All hell was breaking loose in Gotham, and Batman was well behind the breaking-point of it, trying desperately to catch up. It didn’t help that Nightwing was benched due to injuries, or that Batgirl had inconveniently disappeared, or that Black Canary was in Star City with the Arrows.
He’d located the epicenter of the riot fairly quickly, and getting there was also harder than it should have been. Spoiler had been involved in this fight, and Red Robin was distracted, off his game, searching for her. Batman had to recall him to his duty several times, and he was nowhere near his usual effectiveness.
The violence was spilling over across town, criminals elsewhere taking opportunistic advantage of the situation. With the major organized crime and Batman both preoccupied, they were having a field day. And only Huntress was free to combat them. He couldn’t pay attention to that, focused on the situation in front of him and the steady stream of information Oracle was pouring into his comm unit. She was working double-duty tonight, providing support for himself and for Huntress.
They were stretched so thin that he caught himself wishing Red Hood had been in town. No, he couldn’t let himself think that; the boy who had once been his pupil and a rare source of joy in his life had grown into a man who would see an all-too-easy solution to this. He would’ve fired gleefully into the thickest tangle of combat, mowing down gangsters left and right, and he probably would’ve given that old reckless laugh of his while he did it. The sound, deeper in tone now but still just as carefree, had sounded ghostly to Batman’s ears when they faced each other last. Haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Enough reminiscing, he was getting to be as unfocused as Robin. This block was more or less subdued, and Batman moved on to the next, where several members of the Falcone syndicate were engaged in a brutal battle of attrition against some of Two-Face’s men. Batman prepared to lob a smoke pellet into their midst…
…only to see smoke already rising. He paused, wondering who else was in the thick of this. The men, all of whom had been in Gotham long enough to fear a Bat swooping down from the rooftops, looked up, momentarily forgetting their animosity toward each other. While their attention was up, and while Batman cloaked himself in shadow, the real assailant struck.
Spoiler. He had to admit, it was neat work, if terribly risky. She had brought down a pair of them before they even knew she was among them, and then the men were too confused to mount an appropriate defense. Half of them were down in under a minute. “Next sector,” Batman said into the microphone concealed in his cowl. “Spoiler has this one under control.”
As Robin squawked in surprise at the news of his girlfriend’s reappearance, and Oracle directed them both, Batman thought for a moment that Stephanie Brown was doing very well, far better than he’d expected in a mess like this. Well enough that he didn’t stop to wonder why she was there, why she was fighting with such determination. All he saw was someone he could trust to finish off a half-pacified fight.
If he’d known that she had a concussion and severely bruised ribs, he wouldn’t have left that section to her alone.
This was not going according to plan. Kal-El knew that feeling of weakness all too well; he had already begun to sweat, and the muscle tremors weren’t far behind. Kryptonite. The cyborg had it implanted in his chest, that sickly green glow making the Kryptonian nauseous as much from dread as from its actual effects. Deadly radiation, bleeding in through every pore, wrecking his invulnerability as it came. The sensible course of action would’ve been to retreat and regroup, but there was no backup in town other than the cops—and he couldn’t let this maniac go tearing through them.
That metal fist looped toward his face, and Kal-El ducked. The blow crashed into the wall, ripping out a chunk of concrete, and the cyborg caught him on the backswing. Rao, he was strong! It had been a long time since Kal-El had been lifted off his feet by a punch, and the robber whooped with unbridled glee.
Time to stop this. Kal-El drove a solid punch squarely at the arm. Kryptonite didn’t erase his powers, so he still had strength, though his balance was off thanks to the vertigo it sent swimming through his brain. The blow was decisive, and flung the cyborg to the ground, stunning him unconscious.
He had to get out of the immediate range of the kryptonite. Kal-El staggered outside to see flashing lights on the cop cars. “Stand aside,” he called. “This man is extremely…”
…dangerous, was how he meant to finish the sentence, but that was when the cyborg leapt on him from behind and crashed both of them into the nearest police cruiser.
“What the fuck was that?” Robb yelped. Kala, whose hearing was much better than his even after four hours in the recording studio singing her lungs out, knew it was a car crash of some kind. A heavy percussive whump followed by the tinkling of shattered glass and metal shards. Given the hour, probably some drunk—or someone falling asleep behind the wheel, if she was going to be charitable.
A little twinge of responsibility way down in her soul tugged at her, but … it wasn’t her job. It wasn’t her place it get involved. Sure, she had a mask in the hidden pocket of her jacket, but the cops could handle a fender-bender, and Dad and Jason had the big stuff if it came to that.
Except no, not Jason. He had a date tonight, waiting on Wonder Girl to pick him up, and Kala had called him up just to serenade him with Tupac’s California Love. She’d heard Cassie laughing in the background by the time she got to the refrain, and Jason hung up in despair at the mockery. Jason was in Gateway with Cassie, and without his powers there was no way Lizardboy could flea-hop his way over here. Even if he could, again, no powers. At best he’d be a bystander with first aid training.
The boys were still muttering about it, giving Robb hell for having been so spooked. Kala shrugged her bag a little higher on her shoulder, thinking of nothing more than going home and getting some rest. It was been a very long day, her head felt as if it was going to split in half…
And then she noticed people trotting briskly toward the noise. It was Morgan who called, “What’s going on?”
Someone turned around and replied, “Superman’s fighting somebody about ten blocks over! We wanna see!”
That quickly, the tension headache was gone, dread and a creeping worry settling in.
“Estupido pendejo,” Sebast growled, even as Ned and Robb started to drift along with the current. They should have known better; this was both boys first year in Metropolis and they had yet to see her father, the resident superhero, in person. And that was just the way she wanted to keep it, from the sounds of things. Kala snatched at Ned’s shirt, and Morgan grabbed Robb’s arm.
Sebast noticed that, and glared at them. “Ay, what are you, a couple jibaros? This is Metropolis, you’ll see it on TV tonight. We don’t wanna get any closer to a fight with someone who gets damn cars and shit thrown at him!”
Point. Speaking of which, the damn feeling wouldn’t go away. It was going to be a pain to get close enough to check up, but she couldn’t help worrying. Dad was more than capable of fighting his own battles, had for years, but Jason being out of commission changed up the current situation. It was likely routine, some moron in a firefly costume holding up some snooty mid-town restaurant at closing time or something, but still…
Postponing even as she gave herself an out, she reached for her phone. If all else failed, there was likely someone that would appreciate the update, even if she had to page someone to cover it. “I probably ought to call Mom, so she can get the ball rolling,” Kala said, listening in out of habit. She had no business getting involved when she should be staying her nose of caped-community business all together, but this was Dad. This was different. And then her spine turned to ice as she heard her father groan in pain. The last time she’d heard him hurting like that…
It took all of thirty seconds to make up her mind, prepared or not. If Dad sounded that bad, something was wrong. This wasn’t routine. Nothing about that sound was routine.
Robb was looking at Sebast, who explained, “Her mom is Lois Lane. Superman’s chronicler? If she doesn’t already know about this, she needs to.”
Kala’s mind was already in Blur-mode, ten blocks away and planning. Ignoring Robb’s sudden dawning of perception, she touched Sebast’s arm and kissed his cheek. “My reception is crap—get the newbies home so they don’t hurt themselves. I’ll call from inside the studio, okay, papi?”
Even as she said it and he nodded his answer, even as she turned to scurry inside, she was already cursing herself for an idiot for what she was about to do.
“Stay safe,” Morgan called back as she disappeared.
He’d heard unknown assailant one too many times. “My name is Metallo!” he roared, forgetting that it was not a name he’d chosen, forgetting that he’d lost the name he’d lived under. Hell, he could almost forgive that bastard scientist—this was one hell of a rush! Kicking Superman’s ass, getting beaten up in the process but he was steadily pounding that smug do-gooder face in, and it felt oh-so-righteous. He’d forgotten the money, but what did it matter? This was too much damn fun.
Superman got up again. He didn’t seem to know when to quit. Metallo grinned and rolled his shoulders. He had an audience now, cops who’d figured out that firing on him was useless, and he meant to show off for them. “How come you don’t just stay down?” he growled, bearing in on the hero.
Pain-glazed blue eyes locked on his, and there was ferocious determination behind them. “And let you win so you can terrorize this city? Not on my watch.” With that, he broke out a new attack, his gaze flaring red. Metallo cried out and dove aside, grabbing at his metal arm. He’d actually melted part of it … and that had hurt, dammit, how did he have that kind of feeling in the damn thing?!
“Had about enough of you,” he muttered, ripping a telephone pole out of the sidewalk and turning, raising it above his head. One mighty smack, and he’d smashed everyone’s favorite hero like a bug. Like a damn spider.
Metallo was laughing, seeing the pale shocked looks on so many faces; even at this hour, people had gathered to watch a little Metropolis street theater. “So that’s your Man of Steel, huh? Not anymore, boys and girls.” He flexed the arm, streetlights gleaming on it. “I’m the new Man of Tomorrow, and—”
The next thing Metallo knew, he was sitting up in a building half a mile down the street.
She had to loop up, high, to get the distance needed to accelerate, and this prick was gloating. Gloating. Hell no, that didn’t fly, but Kala did, and she was moving at three times the speed of sound when she hit him. The recoil from the blow staggered her, dropped her clean out of the air to tumble along the sidewalk, but the cyborg disappeared from view.
Kala swung to her feet, keenly aware that she was in plainclothes, just a domino and a hastily-utilized skull cap over her hair to hide her identity. Thank God it was dark and she was in mostly black. Much to her shock, she wobbled when she stood up, her stomach churning. Wasn’t the headache back. Fear? Adrenaline? That could do it, realizing it had to be her who saved Dad’s bacon, that Jase wasn’t coming and couldn’t come. She turned toward her father, worried and wondering why he was struggling with this one.
With a glance, she understood why she’d felt so worried. There had to be something more to what she was seeing. He was bloody and beaten, definitely not the normal way of things, but he threw off the telephone pole and stepped shakily out of the hole his body had made in the pavement. Kala saw his eyes go wide when he saw her, and he exclaimed, “You don’t need to be here!”
Uh, apparently I do, from the looks of things. No time for me worrying about screwing up or you being protective. Help me here, Dad. What’s going on? “Looks like you could use some backup, Superman.” That was good, remembering not to call him Dad, and he blinked at her. Kala just looked at him pleading, torn.
I don’t like it any more than you do, Daddy. I know the consequences if they get a clue that we’re connected, but I couldn’t not help. Not when this has to be magic or something else that trips you up. This guy’s doing a number on you. Jason’s not here, he can’t be here. Just this once, let me help.
His expression changed to horror just as she felt the wave of nausea and weakness hit her. “Watch out!” he shouted, and Kala’s knees went weak. Only one thing made her sick like that…
…she turned slowly, and this time it wasn’t Luthor coming after her father with a chunk of kryptonite. It was some kind of cyborg, metal gleaming beneath torn skin at his shoulder, one arm completely metal. And in the center of his chest something gleamed a dull, nauseating green. The bunker, the stunning pain of that radioactive rock, all of it came back the painful life. So did the memory of how she’d survived.
Half-human, she thought, bracing herself for whatever came next. Half-immune. And the last asshole who tried to kryptonite my dad, I fucking bit him. And you’re not even a tenth as scary as some of the monsters I’ve seen. Bring it, you bastard.
Growling, more furious than scared, Kala leapt for the sky. Her equilibrium was off, but she got enough distance to snatch up a motorcycle and pitch it at the ass. Perfect, a combination of good aim and good luck, and the bike hit him in a beautiful pile-drive. “She shoots, she scores!” Kala crowed as the sidewalk cracked beneath Metallo, and then she realized her father was swaying on his feet. God, how long had this gone on before she and the band had heard the crash? Panic choked her heart, love and fear overcoming her rage, and she dove toward him.
Speed, always, speed and flight her two most cherished powers, and before she knew she meant to do it Kala had grabbed her father around the waist and was bolting for the horizon. Not yet midnight, so her best bet was westward, chasing the sunset.
Dad tried to speak, but she held on tight and opened up a new notch of speed. He was so much heavier than Kala ever would’ve guessed, heavier even than Jase. The way she flew, they were over the Pacific and in the fading sun within minutes. Golden radiance chased the chill of kryptonite from her bones, and her father’s wounds began to mend as she watched.
“We have to go back,” he said hoarsely.
“It’s okay, Daddy, we have time. We have time. I got him. You just charge,” Kala soothed, trying to smile with reassurance. “He’s down. We only need a few minutes, that’s all. You can’t fight like this.”
“No,” he managed to croak out. “Tried the same thing, with a truck. He got up. Kala, we have to go back.”
The enormity of the mistake hit her like a ton of bricks. “Oh, shit,” she whispered, miserable. At least he could fly on his own, and they both streaked back to Metropolis, Kala furious at her own oversight. Jason wouldn’t have been so thoughtless. Thinking straight in a crisis had never been her strong suit; this was a perfect example. Too ruled by emotion. She shouldn’t have left that guy there, who knew how many civilians he’d killed, this was why she didn’t do the hero gig! This was why Jase had to get his damn powers back before she fucked up the whole legacy.
But when they stopped to hover well above the scene, the cyborg was already gone, taking his radioactive heart with him. A chance at an open-and-shut on this one, ice-cold. Kala took a deep breath, and closed her eyes in despondent frustration. And these are the reasons Jor-El was right. I’m the loose cannon. Better mostly benched. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said in a tiny voice.
He reached out and clasped her shoulder. It hurt to look at him, but she made herself do it. It always was after she’d royally screwed-up. “Don’t be. You got us both to safety, Kala. He got away, but we stopped him from hurting anyone else.” His smile was full of gratitude … and worry. Kala knew why.
There was a kryptonite-based villain loose in Metropolis now. Sooner or later, there had to be a showdown.