One advantage to being captured with scientists, they all knew their Star Trek.
On the ship, Tim had realized that when they got to wherever they were going, his cover was blown. DEMON was a big operation and Ra’s al Ghul couldn’t oversee everything himself, but it was a good bet that anything he did involving Gotham, he did personally. As soon as Ra’s saw Tim Drake among the prisoners, he was busted.
So Tim had segued from looking for an opening where all the scientists could escape, to one where he personally could get away, reasoning that he could come back for the rest of them more easily if he wasn’t dead. No opening came, until the ship came to a halt at a big platform, like an oilrig. Tim and the others were ushered off, and there was this big set of double doors inside some kind of pressurized tube, like the Martian dechyon chambers he’d seen at the Watchtower. A few of the scientists speculated that it was a hydrolator, an aqualator, or a mare superficies submergalator—which all amounted to an elevator to take them under water. That guess was confirmed when the doors opened and Ubu stepped out of them, swallowing hard like his ears had just popped. Ubu standing around with the reception committee… Tim’s fears multiplied by the minute. Where Ubu was, Ra’s couldn’t be far behind, and that meant his time was running out.
Fortunately, Ubu didn’t seem to be interested in the prisoners. He had a few words with one of the guards, and looked the scientists over in one sweeping glance. Tim had he impression of a preoccupied foreman on a loading dock, pulled away from his crap game to sign for a delivery of crates. “Whatcha got here? Manifest says you got three busloads of scientists from Gotham… check.” He wasn’t taking time to count them, he just signed the clipboard and went back to his game behind packing crate thirteen… Or in Ubu’s case, ordering the minions to gas up a service boat from the ship.
As long as Ubu’s focus was there, it was easy enough to keep from being spotted. But Tim knew that was only a temporary reprieve. As soon as his boat was ready, Ubu would probably turn back and give the Gotham prisoners his full attention, so Tim maneuvered, and maneuvered, until he was in the first group to be loaded into the elevator. It worked, as far as avoiding Ubu, but it was not cost-free. E.J. Meadows had maneuvered right along with him.
One disadvantage of being captured with scientists, they’re a little too observant. Dr. Meadows certainly was, and Tim was beginning to wonder if keeping Robin a secret from her might be a bigger challenge that keeping Tim Drake’s presence a secret from Ra’s.
Her logic, given the limited data she had, was flawless: it was not a good idea to be in the first group corralled into that elevator when they had no idea what was in store for them on the other side. She wanted to know what Tim thought he was doing—which he couldn’t exactly tell her, since he was trying to keep Ubu from recognizing Tim Drake, when Tim Drake should not even know that particular minion was called Ubu, let alone be in any particular danger from him, like, oh, say, Ubu recognizing him as BATMAN’S SIDEKICK. It was a no-win situation, the ultimate no win situation for a crimefighter, and in a moment of desperation—while a minion shoved his back to get him moving forward into the elevator, a seagull squawked overhead and Ubu turned to look at it, and Dr. Meadows said “Well?” expecting an answer—Tim blurted the first words that came into his head: Kobayashi Maru.
Meadows’s eyes flashed up at him for a second, blazing with recognition. What she thought he meant, Tim had no idea. But she took the blurted phrase as an explanation (and a good one!) She thought he had a real plan. As the elevator pressurized, it took Tim a moment to figure out what he had actually said…
Kobayashi maru. It was a no-win situation. (But no-win because of the way it was set up, not because a megalomaniac had kidnapped you alongside the smokin’ hot lady scientist you were trying to impress.) The Kobayashi Maru was a test at Starfleet Academy, introduced in the second movie, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Paramount Pictures, 1982… Starring Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh, who could best be describe as a ham-tastic, centuries-old megalomaniac that Ra’s would recognize in the mirror… Okay, maybe that’s why it popped out of his mouth just then. But none of that would have brought a twinkle to E.J. Meadows’s eyes, so what else was it?
A no-win situation… a no-win situation… The Kobayashi Maru was a no-win because it was designed to be, because of the way the rules were set up, and the only way to beat it was to change the rules… to cheat… Dr. Meadows thought that somehow Tim had a plan to cheat that involved being the first ones on (or off) the elevator?
Okay, well, he’d think of something. The elevator had only started to move, after all…
Burj al Bahr al Ghul.
Burj al Bahr al Ghul… It didn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but it would do. They had to call the new sea base something to distinguish it from the other castles and compounds DEMON maintained around the world.
Ra’s accepted the completed inventory from N’lvar and wrote the new name portentously across the top. Burj al Bahr al Ghul, the sea fortress of the Demon. N’lvar would make it known to the others. It was a pity he had not selected the name before Ubu left, for Ubu could have spread the word to the other bases. For now, there would be another cycle of messages coming in for “Atlantia al Ghul,” “Aquatica al Ghul,” and “East Ghul,” but soon, the official designation would be circulated and there would be uniformity once again.
Ra’s looked over the inventory of the base, as they had found it…
He had seen worse. The fortress had been abandoned for a hundred years, at least, and when Ra’s moved into castles empty for half the time, he did not expect more than cobwebs. Underwater, he fully expected the salt to have corroded anything of value that the Atlaneans left behind. So he was quite pleased to see that a small armory remained, with six score of spears and eight score of armor still intact. Clearly, what Atlanteans built, they built to withstand the sea, but even Ra’s had not expected an arsenal of this quality.
After several minutes of creaking decent, Tim still didn’t have any ideas, but Dr. Meadows started crying out, bending and unbending her knees and elbows, and intermixed with the cries of pain were the syllables “Ko… Ko, ko, ko… ayashi… ma, ma, maru.”
Tim followed suit, at least as far as bending and unbending his joints as if he was in considerable pain. Another of their fellow passengers told the DEMON guards that Doctors Meadows and Drake were afflicted with compression sickness, similar to the bends, and would need medical attention as soon as they reached bottom.
Maybe it was luck, maybe they just happened to get assigned the two most gullible minions in the history of DEMON to escort them down in the elevator, or maybe the minions weren’t all that comfortable with their own ears popping as the elevator pressurized. Maybe they liked the idea of visiting whatever medical facility was set up down below and having a few candid words with the doctor.
The doors opened, and the guards seemed to have a whispered argument about who was going where. Eventually, the loser marched the other scientists off to Location Unknown, which Tim guessed would resembled every other DEMON dungeon he’d been in over the years. The winner marched “Doctors Drake and Meadows” to the med facility.
It was a risk, being that good a fighter out of costume and in front of a civilian, but it wasn’t the kind of opportunity Tim could let pass. There hadn’t been an opening as they walked through the halls, there was always another minion or two in sight who would notice a prisoner breaking away from a guard. But once they got to the med lab and Tim saw it was cut out of a cavern, with nobody there but their one guard and the doctor in sight, no cameras, nobody in the hallway looking in. It was too good a chance to pass up. After the initial probings, the guard actually left them alone with the doctor—or whatever passed for a doctor among DEMON minions. It was way too good a chance to let pass, so Tim made his move as soon as the guy’s attention was on Dr. Meadows knee.
He grabbed a shoulder, spun the doctor around, and gave a sharp throat-poke to keep him from crying out. But then, before he could land a knockout punch, Meadows was kicking the guy in the back! Made him forget Tim completely and turn back to face her, after which, she kicked him twice in the stomach and slammed her fist into his nose.
And figured at least he didn’t have to explain why an ordinary kid like “Tim Drake, Hudson freshman” was such a good fighter.
“Here, we can gag him and tie him up with this,” she said, tearing the lining out of her skirt.
Tim’s eyes widened.
“That was a great escape plan!” she said admiringly.
“What was?” Tim squeaked.
“Kobayashi Maru. Head into the neutral zone, even though it seems like the wrong move, far too dangerous, total suicide; that explained the elevator. You’d only do something that cocky if you had an ace up your sleeve. And they went into the neutral zone to answer a distress signal… beam the injured into the med lab… Voila.”
She gestured around the med lab like this must be what Tim had in mind the entire time.
“Oh, yeah, right,” he nodded dully.
Put that way, it did sound like a pretty good plan, and he puffed out his chest a little as if it really had played out just as he envisioned it. They were hardly free, but he wasn’t looking at a face-to-face with Ra’s al Ghul any time soon, and he hadn’t exposed Robin. So far, so good.
“And you! Great moves,” he grinned. “I mean, wow, big guy like that, Seven of Nine versus The Rock.”
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I was on sabbatical there a couple years back, didn’t like to waste my free time on samba lessons.”
“Whoa,” was all Tim could think to say.
“Seven of Nine,” Meadows said sourly, “Seven of Nine got her ass kicked in that episode.”
“I stand corrected,” Tim said quickly. Her tone was one he’d heard before, in that team-up with Lady Shiva. Robin had inadvertently ruffled Warrior Pride, comparing her to an Amazon “lightweight” she found far inferior. Tim threw in the same “excuse me” expression that made Shiva smirk, but E.J. Meadows’s attention had moved on.
“Hey, look at this scanner,” she said, tipping it on its side to look underneath.
“I don’t think you should do that,” Tim said—sounding exactly like his former self when Shiva opened the casket full of ghost-ninjas.
“It’s not electrical. Some kind of magnetic field generator. Gibson was playing with this idea a few years ago, but he couldn’t produce enough power to boil water let alone… this is some serious computer gear, all powered by magnetronics!”
“Uh huh, but we’re still prisoners,” Tim noted.
She waved him away like “Who cares” and started poking the magnetic field with her fingernail.
“Recovering the scientists is the immediate problem,” Batman declared, “but it’s not the only one. Ra’s has to be cleared out of that fortress before he can do real harm.”
“Define ‘real harm,’” Arthur said sharply.
“This is a warlord mentality we’re dealing with. A warlord of another era, and he’s taken a fortress.”
“Strictly speaking, he’s ‘moved into’ a fortress. It’s not like there was anything in his way but some coral and saltwater trout.”
“That’s not the point. It’s not that he’d be flush with victory, it’s that he will find himself in surroundings built around the siege and conquest mentality he understands. I believe that right now his only interest in Kapheira is as a prison camp. It’s a way he can keep those scientists in his power, hidden from the world, and pass off anything they create as his own invention, mined from the sea floors. But it won’t end there.”
“You’re saying he’ll attack Atlantis?”
“Before long, he’ll look around and realize you don’t build a place like that unless you have enemies. Every wall of every room will remind him, everything he touches will whisper it in his ear: Atlantis has enemies. He’s surrounded by your technology, worlds better than anything he has at home, but even at that, he knows it’s the ugly stepsister. The real prize is here. And you have enemies. Enemies strong enough to chase you into that fortress.”
“So not only has your ‘Demon’s Head’ taken up residence in the local mountain fortress, but you’re saying he's also moving toward the Shadow Deep with the equivalent of a long pointy stick?!”
“’The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ He’ll consider it. He won’t know who or what they are yet, but he will have the thought—the chain of thoughts—as certain as death: I’m in a fortress built by the people of Atlantis to protect themselves. Atlantis is a great power. I would like to rule it. Atlantis has enemies, I will find them and form an alliance.”
“You don’t just send a text message down the Mariana Trench, Bruce. Even I wouldn’t know how to contact the Shadow Deep, if they even exist anymore.”
“But if you wanted to find out, you have people you would put on it. Ra’s is no different—and he is much more patient. He won't have found the hole yet, he won’t even have thought about it, he has other irons in the fire… but very soon he will get the idea. And once he does, there will be some third tier DEMON squad assigned to research it. Two squads, actually. One to find the hole and one to sharpen the stick.”
“My least favorite part of the job,” Arthur said hoarsely. “Saving the villainous fools from themselves.”
To be continued…