“Are you shitting me?” Cassie yelped, and swearing like that was unusual for her, as Tim knew. But then, she was under a lot of stress at the moment.
“Unfortunately not,” he said, playing the video clip from Star City again. On the high-res monitor in the Titans Tower control room, the picture was as sharp as he could make it. A very brief glimpse, just under a minute, but he still recognized the gait, stance, and profile of both people in it. He didn’t even need the flash of red when the helmet caught the light. After all, one of those people had once been one of his idols and had eventually tried to kill him. The other had been a teammate for years, and she had once memorably woken him up by crawling into bed with him. Topless. A stray thought flicked through Tim’s mind, wondering if Kid Devil had recovered from seeing that yet.
Cassie actually growled in sheer frustration, throwing herself down into a chair. “Wonderful. The thorn in my side and the guy who tried to kill you. Do we have any freaking clue what they’re even doing?”
“I’m tracking Rose’s credit card usage but not getting anything other than a big cash advance,” Tim replied, clicking a few keys.
“Oh, God,” Cassie groaned, hiding her face in her hands. “Try matching violent crimes to pharmacy robberies where only adrenaline was taken. Maybe epinephrine. It boosts her precog. And it should be strange enough to be noted in police reports.”
That search took a little longer, but Tim got a few hits. “I’ve got two cities with those kinds of robberies that have also had major child exploitation cases—with definite vigilante involvement—within a week of the pharmacy theft.”
“That’s Rose,” Cassie said, sitting up.
“VICAP is on it, too—there are definite similarities.” Tim scanned the notes, frowning. “Police respond to a report of a brothel specializing in minors, mostly illegal immigrants, and discover the owners and operators dead of slashing wounds, likely from a sword. Cash and some other assets cleaned out, the kids unharmed.”
“Shit, that’s her. She’s taking the drugs and killing again. Dammit, Rose, I say one wrong word and you go completely off the rails!” Cassie smacked her fist into her opposite palm, furious.
Tim wanted to ask what she’d said, and more importantly remind her that not everything everyone else did was her fault or responsibility, but he’d just seen something else. “Uh-oh. There’s two more with the same pattern, according to VICAP. No pharmacy hit those times, but there’s a shorter interval. Maybe she still had some adrenaline left?”
And then the name of the third city hit him, along with the location of the murders, and he had to take a deep breath. “And one of them is Gotham.”
“Rose was in Gotham?!” Cassie swore, springing out of the chair to pace. “Dammit, she’s been out of touch for a while, but I thought she was just cooling off! And now this shit. And in Gotham? Is she out of her mind? Batman will flatten her!” By that time she was swinging her arms to emphasis each point, almost clipping Tim’s ear at one point.
“Could you not do that?” Tim snapped. She wasn’t the only one whose temper was fraying. Difference was, he wasn’t likely to give her a concussion if he started flailing around like she was. Not that he didn’t know half her problem was guilt … and the other half was protectiveness.
“Sorry, Tim,” Cassie apologized.
“Yeah, the Gotham scene was the first one where the dead weren’t just slashed. There are bullet wounds on several corpses. Safe to say Red Hood was involved in that one; one of his known triggers is violence against women and/or children, and the bullets are in his preferred caliber. Which means he either planned it with her, or more likely, they crossed paths on common interests and decided to join forces.” Even as he spoke, he was pulling up another window and running a fast search for known aliases and other details that might help him track the former Robin.
“Great. Just freakin’ perfect. Rose loses her mind, goes hunting kidnappers, and decides to start hanging out with Red Hood. They skip off into the sunset killing bad guys, and meanwhile you and I are trying to run this show ourselves while Jason’s off the roster and giving serious thought to becoming a farmer out in Kansas.” Cassie had raised her hands skyward during that, as if in appeal to some deity, and then let them fall with a heavy sigh. “Can it get any crazier?”
Just then, a line of green text appeared on Tim’s screen, next to a stylized icon of a green mask. Why are you hunting Hood?
“Apparently it can. Oracle’s tracing my system.” He typed back quickly, The brothel murders last week may have been his. He appears to have teamed up with Ravager. Have video of the two of them walking together in Star City.
The reply came back quickly. Hood left Gotham after the brothel killings. Owners of that brothel may have been involved with a large-scale human trafficking ring known as the Red Coin, which is the common denominator in the other Ravager cases you’ve identified. Already have search tracers in place for both Hood and Ravager, as well as other clients of Red Coin that may be potential targets.
“Way to make me feel inadequate, O,” Tim muttered.
Behind him, Cassie raked both hands through her golden hair. He was peripherally aware that she was operating without her usual stress-relief outlets at the moment, and that separation from Jason—with whom they couldn’t really talk about Titans business, considering he might not even come back—was adding immensely to that burden.
Tim was too preoccupied with his own frustrations. It aggravated him beyond all reason, Batman’s inability to stop Red Hood from wandering in and out of Gotham however he pleased.
Or maybe it wasn’t that he couldn’t stop his former pupil. Maybe in a way, he didn’t want to. Not as if it hadn’t crossed Tim’s mind when this particular case came to light. One of the boys rescued had been about ten. Ten. Hearing something like that, Jason Todd’s way started to make a lot of sense.
Sebast’s hair was wrapped in multiple layers of dye and plastic, but with luck he would end up with a deep blue at the tips that slowly changed to dark blue-purple at the roots. If he was unlucky … Kala didn’t want to think about it, given how protective he was, but a box of jet-black dye would cure many evils.
Meanwhile, Kala was sitting in front of him while he carefully painted her hair. The plan was for her to get purple at the tips to blue at the roots, and the blue was going to be a deep midnight tone because her hair stubbornly refused to lighten. Probably something to do with her invulnerability, which was depressing.
Three bowls of dye, three brushes, and a whole roll of plastic wrap were going into this project. They were also into Chupacabra 3D: Goatsucker’s Revenge by then, which in Kala’s opinion was the best of the series. Certainly her favorite, anyway. “Oh yeah, here comes the part where the rich asshole developer guy goes into the chupacabra’s cave. Eat ‘em up, Chupi!”
Sebast promptly leaned down and made ‘om nom nom’ noises by her ear, which made Kala squeal and flinch away. “Hair dye! Hair dye is not good for you, Sebast! Besides I meant for him to get eaten, not me!”
He paused to look at the screen thoughtfully, and then shook his head. “Too greasy for me,” Sebast proclaimed, and Kala wheezed laughter.
She was beginning to feel, bit by bit, as if her heart hadn’t been ripped out and replaced with an ice sculpture that was slowly melting. Cheesy horror films, lots of calories, and a platonic life-mate really were the cure for all that ailed her.
Thinking that, Kala paused to touch Sebast’s shoulder with the back of her gloved hand, where she didn’t have any stray splashes of dye. “Hey. Thank you for this.”
Sebast grinned up at her. “Your gratitude is appreciated, considering I could be rolling around with the website guy right now.”
Kala rolled her eyes. “Holy shit, don’t tell me you’re making eyes at Javier?”
Instead of being ashamed, he preened. “Of course I am! He’s one of those shy pretty ones, you know they fall all over me.”
“We’ve known him like, a week? Week and a half? Not that that’s ever stopped you before.” Sebast had a definite preference for short-term casual hookups. He claimed to be allergic to jealousy and therefore avoided relationships.
“I know, right? It’s like I run in dog years or something. A week for me is like, a year for you.”
Kala poked him in the back of the neck with the pointy end of the applicator brush. “Ass. Trust you to make a joke when I’m trying to be serious. Although, maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m allergic to relationships. I don’t realize until I’m a ways in, and then … poof. It all blows up in my face.”
“Hey now. Your love life is not that episode of Mythbusters where they proved that non-dairy creamer will explode.” Sebast’s green eyes were utterly serious.
“What if it is, though? I mean, I’m not Jason. What if, y’know, the whole long-term relationship thing just isn’t me?” Unlike her brother, Kala had never started naming the potential children of any of her lovers. Not even Dustin. Even now, Jason had had exactly two adult relationships, and both of them had been serious multi-month affairs. Kala privately wondered what was wrong with her, that she didn’t have that. And most of the time, didn’t really want it. She didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to be tied down either.
“Hey.” Sebast couldn’t take her hands because of his gloves, but he stepped around in front, making her look at him. “So what if you’re between boyfriends right now. You still have me, Kala. I’m always gonna be your best friend, your co-singer, your partner in crime. I’ll always be here, all right?”
Kala managed a tremulous smile. “I love you, Sebastiáno.”
“I love you, too, mi Kala.” For a moment they simply looked at each other, and then that devilish grin of his warned her that a snarky remark was on its way. “Now turn around so I can get on with the hair. Dios, you’re the worst salon customer ever. You talk too much and you don’t tip for shit.”
“Shut your face, Chupi,” Kala scolded affectionately, and looked obediently back at the television screen just in time to catch the film’s climactic scene, with the protagonists setting fire to the half-built resort while the chupacabra was trapped inside.
The man on the table was literally dying of a broken heart; the organ was damaged beyond all possibility of repair in the same traumatic event that had maimed him. Machines kept his blood circulating, and the room temperature had been brought down to just above freezing to induce hypothermia and hopefully save his higher brain functions.
Scientists moved about him efficiently, never a wasted step. Damaged tissue and broken bones were reinforced and replaced, cybernetic fibers were connected to shorn nerves, but nothing could take the place of that fist-sized lump of muscle in the center of the chest. Long believed to be the seat of the emotions, perhaps even the soul, the heart was an essential organ.
Artificial hearts existed, but none were as advanced as the piece of machinery now being carefully fitted into the man’s chest. It lay inert as the scientist hooked up the veins and arteries to its tubes. All was finally ready, yet it did not beat.
It lacked a power source. In a small lead-lined box was the prize, recently liberated from a museum that had no idea what manner of rock they were displaying. A smallish chunk of green kryptonite, its radiation enough to power the heart. The head of the project lowered it carefully into place and then stepped back.
Silence in the room, broken by a faint beep on the heart monitor. The project lead grinned as the new heart picked up a steady rhythm. “Gentlemen—and ladies—witness the dawn of a new day for all mankind. And for this first, let him be called … Metallo.”