“This is going to be great!” the Calculator chuckled with glee, actually rubbing his hands together like a silent-movie villain. The Crumbler rolled his eyes at that. “With my share of the million, I’ll be able to make improvements to my equipment that’ll really let me play in the big leagues! First I’ll go after Green Lantern, then Wonder Woman, then Superman — no, wait, the Martian Manhunter, then Superman!”
“How do you figure that’ll work, anyway?” the Crumbler asked. “The million, I mean. How do you figure the split?”
“Five ways, I guess,” the Calculator shrugged. “Two-hundred grand apiece.”
The Crumbler snorted. “I only counted four super-villains in that room. Flashman, he’s just a go-between, an agent. He should get ten, maybe twenty thousand, tops. Us who do the dirty work, we split the rest four ways.”
“That’s a good point,” the Calculator said. “Something to bring up at the next meeting.” Then, more urgently, he added, “Now! Stop the elevator now!”
The Crumbler’s hand shot out and punched the stop button. The dirty old freight elevator lurched to a stop. “You’re sure?” the blond villain asked his new partner.
“Very sure,” the Calculator assured him with a nod. “According to my calculations, Gordon’s office is on the other side of this wall now.”
“Then step back,” the Crumbler advised.
“Hi, Daddy!” a young woman chirped brightly as she bounced into the office. “Barbara!” Jim Gordon said in pleased surprise, rising from his chair. “I didn’t expect you today! Nothing wrong, I hope?”
“Not a thing,” Barbara Gordon said, giving her father a kiss on the cheek. “I just found myself with a free afternoon, and I decided to take my favorite old cop out to lunch.” Barbara winked playfully. “But Chief O’Hara was on vacation, so I thought I’d ask you.”
“Scamp,” Gordon scolded, giving his daughter a quick tickle in the ribs that made her squeal. “Lunch sounds wonderful! Where shall we go?”
“There’s a new Thai place on Finger,” Barbara suggested.
“Thai?” Gordon asked dubiously, as he lifted his jacket from the back of his chair. “I don’t know, Babs, that’s a bit adventurous for me. I’d rather get a good cheese steak.”
“What, the one-time Mysteryman shying away from adventure?” Barbara teased.
Gordon groaned. “I wish you wouldn’t remind me of that,” he said. (*) Then the wall of Gordon’s office dissolved.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Dynamic Trio,” Detective Comics #245 (July, 1957).]
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Chris asked as they walked along.
“What, New Carthage?” Vicki replied. “It’s a great school, Chris. They’ve got a wonderful art program, and a great business school as well.”
“No, I mean coming here on our own,” Chris said. “You don’t think we should have joined a regular tour?”
“No way,” Vicki sniffed. “Those guided tours for prospective students, you only see what they want you to see. No, the only way to really find out about a school is to come yourself when they’re not expecting you, look around, talk to students. Trust me, this is how we’ll decide where we want to go.”
If we decide we want to go to the same school, Chris thought, but didn’t voice his thoughts. He and Vicki had been friends a long time; it seemed they did everything together. He was feeling the need to broaden his horizons, to meet new friends, but he wasn’t sure if this was feasible, with Vicki always at his side. He wondered how she felt on the subject.
“Let’s at least pick up some literature,” Chris said, pointing. “Look, there’s the registrar’s office right over there. Let’s get a brochure.”
Vicki sighed. “OK, I’ll allow that concession to the old way of doing things. We’ll get some literature.”
Chris shook his head as they turned toward the small building. Allow? When did she become the one in charge? And why should anyone be “in charge”?
Together they climbed the few steps to the door of the registration building. Vicki gasped and stopped short; Chris did, too. Vicki motioned for him to look through the window next to the door. Chris did, and his eyes popped wide open.
The registrar was tied to her chair, a gag in her mouth. A man and a woman, both in brightly colored costumes, were going through her filing cabinets.
Vicki pulled Chris aside. “Recognize either of those two?”
“I’m pretty sure the man is the Signalman,” Chris said. “I don’t know about the woman.”
“Signalman, huh?” Vicki said. “I’ve heard of him. He fights Batman a lot!”
“We’d better get some help,” Chris said. “Call campus secu–”
But Vicki Grant had already fished her dial out of her small handbag. Chris King sighed, and reached into his back pocket for his own dial.
“Good Lord!” Commissioner Gordon cried, watching his wall disintegrate. The Calculator and the Crumbler stood revealed by the gaping hole.
“OK, Gordon,” the Crumbler snarled, “you’re coming with–” The villain’s expression changed from gruff confidence to confusion when he saw Barbara. He turned to his partner. “You said he’d be alone!”
“No calculation is flawless,” the Calculator said. “There’s always the possibility of a random x-factor. Easily adjusted for.” The villain’s white-gloved fingers flew to the computer keyboard on his chest and tapped out a quick series of commands. Before Barbara could act, a beam of light shot out from the projector screen on the villain’s helmet and caught her in the torso. The beam solidified the dust in the air into a tight band, pinning her arms to her sides.
“Barbara!” Gordon cried. “You wretches, if you hurt my daughter–”
“You should be more concerned with yourself, Gordon!” the Crumbler declared. He reached out and grabbed a book from Gordon’s shelf, using just his fingertips; he then dropped the book into his palm and watched Gordon’s face as it disintegrated.
“My enthusiastic friend makes a point, Commissioner,” the Calculator said in a smooth, oily tone. “Now, would you prefer to come with us willingly, or after the Crumbler does away with a couple of excess digits?”
Barbara’s mouth hardened into a grim line. She struggled to free her arms, but the band held tight. She was glad she had chosen to wear open-backed shoes that day. Taking careful aim, she kicked out with her right leg, a high kick. The shoe sailed off her foot, flew across the room, and struck the Calculator squarely in the temple. With a groan, the villain collapsed.
“What the–?!” the Crumbler stammered. Not expecting resistance from that quarter, Barbara’s action surprised him. The civilian-garbed Batwoman pressed the advantage of her surprise. Kicking off her other shoe to maintain equal balance, she sprung off the floor in her stocking feet, leaping across the room. She landed exactly as she had planned, the band of solidified dust striking the Crumbler’s open palm. The band disintegrated as easily as the book had.
Commissioner Gordon saw his opening and used it. He dived for his desk and stabbed the button of his intercom that sounded an alarm downstairs.
“Why, you little–!” the Crumbler snarled, having missed seeing Gordon’s action. His right hand stabbed out, ready to disintegrate Barbara’s face. The young woman grabbed his wrist in mid-lunge, and with a loud judo yell added her own strength to the force of his grab, hurling him off his feet. The astonished villain found himself yanked over the woman’s head and slammed down onto a small, low table on the other side of the room. The table split in two with a loud crack as the Crumbler’s back hit it.
The Calculator struggled to his feet, dazed and nauseous from the blow. He looked around the room and saw the Crumbler lying on the broken table. His fingers went to his keyboard, but he paused as he heard pounding at the door.
“Commissioner!” a gruff voice on the other side shouted. “We heard your alarm! Are you all right?”
The Calculator scowled in anger. He typed out a quick command, a different one than he had planned. Thick black smoke poured out of his helmet projector, quickly filling the room. Gordon and Barbara were blinded. The policemen forced their way into the room, the smoke rolling out into the hallway. When it cleared enough for them to see, they found the window open, the two villains gone.
“I don’t understand it,” Gordon remarked. “What did they want with me?”
“Search me,” Barbara said, retrieving her shoes. “I’m sure we’ll find out, since whatever it was, they didn’t get it. Are you still up for lunch?”
“Sure,” the commissioner said. “But can we skip the Thai place? I’ve had enough adventure for one day.”
“Are you all right?” the Calculator asked as he and the Crumbler soared earthward on a ramp made by the Calculator’s helmet-projector.
“Of course,” the Crumbler growled sarcastically, rubbing his own back. “How could getting slammed onto a table hurt anyone?”
If the Calculator caught the sarcasm, he chose to ignore it. “You know, this exercise may have been a failure–”
“You think?” the Crumbler sneered.
“–but perhaps not a total one. We may have learned something valuable!”
“Such as what?” the Crumbler asked as the ramp deposited them next to their rented car in the alley.
“That woman,” the Calculator said as they got into the car. “She fought awfully well, didn’t she?”
“So what?” the Crumbler asked. “You heard the old man; she was his daughter! A cop’s daughter is going to learn how to fight, sure.”
“But she fought really well,” the Calculator persisted. “Perhaps there’s more to her than meets the eye!”
The Crumbler stared at his partner as the Calculator drove out of the alley. “What are you saying? Just because she beat us up, you think she’s Batgirl, or Batlady, or whatever she’s calling herself these days?” The villain snorted derisively through his mask. “And I suppose you think Superman is that guy who writes all his news stories for the Planet. Trent, or whatsisname.”
“It was just a thought,” the Calculator said weakly.
“This is so boring!” Darklight complained, ruffling through papers. “Hasn’t this backwards university heard of computerized records?”
“Dunno,” Signalman said. “Found anything likely yet?”
“Only about fifteen,” Darklight sighed. “Looks like a lot of students came here from Gotham City that year!”
“Yeah, I’m finding that, too,” Signalman said. “This seemed like a good idea at the time, but if we can’t narrow it down any more than this–”
“Freeze!” a commanding female voice barked out. Signalman and Darklight whirled around to see a young woman in a brown and orange costume standing in the doorway, pointing an accusing finger at them. A young man in a red and gold costume hovered in the air behind her.
“What the hell?” Darklight snapped. “Phil, who are these geeks?”
“Beats the crap out of me,” Signalman shrugged.
“Sounds like a good idea,” the young woman said. “And by the way, I’m called Dust Devil. Want to see why?” The woman calling herself Dust Devil gestured at a tall, sand-filled ashtray standing by the doorway of the office. The sand spouted out in a geyser and slammed into Signalman’s chest, forcing him backward off his feet.
“Phil!” Darklight screeched. “Oh, you witch! You’ll pay for that!”
“I’ll cover her tab,” the flying man said, soaring forward. “Here’s my personal check, signed Sunhawk!” The young man thrust his right arm forward, and a beam of golden light stabbed out. Darklight yelped and dodged the beam, which struck the filing cabinet behind her, reflecting in a dazzling burst of light.
Signalman stayed on the floor, shaking his head dazedly. He was trying to make himself look more injured than he was; his cloak covered his right hand, which moved to his belt.
“Why don’t you give up and make it easy on yourself?” Dust Devil asked, standing over him with her hands on her hips.
“Has that ever worked?” Signalman asked, whipping his hand out. He held something that looked like a pencil flashlight, but it fired a sizzling scarlet beam at Dust Devil. The heroine dodged just in time, and the signal-laser bored a hole in the wall behind her.
Sunhawk executed a bank and roll in the air and came around at Darklight again, firing another solar beam. “Sunhawk, eh?” Darklight said. “Let’s see if I can cut off your light!” The villainess thrust her right arm forward, and a wide-angled beam of black light, dark as a moonless night, stabbed out from the device on her wrist. It engulfed Sunhawk in the middle of an upward arc; all of a sudden he lost his power of flight, and inertia carried him into the wall with a loud crash.
“Hold still, Dust Devil, and I’ll send you to the real devil!” Signalman declared, firing his signal-laser again.
“Friend of yours, is he?” Dust Devil asked, gesturing with her hands. The sand on the floor resolved itself into a gigantic fist, which swung down at Signalman. The gaudily garbed villain made a desperate dive, and the silicon fist slammed into the floor inches from his feet.
“Ha! That got you, birdie!” Darklight said, keeping her black-light beam trained on Sunhawk. “Darkness hurts you, eh? Let’s see how much!”
Inside the black depths of the beam, Sunhawk writhed in pain. He felt as if all the energy in his body had been leeched out of him; he could barely move a muscle. Blasted dial! Chris thought. Turned me into a hero whose powers depend on light, and threw me up against a villainess who controls darkness! Good job! It’ll teach me not to depend on it so much! Sunhawk’s hand went feebly to the dial stashed in his belt and manipulated the control.
“What, no snappy patter?” Darklight asked, walking forward as she kept the dark beam on her foe. “You’d never make it as a Teen Titan, kid; they never shut up! They — aaah!” Darklight’s taunt ended in a scream as a bare hand shot out of her dark field. The hand grabbed her wrist in a viselike grip and turned her arm away. An ordinary-looking young man — a boy, really — stepped out of the field of darkness.
“Sunhawk had to leave,” he said. “I’ll do my best to cover for him.” With a swift move, Chris slammed Darklight’s arm into the filing cabinet. The dark-projector smashed against the metal in a crunch of rending plastic and glass.
“Crystal!” Signalman shouted, rolling back up to his feet. “Let’s get out of here!”
Darklight nodded once and shoved her left hand into Chris’ face. The projector on that hand flashed out a brilliant burst of white light; Chris’ hands instinctively flew to his eyes. “Aaargh!” he growled. “My eyes! I can’t see!”
“Chris!” Dust Devil cried. In her concern for her friend, she didn’t see Signalman drop a handful of miniature smoke bombs. Instantly, the room was filled with thick red smoke. “Chris, get away from the windows!” Dust Devil cried into the dark cloud. She concentrated, her power to control silicon molecules working on the traces of silicon in the glass of the windows.
After a few moments of concentration, the windows exploded, letting fresh air in and allowing the smoke to drift out. By the time the room cleared, they could see that Signalman and Darklight were gone. “We failed,” Dust Devil said disgustedly. “They got away!”
“Well, they didn’t get whatever they were after,” Chris said. “I guess that counts as a victory.”
“But still–!” Dust Devil insisted. “We should go after them! They can’t have gotten far! We should–”
Chris King just sighed.