Ultimate Spoilers #8: Like Clockwork Apr 26, 2012 0:50:06 GMT -5
Post by The Wonderful Wachter on Apr 26, 2012 0:50:06 GMT -5
Ultimate Spoilers #8
Boys and Toys Pt 2
The weapons depot was every bit as familiar as the Justice Hall stateside. From the repetitive goings on to and fro to the standardized perimeter patrols, everything was as intelligence said it would be. Nothing had changed since they began their stakeout either. Still, the Flash did a runby for good measure to assure the rest of the team that the strike was a go. The depot was about to light up like the Fourth of July. A sea of green surrounded the facility. White lights flashed out across the swampland, searching to no avail. They had to know the team was out there, that they were coming, but they saw nothing.
”Sergeant Ticker, you in position?”
A dome head poked out of the mud. If not for the filth camouflaging, the metal of his skin would have reflected in the rising dawn. Yet, he blended in perfectly. Glowing red lights for eyes glared across the distance to the guardhouse. He raised his sealed rifle from its hiding place in the mud beside him. It was far larger than any normal man could wield. It possessed far more recoil than a man’s shoulder could hope to handle. But he was no normal man. He was a commando.
No. He was more than that.
He was Tony Ticker, the Clockwork Commando.
“Affirmative, Guardian,” he took aim with the oversized rifle, “Good to go.”
“Take, take, take!”
Viip! Viip! Viip! Three shots exploded out of the barrel. His mechanical brethren, creations of the evil Dr. Tock, were defenseless as the high caliber rounds tore through their heads before any alarm could be sounded. Slowly, methodically, he rose from the mud, taking aim and shot after shot with his rifle, laying out the pencil-neck androids with the precision only a robotic system with human ingenuity behind it like his own could appreciate.
The forms of Wildcat and the Flash broke out from their cover to the left of the base. Automated security tried to divide their attention between the three mystery men only to take more fire on the right flank as the Tigress and Guardian leapt fences and provided even more covering fire.
Clink! the small arms fire failed to phase the clockwork cyborg as it battered against his shell. In return, he treated them to the same. Every target fell. Precise. He readied a grenade to toss the distance, throwing a jeep hood over tires with the resulting explosion as a shadow shrouded him from above.
Starman, gravity rod held confidently in his hand, dropped Hourman directly in the ranks of the assembling robots. Preparing for the next round of attacks, Ticker dropped the rifle and raised his arms. His teammate soared back to pick him up. Though he couldn’t feel the wind against his skin, Ticker imagined it… Recalled the times he felt the breeze blow his hair across his face. Nevertheless, before he knew it, Starman released him in the main factory.
The Clockwork Commando crashed through the roof of the hastily assembled factory. His steel boots left an impressive crater. Just his kind of entrance.
There was a split second when the factory workers, prisoners in reality, stared at him more terrified than had he been the likes of Jay or some other member of the Justice Society before a voice rang out from a walkway above. It disappointed him that he had grown accustomed to such a reaction. But he couldn’t give it much of his processing power. He had a duty to carry out.
“Ah, de vavward son has veturned!” Dr. Tock cackled from his perch. Every bit the mad scientist Ticker remembered, the dastardly villain wore a white labcoat pulled close. His signature, a gear-shaped monocle, glistened evilly in the light of the fires outside. The same was said of his bald cranium. “I should have destroyed you vhen I killed my brother!” Tock raised a hand made of the same machinery as the commando to point at Ticker. “KILL HIM! KILL HIM NOW!”
The pencil-necked robots pushed their way through the crowd of fleeing workers. These ones were bigger, their shells gleaming. They wouldn’t rely on guns to take him down. Not when they could use brute force.
If he could have rolled his eyes, Ticker probably would have. Instead, he pointed his left arm at the mad, mad doctor and braced himself. His hand flipped backwards to reveal a rocket launcher upgrade that his creator knew nothing about.
The resulting explosion was worth dying for. The walkway crashed down on the robots with all the flames of a pyromaniac’s dream. A hand shot out from the fire to land at his feet. A clockwork hand. Just like him.
“Ted, I have your souvenir.”
The Clockwork Commando twisted his metal jaws in a smile. Today was a good—
“Wait a second, since when did they start using the original Starman’s real name?” Stephanie glanced up from the comic panel to glare across the room at Marvin. They were supposed to be studying – well, she was supposed to be to make up for all the days she missed – yet he was at his computer, playing some MMORPG while she flipped lazily through a trade she had found on his bookshelf. Given her adventures with the JSA, she thought it’d be cool to read one of their comics. This one featured the best of All Star Comics.
Adjusting his bowtie, Marvin spun around in his computer chair to face her. His nerdy face had all the trappings of one who just couldn’t believe such a stupid question. “It’s re-release. Well, a third reprint. They did one back when Jay Garrick made his public announcement changing his name from Max to Jay and when the Ted Knight memoir became a bestseller, they published this one with his actual civilian ID.”
“Oh… can they do that?”
“They did. And given the popularity of Brave and the Bold combined with the reformation of the Justice Society, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start printing a Brand New All Stars using all their real names.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
The hipster shrugged his shoulders and spun back to finish his dungeon diving. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that green-skinned woman show up.”
I’m sure that’d make Jade happy, muttered Stephanie’s inner Gordon. She flopped back on the blue comforter covering Marvin’s bed, bored out of her mind. Still not fully healed, she found herself restricted to monitor duty and homework. Never before had she done so much homework. Gordon even had her doing papers and lessons that the rest of the class hadn’t been given yet so that she would never get behind again.
Stephanie raised her butt off the mattress a bit to slide her phone out of her pocket. Almost from memory, she brought up the name she was looking for and her fingers flew across the screen as she typed up a message. No thought was needed. Auto correct was her friend.
“You know, it’s rude to text while you’re with company,” said Marvin out of the corner of his mouth without ever looking up.
“Says the boy playing video games while a sexy blond is on his bed wearing tight hip-huggers.”
Blood rushed up Marvin’s neck to his cheeks. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in his room. Had been coming up there and jumping on the bed for years now. Used to even spend the night back when Wendy still lived with them. Not much had changed since her first days of scruffed knees and pigtails. He had slightly more comics and books on his shelves. And now instead of geeky posters of games on his wall, there was a spread of Batwoman and indie bands. But at its heart, it was the same.
Just as their friendship was the same despite puberty. His mother, his sister, and Stephanie all knew that. Only Marvin had other ideas that he’d never act on.
He started to stumble over a retort when sound erupted from phone in her hand.
“ ♫♪♪♫ I ain’t happy. I’m feelin’ glad. I got sunshine in a- ♫♪♪♫“
“Hey, Jason!” she answered cheerfully, noticing Marvin’s face twist into a scowl out of her peripheral vision. “I was just texting you about to-.”
“Yeah, about that. I have to take a raincheck on our date. I have a priority delivery I need to make tonight so I won’t make it in time to pick you up and make it to the Lounge,” his voice sounded out of breath as if he had been running, which wasn’t all to unusual given his hobbies, but she thought she could detect a pinch if pain in his tone.
“Again?” she exclaimed in disbelief. “This is the thi—“
”You’re the one who canceled last time when you mysteriously vanished and your mother nearly called the cops on me, thinking I kidnapped you.”
“What if I get a ride to Gotham? Can you make it then?” pleading eyes sought out Marvin’s who shamefacedly looked away.
”Sorry, I just can’t make it and I don’t want you in Gotham alone. Especially not with that tiny geeky friend of yours.”
Stephanie clenched her jaw. The pair had made their dislike for one another apparent over the past month but only Jason resorted to insults against Marvin. They weren’t in a relationship, at least not a real one until she turned sixteen in a few weeks, but he already acted possessive and overprotective of her. Sometimes he could be such a big wet blanket. . . At others, it was more exhilarating to be in his presence than it was to leap off a roof and feel the zipline swing her to the next building. Like having invites to a private concert by Cassidy at the Iceberg Lounge.
“Whatever, I’ll talk to you later.” Without waiting for a response, she pressed end and jumped to her feet.
“Wait, you’re leaving?” Marvin asked when she was almost to the door.
“Yeah, see you on Monday.”
“Why Monday? You know, we could always go to the movies tonight. Or maybe we can go out to the pier tomorrow…”
She offered him an apologetic smile. “I’m going to that ceremony for the fallen soldier in the morning. Can’t.”
“Oh… I could go with you.”
“Maybe I’ll see you there.”
Stephanie closed the door on Marvin’s heartbroken face, pointedly ignoring his puppy-dog eyes. Might as well head to Watchtower, she thought. If her Friday night was going to be ruined then she could always ruin Gordon’s in turn. Babs had been way less grumble-grumble since returning from Camelot. . . Bit unnerving.
Roland entered his brother’s laboratory with only the silent whisper of the door sliding shut behind him announcing his arrival. The sanitary environment, the clean white surfaces gleaming, was becoming every bit as familiar to him in the recent months as the sitting room where he carried out the other family business. There were no clinks of glass dishes being moved about, no ummp or the vacuum vuusshh of freezers opening and closing. It was deathly quiet. At ease though still a tad wary, his eyes scanned the inorganic and organic objects locked behind chilled glass or inside a green, putrid-looking liquid. Mark worked alone. Truthfully, he worked best alone. It was for that reason Roland had fired all the staff for this high priority project.
Well, that and he didn’t trust them. They simply weren’t family.
“Mark?” he called out softly.
A hand waved out from behind one of the ceiling high capsules holding the mutated form of a dog with eight legs and muscles on the outside.
Frowning, Roland’s clipped footsteps echoed about the empty lab. He came around the far side of the cylinder to come face to face with a pair of geniuses. One was middle-aged, a tad round near his waist, with brown hair receding into a widow’s peak just like Roland’s own. He sat crosslegged, coattails fanning out behind him, across from a tiny boy that was his opposite in everything. Asian, a faux-hawk greasing up his hair, and just entering the early stages of puberty… he shouldn’t have been there.
“What’s going on?” demanded Roland in his softest voice. “Hiro, you have your own lab.”
“I know, I know. Just let me finish playing. I almost own all of LexCorp.” Hiro Okamura the Boy Genius of Tokyo exclaimed excitedly. He spoke so quickly Roland almost had trouble following over the accent. Almost. “Soon I shall rule all of Metropolis and the WORLD!”
Mark glared at the game-board, a set of six-sided dice and a twenty sided rolling around in his palm. His brow was furrowed in concentration. As if thinking about it could bring about his desired results. The tension around his eyes. The sweaty cheeks. Roland recognized the warning signs well. But then he noticed the game board in particular and realized he didn’t recognize a thing. At first glance, it seemed like a version of Monopoly except with a base of two boards combined at the tip of a corner. Yet that was only the first tier. Above that was a standard-sized board and above that was a half-size. Some squares seemed quite common – hotels, power company, that sort of thing – but then he noticed squares like “Intergang” complete with a hologram of guys in suits and another with a purple, skinless looking parasite of a creature. He couldn’t hazard a guess on how it could possibly be played.
“What is this?”
“Super Metropolis 3D,” his brother answered dryly. “Said he made it in an hour. I personally don’t believe him.”
“Hey, just because you’re as slow as a snail in your work, it doesn’t mean I am.”
The two scientists, more than a generation apart, met each others’ eyes and sparks flew. And here Roland thought the two would get along.
The dice rolled to prove Mark was not slow. A five, a three, and twelve came up. Mark went to nudge his piece, a decent mini-approximation of himself, along when his brother reached out to grasp his wrist tightly. “You two should be working…” his voice was quiet. No yelling. Simply speaking to both like they were competent adults.
“I’m done,” Of course, Hiro wasn’t an adult. “Already finished up that robot for you and deployed him which by the way, I’m not cool with. But hey, if you’re going to have a personal cybernetic enforcer, you should at least make him an insane, killer robot. Not like that’s gone wrong. Ever.”
Roland released his brother and turned on the other scientist, “Boy, you had best—“
“Chill. I would never do that to one of my creations. Besides… I have a reputation to uphold. A poser in Metropolis tried to steal my designs. Gotta prove my creations are superior, which like it or not, an insane killer robot does… up till the point it turns on us that is.”
“Then you have other projects in the Cyber Initiative you should be working on. I don’t recall seeing an updated progress report on your utilization of the so called wind elemental and you’ve had that for months now.”
“If they can do it the seventies then I can do it in less than a day!”
“Why haven’t you then?”
Hiro leaped to his feet, knocking over the game board. His face was full of teenage, rebellious outrage with just a pinch of mad scientist rolled into it. “Fine! I will. Just you watch! And then I’ll turn it on you. We’ll see how you like that!”
“I’m sure you will. Just remember, I let you build whatever you want, however you want so long as you do my teensy, tiny requests. Something your government refused to do.”
“Yeah, but now I’m free and have something to sell,” he nodded in acceptance at the unspoken threat as he stormed off and the door hissed shot behind him. “You remember that, Desmond-san.”
“Cute kid,” muttered Mark, his eyes on the broken game. “I hate him.”
“Yes but for all intents and purposes, his research has proven more productive than your own, dear brother.”
A complete lie. What progress Mark had made on reverse engineering the miraclo formula discovered over a month ago was already bringing in a sizable amount of income throughout the Blüdhaven drug market. In fact, he had a lucrative deal with a few Brawlers’ players for his untraceable Buster knockoff. But his brother needed that push, much like young Hiro did. Never hurt to bruise the ego of a genius.
“I could make you a copy in less than a week,” Mark righted the board and went to work cleaning up the mess. “But you said not to.”
“That’s correct. Because I want better, for you to do better.” He patted his brother’s shoulder before stooping, his knees creaking, to help him. “Hourman is obsolete. As is his drug. For now, the time-limitation and addiction works in our favor. It keeps the customers coming back to our buyers. But it’s not going to put the Desmond family in the history books. For that, you need to perfect your Blockbuster formula.”
“I am trying but it is proving difficult to isolate the enzyme that causes it to metabolize so quickly without sacrificing the subject’s intelligence or causing increased rage and blood pressure. My analysis shows the original creator knew of this and it is probably the reason for the limit.”
“If you were then you wouldn’t be making excuses, now would you?”
“I suppose not.” Mark rose with the aid of his brother and brushed off his coat. “I’ll get back to work.”
“Oh, and Mark?”
Roland offered his brother a sad smile. He held out his hand with two round pills and one capsule shaped on it. “You forgot to take your medication.”
“I don’t want to…”
His brother’s body shook from his head to his toes with a sigh. His eyes focused first on the pills in the hand then on his brother’s features. He opened his mouth then closed it. He took a hesitating step forward before stopping to shake his head. “No. If you want me to make a breakthrough then you’ll just have to deal with me. The medication… the meds… It fills my head with a fog. I’ll never perfect my formula so long as you keep me drugged.”
“That’s the spirit,” Roland closed his fingers around the pills. “I’ll tell Mother not to expect you for dinner. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
A turn of his back was Mark’s only answer. He had already focused back on the matter at hand, intent on giving it all of his attention. And to ensure it – Roland pocketed the pills and bent over to pick up the board game – he’d remove any distractions. His gaze locked onto the topmost board and the LexCorp HQ square with a statue of Luther on it. Maybe this wasn’t such a waste… Seemed like an interesting game. If he could find a proper buyer…
Well, not like all his dealings had to be illegal. He smiled at that thought, whistling a tuneless tune to leave his brother alone on his way out.
The ceremony to honor Thomas Tinker surprisingly took place beneath a sky raining down bright sunshine. Truly a rare occasion in Blüdhaven, one worthy to be observed in of itself. A crowd of hundreds had gathered before St. Bernadine’s to hear the kind words of the mayor about a man he had never met, the soldier’s parents on either side of him, the mother on the verge of tears. It was borderline despicable.
The media and the mayor in turn, had turned Tinker’s death into a publicity stunt. To be expected, Gavin grunted to himself. It had all the makings of the perfect news story. Soldier returns from war in the Middle East and the trouble in Bialya. Soldier takes a walk through the old neighborhood to see what changed before returning home and receiving a hug from his mother. Soldier gets shot defending an old lady from the gangs. His mother never got her hug. His father never got to say goodbye. America and Blüdhaven had lost a special son that night. One who fought their war and died in their peace.
Disgraceful. Shamed Tinker’s memory to be used as material to blaze the trail for the mayoral campaign. But that was life. Gavin would have to deal with it.
He rubbed his hand over his eyes, surprised to find tears there. Quickly, he brushed them off and sniffled. He had been running himself ragged as Nightrunner. Every night, he went out and stayed until three, four in the morning. Then he’d get a couple hours of sleep, go to school, go back home and grab a power nap before starting the cycle all over again. His body was sore. He hurt all over. But it was worth it.
If only he could discover who was leaving the Latin Unified covered in lead. It wasn’t his father or his gang. Gavin was sure of that much based on how often he yelled at his Lieutenants. It turned eyes back on them.
“Did you know him?” the question from out of nowhere surprised the young man. He looked down to find a girl half a foot shorter than him with a purple clothe woven net covering the back of her head, letting only a few wavy strands of blond hair to snake out and frame a round face. She had on an oversized red hoodie that couldn’t be hers to fight off the cold. From experience, he assumed that to belong to a boyfriend, past or present.
“No… Not really”
“The why are you here?”
Taken aback by such forwardness, Gavin ignored her momentarily to think of a proper answer. The pair was some ways back from the podium and the speakers; even he had a hard time looking over the heads in front of him. He doubted she could see anything. A glance back down told him she was still waiting. A debate waged in his head on just walking away. He would have done that in the past. But to do so... He had to face the truth, no matter how hard it was.
“He sacrificed himself for me,” he allowed, his voice gruff with emotion. “But they left that bit out of the papers. My Dad squashed it.”
“Then I’d wager you knew him more than most.”
“How do you get that logic?”
She turned to try to get a glimpse at the church steps, pulling a stray strand of hair behind her ear and off her pale cheek. “He gave his life for you. That means you knew him in his final seconds and witnessed just the kind of man he was. A man that didn’t hesitate to throw himself in the path of a bullet to save a complete stranger. Not many get that level of intimacy. Fewer should want to.”
“I’m sorry, but who are you?”
“Stephanie,” she answered without preamble.
“Gavin King, I know. We go to the same school.”
“I’m sorry but I –“
“Don’t recognize me? I suppose you shouldn’t. You’re a senior. I’m a sophomore. We don’t walk in the same circles. Not that I have a circle. I’m uncool like that.” She interrupted again with a tone that suggested she didn’t care.
For some reason that infuriated Gavin. Who did she think she was, strolling up to him and badgering him with her rambling? She didn’t even have the decency to let him finish his introducing himself. Who taught her manners?
Gavin faced the church once more. The mayor was up there, still talking. Tall, handsome, and fit, he was the first political figure Gavin had known to have vibrant red hair. The mother was in her husband’s arms. The scene was suddenly more intense to him. He forgot all about his frustration over both the girl and the ceremony. He remembered holding Thomas as he died, how he never knew his name until hours later. That’s what this was all about. Remembrance over a man who gave his life so that Gavin could live, so that that lady could live without fear. He deserved it, fake or not.
As the ceremony drew to a close, he found the girl still at his side, hands buried in the pockets of her hoodie and breath fogging before her. She hadn’t moved. Instead, Stephanie looked up with crystal blue eyes. They were so clear. He lost himself for a second, staring into them. Clichéd or not, he did.
“I’m sorry, what?” He realized belatedly that she had been talking to him while he stared.
“I asked if you wanted to go for a drink or eat and talk.”
“You’re asking me out on a date at a ceremony to honor a dead soldier?”
Stephanie arched a brow at his missing of the point. “No. I want to know if you want to go for a drink and talk. You look like need it. I, however, am going to get something to eat. I’m hungry.”
“You’re an unusual girl.”
“I get that a lot. You coming?”
He glanced at the parents being escorted from the podium. At the Mayor vacating the stage now that the crowds were starting to leave. He didn’t have anything better to do. “Sure. I’m not paying though.”
“That’s fine. Looking is free.”
“I…uh…I didn’t mean that.”
“I know, you don’t need to be so serious.”
Stephanie led the way through the emptying crowd. Somehow she found her way naturally through the throng of people without pushing anyone out of her way of taking a step in different direction. She saw the openings between the people. Never had to pause to wait. Her movement was so fluid that Gavin found himself growing a tad jealous. She was such small tiny thing and moved with the confidence of someone twice her side.
She was a natural.
He wondered if she had any experience in parkour too.
They reached the sidewalk where Stephanie stopped and waved her hand at someone across the street. The figure waved back before jogging across to meet her. It was a guy, around the same height as Gavin but with a bit more mass. His shock of dark red hair was familiar. As was his scruffy cheeks and cocky bearing.
“Sorry I’m late, I had—“
“Yeah, yeah.” The blond waved off his excuses. “It’s okay I found a replacement. Not as good as you though. He won’t pay,” she laughed as Gavin felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment and touch of annoyance at feeling he had been led on. “Meet Gavin. Gavin, this is –“
“Jason,” intoned the young man gravely. “Him I know.” That he did. Jason was one of the couriers his father employed. Carried around payments and other packages of dubious nature. If Gavin ever wanted to bring his father down, he could always start with the messenger boy.
The new arrival glanced back and forth between the pair, his features twisted in a scowl. “So that’s your plan. Not sure if it’ll work.”
“Plan? What plan?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Stephanie pushed him along to get him walking again.
The trio moved on for a bit, heading for a cheap bistro a few blocks away that Jason knew of that served the perfect pasta combo. Stephanie went on and on about how great the pasta was. How the sauce was seasoned just right. How your hand could get tired twirling and twirling the amount of servings on your fork. Your stomach couldn’t possibly be big enough to handle it all without at least one belch.
It wasn’t doing much to ease the tension. Still, she kept on talking, letting them get a word in edgewise every so often so they could feel like they were contributing something worthwhile to the conversation. Gavin tried to keep track of what was being said. His opposite seemed to be doing the same except actually succeeding. Kept beating Gavin to the punch whenever it came to responses.
“Isn’t that your friend Cassandra over there?” Jason interrupted her before she could enlighten Gavin to her thoughts on the refounding of the Justice Society of America.
The other two glanced over at the end of a pier out into the Atlantic. A few couples were out on it doing, well, couple things, but Gavin followed the line of sight expanding out from Jason’s finger to a platinum haired guy around their age playing the guitar sitting on the edge with his feet swinging beneath him. Close to him was an Asian girl with a sketch pad. Gavin thought he recognized the girl but couldn’t be sure from the distance.
“Yeah,” Stephanie squinted and shielded her eyes from the sun to get a better look. “I think so. Why?”
“Who’s the Billy Idol wannabe with her?”
“Wow. Dated reference much?” Gavin had to ask.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” growled the other man.
“I don’t know. A new kid at our school. Their fathers know each other, I think,” mumbled Stephanie sounding non-too-confident. “Jerrod or Joshua. . . Something with a jay.”
“Maybe. Why so curious?”
“Stay away from him,” he ordered though he tried to play it off as a request. “He’s… not safe to be around.”
“Like another well-meaning-I-do-jobs-I-can’t-talk-about kind of guy?”
Jason sighed. “I knew you’d take that the wrong way. Let’s just get this over with.”
Once again, Gavin was left wondering what was left unsaid between the semi-couple – he had picked up that much during their walk. As the other two waited for the crosswalk to change, Gavin looked back at the pier and he was sure the Asian girl – Cassie, he assumed – spying on them. He continued looking until Stephanie called out his name. Muttering an apology, he dashed across the street before the light could change.
There was Bryan’s Bistro. The dingy Italian dive that Stephanie had bragged about. There was still fresh graffiti on the bricks outside. A tag that Gavin did not recognize. There was a thin, pretty blond waiting outside with her arms crossed and foot tapping. She glared at them, her eyes hawkish in nature.
Goosebumps traveled up the back of Gavin’s neck. He had a bad feeling about this.
“So that’s why you wanted to have lunch?” the girl said, her voice rising in anger. “To meet him?”
“What’s going on?”
“Gavin, meet Beth. She was Thomas’s girlfriend.”
He was speechless and felt the urge to flee.
“Hi…” He waved weakly.
Beth launched herself at him with her nails out like claws. Before he could react, Jason threw himself in front of Gavin to protect him. The crazed girl headbutted his jaw so hard that it echoed. Her fingers dug into his side and he gasped in pain yet somehow managed to grab hold of her. She tried to twist out of his grasp but he was much larger and seemed to be predicting her moves.
“Calm down!” Stephanie yelled. “You wanted a second—you wanted to know what happened that night, truthfully. Well, he was there. He knows. He can tell you and maybe that’ll help him too!”
“Is this going all according to your plan?” grunted Jason as Beth tried to smash his foot.
“Could have warned me!”
“Let me go! Let me go!”
Gavin was not completely opposed to that idea. Yes, he was trying to redeem himself as Nightrunner but here was someone who knew the soldier. Someone who could judge him… who had the right to punish him. Who were Jason and Stephanie to decide otherwise?
Yet the decision was decided for him before he could add in his two cents. A silver Rolls-Royce, the type of car that had no place in this neighborhood, passed them and started to parallel park four spaces ahead of them. Jason’s entire body locked up like a statue, tensing with some emotion Gavin could not read. Blood rushed from his face as the muscles in his neck pulsed to keep a tight hold on a kicking Beth. He released her in mid-jump, letting her drop on her butt to the concrete.
“Stephanie, I gotta go.” He spun to face the other blond. “I… I can’t be here.”
Gavin caught the older man looking at him out of the corner of his eye before he stepped up to Stephanie purposely. His body blocked the slight girl from most of Gavin’s sight. Nevertheless, he distinctly heard the sound of a kiss and a whisper just loud enough for him to hear.
“Sorry…I’ll tell you later.”
Jason took off around the corner of the Bistro. Three pairs of eyes watched him go then turned back to see a figure get out of the backseat of the car. It was a tall man with red hair. Handsome in the chiseled sense. A man they had just left not ten minutes ago.
“Nice to see the two of you together,” he held out his hand to be shook. “I’m Thomas Elliot.”
Neither Beth nor Gavin was in a rush to grasp that hand. Stephanie, however, stepped forward and eagerly shook it. “Kinda my doing.”
“Hmm. Stephanie Brown. I knew your father. Shame about what had happened to him.” There was just enough regret in his tone to be believable. “But I’m sure he’d be proud of what you’re doing today for your friends. Only fitting that they should meet. Private Tinker did give his all for them.”
“Come, come. I remember Bryan’s Bistro. Magnificent pasta. I’ll treat you kids to lunch and we’ll talk it out.”
What could Gavin say? It wasn’t often the Mayor of Blüdhaven invited you to have lunch with him.
”You’re kidding? She headbutted him?”
“Not at all,” Stephanie spoke into her mask’s mic, not letting her voice carry outside its confines. “I personally think he deserved it for flaking on me yesterday.”
“I don’t know about that. Beth’s so hard headed it was probably like running into a brick wall.”
It was Stephanie’s first night back on duty. The same day as her failed attempt to prove to Gordon that Beth should be let back on the squad. She relished in jumping from the roofs of the Haven despite that fact. It had been far too long since she got to see the city from on high. It was something else up here. Beautiful. One could never grow used to it because it was always changing.
There was no rushing across the city now though. She crouched in the remnants of a Latin Unified apartment. Early in the morning, Haven’s finest had been called to an incident of heavy gunfire, machine-gun fire from the sounds the neighbors reported, in the rundown complex. They had found a wall nearly chopped in half with a line of fire. Five corpses riddled with holes la dead on the ground.
”Grid 17. Closer look.”
Stephanie followed Charlie’s direction and crouched in the blood covered carpet. Her gloved fingers brushed through it, searching. A flash of metal reflected in the moonlight. Grinning beneath her mask, she picked it up, noting its thickness. “Same as the other crimescenes. Vics probably got off a few good shots. Explains those flattened slugs the cops found.”
“Running a light sensor analysis,” Charlie said excitedly, “Eighty-eight percent likelihood it’s the same as the metal fragments I found yesterday and the ones Cass found on Thursday.”
“Which proves nothing to us except they’ve all been killed by the same guy. My money’s on a robot.”
Over Charlie’s giggle, Stephanie felt her shackles rise in wariness. She knew it to be her body’s reaction to picking up something she hadn’t noticed yet. Stilling herself, she listened.
Stephanie spun, slinging a batarang at the helmeted figure trying to sneak up on her. Steel flashed in the night. Sparks flew as a knife blocked the projectile, sending it thudding into the wall. Standing, silhouetted in the moonlight was a man in a leather jacket and some sort of chest plate. He had on a gun belt yet the weapon remained undrawn. A knife was held in a reverse grip in his left hand. As she noted this, her eyes focused in on the head… on the red helmet. Almost like a biker’s yet not. It stared at her with the same eyes as the Spoiler’s mask.
“Ah, the infamous Spoiler,” a cocky voice chuckled. “Bout time we meet.”
Stephanie readied smoke pellets. “We already have.”
“So it was you who captured Cluemaster. Nice one.”
“You look different,” she said, keeping him talking so that Charlie could put out the alerts and slowly moving so that she had the open door to her back to duck behind.
“The same could be said of you.”
“Upgraded the operation.”
“So I can se—DOWN ON THE GROUND!”
The Red Hood drew his gun and dove across the room, already firing shots, in the same breath. Stephanie reacted instinctively to both the order and the action. She dropped and rolled then changed her grip to grab a pair of electrified batarangs. Just in time too.
A hail of gunfire destroyed the floor where she had just stood. The sheer sound of it vibrated her skull despite the noise dampeners built into her mask. Without thinking, she followed the piercing sound of metal hitting metal and threw the batarangs with all her force.
The telltale race of blue lightning told her she hit her mark. Still moving, Red Hood moved to flank the door, gun raised. Stephanie ducked behind an upturned table already littered with bullet holes and peaked above.
Glowing red eyes stared back at her from the darkness and the smoke of the gunfire. She heard the sound of servomotors tinking in movement. Light reflected back at her. What was this, the Terminator? She thought over the pounding of her heart.
A Gatling gun sprouting out of a mechanical forearm shot sparks from her attack; unable to fire yet still raised threatening as it entered the room. The Red Hood shot the being point blank from behind. A bad move considering it ricocheted back at him to graze his leg.
Stephanie’s jaw dropped behind her ghost-like mask. She recognized that figure. Probably most children who watched the cartoons and read the comics about the Justice Society growing up would. It was impossibly. Barbara said he was fictional.
Yet here he was.
A robot in military fatigues.
She was getting attacked by the Clockwork Commando.