Batman contacted Alfred and told him to drive on home, then made his way to one of several locations in the city where he kept caches of equipment. Moments later, a sleek black car roared out of the unused courtyard of an old hotel. The car slipped through the streets of the city like a fish through water, then hit the open road leading out to the suburbs with a guttural roar. It took less than ten minutes to reach the abandoned mining road that led onto the back of the Wayne property. Batman slowed the car on the unpaved road, coming to the end of it, and driving on through the brush and into the wall of the hill. Beneath a rocky outcropping, the entrance to the Batcave opened automatically, and he drove on down through the tunnel to his underground headquarters.
As the car emerged from the tunnel into the wide chamber that served as a garage for the many vehicles he had accumulated over his years of crime-fighting, Batman knew something was wrong. The cave was lit only by the dim standby lighting that was always on. Upon approaching the Batmobile, the main lights should have come on automatically. Off to the right, he saw sparks and flashes in the area where the main computer consoles resided. He flipped a switch on one of the car’s many control panels, and the view through the windshield faded to black, interrupted by patches of red in varying intensity. Each of the small light fixtures showed in a pinpoint of bright red, and the sparks off to one side created a red nimbus.
Batman keyed the radio microphone. “Alfred, do not reply. If you aren’t at the Manor, stay away. If you are, take Silver and get out now.” Seeing no movement in the infrared patterns, he pulled a set of lenses offering a similar benefit from his utility belt and fitted them into his cowl before emerging from the car.
The door of the car lifted upward, and he dived low as he exited. After three rolls along the floor, he came up into a crouch and looked around him. He squinted, activating the infrared lenses. Still, he saw no movement. Remaining alert, he made his way to the computer console. As he’d expected, the terminals were shattered, and the connecting cables running to the mainframe computer residing in a separate, climate-controlled chamber, were severed.
Making his way to the computer room, he saw that the door was open, and his infrared lenses showed a steady glow through the open doorway. Taking a pair of batarangs from his belt with his right hand and a small flashlight with his left, he looked into the computer room. The seven large cabinets that held the components of the Cray supercomputer and its storage drives were tilted at odd angles. A closer examination showed that portions of the cabinets and their contents had been melted, apparently by extreme heat.
Somebody apparently did not want me to see the result of those searches, surmised the Darknight Detective. For two minutes he stood motionless in the computer room, the only thing moving his eyes. After that, he performed a quick search of the computer room to ensure that nobody was hiding there, then closed and locked the door as he exited. Though, if my suspicion is correct, locking it won’t make any difference.
“Batman! Are you in here?” The voice of Robin rang out loud and clear in the darkened Batcave. Dousing the light, Batman slipped it back into his utility belt, and pulled out something else that might be more useful, though he hoped his suspicions were wrong.
“In the transporter chamber,” replied Batman, throwing his voice to make it sound as if he really was thirty feet to his left. He saw the gleam of dim light reflect off the yellow of Robin’s cape. Pressing a button on the item in his left hand, he counted down four seconds, then tossed it just behind his partner. On the fifth second, the magnesium flare burst into life. Though turned away from it, Robin staggered forward and let out a cry of pain.
“Damn you!” yelled Batman, as Robin’s form shifted and grew, taking the form of a green-skinned Martian.
“How long have you been impersonating Jason?” demanded Batman, watching as the Martian got to his feet. He was trying to gauge his odds of winning a battle with the alien. He had faced off against J’onn J’onzz in training exercises in the past, but there was much more at stake here.
“Just over fifty of your lunar cycles,” rumbled the Martian. “Nearly two and a half of our years, I have been locked into that form, into the thoughts and personality of this child. Knowing who you are and what you might do to our plans, yet unable to take action because of the binding process that allowed me to become this Jasontodd in every way imaginable.”
“Great Scott!” exclaimed Batman as the implication of the Martian’s statement struck him. “It’s been you all along. You took his place before he came to Gotham City with his parents.”
“Parents who never knew that they were part of a plan to bring me into proximity to you. A plan that so closely recreated the events leading to your gaining custody of Richardgrayson, as to ensure you would do the same with Jasontodd. With subtle mental help from others of my kind, of course.”
The Martian leaped at Batman, his arms elongating and forming into long claws. Instead of trying to evade his attacker, Batman dived directly at him, leaping between the outstretched arms and slamming both fists into the alien’s midsection. A second set of arms sprouted from the Martian’s torso. Reaching around to the back of his utility belt, Batman whipped out a pair of bulky-looking handcuffs and slapped them onto the Martian’s newly formed wrists. Leaping back again, Batman pulled out a small remote control device and activated it. Hundreds of volts of electricity coursed through the Martian’s body.
“It’s not fire, but that much juice should stun anybody short of Superman… I hope,” murmured Batman as he leaped into the shadows and made his way toward one specific area of the Batcave.
“Fool! I can track you by your tho–! What is this? Why can I not sense your mind?” cried the Martian despite the pain wracking its body.
That might have something to do with a bit of Zen mind and emotion control that I indulged in while in the computer room. J’onn taught it to me and a few others, just in case we ever needed to shield our thoughts from him.
“It doesn’t matter, Batman. I know where you’re going. Remember, for the last four years, I have been learning from you — learning your secrets, your methods I know what you are going to try to do now. You are probably just outside of the armory at this very second. Shall we test that?” The Martian’s eyes glowed red, and searing beams of energy flared out, sweeping the narrow entrance to the small section of the cave where Batman kept weapons confiscated from his enemies.
Normally you would be right, thought Batman. But I received something as a memento last week, something I hadn’t told Jason about yet, but that I wanted in here. “Here” was the Batcave’s famous trophy room, a veritable museum of past cases. Years ago, rumors of its existence had grown to the point to which Batman had admitted it to the public, and even allowed a film crew to come in and record footage. That had necessitated moving the trophy room into a separate cavern, something for which he was thankful at the moment. He found the item he was looking for and slipped it into his utility belt at his back, so it was hidden under his cape.
“Where are you?” growled the Martian, standing in the blasted entryway of the armory. Inside, display cases and lockers were scattered from the force of the Martian-vision blast. Hearing the sound of a car door, the Martian took to the air, flying low through the Batcave back out to the garage area. The car Batman had arrived in still stood on the rotating platform in the center, ringed by several other vehicles, each one facing away from the center in its designated parking space.
Dropping down in front of the car in which Batman had arrived, the Martian peered in through the darkened windshield. Unable to see within, he once more let loose with a blast of Martian-vision that took the entire roof structure off of the car. Inside, he found nothing. Off to one side, where multiple tool cabinets and diagnostic equipment stood, Batman pressed down on six buttons at once with splayed hands. There was a loud roar as six high-powered engines came to life, and six of the cars parked around the turntable sent torrents of flame shooting from their turbojet booster exhausts.
“Do you remember suggesting the remote operations for the cars in the docking bays, ‘Jason’?” asked Batman as the Martian dropped to his knees in the ring of fire. “I hope you can appreciate the irony now!”
At that moment, there was a scream from the steps leading up to Wayne Manor. Batman turned to see his wife standing there, her hands over her mouth.
“Silver? I told Alfred to get you away from here!” Batman looked from his wife to the creature he’d thought was his partner. “Get back upstairs!”
“No!” It was Jason Todd’s voice, coming from the platform in the garage area. “Stay! You were the one good thing about this mission.” The Martian rose up, staggering across the platform as the bursts of flame from the multiple Batmobiles died down. “It won’t be long before the final plan is enacted, anyway. I’ve done my job.”
“Your job?” asked Batman, reaching back and under his cape.
“I’ve kept you busy. Your friends in the Justice League are trying to stop the Red Brotherhood. I’ve blanketed all radio communications from here with one of Doctor Double-X’s devices that was in the armory. The only way you could help them out is to get out of here and reach the JLA transporter in Gotham. Now, it’s too late for you to do anything.”
“I don’t understand. Are you Jason, or–?”
“He’s a Martian, Silver. He took Jason’s place; he claims it was before I met Jason. I was running a search of the news databases, trying to find signs of substitutions the Martians might have made over the last few years. And I had no idea one had been made in my own family.”
“Yes, and before the Brotherhood wipes out all of humanity, I can still be the one who killed Batman!”
With a roar, the Martian suddenly grew in size and leaped at the Caped Crusader. Batman pulled out the flame-pistol sent to him by Mick Rory and fired. The concentrated napalm ignited as it streamed from the weapon, splashing over the Martian’s form.
The alien crashed to the floor before Batman, thrashing in pain. He made one more attempt to attack, only to misjudge the distance to his quarry, and slammed into the support for one of the upper platforms of the Batcave. The combination of the impact and the burning napalm snapped the support. The platform above lurched, and a pair of cabinets as well as a lab table went sliding off, dropping toward Silver St. Cloud-Wayne.
“Silver!” cried Batman, jumping toward his wife, only to be struck backward by one of the cabinets falling from above.
“Mother!” screamed the Martian, his neck and arms stretching across the span between him and the steps where Silver stood. His head arched upward, slamming into the second cabinet and knocking it to one side. His hands wrapped around her, lifting her farther up the carved stone steps toward the manor above. The table crashed down on his elongated neck, followed by the platform collapsing on him.
In the stillness after the collapse, the only sound to be heard in the Batcave was the heavy breathing of the three occupants.
“Bru — Batman, are you all right?”
Despite the throbbing in his head and the concern for his wife, Batman smiled at how she still took care about using his name. “I’ll survive. What about you? Where are you?” The platform had taken out the lights in that section of the cave.
“I’m near the top of the steps. A few bruises, but I can’t move. His… his — I guess it’s his hands — are laying over me.”
Batman pulled the light from his utility belt and snapped it on. The platform had consisted of twelve-inch-high girders, twenty feet long, topped by corrugated steel. The bulk of it lay on the twisted body of the Martian. “He wanted to kill me, but he risked his life to save you.”
“Had to,” came a faint voice from under the steel. “Had to save Mother. I… I… I love her.”
Batman pulled a line from his belt and tossed it up and over one of the higher supports. Tying it off to one of the collapsed girders, he hauled part of the pile of steel off the Martian. “Let me help you. Maybe–”
“Don’t. Too late. Brotherhood is losing. I can’t even join the mind group to help them. Help them, help — AAAIIIEEE!” The Martian went limp, and Batman could sense the life was gone from him. In death his face, Batman noted grimly, was that of a Martian youth not much older than Jason’s actual age.
Batman threw a line up over one of the light fixtures above, and climbed up and around the remains of the laboratory platform to reach his wife. He carefully lifted the Martian’s oversized hands from her and took her into his arms, then carried her up into the house. In his study, he laid her on a couch just as Alfred Pennyworth came rushing in.
“Sir, I’ve been trying to reach your friends in the Justice League since I realized something was wrong downstairs. I’ve just gotten through using the telephone relay at to the Foundation tower.” Alfred indicated the telephone on Bruce Wayne’s desk. “All of the wireless phones seem to be blocked.”
“Yes, I’ll take care of that shortly,” said Batman as he picked up the phone. “Red Tornado? What’s the situ — oh. Yes, yes, there has been a problem here. No, I’ll fill the League in later, but for now, we have some personal issues to deal with. You say there are prisoners? Access your file on Robin — Jason Todd — and see if he’s among… yes, Robin. No, we’re all right, just very shaken up. Thank you, I appreciate your concern, and I’ll pass it along to her. I’ll be in touch shortly.”
Batman turned away from the desk, pulling his mask up and off of his face. “Red Tornado asked me to offer his sympathies, Silver. For an artificial life-form, he seems to be gaining a good grasp of human relationships, including yours and Jason’s.” He knelt down next to her. “Darling? Are you okay?”
“I just found out that your adoptive son, my step-son, is an alien. I’m not sure anyone can be okay after that, not this soon, anyway. But as you said earlier, I’ll survive. When I came back last year, I knew I was setting myself up for a bizarre life, but I guess I didn’t know just how much so.” She sat up, brushing her hair back from her face; the tears would come later. “What about you? You cared for Jason as much as you could for a son of your own.”
“I did. And I think that, even though it was the imposed personality of Jason that we were dealing with, some of that carried through to the Martian underneath. Which is why he gave his life to save you.”
“So, what happens now?”
“Part of it depends on whether the real Jason is among the Martians’ captives. Beyond that, my dear. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”