“I’ve been thinking about that myself, Brion. After all, he isn’t directly involved with the group anymore, and I hate to take advantage of his hospitality.”
“Exactly, Jeff. My father studied in America for a while, and the home that my nation purchased for him has been a sort of goodwill embassy since the 1950s. It is sufficiently large for any members of the team who wish to reside there, and there is a basement pool and gymnasium.”
“Sounds like my kind of place. I would need to stay in Gotham until the end of the school year, but there’s no reason why the rest of the team can’t move right away.” Jefferson Pierce looked around his small apartment as he spoke on the phone, and realized that he wouldn’t miss this place at all.
“Excellent. Would you like me to stop by the penthouse and discuss it with our teammates there before we call Bruce?” Hearing an affirmative from the other end of the line, Prince Brion Markov looked out from his own apartment, high above Gotham City. On the table before him were brochures from the University of Ohio, along with a copy of a tentative class schedule. “How about Rex? Would you prefer to let him know, or shall I?”
“I’ll call him. He shouldn’t mind, as Cincinnati is a bit closer to home for him, anyway. Call me and let me know.” Jefferson hung up the phone and started looking for Rex Mason’s phone number.
“Oh, darling, you have got to be kidding!” Lia Briggs looked out from a terrace high above Gotham City to a swimming pool just below her.
“I’m afraid not,” said a severe-looking Japanese woman with a shake of her head. “Fifteen degrees outside, and those two are out splashing in the pool. Apparently, Bruce Wayne does not spend all of his money on equipment for Batman.”
“Oh, honey, if you knew anything about Bruce’s reputation with the ladies, you wouldn’t be surprised at all. Providing a transparent dome for the pool and patio on the roof of the Wayne Foundation building, just so he can keep a few scantily clad supermodels close at hand? Why, that fits the Wayne image to a tee!” The tall redhead, who could well be one of those supermodels herself, laughed as she watched Gaby and Wendy Doe play below.
“Well, I’m afraid playtime is over. Brion called, and he’ll be here shortly. He said it was important, and he wanted to speak to all of us. Most fortunate that you stopped by for lunch,” said the small woman who acted as den-mother for her teammates.
Twenty minutes later, the two blonde teenagers were seated in the living room with Lia Briggs and Tatsu Yamashiro, speculating about the reason for Brion Markov’s announced visit.
“After all, it’s not like he’s not here nearly every day, anyhow,” said Gaby Doe as she toweled out her long blonde hair.
“It sounds like he has business to discuss,” replied Tatsu, who was more accustomed to dealing with problems with her namesake sword as Katana than in group discussions.
“That is correct!” boomed a hearty voice, as they all turned to see Geo-Force enter from the concealed elevator that led to caverns under the building. “Though nothing as ominous as I suspect my request for a meeting may have sounded.”
“You know, Brion, for a second I thought you might be trying to win our support for a power play, to replace Black Lightning as the leader of the Outsiders,” said Lia Briggs, with a glimmer in her eye.
“Not I, Looker. While I may be accustomed to leadership as a matter of birthright, I clearly recognize Jefferson’s greater experience in the area of super-heroics.” Geo-Force pulled the mask down from his face and sat down. “No, Jeff and I were discussing something that will affect all of us, and we want your input.”
“What is it, Brion?” asked Wendy, her short hair bobbing as she cocked her head slightly to one side.
“As you all know, this penthouse and the meeting and training rooms underneath the building are not ours. They belong to the Batman, and he is no longer a part of the Outsiders. Jefferson and I feel that we should find a new home for the team, and we think we should take this chance to leave Gotham, and establish the Outsiders as an independent team in another city.”
The room erupted in talk of agreement, dismay, objections, suggestions, and general excitement.
“What of my bookstore, Brion?” asked Tatsu. “I have just started to get a steady clientele.”
“That, and Jefferson’s job, are the biggest obstacles to the move that we could think of. I don’t like to ask you to give it up, but–”
“I may not need to. I know of someone who may be interested in running it, but he cannot afford to buy it himself.”
“If it’s the money, do not trouble yourself over that. I am sure the Markovian treasury could pay off any outstanding moneys that you owe on the business, and even help you establish a second store in another city.” While he didn’t have the easy way with finances that Bruce Wayne had, Brion had learned that having a fortune at your disposal was convenient when dealing with the dynamics of a diverse group like the Outsiders.
“That would work well. Mr. Langstrom mentioned that he’s been looking for a business or position, since he was away from Gotham for some time. I will call him tonight.” Tatsu sat back in her chair, satisfied with the arrangements.
“I don’t suppose changing schools will be a problem. But where are we going?” asked Gaby Doe, known to most as Halo.
“Well, Markovia owns a piece of property in Cincinnati, Ohio. That would let us serve people in an area where there has been a dearth of super-heroes, and allow those of us who wish to acquaint ourselves better with America a chance to sample the — how do they call it? — the Middle-American experience.” Prince Brion looked around the room and saw four smiling faces. Apparently, there were no objections here. Jefferson would be pleased.
That left just one problem: telling the Batman.
“Give it up. Your pathetic weapons don’t scare me.” The voice from the shadows was low, guttural.
“Never! I will never bow down before anyone!” Peering into the shadows, he tried to focus on his nemesis.
“You know you can’t win. You got lucky once, but never again.” From the shadows, a bat-shaped object sailed out, trailing a thin line. It wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his sides.
“You never should have left that island of yours!” called another voice from his left. Turning, he saw a laughing figure in red, green, and yellow come out of a roll and dive toward him. A green-gloved fist slammed into his chin, bringing stars to his field of vision.
“Impudent youth! How dare you assault my personage?” His arms were bound, but his legs weren’t. He kicked out and tried to activate the weapons in his heels.
“Oh, no, you don’t. Those lame tricks never work the second or third time around!” laughed Robin, flipping back before the spray could strike him.
“Yeah, Dad, you really need to update your gimmicks!” said a voice from behind. Whirling, he stared in shock at the sight of his son.
“Daniel Kingsford Rex! What do you think you are doing, lad?” he bellowed in his most imperious voice.
“Oh, knock it off, Dad! You’re done bossing me around!” said the dark-haired young man as his foot came up in a savage kick to the face.
In a darkened room, he sat up in an opulent brass bed with heavy velvet blankets. Sweat rolled down his face, and his body shook.
“By the great Harry! A dream! A nightmare!” He threw the heavy blankets off and rose from the bed. It’s been years since I last faced off against the accursed Bat, yet still he haunts my dreams. He, that accursed brat of his, and my own traitorous son!”
Strolling to the glass double doors leading to a terrace, he opened them and stepped out. “Never again, though. I’ll not set foot in Gotham again, and those blasted heroes have never been seen in this fair city. And my current plan should be low-key enough that they’ll never catch wind of it.” He rested his hands on the railing, letting the snow fall down upon him. Far below, a few vehicles traveled the normally busy streets. Looking farther out, he could see lights reflecting off the Ohio River. “Yes, the city of Cincinnati makes a fine kingdom.”
Snow was falling from the night sky as a black Rolls Royce pulled up in front of Wayne Manor. The Markovian flags attached to the front fenders snapped in the chill wind as two men stepped from the back of the car. The taller of the two, a handsome young man with wavy brown hair and broad shoulders, leaned back in to have a few words with the driver. As he and his companion, an African-American with a stocky build and close-cropped hair, turned toward the door, the car drove off.
“Hey, how are we getting back to the city?” asked Jefferson Pierce as he noted the Rolls heading for the gates.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jefferson,” the taller man said with a grin. “I keep forgetting that you can’t fly.”
“Very funny, Brion,” came the mumbled reply.
“Don’t worry, my friend. When I called ahead, I made arrangements for our return.”
Brion Markov reached for the doorbell, but the door opened before he could press it. “Good evening, Prince Brion, Mr. Pierce. Please come in.” Alfred Pennyworth opened the door wide and gestured for them to enter. Once inside, he busied himself taking their coats and escorting them to Bruce Wayne’s study.
“Good evening, Bruce,” said Brion as they entered.
“Brion! Jeff! Good to see you.” Bruce rose from his chair and came over to greet his two one-time teammates. “Please, have a seat. Can I have Alfred get you anything?”
“I seem to recall that he makes a mean cup of cocoa, and it’s certainly cold enough for it,” replied Jefferson Pierce. Brion nodded, and Alfred left for the kitchen.
“Now,” said Bruce as he settled back into one of the overstuffed leather chairs, “what can I do for you? Nothing’s wrong, I hope.”
“No, everything’s good, Bruce. Real good. Brion had an idea the other day, though, and we wanted to run it past you.” Jefferson took another seat. “First of all, I hope you realize how much we — the Outsiders, that is — appreciate everything that you’ve done for us.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Brion. “Most people, when they part ways with a group, would be likely to withdraw all their support of the group. You’ve done just the opposite, providing us with a base of operations, and providing the ladies of the team with a place to live.”
“Don’t think I don’t remember you putting in a good word with me at Brentwood Academy, either,” added Pierce.
“Guys, I never even thought about it. I’m glad I’ve been able to help. However, I think I sense a ‘but’ coming up here. The Outsiders are leaving Gotham.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.
“Yeah, we are. Between you, and Robin, and the Secret Six, plus some other heroes, Gotham City seems to be teeming with costumed crime-busters.”
“That’s true, Jeff. Still, I appreciate having a team with the powers, skills, and experience of the Outsiders here.” Bruce paused for a moment as Alfred returned to pass steaming mugs around the small group. “But… we all reach points where we need to move on. Where are you going?”
“My word! You’re leaving?” asked Alfred.
“Yes, we plan to move before the spring semester begins at Ohio State. My nation owns a property in Cincinnati, which we will use as a base of operations in that city.” Brion was referring to a house built by his home nation when his father came to study in the United States several years before.
“Cincinnati, eh? A nice city. No known super-heroes there, so your help would probably be appreciated. Central location, too.” Bruce sipped his cocoa. “So, how can I help?”
“Help? Good God, Bruce, we didn’t come looking for help,” said Jefferson.
“I’m sure you didn’t, Jeff. You’re leading a good group, a solid group, and doing a damn good job of it. But don’t be so proud that you’d turn down a bit of help with moving.” Bruce smiled. “I can’t exactly show up at the door with a pickup truck, but I think I could arrange for all of the team’s belongings and equipment to be shipped. I hope you don’t mind, though, if I keep the computer equipment from the ‘cave.”
“Well, sure, Bruce. I didn’t expect to be able to take any of that equipment, anyway.”
“Good, because I have something I’d like you folks to try out.” Bruce got up and walked over to a bookcase. Pressing a certain combination of book spines, the case slid forward, then to one side, revealing a storage shelf built into the wall. He took out a large briefcase and brought it over to his desk. The other two men got up and came over to take a look.
“What is this, Bruce?” asked Brion.
“A portable computer.” Bruce flipped two latches, and one end of the case came off, revealing a small screen. The cover turned over to reveal a keyboard. “Wayne Technology is working on these, and this makes a good field test. Unlike most of the portable computers on the market now, this one has enough internal storage to download the entire databank from the Batcave’s crime computers. With a little practice, you should be able to write queries, or specialized questions, that will find any information that is stored in it.”
“Bruce, we can’t take this! It must be worth–” Jefferson Pierce was cut off by a raised hand from Bruce.
“It’s priceless if it helps you in the fight. I’ve had several dozen made, and I’m offering them to any team or solo crime-fighter that wants it. But I’d be honored if you took this one.” Lifting the keyboard, Bruce indicated a silver label on its side. On the label was imprinted the serial number: 0000001.
“Man, Bruce, I don’t know what to say.”
Brion stepped in. “Thank you. That’s what you say, Jefferson. Thank you.”
The main focus of the visit done, the conversation settled into a recounting of recent events for the Outsiders and the Batman. Alfred watched with a bemused smile, noting the very rare mood that his employer and friend was in. Normally, Bruce Wayne had to maintain one mask or another, either acting as Batman and hiding Bruce Wayne behind the cowl, or as Bruce Wayne, with the Batman buried under layers of business savvy, bored indifference or, as often perceived by the public at large, the spoiled behavior of a rich playboy. With two peers like Geo-Force and Black Lightning, Bruce could truly relax and be himself.
The grandfather clock was striking ten when they wrapped up. Jason Todd appeared at the door with the announcement that his homework was done, he’d caught two hours of sleep, and he was ready to go. Bruce smiled and turned to Jeff and Brion.
“Looks like it’s time for me to go to work. Can we give you a ride back into town?”