looking for night time landmark cues such as lighting – which didn’t exist during the day.

She parked right in front of the police station and stepped out of the car, heading quickly to the door. Tim raced in behind her, only catching up after she had reached the front desk.

“Detective Callahan?” Cassandra asked the man behind the desk. He pointed toward a glass door on the left labeled ‘Arson/Homicide’. She walked through it quickly, practically throwing the door open as she headed toward a cluster of desks in the center of the room.

At first, Tim didn’t understand how she knew which Detectives were Callahan and Williamson. But a second or two of thought, and he realized that it was obviously the only two people to look up, and then stare, as they recognized Cassandra and watched her approach.

“Looking for me?” she said, confidently. Williamson and Callahan looked at each other for a moment before staring at Cassandra again.

Callahan seemed the more confident of the two. He finally leaned back in his chair and smiled, before asking, “And you are?”

“Cassandra.” she folded her arms and started across the desk at Detective Callahan, just daring him or his partner to move. But the two of them just stared.

“How about your last name, kid?” Callahan asked, his voice becoming slightly more ominous.

Cassandra closed her eyes for a moment. She knew what her last name was…but it was a part of her life that she wanted to leave behind her forever. It represented the part of her life where was a victim, cowering in darkness. Since that fateful fiery night, she knew she was stronger, strong enough to stand up for herself any anyone else who needed her help. She knew that she would have to leave that name behind her forever.

But she had to tell the two detectives something. They wouldn’t believe that she had abandoned her last name. Cassandra began searching her memory, deciding ultimately to say the first name which came to mind. She almost laughed at the first image…Dick Grayson leaning over the kitchen table, yelling at her about his motorcycle. Grayson…why not? She already stole his bike, why not his name as well?

“Grayson,” she said out loud as she opened her eyes. It was spoken – too late to change her mind now. The two Detectives looked at each other, confused – Cassandra decided to take advantage of that, turning around and heading toward the door.

She could peripherally see the two standing and heading toward her as she passed through the doorway, closing the door behind her. She motioned for Tim to follow once she reached the lobby…and slipped out of the front door in an instant with Tim close behind.

“Classic misdirection. Bruce would be proud,” Tim said as he climbed quickly into the passenger seat. Cassandra didn’t answer as she started the car and drove away quickly, nearly skidding out of the exit across the damp pavement.

In the rear view mirror, Cassandra saw exactly what she expected. The two detectives raced out of the police station, and tore out of the parking lot after them, followed by two police cars.

“Uh-oh. Cassandra, we got cops–”

“I know, I know!” she impatiently barked at Tim as she took another hard turn, the engine of the car roaring as the front wheels spun wildly, seeking tracking on the slippery surface.

Tim began screaming as the car began a high-speed run down a concrete ramp, out of view of the police, and blasted into a tunnel. She zipped past a sign that said something about ‘no entry’, and ‘under construction’.

“Slow down! You’re gonna get us both killed!”

Cassandra ignored him as she sped down the empty concrete tunnel. She was concentrating on a light she spotted just ahead on the left side – she knew that it could be an exit much like the one she had just entered through.

Unfortunately, the exit wasn’t nearly as wide as the entrance. Tim buried his head and began screaming again as the car clipped a small bulldozer blocking part of the exit, causing the passenger side mirror to shatter and tear away. The car then crashed through a wooden barrier…and more screaming as all four tires left the ground, sending the car through the air…

…and landed hard. Cassandra turned hard again, missing cars parked along the street by only inches, and accelerated. She almost laughed as Tim mumbled an ‘ow’ as his head hit the dashboard.

He began to sit up slowly as the car left the city limits, still tearing down the streets at deadly speeds. At that rate, it was only a matter of minutes before they had returned to Wayne Manor.

Tim didn’t go directly inside after crawling out of the passenger side of the car. He stared at the torn passenger side and front corner of the car. “Oh, God…Bruce is going to kill both of us.”

Cassandra laughed and took his hand gently, leading him into the house. He almost stumbled – he was still shaking from his terrifying ordeal in the car.

“Where did you learn to drive like that, Cassandra?” Tim finally asked, once he calmed down enough to speak clearly.

She shrugged as she headed into the kitchen and dig in the refrigerator for some kind of snack. It was obvious that Tim was annoyed with her lack of response…but she didn’t really have a good answer to give him. Her driving was zero skill, all instinct. Keeping herself and Tim alive and away from the cops was the only thing she had in mind.

“Hey, Cassandra?”

Cassandra closed the refrigerator and turned around to lean against it, holding two green apples in her hand. Tim was smiling now – he didn’t seem as upset as she though he was. That was good – it meant that he was getting used to her tendency to handle stressful situations so calmly.

“As I was saying earlier…Bruce may not like that you’ve grown your hair longer,” he said, “But I do. It looks nice.”

She laughed and tossed Tim an apple as she headed back toward her room. “Thanks. I like it too.”


In the dim evening light just past sunset, Cassandra walked through the grounds of Wayne Manor, the dry grass crunching softly beneath her sneakers. She was headed to a spot where she visited late at night a short time ago.

Once she reached a point where she could see the wall surrounding the Manor, she looked up at the grove of trees next to her and switched on a small flashlight she had carried outside with her. Right in front of her was a small patch of earth that had been turned over…and beneath it lied a most valuable treasure.

She kneeled down and examined the surface of the ground carefully. Two small green buds poked through the dark ground, desperately reaching toward the sky. She smiled to herself…it was alive.

Cassandra looked skyward as a flash of light from all around attracted her attention. A cool, refreshing wind blew through her hair, and rustled through the trees. She could smell moisture in the air…a storm was coming. It would bring life-giving water and nutrients to her roses, and wash the city clean. And it would make her outing that night just a little more calm – criminals didn’t like going out in the rain.

As the first raindrops began to fall few and far between, she took a deep breath. It was nature’s renewal…just as she was trying to do for herself. She only hoped that it was all a sign. That some day, just like the roses she had planted, she would grow into something that could be appreciated.

She headed back toward the house slowly, allowing the sudden downpour of rain to douse her until she was soaked through. She had to get used to it – after all, a little later she would be going out in her leather costume and boots. It gave considerably more protection from rain than the cotton jeans and shirt she wore at the moment – but she could still feel the cool rain pounding against her skin, even with leather protecting her from being soaked.

As Batgirl, rain wasn’t something to be feared, or to hide from. It was refreshing and hypnotic. It was something to enjoy, because it cleansed all kinds of filth from the streets. It restored a different kind of life to a dying city…a kind called peace and quiet, where for a few moments, people didn’t have to be afraid of what was outside their doors.

It was nature’s version of what she and Batman tried to do each night. Only nature was a lot better at it – much more widespread and persistent. If only it could rain every night.