Batman: The Return, Chapter 1: Promethium Bomb

by Immortalwildcat

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By most standards, the building was a ramshackle hovel. The old, weathered boards and corrugated tin roof had been scavenged from earlier buildings, and the foam insulation between the boards was formerly packing material for construction equipment. But the very fact that the building had insulation at all made it one of the better buildings in the Alaskan settlement known as Isolation.

Huddled together in a pile of furs and woolen blankets, Lori McAllister and Vince Speach slept soundly despite the high winds raging outside. Their sleep was interrupted by a radio sitting up on a shelf.

“Hello? Is anybody there? We need help!” The voice was a female’s, laced with panic. “Can anybody hear me?”

Lori stirred, then sat up.

“The building is collapsing! The storm, it’s too much!”

Lori reached for the microphone for the two-way radio set. “Sister Mary Catherine, this is Lori at Isolation.”

“Oh, thank Heaven you are there! Part of the roof collapsed from the snow. We’ve gathered everyone into the dining room, but I’m afraid the whole building will collapse.”

Trying to remember the layout of the orphanage, Lori told her, “Get everyone into the kitchen. That’s not part of the main building, so you should be all right in there. I’ll get there with the snowcat as soon as I can.”

“The hell you will! You think you’re going to bring a bunch of kids in here?” Vince’s voice was muffled as Lori yanked a pillow out from under her and pushed it into Vince’s face.

“Never mind him, Sister. Help is on the way.”

***

Thousands of miles away in Gotham City, Dick Grayson took an early morning phone call in the executive office of Wayne Enterprises.

“Grayson here.”

“Real professional sounding, Dick. Must do wonders for the corporate image.” The voice on the other end was serious but tinged with a bit of mirth.

“It’s an internal line, Ray. The only people who can call me on this line are my direct staff, or–” There was a pause as Dick pressed an unmarked button on the base of the phone. “–League members. We’re clear, Ray.”

“You and the gadgets. Look, I think I’ve finally got something on the explosive from Bruce’s plane.” In his office at Ivy University, Ray Palmer skimmed a finger over a computer printout. “It was a high-volatility, self-perpetuating catalytic compound.”

“OK, I think I followed most of that. It reacts with whatever is around it to produce more explosive compounds, right?”

“Pretty much. I think it reacts mostly with nitrogen and oxygen, though it might be reactive with some base metals as well. It’s hard to tell, since I don’t have the compound itself to work with.”

“Ray, this sounds like the original description of promethium!” Dick turned to a computer terminal and entered a special password. Within seconds, he was connected to the computer at Titans Tower. From there, he called up a case file from a few years earlier. “Here it is: a self-regenerating explosive compound. They were concerned about detonating the first promethium-based device, because they didn’t know if the explosion could be stopped once it started. The HIVE was involved, trying to steal it, and I was at ground zero of the test with the other Titans. But it turned out to be a dud.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Promethium: Unbound,” The New Teen Titans #10 (August, 1981).]

“But after the attempt to detonate it, the promethium was altered to an inert state as a highly flexible, malleable metal with extremely high tensile strength. If I recall, you use it yourself now, right?”

“That’s right, but consider this. Earlier this year, in a case with the New Titans, I encountered a group of super-powered monsters called the Hybrid, which turned out to have been created by Steve Dayton himself during a time when he’d gone insane shortly after the Crisis. Dayton claimed he used a form of promethium developed by Dayton Industries to create the Hybrid, which was his way of bringing back the original Doom Patrol. (*) If Dayton was telling the truth, the original promethium project was actually successful, so could someone have stolen the results?

[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Horror of the Hybrid.]

Ray considered it for a moment. “If it was a total failure, they would have re-examined it from start to finish. But it was a serendipitous failure, resulting in an element that was useful and highly marketable. As long as they could reproduce it, why reexamine the background work?” Ray chuckled. “I wouldn’t let one of my research assistants get away with it, but in industrial research? As long as it pays, I suppose the science doesn’t matter all that much.”

“I’ll have to get in touch with Dayton Industries.”

“Watch your step there, Dick. I’ve heard some odd things about Steve Dayton from a couple of his former researchers who are working here at Ivy U. The firm is breaking down — no leadership. Apparently, Dayton is devoting all his time to this so-called Doom Patrol of his, and he’s letting the company go to pot.”

“Don’t worry, Ray. I’ve got an in there, remember?

***

In a townhouse in Moorehead Commons, an older man sat down to breakfast. As he sipped his tea, a younger woman with flowing, pale hair came into the kitchen.

“Good morning, Miss St. Cloud. I’m sorry if I woke you.”

“Nonsense, Alfred. I’ve never known anyone who moved as quietly as you do.” Silver poured herself a cup of tea and sat down. “I’m just thrilled that you’re up and about.”

“It seems to have become a habit of late. This past year or so, I have taken falls, I have been taken over by a creature from another dimension, and now a stroke. The shock of… of…” Alfred Pennyworth sat back in his chair, his hands shaking in his lap.

“It’s all right. Dr. Dundee said the stroke was brought on by shock, and you shouldn’t try to push yourself in dealing with Bruce’s death.” Silver ran a hand through her hair. “Today’s going to be tough, though.”

“I helped Master Bruce draft his will more than once. I never thought I would be around to hear it read, though.”

“I told Jason I would pick him up at the school at two o’clock. Lucius asked us to get there by three.”

“Will Lucius be at the Manor tonight as well? It wasn’t a consideration until these past few months.”

“I’m not sure. Does he need to be? I mean, what is this all about tonight?”

Alfred reached for his tea and took a sip. “It is very much like the reading of Master Bruce’s will. He recognized the fact that he would die — or be incapacitated — someday. Therefore, he put plans into place for a succession, if you will, of the role of Batman.”

“But it has been nearly a month. Why wait so long? For that matter, isn’t this a long time to wait for the reading of the will?”

“For most people, yes, it is rather long. However, you must take into consideration the circumstances of Master Bruce’s unusual life. It was not uncommon for him to vanish for a week or two when he was working on a case.” Alfred smiled ruefully. “My acting talents were exercised frequently in that respect.”

“So Bruce wanted to make sure his will wasn’t read while there was a chance he was still alive. It makes sense.”

“Yes, and likewise, he did not want his final instructions regarding his activities as Batman revealed to Jason, Dick, and his other compatriots until it was reasonably sure that he wasn’t merely out of contact. And, oddly enough, even now we are relying entirely on circumstantial evidence of his death.”

The attractive woman thought about this for a moment. “You’re right. No bodies or evidence could be recovered. But the odds are…”

“Yes, incredible. But then, Master Bruce made the incredible seem commonplace.”

***

“Let me see if I have this right. You want us to hook up a forty-year-old trailer skid to the snowcat, travel two miles through the worst storm we’ve had around here in ten years, pile sixty people on the ‘cat and the trailer, and drag the whole lot back here through the storm. Will there be anything else for you, ma’am?” Mick Rory stood up and walked over to the door of his dining hall. He couldn’t see out the scratched and clouded plastic window, but he could hear the storm raging outside.

“How many will the ‘cat hold?”

Mick turned to see Thomas, Isolation’s amnesiac newcomer who had arrived four weeks earlier, scratching figures with chalk on the piece of slate normally used for listing the day’s meal choices. “Three across the front seat — don’t want to risk you getting bumped while driving,” said Thomas. “We can probably get six kids in the compartment behind the seat, if they aren’t too big. We’ve got corrugated metal that we can put over the bed, with a couple of heating units back there. I’d say we can put twenty or more in there.” Thomas looked up. “Mick, how many of those blowers have you got hooked up to burners?

“Six, but–“

“Good. We can keep the ones on the trailer warm, too.”

“You’re don’t seriously think we can do this, do you?” Mick looked from Thomas to Lori, who had come in ten minutes earlier seeking their help.

“Mick, nobody in Isolation can handle that thing like you can. If anybody can get through this storm and help those children, it’s you.” Lori glanced at Thomas. “And if anyone can figure out how we can get them all in one trip, and how to avoid Vince in the process, it’s him.”

There was a blast of colder air as the door opened briefly. “I heard what’s happening. I’d like to help.” It was Preston, normally a loner in this small community of loners. Thomas felt an odd feeling of foreboding, as he noticed that the heavy fur coat worn by Preston didn’t fit right, as if he was wearing something even heavier underneath. “And you can’t wait. Vince is rounding up some of his boys to stop you from going.”

“I don’t get it, Pres,” said Lori as Mick and Thomas pulled on heavy coats. “I thought you were one of Vince’s boys yourself.”

“I came here to get away from who I’d become. Taking Vince’s side in something like this — that takes me back to being that person.”

“All right, then,” said Mick. “Thomas, you know where the heat pots are. Better grab three tanks of the plasma. Pres, you help him while I get the ‘cat out of the hut.”

***

At noontime in a crowded Gotham City restaurant modeled after an Irish pub, heads were turning as Dick Grayson strolled through with his companion. Weeks after the events surrounding Bruce Wayne’s memorial service had made his one of the most recognizable faces in Gotham, Dick was still getting used to being the center of attention. That wasn’t the case this time.

“Isn’t that–?”

“Wow, he looks better now than he did on TV!”

“Who would think that green could look so, so–“

“Sexy?”

“No, not that, but it is kind of cool.”

Gar Logan, dressed in a conservative (for him) dark blue crushed velvet blazer with white turtleneck and gray slacks, smiled and acknowledged the comments. “Ah, my adoring public. Just when I think they’ve forgotten me, they come through.”

“And the fact that you tipped the maitre’d to announce you as ‘famed star of film and television Garfield Logan’ didn’t have anything to do with it, right?” remarked Dick with a smile. “I swear, Gar, is the word discretion in your vocabulary?”

“Sure it is. Bright and shiny, never been used!” Gar grinned as they took their seats. After the waitress handed them menus and took their drink orders, the grin disappeared. “So, what’s the story, Dick?”

“In a second.” Dick reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out what looked like a small tape recorder. Setting it in the center of the table, he pressed a button on the recorder. “That’s better.”

“A tape recorder? What happened to that great memory of yours?”

“Actually, it’s a white noise generator. Anyone more then three feet from that box can’t hear a thing we say.”

“Cool! I’ll take three of them. Now that we’ve satisfied your paranoid streak, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Promethium. Remember the failed test explosion?”

“Of course I do! We were up close and personal with the bomb, remember? And who could forget about what it was used for later? Remember Prometheus and the others?”

“The Hybrid, yes. That seemed to prove that promethium wasn’t the dud that Dayton Industries originally thought it was. Well, it turns out that promethium was likely used in the bomb on Bruce’s plane.”

Garfield sat back in his chair and took a drink from his water glass. “Dick, if some terrorist got ahold of that stuff, there’s no telling what kind of hell he could unleash.”

“That’s why I need your help. I need access to Dayton’s personnel files, and I need it soon. I don’t suppose they have that information computerized, do they?”

“You might be in luck, Dick. Steve’s been trying to get me to take a hand in running the business for a couple of years. I insisted that he make the information available for me through a modem connection so I could work from the Tower. If you want to come out there with me after lunch, we can check it over.”

As the waitress brought their drinks, Dick smiled. “I’m impressed, Gar. I didn’t think you had that much interest in Dayton Industries, actually. I was just hoping you might be able to get me in to see someone.” Dick took a sip from his drink. “Unfortunately, I can’t go today. Bruce’s will is being read this afternoon.”

“Oh. Man, I remember when I had to go to the reading of Rita’s will. You want me to come along?” Gar looked down, not wanting to meet Dick’s eyes. “You know, moral support and all that?”

“I appreciate it, Gar, but you can relax. I’ve got Barb, Silver, Jason, and Alfred to provide any support I need, and vice versa. But seriously, thank you.”

“Hey, it’s what friends do, right?”

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