Alfred Pennysworth watched the monitor and frowned. Miss Cain was treading on dangerous ground. The Cray was for Bat personnel and Bat personnel only. Setting aside his baking, Alfred decided it was time to end Cassandra's little investigation. What happened to Timothy was not going to be spread across the hero community. This was a family matter.
Unfortunately, someone else had other ideas. The clock leading to the cave wouldn't open. Gripping the edges, Alfred heaved, but to no avail. It he didn't know any better, he'd say that someone had superglued the edges. Scowling, he went to the alternate route in the study. As much as he disliked sliding down tubes, it seemed this was the only way. Taking a seat in Bruce's chair, he pulled the latch beneath the seat and braced himself for the sudden drop. To his profound annoyance, nothing happened. Pulling the latch again, he was met with the same result.
"Drat." he muttered, as childish laughter echoed in the hall. "Young sir! I must insist you cease these childish escapades!"
Surprised he received a response, Alfred quickly hurried to the hall. A dark head disappeared around the corner, and a moment later the clatter of pots and silverware could be heard. "Oh lord, not my kitchen." Though it was unseemly for a proper gentleman's gentleman to run, Alfred took off like a bat out of hell. His uncharacteristic behaviour must have taken the child by surprise, for the boy could do little more than give a squawk as a hand clamped around his waist, pulling him around. The pan the child was holding fell to the floor with a loud clang. "That is quite enough of that!"
Twisting the child around to face him, Alfred felt his breath catch. He was right, the child was a boy. No more than two or three. With a round face, blue eyes and black hair, he was the splitting image of Dick. A very young Master Dick. "Whatever are you doing here?"
The child simply stared, wide-eyed and trembling. After a moment, one pudgy hand pointed to the table. "Cookies." Smiling shyly, he rubbed his belly. "Yummy."
"You cannot have any." Alfred said sternly. The child's face fell and he felt himself relenting. "Until you clean up the mess you have made." He gestured to the pots and pans strewn across the floor. "This is not a play room. You cannot simply throw things wherever you like."
The child nodded bashfully, staring at bare feet. Alfred became acutely aware the child was not wearing a stitch of clothing. "Oh dear. You can't run around in your birthday suit, you'll catch a frightful cold." Picking up the unprotesting child, Alfred went in search of clothing. After much fussing, he found an old t-shirt of Dick's that, while too long for the little boy, would do until proper clothing could be had. Cassandra and Kon-el forgotten, Alfred concentrated on tending to his young guest.
Finding themselves back in the kitchen, Alfred set out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk before the child, who eagerly began dipping his cookie into the milk. Alfred smiled as he watched the child eat. The boy was so familiar. But not Dick. The boy was more reminiscent of... no, Alfred told himself, that was quiet impossible.
"What is your name, young sir?"
Face sticky with milk and cookie the child regarded Alfred carefully. "Toby," he said after a moments pause. "What's your name?"
"It's nice to meet you Alfred."
"The pleasure's mine, Master Toby."
"Okay." Pleasantries over, the child returned to his snack, tackling his second cookie with the same zeal he'd used to eat the first.
"Why are you here, Toby?"
"I'm quite certain you are mistaken, Toby. There are no children living in this house."
"I live here."
"Where are your parents?"
"Mommy up there." Alfred watched the child point to the ceiling. "I dunno where Daddy is. Maybe working. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. I live here."
"You cannot live here." Alfred explained patiently. "You need to live with your own family."
"You my family." Toby protested, face scrunching up. "My family. I'm your little boy."
"Toby, your family, I'm sure, is most concerned for your safety."
"Indeed." Rising, Alfred dialled Oracle. "Miss Barbara, would you please inform Master Bruce that I have found our mysterious young artist."
"He's there? Now?" Came the excited response. "Alfred, are you in danger? Do you need assistance?"
"Only in taking a photograph so we might find the young man's parents."
There was silence. "Ooohkay. Um, I'll tell Bruce to pick up my digital camera on the way home."
"Very good, Miss Gordon. Now if you will excuse me, I have a hungry little boy to attend to." Hanging up the receiver, he turned to see an empty spot where the child had been sitting. A quick search of the house proved fruitless. Toby was nowhere to be found. Scratching his head, Alfred wondered how he would explain this to Master Bruce.
"The police haven't even been there, yet Jack! I phoned eight times and still no one."
"Maybe they're busy with other things?" Jack Drake was kneeling next to his car, attempting to change the left slashed tire. "This is Gotham."
"So wealth can buy you immunity?"
Leaving the tire, Jack eyed his wife in amusement. "Yes, they can." A chuckle escaped his lips as Dana slapped her hip in annoyance. "But I doubt Bruce is involved in Tim's disappearance. He and his son are close to Tim." His features sobered. "Closer than I am."
"Jack, I was over there. I spoke to his butler, Alfredo."
"Alfred. Pass me that screwdriver, will you?"
"Alfred. I'm telling you, he's hiding something. His reaction when I brought up Tim... totally not that of an innocent man."
"Alfred Pennysworth wouldn't harm a fly." Jack winced as Dana slapped the screwdriver into his palm. "Ouch. Thanks dear."
"All I'm saying is that if the police won't do anything, we should."
"He's your son for heaven's sakes!" Dana yelled, slamming her fist against the mangled hood of the car. "You never saw the good in Timothy. Never saw the love in his eyes or the loyalty he had for you. You... you never saw him Jack. Ever. And now it might be too late." She paused to brush angrily at the tears threatening to spill. "You were given so many chances. Both of you... and you just wasted them, each and every time."
"Dana, I tried..." Rising Jack went to his wife. "I really did."
"No, you never did, Jack." Jack winced as she batted his arm away. "And you won't now."
"I'm doing everything I can."
"By blaming Timothy," She gestured at the wrecked car. "for this? Is that how you repay your son? He isn't a criminal Jack! He's a child. A child who at this very moment could by laying hurt and injured somewhere."
"And you think that somewhere is Wayne Manor."
It was spoken so quietly he almost missed it. Unbidden his eye travelled to the window of the garage. In the distance, Wayne Manor rose, cold and imposing. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes." Dana nodded. She dabbed at her tear stained cheeks. "They're hiding something. Tim's there, I know. All those nights I saw Tim coming from that house. Always slinking out of the trees. Sometimes he'd look so tired. God Jack, why didn't I tell you this sooner? What if, what if this is my fault? I knew he was going over there, but I never said anything."
"With good reason." Jack admitted, wiping his dirt stained hands on a rag. "My temper... never makes anything easy. I wish you had told me, but I understand why you didn't."
"I should have." Sniffing, Dana watched her husband reach for his coat. "What are you doing?"
"I think it's time we paid Bruce a visit." Jack was delighted when Dana took his hand. "Let's get our son back."
"What do you mean, he's gone?" Bruce Wayne stood in the kitchen of Wayne Manor, scowling at his sheepish butler. "How can you lose a toddler?"
"How can all the entrances to the Batcave work one minute and not the next? How has the young rascal been eluding us for the past week? How did the shower steam when no one was running it? How--"
"Okay, I get the picture."
"Besides." Alfred gestured to the cave's monitor. "I believe we may have more pressing matters to attend to sir."
Following Alfred's gesturing hand, Bruce felt his blood boil. Cassandra and Kon-el were on the Cray. In his cave. He didn't need to be a rocket scientist to know what file they were so enamoured with. "Dammit! Why didn't you say something?"
Alfred shrugged. "There wasn't much I could do about it sir. All the entrance are blocked. All the entrances."
Bruce stopped at the door. "The tunnel?"
"Is sealed. The door refuses to the budge."
"Latch refuses to lift."
"As I said sir, all the entrances are impassable."
"Then call down to the cave and tell them to get off my computer." Bruce growled.
"Communication to the cave is down also."
"Dammit." Face flushed, Bruce could do little more than watch the monitor helplessly as Cassandra and Kon down loaded the Demarti files. They had better enjoy their find, because so help them, the two were going to be very, very sorry for trespassing once he got a hold of them. "Call me when the lines are back up." He snarled. Spinning on his heel he headed to his study.
"We have company." Alfred pointed to the exterior monitors. Dana and Jack Drake were striding up the walkway. "Unless, you preferred I take another message?"
"Dammit." Bruce muttered. "What now?"
"We go." Cassandra said suddenly, taking the hard copy of the Demarti files from Kon's surprised hands. "Batman home."
"Oh shit." Kon stared around cave, searching out the foreboding Dark Knight. "He's here?"
"Upstairs." Cassandra announced. "Not happy. We go for cheeseburgers."
"Read better on full stomach." Grabbing Kon, Cassandra hustled him from the cave. "Besides, may be last meal."
"This is suck." Kon groaned. Picking Cassandra up, he flew from the cave as fast as his TTK would take him.
So many things were left unsaid. Undone. My life was one big screw-up. I was a screw-up. Or at least, that's how I felt. It's funny, because now I have all these new feelings. Feelings I don't remember ever having. Or maybe I did have them only at a lesser degree.
I'd been feeling really happy lately. Ecstatic, even. It was like a big ball was rolling through my head made of happiness and love and caring and mischief. It was like basking in an euphoria of fun. Then it all crashed and burned. I just feel depressed now. A sorta melancholy that fights with the raw anger that's crashing at the tattered shores of my mind. If I had a body I'd want to break something. Or maybe scream. Heh, not that I have any vocal cords to scream with. But that's not the worst thing. The worst thing is the fear. It gnaws at the remains of my psych, a horrible keening that makes me wonder if I don't have a pet somewhere that's been run over by a car.
Weird huh? Yeah, that's what I think too.
"So, what file say?" Cassandra demanded over onion rings. "Tell me!"
"Shush a minute, will ya? I'm reading."
Cassandra scowled and took a bite of her cheeseburger deluxe. "Is suck."
"Wow." Kon's eyes travelled down the paper. He couldn't believe it. Throwing the file onto the table he took an angry swig of his Zesti. "This is just freakin' great."
"What?" Cassandra snatched the file from the table. It was times like these she wished she knew how to read better. Focusing on the neatly typed letters she sucked in an angry breath. It was all gibberish. Only a few words made sense. Not enough to complete a sentence. "Tell me!"
"There's nothing to tell." Kon complained. "Bats doesn't know what happened either."
"Batman know!" Cassandra was indignant. Batman knew everything about everything and everyone. "You not read carefully enough."
"I read it." Kon bite a fry in half with an angry snap of his jaw. "We are so dead. We just ripped off Batman's computer. For nothing! I am so toasted wheaties."
"Not toasted anything. I steal files."
"But I flew you out of the cave."
"I hitch ride." Cassandra shrugged. "Time for you to leave anyway."
"Sure it was." Kon leaned his head against the back of the booth. He was so incredibly dead. All that for nothing. The files contained nothing but a bunch of theories, hypothesises and technical mumbo jumbo pertaining to the human psych. Nothing about Robin except they'd been messing with his head. It was the same as the JLA report, only longer. "What are we gonna do, Cass?"
"I dunno." Cass finished her burger calmly, as if facing an irate Batman were an everyday occurrence. "Go beat heads?" She pointed to his fries. "You eat?"
Kon pushed the tray towards her. "Be my guest."
It wasn't fair. He'd never be able to put things right with Robin now. Christ, he couldn't even make a proper investigation regarding the circumstances of his friend's predicament. Shit. He shoulda listened to more of Rob's lectures instead of reading GQ. Rubbing his eyes tiredly, he watched the throngs of teenagers crowding the booths of Burger Giant. Kids happy to be off from school, just looking for a good time. Kids alive and well. Kids with a future.
"Robin take me here." Cassandra said suddenly. She tapped the table solemnly. "This our booth. First time we come, he order me cheeseburger. I like cheeseburgers. We come every Wednesday."
"I have onion rings, Robin have fries." Cassandra pushed her empty tray away. She placed her hands on the table, clenching them into fists. "Not do that anymore." To Kon's surprise her eyes began to tear. "Want Robin back."
Reaching across the table, he clasped her hand. "Me too, Cass."
"He my best friend."
"Hey, you still have me. And there's always Spoiler."
"Spoiler is suck!" Cassandra shook her head vehemently. "She steal Robin's job. Robin love her and she not love him back. All she want is to work with Batman to get back at her Dad. Not be crime-fighter for right reasons. She is big suck. And she stink."
"I... didn't realize they were still dating." Kon had heard things weren't going well. In one of those rare bonding moments, Rob had confided he was having girl troubles. Kon blushed as he remembered his advice was to get another girlfriend. He'd then promptly asked for Batgirl's phone number. "I thought it was all over."
"Robin decide to give one more chance." Cassandra said bitterly. "Not fair. I waiting. Waiting long time."
"You mean you---?" Kon was shocked. He'd have never put the two together. Chatterbox Rob with No speak Cassandra? "I didn't know."
"Not know lots." Cassandra huffed, rubbing at her eyes. "I think he like me too. Just confused. About... stuff. Lots of bad stuff happen to Robin. You and YJ and Spoiler make him feel bad."
Kon stared at the table. "Yeah, I'm pretty good at doing that. We had words on Apokolips, Cass. They weren't good ones."
"Yeah. Robin say that."
"He told you about our fight?"
"Rob tell me lots of gossip." A smile lit her face. "Now my turn to tell gossip."
Kon smiled back. "For once, he can't interrupt."
"Robin not interrupt me." Cassandra boasted, tapping her chest proudly. "He listen to me. Robin good listener."
"Making fun again."
"Sorry, Cass, it's just..." he staggered into silence as a familiar figure walked past their table, tray in hand. "Hey, I know that kid."
"Kid in green t-shirt?" Cassandra asked, following the boy as he navigated to an empty table to the rear of the restaurant. "Who he?"
"Marty. I met him in Metropolis."
The two teens craned their necks as the boy sat down. Cass smirked as she saw the boy's tray. "He eat same food as Robin. What he doing here?"
"I dunno. He said he was touring Metropolis. Maybe Gotham is his hometown?"
Cass nudged Kon with her foot. "Go ask him to sit with us."
Kon scratched his head sheepishly. "I don't think he'd want to. I kinda... well..."
"You not fight with him too!" Cassandra leaned over and punched his arm. "Anyone you not fight with?"
"Go apologize. Make right. Then ask him to sit with us." Cassandra administered a swift kick to Kon's knee when he didn't immediately responde. "I like him. Go."
"Okay, okay." Kon rubbed his knee grumpily. "Just stop with the ninja kicks, kay?"
"Not ninja kicks." Cass called after him, "My patented Cassandra kicks!"
"No kidding." Kon mumbled. He slowed as he came up to the table. Shifting nervously from foot to foot, he wondered how to go about apologizing. "Um, hey Marty."
"Hey Kon." Marty didn't look up from his burger. "What are you doing in Gotham?"
Kon was taken aback. "Um, just visiting a friend."
"Yeah. What are you doing here?"
"It's funny that you said you're here to visit Robin." Marty continued, "I got the impression you were here because of the girls." Marty jerked his head in Cassandra's direction. "She's pretty cute. Blunt, but cute."
"Yeah, she is pretty... Waitaminute... how'd you know?"
Marty gave an indifferent shrug of his scrawny shoulders. "She seems the type. How come you made her cry?"
"Wha?" This was getting creepy. "How'd you know?"
"I spotted you guys while I was waiting in line. That's not something you do on dates, ya know. You treat your date with respect."
"I didn't make her cry."
"She doesn't strike me as the crying type." Marty scowled at Kon. "So what did you do to make her sad?"
"Nothing." Time for a topic switch. "She's um... she's the type that wants you to sit with us."
That got Marty's attention. Turning in his seat, he scrutinized Cassandra. Kon could almost see the gears moving in his head. "She said that?"
"She sent me over."
Kon kicked himself as the rakish form seemed to deflate. "But I was gonna come over anyway."
"To apologize. You know, for being such a jerk earlier."
"Oh that." The kid waved a hand dismissively. "S'okay. I've been treated worse."
"Then you'll sit with us?"
"Sure. It's not often I get asked out by a total babe!" Gathering up his tray, Marty followed Kon back to the booth. Cassandra grinned brightly as they approached.
"Hi! You like cheeseburgers too!"
Marty glanced at his tray and grinned. "Yeah. They're my favourite. In fact, this is my favourite restaurant."
"Really?" If Cassandra's smile got any wider she'd break her face. "Is my favourite restaurant too." She patted the table fondly. "This my booth."
"Hey, it's my booth too!" Marty said enthusiastically. "This is where I sit with my friend!"
"Me too!" Cassandra suddenly sobered. "At least, I used to."
"Your friend must be Robin, huh?"
The kid was perceptive, Kon decided. Too perceptive. "Can we all forget Robin for a moment and just enjoy our food?"
"We trying to find out what happened to him." Cassandra jabbed a disdainful finger at the files. "Reports not help much. Kon say is filled with mumbo jumbo."
"May I see them?"
Kon didn't have time to protest as Cassandra deposited the folder into Marty's waiting hands. "What are you doing?" he hissed as Marty began reading. "Are you crazy? Those are you-know-who's!"
"So? You-know-who has his own copy."
"This is more nuts than breaking into the computer. He's only twelve for cryn' out loud."
"Thirteen." Setting the file down, Marty clasped his hands together. All business, he regarded the arguing pair with interest. "Would you care to know what the file says?"
"No!" Kon contradicted, sending Cassandra a warning glare. "I already know what it says."
"If you knew what it said, then she wouldn't have just said you didn't." Marty countered.
"Well, she's wrong, I do know."
"You do not. Just admit it."
"I do to."
"Stop!" Cassandra commanded, just loud enough to get the entire restaurant's attention. "Not you." She said to the other diners. "These two. Very noisey."
As the other patrons returned to their meals, Cassie scowled at her dinner dates. "I not know what file says." She informed Marty. "Kon not know either. You explain."
Outgunned, Kon could do little more than sulk in the corner of the booth.
A satisfied smirk upon his round face, Marty held up the paper. "Your friend was used in something called the halo experiment. It's an electricity of some sort. I'm not familiar with all these terms, but as near as I can tell, psi energy is the product of massive amounts of electricity being pumped into certain parts of the brain, resulting in a backlash of," Marty's brow waggled conspiratorially. "psychic energy." He let it hang there for emphasis then continued, "for obvious reasons, dubbed as psi energy. Once the psi energy has been syphoned, it is channelled into something called a halo." Marty rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "The information concerning the halo is vague. It's a weapon of some sort, so I'm guessing it's a cannon or gun of some kind. According to the report, the Halo has the ability to shatter the human psych through the discharge of an energy pulse. I'm no scientist, but I'd bet next week's allowance that's your psi energy at work. It says here a Dr. Mark Demarti hypothesized that given the right equipment the Halo could be used to not only render their minds." Marty gulped nervously, "uh, inert but to simultaneously recharge the Halo for another round."
"That happen to Robin?" Cassandra demanded. "They shoot him with bad energy?"
Marty shook his head. "Uh uh. As near as I can tell he was the one they were syphoning the energy from. It doesn't go into details, but it's thought Dr. Demarti became overzealous in his experiment. He syphoned too much psi energy too quickly from Robin. His brain couldn't take it and so shut down. End of story." Marty took a sip of his malt. "At least it explains why your friend is in a coma."
"That all?" Cassandra squawked. "Want gossip!"
"She means details." Kon said absently, trying to digest the horror of what had happened to his friend. "Her English is suck."
"That's all she wrote." Marty shrugged apologetically and handed the file back to Cassandra. "It doesn't give any specifics on how they were conducting the experiment or what exactly went wrong. That information is missing."
Cass and Kon shared looks.
"Not even HE know what happened, then" Cass whispered. "This is suck."
"Sounds like a painful operation." Marty mused, snacking on his now-cold fries. "I mean, can you imagine having part of your soul ripped out of your body?" Kon and Cass stared blankly at him. "You know... your soul. Think about it. Every person is made up varying emotions, ideals, beliefs and abilities. It's what makes us who we are. Compare it to the five senses: smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing. All your life, you're able to see and hear what's going on around you. Thanks to touch, you can tell the difference between soft and hard. You can smell and taste food. Now, imagine someone comes up to you and takes away your ability to see. It'd cripple you. Suddenly, instead of having five senses, you only have four. One minute you're a complete human being, the next minute you're fractured. Take that example and apply it to Robin." He handed the report to Cassandra. "See the comparison?"
"That why Robin won't wake up!" Cassandra complained. "I beat heads of people who did this."
"You can't." Marty pointed to a paragraph at the bottom of the page Cassandra held. "It says the facility responsible for the experiments and the scientists connected to it are dead. Some sort of explosion."
"The Demarti Institute blew up." Kon supplied, emerging from his sulk. "No one knows why. At least no one who will say."
"Curious." Marty steepled his fingers together, blue eyes narrowing in concentration. "It must have been pretty hard to cover this kind of thing up. I'm sure there were a lot of interested parties demanding questions. The Demarti Institute was privately owned, right?"
"So they must have had some powerful backers keeping them in business. These experiments cost money. A lot of it. I wouldn't be surprised to learn if both reputable and underworld organizations were sponsoring them. This kind of technology could be a very powerful tool or weapon depending on how you look at it."
"So you're saying once the cat was out of the bag someone higher than Dr. Demarti shut them down?"
"That'd be my guess."
"Are you sure you're twelve?" Kon asked suspiciously. "You're not some product of one of their experiments are you?"
"Thirteen." Marty blushed. "and I watch Sherlock Holmes."
"Robin like you." Cassandra beamed. "You and he get along great."
"I bet we would." Marty said dryly. "Listen guys, as much fun as this has been, I do have a curfew." He nodded amicably at his diner mates. "Thanks for the invite, Cass. It's been fun. Seeya Kon."
Picking up his tray he left, leaving Kon and Cass to their own devices.
"I like him." Cass proclaimed. "A lot. He smart. I invite him to work on all my cases."
"You barely know him." Kon grumbled. "Besides, he's twelve."
"My point exactly."
"He old thirteen!"
"You mean mature."
"Whatever." Cass waved a dismissive hand. "Now we know what bad thing happened to Robin, how we help him?"
Kon was solemn. "We don't, Cass, because we can't."