Bottom of the Barrel
Robin groaned. His head was fuzzy and he was kind of confused. After a second or two, the memories flew back to him and his eyes snapped open. Black Adam was standing in front of him, arms crossed. Robin really did not want to have a round two with that guy.
However, it seemed like he wouldn’t have to, given that the Boy Wonder was, once again, shackled in a semi-upright position inside what seemed to be yet another Cadmus pod.
At least Kid Flash was trapped next to him in a similar manner. That was both a blessing and a curse. The good news was that it meant Wally was still alive and that he wasn’t frozen again. The bad news, of course, was that he wasn’t on the outside in a position to free Robin or escape. They were just going to have to hope that Batman had gotten the message and traced it in time. If not, well, they were pretty much screwed.
Looking further into the room, he could see several other villains standing around as well. Tala was there, eyes glowing red as she smiled wickedly at Robin. Somehow, he suspected that Zatanna wasn’t going to be able to help him this time. Sportsmaster was there as well, armed and dangerous. Obviously, someone really didn’t want them getting out this time. Also…
“Riddler?” Robin asked. “What on Earth are you doing here?”
“Don’t you know, Robby? I’m in the big leagues now. See, my escape from Belle Reve was so impressive that our new friends just had to give me a job. After all, who else would be able to…”
“Nigma…” said Sportsmaster. “If you don’t shut up right now, I’m going to shoot you in the leg.”
Riddler shut up.
Kid Flash groaned.
“Robin?” Kid Flash asked.
“I’m here” Robin replied. “Another fine mess we’re in, aren’t we?”
“Indeed, Robin” came a voice. A door opened with an automatic hiss. In rolled the Brain, Monsieur Mallah right behind him. The ape didn’t look happy, though he was a gorilla in a hat who worked for a brain in a jar, so that was to be expected.
“I must admit that I am impressed that you two made it this far” Brain said. “Not only did you escape our trap at Cape Chidley, but you two very nearly ruined our plan here as well.”
“What plans?” Kid Flash asked.
Brain chuckled. “That is not my place to explain to fools such as yourselves. Much too complicated, you see. I merely wanted to do a biometric scan before my… associate is ready for you.”
“Vandal Savage?” Robin guessed.
The Brain chuckled again. “You’ll see.”
A holoscreen appeared in front of the mastermind as a small sphere scanned Kid Flash.
“Hey, what gives?” the speedster asked.
“My, I do good work” Brain said.
“And by that you mean…?” Robin asked.
“The nanites in your bloodstream, of course. A modified version, devised for speedsters such as yourself. As long as they are active, you will remain at normal human speeds. It wouldn’t do to have you run off now, would it?”
“So that’s where my speed went!” KF shouted.
“These nanites wouldn’t have anything to do the ones used on Zatanna, would they?” Robin asked. “Because I heard those were Ivo’s tech, not yours.”
“Child, a true genius knows when to give credit to others. Ivo is indeed a master inventor, though he lacks… vision.”
“Musta been hard to get him to give you his tech when he’s been in Belle Reve for the past few months” Robin said. Kid Flash allowed himself a little grin under the circumstances. Typical Rob. Even in as FUBAR a situation as this one, he was still gathering intel.
“Our reach may extend farther than you think” Brain said. “After all, ours friends Tet-Adam and Dr. Fries would not have been able to join us without…”
“I think you’ve probably said enough” Sportsmaster interrupted. “We don’t want to tell them anything we don’t want the Justice League finding out.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that” said a new raspy voice. Vandal Savage entered the room, hands clasped behind his back. It was a habit of his.
“Vandal Savage” Kid Flash said, eyes narrowing. “Should have guessed that you were behind this little club. What’s that matter? Afraid I might beat you again if you were alone?”
“Make as many transparent threats as you like, boy” Savage said. “We are far more than a mere ‘club.’ We are the future of this planet. A new, glorious world order is coming, and we will not allow any remnant of the old to prevent it.”
“So, you want to take over the world” Robin said, rolling his eyes under his mask. “Wow. That is original. Did you know that he was that smart?” he asked Kid Flash.
“No way, Rob” the speedster replied. “There’s no way we can compete with a guy like that. After all, we’ve never encountered anyone with a remotely similar goal.”
They both dissolved into laughter.
“Brain?” Savage asked. The Brain’s chassis beeped and electricity poured through the shackles holding the two young heroes. After a few seconds of thrashing and screaming, Savage held up his hand and the pain stopped. Sportsmaster laughed, and Tala seemed pretty pleased as well.
Okay, maybe there was a slight disadvantage to the ‘tick supervillains off whenever possible’ strategy.
“Now that that’s settled,” Savage said “Let us continue. If you would…?” he asked a pair of silhouettes standing outside the room.
The new arrivals nodded and stepped into the light. One was Cheshire. No real surprise there, though she still seemed miffed at the boys, presumably for humiliating her earlier. Served her right, really. But the other… KF gasped. Robin was only kind-of sort-of surprised.
She’d changed out of her Green Arrow inspired costume and put on a new brownish-orange outfit composed of a dull orange jumpsuit, light brown armor, belt and a mask with pointed ears. It seemed she was taking this ‘Tigress’ thing seriously, down to the inclusion of horizontal stripes on the back of her jumpsuit and a pawprint symbol on her chest. Gone was the composite bow and quiver they were used to seeing, replaced instead with a sword on her back and a compact crossbow holstered at her hip.
“What happened to you…?” Wally muttered. It was all he could think to say.
“What do you think happened, West?” Artemis said. “I realized that superheroes are a bunch of spoiled kids who want to force everyone to do things their way. The world needs a change, and I prefer to be on the right side of history. Plus, family business, y’know?”
“You… we…” Wally stammered.
“What? You thought you were special? You were the most annoying and gullible of all of them!”
“‘Them?’ That’s a dissociative pronoun” Robin said. “It’s almost like you never thought of yourself as a member of the Team.”
“Well, duh!” Artemis said. “Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of wannabe sidekicks? Still, a job’s a job.”
“That’s my girl” Sportsmaster said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “With your genes, is there anything you can’t do?”
Artemis looked more annoyed than anything else, as if Crusher Crock was expecting some sort of ‘Father of the Year’ prize. For some reason, Cheshire seemed to be feeling increasingly uneasy, slowly shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“Tigress has indeed been a most useful agent” Savage said, smiling like a crocodile. “I look forward to her bright future with our organization. You two, on the other hand, have proven yourselves to be quite a nuisance.”
“Just doin’ our jobs” Robin attempted to taunt, but his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, his mind was racing. Artemis had been with the others when they’d gone through the portal. For her to be here now would mean...
“Ordinarily, I would simply order your execution and be done with it,” Savage continued, “but I still have a use for you.”
That didn’t sound good.
“Sportsmaster” Savage said, turning to the mercenary.
“Early tomorrow, Klarion and Tala will prepare a teleportation spell. You will use it to escort our two prisoners to an old base we constructed long ago on the coast of northern Australia.”
Another base? Really? How big were these guys?
“Once there, you will make a video informing the Justice League that if they do not cease to pursue you, you will kill their precious sidekicks. You will release this video onto the Internet using only moderate encryption, allowing Batman to easily trace it back to your location.”
“And why would I want to do that?” Sportsmaster asked.
“As soon as you send the video, you will terminate both prisoners and evacuate the area immediately. We have recently obtained an experimental Plasma Cascade Device from our… benefactors. It is currently being set up at the base as we speak. As soon as the Justice League arrives to free their sidekicks, we will detonate the device, incinerating the area.”
Sportsmaster smiled under his mask. “Wiping out the Justice League? I can live with that. Assuming you keep the payment coming, of course.”
“Wait” said the Riddler, who’d been (surprisingly) keeping to himself in the back the entire time. “You’re actually gonna kill Robin AND the League in one foul swoop?”
“Well, I suspect a fair number of the League members may actually survive” Savage said. “Superman, of course, Captain Marvel” – Black Adam growled but continued to say nothing — “Captain Atom, possibly Doctor Fate or the Green Lanterns.” Tala scowled at Nabu’s name. “Regardless, it will be a blow to them unlike any other ever dealt before. It will be the opening shot of the war for this planet. And we will, of course, emerge victorious. There is no other possibility.”
Savage turned to leave. Robin and Kid Flash were still too stunned to say anything.
“Well, this has been surprisingly pleasant conversation” Savage said. “But I’m afraid we won’t meet again.”
He walked out of the room, followed a second later by Tala, Brain, Mullah, Riddler and finally Sportsmaster, Cheshire and Artemis. Black Adam remained at his post, glaring at the two imprisoned heroes.
Artemis took one look back, her expression… hard to read. Not angry, not sadistic, maybe the tiniest bit… sad? Regretful? It was impossible to tell.
Then she turned and left the room.
And Robin and Kid Flash could only watch her go.