A fan fiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: Shortly after the disastrous training exercise in Failsafe, the Team is sent on an urgent covert mission to uncover the details on a deadly anti-League weapon, with Robin assigned as lead. When the mission goes south and the mystery weapon is turned on his team, Robin is forced to find a solution that allows them to escape in one piece—while plagued with doubts in his leadership abilities that the exercise brought to light.
Warnings: Spoilers up through Disordered. Some blood/injury, bad language, references to character death (from Failsafe).
Note: For Black Friar's fanfiction contest. Takes place after Failsafe and Disordered, but before Halloween and the events of Secrets. Also written because, while I liked that Disordered followed up the traumatizing events of Failsafe with some therapy sessions, we never actually see this affect any of the Team in their missions afterwards. Robin briefly seems uncomfortable with taking leadership in Image, but that's it.
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Young Justice or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to DC, Warner Brothers, and associated parties.
A chilling scream rent the air, followed by the pounding of footsteps in the darkness. The helpless couple fled, only to find themselves in a dead end. They turned just in time to see the killer stalking towards them, bloodied knife raised, unperturbed by the couples' pleading. The wet shunk of the knife slicing home, and the spatter of blood on the walls, silenced their cries.
"The hell didn't they fight back?" Connor asked, scowling at the television screen so hard it would have melted if he'd had heat vision.
"It's a horror movie, Supey," Wally said, shoving another handful of popcorn into his mouth. "Not fighting back is what they do."
"But this murderer doesn't even know what he's doing," Connor argued, still glaring at the screen, where the killer in question was stepping over the bodies of his latest victims. "I mean, Black Canary showed us a grip that would have disarmed him in five seconds or less, even without powers."
"Says the invulnerable guy who couldn't get stabbed even if he wanted to," Artemis said dryly. The clone still looked ready to argue, so she held up a hand and added, "Look, I agree with you, it's stupid that they just run around and scream a lot and don't take action, but that's just what these movies are like. Besides, we're used to fighting creepy and crazy things—it doesn't mean everyday people are."
"It's still stupid," Connor muttered.
Robin snorted in amusement, and reveled a second later in the fact that he actually could. A week after the disastrous—heavy on the dis—mental training exercise and subsequent awful therapy sessions, and he was finally starting to feel like himself again. The past week had been pretty rough, even after his talk with Black Canary; the training exercise had taken so much out of him, and he knew it had done the same for his friends as well.
Even their mentors had been affected. Most of the League members that had been on-hand for the exercise had been shocked and alarmed at how poorly it had gone. And while Dick didn't know how it had been handled with his friends, he knew Bruce had been practically hovering at home to ensure he was alright. For all Batman's calm exterior during the training—necessary, to keep everyone else calm—he had been just as shocked as the others when the cowl came off. The past week he had monitored Dick to the point when it was driving the teenager crazy, in part because he seemed to be waiting for Dick to want to explain just what went on in the exercise beyond the basic debrief.
And Dick wasn't ready to share that, not yet. He'd told Black Canary she couldn't share anything in his therapy session with Batman, and he'd meant it. He didn't want Batman to know how badly he'd messed up, or how he was desperately afraid of becoming that thing, and there was no way he could explain that easily. But it meant he was still holding all that in, and while Bruce wasn't what you'd call an expert when it came to emotions, he was smart enough to know something was still bothering Robin, and stubborn enough to not let up.
That was why Dick had decided he needed to get out of the mansion, and suggested a horror movie marathon a few days before Halloween itself. Kaldur had returned to Atlantis after the training incident, and M'gann was away for a bit with J'onn for special training to get help with her powers. But Wally, Connor and Artemis had agreed, probably just as desperate for that degree of normalcy and a chance to get away as he was.
Of course—as Connor pointed out—most of the 'horror' elements of the horror movies were sort of negated when you'd actually fought psychopaths and demons, and had aliens as close friends. After that, it was just sort of silly to watch these people screw up in new and increasingly spectacular ways, without an ounce of common sense. The marathon had long since devolved into analyzing all those stupid things and pointing them out with snickers of exasperation, but Dick would take it anyway.
He was just about to add his own observation to the rest of them, when a sharp beeping noise cut the air, and the prowling serial killer onscreen disappeared. A live feed from Batman replaced it moments later, and the hero said sharply, "Robin, Kid Flash, Artemis, and Superboy. Suit up and be prepared for orders in fifteen. Stealth forms, polar and night. Batman out."
The feed winked out, replaced by static; the movie did not return. The four of them exchanged glances, before Wally said with a shrug, "Spoiler alert: they were probably all gonna die anyway." He shoveled handfuls of popcorn into his mouth at rapid speed to finish off the bowl as the other three headed off to retrieve their costumes.
Fifteen minutes later on the dot, the four of them were standing in the main hall of the Cave, staring up at the holographic screen of Batman. Robin tried to stay composed outwardly, and was fairly sure he managed it. The others hid their unease fairly well, but probably not well enough for Batman to miss it. Other than Superboy during his impromptu mission with the Forever People, none of them had actually been out on a team mission since the exercise, and he was sure its monumental failure was still on all their minds.
If Batman did notice—and Robin was almost certain he did—he didn't say anything, for which Dick was grateful. "We intercepted a transmission from an unknown party, speaking with an unknown buyer, approximately twelve hours ago," he began, launching immediately into the mission briefing. "This unknown party was offering a chance to see, and possibly purchase, an 'anti-League weapon.' "
"What kind of weapon?" Robin asked immediately, frowning.
"The nature of the weapon is unclear," Batman said. "As is the identity of the buyer or the seller. The transmission was heavily and skillfully encrypted. We were, however, able to trace the location of the transmission to a facility in northern Russia. The facility his extremely isolated and will be difficult to reach undetected without stealth."
"And why doesn't the League just blast in if we know where these guys are at?" Artemis asked skeptically. Beside her, Connor nodded in agreement.
"We've already looked into the possibility," Batman said curtly. "We have reason to believe the seller is keeping current tabs on the activities of all Leaguers, and is monitoring our presence."
"So if any of you were to suddenly disappear from your usual haunts, these guys with the anti-League weapon might get nervous and scatter," Robin surmised. "Then who knows when you'd catch word of them again..."
Batman nodded slightly in acknowledgement. "Until we understand the nature of this 'anti-League weapon,' it is too dangerous a threat to leave unattended and ignored. While we maintain an active presence in our respective locations to keep the seller from growing suspicious, you four will head to the coordinates I'm transmitting and gather intel on this weapon.
"This is a covert mission only," he added, stressing the word insistently. "Any weapon capable of damaging the League will be capable of harming you as well. Do not make your presence known and do not engage. If there are problems, you will immediately retreat, regardless of whether or not you have gained any substantial intelligence. Are we clear?"
"As crystal," Kid Flash muttered, and the others nodded, looking a little annoyed with the lecture. Robin was too, but had to admit, so far his team had done a spectacular job at misinterpreting 'covert.' Maybe Batman had a right to lecture.
"Good," Batman said, after subjecting each of them to the power of the bat-glare. "The bio-ship is still active. I ensured that Miss Martian enabled it for alternate pilots before her training began. Robin, you will be in charge of piloting the ship. You will also take the role of team leader for the duration of this mission."
Robin felt a spike of alarm at the order, and hastily fought it down. "Me? Lead? But Aqualad—"
"Is currently in Atlantis," Batman interrupted, "and will not be able to return in time. This is a time-sensitive mission. The longer we wait, the longer this weapon has a chance to become active." His eyes narrowed at Robin, and although he said nothing further out loud, Dick had worked with Batman long enough to understand the meaning behind that particular look. Is everything alright?
Robin fought back a grimace. Bruce had known ever since the Santa Prisca mission how badly Dick wanted to lead this team. And even though Dick had backed down and admitted Kaldur was better in the place of leadership for now, both knew that Dick fully intended to lead the team one day. Now he'd made it blindingly obvious—to Bruce, if no one else—that he didn't want that role any longer. Bruce was no idiot—he'd know the only thing that changed was the exercise. He'd want to know what happened.
I sent all my friends to their deaths, the first time I took charge, is what happened, Dick thought to himself harshly. I'm not fit to lead anyone. I can't do it. I can't be him. I just can't.
But now wasn't the time or the place for that discussion. If Bruce—if Batman—sensed even a hint of weakness, he'd pull him off the mission and become even more insistent on uncovering what was bothering Dick so badly. And Dick couldn't deal with that, not yet. Nor would he let his friends go on a potentially dangerous mission without his help, especially not when 'covert' was so perfectly suited to his skill-set.
So he merely said, "Oh. Right. Okay then. I guess if Aqualad can't make it..." He shrugged, as if it was no big deal.
Batman didn't seem to buy it completely—but apparently it was enough to at least keep him from being pulled off mission. His narrowed eyes promised that they'd be discussing this later—joy—but a moment later he turned to the rest of the team and ordered, "You leave immediately. Coordinates have been uploaded. Maintain radio silence to avoid intercepted transmissions—this seller clearly has some skill with technology. Take absolutely no unnecessary risks." He gave them one last final glare, and then the holographic screen vanished, leaving them alone with their mission.
"Well, he said immediately," Kid Flash said, glancing around at the others. "What are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Maybe it was just Robin, but somehow it felt like KF's usual enthusiasm was missing. Or maybe, for once, it was his own that had been lost.
Several hours of uneventful flight time later, they finally arrived at their destination.
As Batman had said, the coordinates they were given were in the middle of an isolated, relatively open area in northern Russia. Even several miles out, they could see that there was some sort of complex in the distance, but virtually no decent cover to approach from. There was also, Artemis pointed out, a fairly decent security system and tall fence circling the facility at quite a wide circumference, with active heat and motion sensors that would almost certainly catch the bioship. There were also strange pylons every one hundred feet or so on the circumference of the fencing, and without being able to identify their purpose, Robin thought it best to steer clear of them.
After some consideration, Robin piloted the bioship to a cluster of trees a short distance from the security system and secluded it there. Without M'gann, camouflage mode was impossible, requiring more mundane methods of hiding. As soon as they exited, its bright red hull would stand out against the snowy landscape and dark, ice-dusted trees. This was just about the only cover they had to successfully hide the ship in, which meant they would be making the rest of the covert journey in on foot.
Robin glanced around at his team mates, dressed in polar stealth against the icy backdrop, and barely suppressed a shudder. This was how it had all begun in the exercise, too. He hoped this mission went better than that one. Based on everyone else's expressions, they were thinking the same thing.
"Let's go," Robin ordered curtly, after a deep breath to gather himself. "No M'gann, so no mental uplink. Stick close enough to use hand signals or stay within range of the short-distance communicators. They won't be able to pick up a signal with these, but as a trade off we won't get much distance out of them."
The others nodded, and he slunk forward to examine the first security system while the others kept watch. The sensors and electrical fences were easy enough to disable, and he patched them in under thirty seconds, looping the feeds to prevent any unwanted feedback to their opponents. The strange pylons appeared to be receivers of some sort from the complex, but did not appear to be a current threat, so they decided to ignore them for now until they could get more intel. Superboy tore a hole in the three layers of fencing as easily as if he were ripping open a bag of chips, and the four of them slipped through into enemy territory with ease, blending into the ice and snow.
The facility's grounds were freezing, and there was already an ankle-deep layer of snow; not surprising, considering it was only a few days until November. It made travel uncomfortable, chilly and wet, but thankfully Robin's polar gear was equipped for it. He kept an eye on Artemis as well, as the only other non-powered human, but she seemed to be doing fine despite the cold temperatures—she had even thought ahead, and was wiping out their footprints as they traveled, erasing their tracks. Kid Flash seemed fine as well—his high speeds left him more used to extreme temperatures due to wind chills, and his suit was insulated. And Superboy, with his invulnerability, never even seemed to feel the cold. So far, so good; at least the temperature wouldn't do them in.
The facility, when they got closer, was more than a little unusual. Robin had expected the typical cluster of buildings, warehouses, and garages, but was surprised to note that there was only one single, large building, and it appeared to be perfectly circular.
"It's like a giant donut," Kid Flash muttered. "Or a ring. I wonder why?"
"Who cares?" Artemis hissed back under her breath. "We don't care about the architecture, we care about the weapon."
"How do you know that the ring isn't part of the weapon?"
"It'd be a pretty terrible weapon if it was just stuck here."
"Not if it was some kind of missile or something," Kid Flash argued. "What if this is some kind of base for that? They might have something to, I don't know, blow the Watchtower out of the sky, or destroy the HQ in DC, or something."
"We can't rule out the possibility," Robin murmured, "But I doubt they know about the Watchtower. I mean, we didn't even know about the Watchtower, and how long have we worked with Batman and Flash?"
"Point," Kid Flash conceded. "Could still be missiles for other things, though. This isolated place? there'd be no warning before they set'em off."
"You can argue about what it is all day," Superboy growled impatiently, "Or we can get in there and actually do the mission and find out. But I'm not interested in sitting here while you guys debate 'maybes.' "
"Agreed," Robin said. "Let's get in first. Artemis, I'm getting readings on cameras there and there." He pointed at the closest wall, still some distance away. "Can you knock them out? I can hack us through their doors once we're in the clear visually."
"I see them," Artemis acknowledged, after squinting through her goggles for a moment. She carefully selected a pair of arrows crafted to interfere with electronics, drew her bow, and took aim. There was a soft, barely-discernible twang as the arrows left the bow, and bare seconds later the arrows were planted firmly into the walls next to either camera. "There. Should be on a continuous loop. Go!"
They needed no further encouragement. Kid Flash zipped ahead, moving so fast he darted easily over the snow, and signaled when there was no sign of guards and it was safe to follow. Robin and Superboy came after next, with Artemis bringing up the rear, still dusting away their footprints to prevent any indication that they were there.
The door was their first major hurdle. There was a high-tech security pad with a locked cover to prevent the elements from damaging it, but even after Superboy pried the cover off for him, Robin found the security was still surprisingly good. After the pathetic motion and heat sensors back at the fence, he'd been expecting less than perfect security, but he was forced to re-evaluate his opinion on the matter as he huddled over his hologram glove, cape tucked around him to hold off the cold.
"What's the holdup?" Kid Flash hissed. Robin glanced up briefly, and found the other three in a semi-circle around him defensively, keeping an eye out for guards while he worked. Superboy had even, with surprising forethought for him, placed himself in front of the chilly wind to act as a partial shield for Robin while he worked.
"Somebody that works here is good," Robin muttered back, typing furiously on his hologram glove. "Maybe not so much at the physical security, but they've got the tech down pretty good." Seconds later the door clicked, and with a smirk, Robin added, "Just not as good as me."
"Yeah, yeah, whelmed, aster, whatever," Kid Flash muttered back. "We good?"
Superboy pressed an ear to the door, and nodded a moment later. "Think so. Don't hear anything."
"KF, you take a look first," Robin ordered. "If there's some sort of trap, you should be able to spot it without them spotting you."
Kid Flash nodded, eased open the doorway, and darted in. He was out again in less than ten seconds, jerking his thumb at the door. "It's clear, but we gotta move fast. I think there's a patrol coming through."
The team didn't need to be told twice. They ducked through the door with Artemis bringing up the rear, although she no longer needed to bother with obliterating their footsteps. This close to the base, the outer walls were surrounded by hard-packed snow from so many of the building's inhabitants walking on it. Superboy snapped the door shut quickly behind them, and the four darted behind a stack of crates in one corner.
They were just in time. As the end of Artemis' ponytail disappeared, a pair of guards appeared, striding briskly through the room they were currently in towards the other side. Robin's eyes narrowed as he observed them carefully. They were dressed in combat gear that looked like a uniform, but Robin didn't recognize the insignia or colors, so probably not military. They were armed, but their guns remained holstered, and while the men clearly knew how to use them they looked relaxed. They weren't expecting trouble, that much was clear. It might work in their favor, and if they were really lucky, their overconfidence could be exploited. Robin filed it away for later.
"The hell is this place?" Artemis muttered. "Storage?"
Robin blinked, and glanced around the room they were currently in. It was fairly large, with a door at either end leading farther into the complex itself, and the door to the outside behind them. There were crates, boxes, and barrels stacked everywhere, and Robin examined the stack they were hiding behind curiously.
"It's food," Kid Flash said first, eyes going wide. "Holy crap! We've hit the motherlode!"
"Keep it down, Kid Glutton!" Artemis snapped at him. "We're not here for your never-ending stomach, we're here for the weapon!"
"It's not what we're looking for," Robin agreed, "But it does tell us a thing or two about this place. Look at all this food...we're in the middle of nowhere, they'd need to cart it in to support all the staff here for whatever it is they're doing. Even if they're planning ahead for storms cutting off their supply lines, this is still a lot of rations. They've got to have a lot of people here for whatever this weapon is."
"They've got to have other storage units for supplies," Superboy said after a moment. "This is just food and water in here." Robin didn't doubt him. Even with only half the powers of Superman, Conner's vision was still far superior to an ordinary human. He'd probably read all the signs on the boxes already.
"If they do, they might have a place for this weapon," Kid Flash said, still staring a little longingly at some of the crates of rations. "We should take a look...see if we can scope it out."
Somehow, Robin didn't think it would be quite that easy. Even not expecting trouble, he doubted these people would leave something as game changing as a League-defeating weapon laying around unguarded in a storage unit. But they wouldn't get any answers hiding behind a crate of dried fruit, so he nodded. "Keep an eye out for anything we can use, and remember, avoid patrols. Switch to night stealth. We can't afford to be detected."
The others nodded, and swapped their uniform colors from polar whites and blues to dark blacks and grays with a light touch to the chest. The blindingly obvious colors faded away as his companions melded more appropriately into the shadow, and Robin inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. So far, so good. Nobody dead—nothing like the exercise or the way it went last time. No extreme decisions to make yet. Easy. He could do this. They all could.
They slipped through the halls of the facility, keeping a careful eye out for cameras. Artemis was able to disable these individually as they moved with carefully fired arrows until Robin was able to find a basic security terminal two rooms over. When he plugged in he found that once again, their digital security was surprisingly top notch, but he was still able to break into their systems and set all cameras to a blank loop and deactivate motion and heat sensors, giving them easier movement.
After that, with more freedom to explore, they started seriously searching for this mysterious weapon, and learning more about the facility they were in. A basic hacked floor plan revealed that, as Kid Flash had pointed out, the building really was a giant three-story donut—there was a large open-air location in the very center of the facility, like a massive courtyard. The facility circled it completely, and as far as Robin could tell, it was used as a hub for air transport. He spotted a helipad in the center, and the courtyard was littered with large, snow-covered metal transport containers that might have been filled with supplies or parts. Due to the cold weather, outdoors activity appeared to have ground to a halt for the moment, and the team agreed that it was unlikely anything of value or interest would be stored out there for them to find.
The real gems, Robin knew, would likely be stored in the facility itself. They needed to find out everything they could about this place—but unfortunately, despite their efforts, it wasn't yielding any secrets. So far, Robin hadn't seen any evidence to tie this place to any of their usual suspects, and had no idea who was in command of this facility or who they might be working for. That was worrying—it either meant there was a new player, one with a potentially damaging weapon that could seriously hurt the League, or it was an older suspect that had gotten even craftier at covering up their tracks. Neither option was a good possibility, and Robin felt the weight of urgency on his shoulders the longer the mission went on without any real results. The only thing he was able to conclude with certainty was that whoever was involved, they had a lot of manpower.
They combed through the rooms one by one, avoiding guards when they could, sometimes being forced to wait ten to fifteen minutes at a time for patrols to pass or finish chatting. There really were a lot of people here; it was difficult to make any progress while still remaining unseen, and Robin could tell it was making his friends edgy. Kid Flash in particular, never known for his patience, was starting to look awful twitchy after listening to twenty minutes of inane conversation between a quartet of guards.
"This is getting us nowhere," Superboy finally growled—under his breath, thankfully, so that no one would be able to pinpoint them hiding beneath a set of steps. "Don't we have any idea of where to look?"
Robin shook his head. He wanted to bring up the floor plan again, but was afraid the glow would alert the guards nearby. He'd long since memorized it anyway, though, and instead settled for muttering under his breath, "We just have a basic blueprint of how the place is built, not how it's organized. It's huge, and there are three floors altogether; there's a lot of square footage to search. If we had some idea of what we were looking for we could maybe still narrow it down with guesswork, but..." He shrugged.
Superboy grit his teeth, looking frustrated. Kid Flash did no look particularly happy either, and muttered, "Then we're back to square one anyway. What could these guys possibly be hiding here? My missile idea is out. It doesn't look like they've got the tech for it out there." He jerked his head in the direction of the transport hub outdoors. "They've got a lot of people here, though. An army? With, I don't know, kryptonite rounds or something?"
"Kind of specific for a League defeating weapon, don't you think?" Artemis said under her breath. "It'd only take out two people at the most." She nodded towards Superboy, who scowled.
"Have you seen the studies on what that stuff does in terms of long-term radiation damage to humans?" Kid Flash shot back—softly, thankfully. "I mean, it's not instant like it would be for the Supers, but it's still pretty nasty."
"If it was Kryptonite, you' d think we'd see LexCorp all over this," Robin countered. "I haven't seen a hint of anything related to him yet. You know he'd pay through the nose for that stuff."
"Maybe it's more than that," Superboy added. "Maybe they're stockpiling individual weapons based on the League's weaknesses."
Artemis still looked skeptical. "Then why make it sound like one super-weapon? Wouldn't they call it an anti-League arsenal, then?"
"We have no way to know," Robin said. "We need to find a terminal or something. Better than that basic security terminal. Something with real data on it I can hack. Whoever's here is good, really good, but if I can get deeper into their systems, find something more substantial than security—"
There was a sudden, loud ringing chime, and for one heart-stopping moment Robin thought they'd been caught somehow. But a moment later the crackle of speakers sounded, and Robin realized the chime came as a prelude to someone speaking over an intercom system. Artemis caught his eye and jerked her head up in one corner of the room they were hiding in, towards a speaker. Robin nodded, and noted with interest that the guards they had been hiding from had gone silent and were waiting expectantly.
"Everyone is to report to their testing positions immediately," the voice on the intercom—sharp and agitated-sounding—said quickly. "Testing will begin in exactly ten minutes. Those out of place at that time will be severely disciplined." There was another crackle of static, and the intercom went silent.
The team glanced at each other in surprise, and Kid Flash mouthed, Testing?
Robin shrugged, then motioned for silence. The guards, grumbling, where beginning to speak, even as they finally began to head away from the Team's hiding place. "Testing? Again? That's the third damn time today!"
"Word's out that the boss' contract finally made an offer on this thing," another guard volunteered. "To some big-shot injustice guy or something. He probably wants to make sure it's all in good working condition or whatever before they come to check it out."
"Figure that makes sense," a third agreed after a moment. "The kind of guy you'd sell this tech to, you don't want to piss him off with a crappy product." He drew a finger across his throat and made a gagging noise.
"Whatever," the first muttered. "Still getting tired of doing all this. What are we even needed for, anyway? It's only the techs that gotta be in place."
"Just think of it like a dress rehearsal or something," the second offered.
"What, you into theater now, too?" the first asked with a snicker.
The guards trooped off down the hall, ribbing their coworker mercilessly, and Robin glanced back at his team mates. "That was helpfully informative," Kid Flash said dryly. "I wonder if they train these people to spout off bits and pieces the good guys to conveniently pick up on?"
"Don't know, don't care," Robin said firmly. "Whatever they're testing is what we're after, and if they're trying to put on a good show for their buyer, I say we learn a little from it, too. Let's find out where everyone's heading and follow them."
As it turned out, this was easier said than done. There were only so many places to hide in the facility, and the intercom announcement seemed to have done the equivalent of stirring up an anthill. Within a few minutes the hallways were full of activity as guards and what Robin assumed where technical staff hurried quickly through them, on their way to whatever posts had been assigned. It was rough going to dart between storage units, under stairs, and into empty rooms without being seen, and more than once they barely made it before another unwanted person came sweeping around a corner or briskly walking out of a room ahead. Robin even considered the benefits of vanishing into the air ducts, assuming they could find a decent network of them, but rapidly decided against it. Contrary to popular belief, they weren't much use for stealth if you weren't particularly practiced at traversing them, as they carried noises for long distances and were easy to bang around in. He could maybe manage it, but he doubted the others could, especially Superboy with all his bulk.
It was nearly ten minutes before the hustle in the facility calmed down. For a moment Robin was hopeful that this would work in their favor and make travel easier. Then he realized just what the guards' stations were, since they were not, by the admission of one such man, helping with the weapon at all. They were set near any form of exit or escape, as though to prepare for a full lockdown. Although the guards looked bored, the hands on their weapons suggested they were ready to fight at a moment's notice, and there were a lot of firearms for so tight a space indoors.
It made Robin uneasy. Batman had taught him to always have an exit strategy, no matter how confident you were in your success, and he had been particularly insistent on retreating in this mission if necessary. Robin figured they might be able to bull rush their way out, with Kid Flash's speed and Superboy's defense, but even then it would be dangerous.
"We're gonna need a new plan," Artemis murmured next to him. The four of them were huddled in the darkness of a stairwell, watching no less than five guards surrounding one of the exits into the white, blank expanse of snow outside the facility. "We can't move around like this, and they're going to start testing this thing soon. If we can't figure out what it is..."
Robin nodded. Their intel gathering was already not as fruitful as he'd hoped, and it was quickly becoming less likely they would be able to obtain this information without incident. It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest a distraction strategy—use Superboy and Kid Flash to draw the attention of the guards, while he snuck around and stole the intel while eyes were averted. But almost immediately the memory of Superboy leaping onto the massive alien mothership of the imaginary attack on earth came to mind—the view as he disappeared into the dark, the roar of anger as he challenged the enemy, the mental snap in his head as Superboy died—slammed home, and he barely fought back a gag of disgust at himself.
No. That wasn't him, and he wouldn't do that. The situation wasn't going in their favor, but it wasn't that desperate, not yet.
He racked his brain for another solution, but he had barely started considering ideas when an odd hum seemed to fill the air. For a moment it seemed to almost reverberate around him, so heavy and loud he could feel it in his very chest; then it quieted, and the odd feeling receded to nothing. When he listened, Robin found he could still hear the hum vaguely in the background, like white noise. But it was easy to ignore, and he found himself forgetting about it easily.
"Huh," he muttered. "I'm guessing that is our mystery anti-League weapon warming up." Whatever it might be, anyway. Whatever had just happened, it still gave him very little go on, other than it probably wasn't intended to annoy you to death with sound.
He glanced at the others, curious if they had any input on the matter. Artemis met his eyes and shrugged, apparently just as unclear on what the mystery weapon's purpose was as he. Kid Flash was frowning though, looking uneasy, and next to him—
"SB," Robin said, with an edge of puzzlement to his whisper, "Are you shivering?"
"No," Superboy snapped back immediately. It was a lie—Robin could see him trembling, just faintly. "I just...didn't like that. The sound was annoying. It's still annoying. Everything about this weapon thing...I just don't like it."
Robin felt himself frowning slightly. He might have been willing to buy into the sound being an issue—Conner's hearing was vastly superior to the rest of them, after all—but something about Superboy's reaction made him feel uneasy.
That unease grew when Wally nodded in agreement and muttered, "I get what he means. Something about it is just...weird. Something just feels off, you know?"
"No," Artemis said flatly. "I don't. I mean, okay, maybe the noise is a little annoying, but it's a noise. Whatever."
"You guys really don't feel that?" Kid Flash asked incredulously. "I don't know, dude. Something about this just doesn't seem right. I've got a bad feeling about this mission..."
"Something's not right," Superboy agreed. He looked distinctly unasterous...and with way more than his usual scowl.
Robin and Artemis exchanged glances, and Artemis shook her head just slightly, as if to say, no idea what he's talking about, you?
Robin shrugged, but now there were alarm bells going off in his head. Whatever had happened, it had affected Superboy and Kid Flash in a way that made them distinctly uneasy and nervous, a vast difference from their usual aggressiveness and enthusiasm during missions. With such a crazy mood swing, Robin was inclined to think first and foremost of Scarecrow, as a born and bred Gothamite, but he vetoed the idea almost immediately. If they'd somehow been dosed with fear gas, or even had some alternative means of affecting their mood with sound, he and Artemis would have been affected too. But they were fine—no mood swings, no fearful trembling, no second guessing their mission.
What makes us immune? Robin wondered. Maybe it was fear gas after all—he and Artemis were both from Gotham, even if Artemis didn't know he knew that, she might have built up some kind of immunity.
You're ignoring the most obvious answer, he argued with himself, in a voice that sounded distinctly like Batman when Robin had managed to miss out on an obvious clue in their detective work. It might not be immunity. You may just not be the target for this weapon. After all, the most obvious difference between him and Artemis versus Superboy and Kid Flash was the former set's lack of powers.
"An Anti-League weapon," Robin muttered under his breath. Nearly the entirety of the Justice League had super powers, whether they were natural due to unique physiology, or gained through study or experimentation. Batman and Green Arrow were the only notable exceptions to the rule. If this weapon was targeting individuals with powers somehow, the League would be severely crippled.
The question was, what would it do to those people with powers? Wally and Conner were both still alive; it obviously wasn't built to kill, unless it wasn't fully operational yet. But there were dozens of other things that might be possible—it could make them weaker, or sick, or use subconscious commands or sounds to control them, or who only knew what else. This was only the tip of the iceberg. They had to know more.
"Rob?" Kid Flash asked softly, giving him a funny look.
Robin cursed himself for getting lost in his thoughts. You can't afford to do that now. You're the leader here. You've got three people under your command you're in charge of keeping safe, you can't take stupid risks.
"It might be targeting people with powers," Robin said out loud, after a long moment. "That would explain why me and Artemis don't feel anything…we don't have any."
"A weapon that attacks people with super powers?" Kid Flash said, with dawning comprehension. "But that means…"
His teammates' eyes widened, and Robin knew they understood the dangerous implications of the weapon just as well as he did.
So I'm not dead! And here's some more fic! But credit where it's due: I wrote this fic for Black Friar's Young Justice contest. There's still time to enter, so if you're interested (or just curious) check out her fanfiction profile! You can find her in my favorite authors list.
As always, this fic is 100% completed and will be updated on a regular basis.