She’s killing me.
That was the last thought I had before dismissing Robyn without telling her why. I dismissed her for not paying attention, not following orders, not being a part of the team.
In fact, she had paid attention and had been an excellent pupil. She clearly heard and remembered every detail of what I told her before she launched herself on our mission into PRIMUS headquarters. In spite of the fact that we told her about the sensor array, she jumped through it – and didn’t set it off. She knew what she was doing. She swung to the side of the pressure sensitive central tower, landed against the side of it – and didn’t trigger the alarms. And she accessed the target office in a manner I didn’t know was possible. She has a different skill set than either Blackwing or I do, she understood her capabilities, and she used them to achieve the desired results flawlessly.
When she got to the part of the mission I had not yet briefed her on, wasn’t going to brief her on – locating and obtaining the information I wanted – she listened intently and obeyed without deviating from my instructions at all. When she was done, she returned promptly and delivered the results without complaint. A solid performance.
Why was I upset? I didn’t know her capabilities. I was concerned about the possibility of her capture, felt responsible for her presence and any subsequent danger, and was severely limited in my ability to protect her because of my injuries. I brought her along, she was my responsibility. It was my mistake. One I will not repeat.
“Sir?” Alfred’s voice cut through my deliberations, dragging me back to the world he was in, the one everyone else shares, the one I try to cleanse of the vermin that infest it.
“Yes, Alfred?” He and Blackwing had been working with me for several hours sorting out the information Robyn recovered from the PRIMUS building.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
He had waited while I worked out what diverted my attention, he usually did. He was a gentleman’s gentleman that way. Now, he wanted to know what I had been thinking about while I was sorting through data with them. “I’ve been a fool,” I said.
Sarcasm was something Alfred had a special talent with – dry, brief, and not dwelt upon. He made his point and dropped it. He seriously wanted in on my thinking. “How does a teen-aged girl acquire the skills needed to get into PRIMUS headquarters without anyone knowing anything about her?”
“I suppose the same way as anyone else does these days.”
“I agree. She’s a metaX, like Blackwing and I. Yet, I’ve accounted for every single person admitted to any medical facility anywhere for mutagenic poisoning. So how did I miss her?”
“She was never admitted anywhere,” Blackwing suggested.
“Possible, but unlikely.”
“Why is that, Sir?” Alfred asked.
“Because anyone buying trendy new energy drinks, having the resources to make a costume the quality of hers, and having the kind of disciplined combat training she has, has money to acquire them with.”
“True, she also knew how to use eating utensils properly and she speaks well. She’s no peasant.”
Alfred still used the vocabulary of Mother England’s establishment. By 21st century Gotham standards, many of his expressions would be considered politically incorrect. I knew him, and I chose to listen to the thought he was expressing rather than look for things to object to. “So how did I miss her?”
“I rather suspect you have all that worked out by now,” Alfred speculated.
“I do, and Blackwing is correct.”
Both Alfred and Blacking registered their surprised confusion, talking over each other, “Beg pardon – But I thought – How – wrong, sir??”
“No Alfred, I wasn’t wrong when I said it was unlikely that she wasn’t admitted. And no, Blackwing, you weren’t wrong when you said she wasn’t admitted – officially.”
“Officially?” Blackwing queried?
“That’s the operative word here, gentlemen. She was admitted, treated, and released. Someone purged the records.”
“That’s quite absurd, Sir! Do you mean to suggest that all the records, ambulance, emergency room, consulting physicians, all of it – even the Center for Disease Control and the Poison Control Center – all of them were expunged?” Alfred was aghast.
I was aghast too. I’ve had that bit of information all along and hadn’t used it. I’ve known Robyn existed for several weeks now, and I’ve known she didn’t match any of the cases I’ve catalogued. I’ve known she was a recent development on the extraordinary people scene. I saw her impersonation of me confronting 8 gang-members, saw how quickly she ditched her Bat disguise. I also saw how quickly she escaped into the warehouse when the thugs charged her; she used the same skill to access J Cranton’s office. The fact that she did it in the midst of the densest metaX sensor-net in the world proved that it was all skills and not powers; she had used normal technological means to enter the building. All of these things I saw and understood but failed to notice. I noticed a lot more than that now.
“No Alfred, expunging them all would have been nearly impossible. Too many systems, too many redundancies – even things like server backups would have to have been located in their off-line storage vaults and destroyed. Those records weren’t expunged, they were never created.”
“How do you intercept that much information? And how many more people are out there without records?” Blackwing asked.
“Only her. She’s the only one this person cared about.”
“Who, Sir? Do you mean to say one person managed to completely erase everything about only one case? Without leaving any traces? Who could have managed that? Who has that power? That access? What you’re suggesting is a remarkable feat!”
Alfred was genuinely engaged now, he wasn’t just challenging me to be th0rough. “You don’t get to be the Director of Meta Operations for PRIMUS without being a remarkable person.”
“And just what is J. Cranton Lawless’ interest in…” Alfred trailed off, flicking a glance at Blackwing. I too looked at Blackwing. Alfred realized where I was going; being a mentor at heart, he wanted to see if Blackwing could put it together too.
“Julia?” Blackwing asked.
“Not quite.” Blackwing had guessed, and it was a good guess – female, young, physically fit, and important to Mr. Lawless. Given our limited contact with the Lawlesses – mostly while breaking and entering for the purpose of illegal surveillance – Julia was the most noticeable of J. Cranton’s two daughters.
“…wait,… Rachael?!?!?!” he asked incredulously, coming closer.
The younger daughter, Rachael, was easily missed; she had always been a wallflower. Her school records, which I had open across three monitors, showed she’d always been a good student. Late last year, she suddenly became exceptional. She’d always been athletic, suddenly she was dis-enrolled from all extra-curricular athletic programs except cheer-squad.
“Thank you, Alfred!”
“So where’d she learn how to do all that stuff?” Blackwing asked. “And how do you find out? Follow her?”
“An astute question,” I noted, “and an effective solution, but risky.”
“Because she might notice.”
“Anyone could notice. Besides, that takes a lot of time.”
“Couldn’t she have developed the skills herself, Sir? You did!”
“No, actually, I didn’t. I learned the basics by studying others. What I invented was how to combine them to be more than the sum of the individual skills. Robyn, on the other hand, is not creative – adventurous, but not creative.”
By now Alfred had noticed J. Cranton Lawless’ bank records open on two other monitors. “What’s this, Sir?” he asked, scanning intently down the lines of one of the accounts.
“Oh, do you mean the unexplained repeating charge for $350.oo every month by interbank transfer to an unidentified account number that began last year after Rachael was dis-enrolled from her athletic programs at school?”
Alfred had heard enough, he raised an eyebrow and stepped back to let Blackwing chase the rabbit. He knew how this would play out now, time to let Blackwing work it out too.
“Who’s account is it? How do you find out?”
“You need access to the bank’s member records.”
Blackwing sat down at a console and Googled the bank routing number. Then he located the Federal Reserve’s IP tunnel and accessed it, uploaded a spyder, and waited. A few moments later a file sent itself from the Federal Reserve’s information exchange server. He then opened it and located the account.
“So what’s?…” he stopped himself and began to search for information about the account’s owner; an expensive, private martial arts studio that didn’t bother to advertise. A confused expression crossed his face, he turned briefly to me, thought for a moment, and turned to search for the names of the studio staff, owners and students.
“Ok, so she’s studying here, that explains the martial arts. What about the swinging, hang-gliding, and those crazy felony skills?”
“The ‘crazy felony skills’ are the real question. Swinging she learned watching me. Flying she learned watching you, that’s how she figured out hang-gliding. She’s always been a good student, now she’s exceptional. Same for athletics. We taught her data search.”
I shrugged. “Pick-pocketing she could have learned any night on any street in the city.”
“I missed it too, and I was there with you. Surveillance we taught her.”
“What about how she got through the sensors and that crazy B and E she did on her Dad’s office? How’d she do that?”
“That was impressive.” Seeing the expression on Alfred’s face was worth admitting that I was impressed.
“What about the rather alarming knack she has for disarming people? The police who failed to stop her kidnapping you until you were all safely in the BatMobile?” Alfred asked.
“What about it?” I was challenging them think it through.
Blackwing began, “It stopped us from acting after she defeated the gang. She didn’t even know we were there.”
“It’s worse when you look directly at her,” Alfred observed.
“It’s only when you look at her,” Blackwing added. But the thugs she took the motorcycle from weren’t affected at all, and they chased her.”
“They chased me, not her. What’s the difference between those situations? You’re talking about your behavior around her,” I said looking at Alfred, “and she approached them in the situation you are talking about,” I said to Blackwing.
“She approached the Police too, they all got passive, the thugs got hostile, is it about who you are?” Blackwing asked.
“Maybe, that or hostility. She was basically trying to threaten the thugs; the police and Alfred she wanted to get along with. She didn’t know we were there when we were affected.”
“Then how did she attack us?” Blackwing asked.
“Did she attack us?”
“What do you mean?”
“She attacked the gang, she attacked the liquor store robbers. They were all picked up by police later. She didn’t actually do anything hostile to us, Alfred or the police. And we were all affected whether she knew we were there or not.”
“Are you sure she didn’t know you were there, Sir?”
“Quite sure, Alfred. We’ve established that she wanted contact with us all along. If she were aware that we had stopped to observe her directly, she would not have attacked us with any sort of power and she would not have missed the chance to meet us.”
“What if it’s passive, Sir? Suppose it’s something she does whether she wants to or not?”
“Then why wasn’t that gang subdued?” Blackwing interjected.
“She was trying to threaten them. It doesn’t work on people she’s attacking,” I continued.
“Then why doesn’t she just walk up to whoever she’s after, beguile them, and ask them to surrender, Sir?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t understand it herself. Maybe the effect isn’t powerful enough to make people surrender. Or maybe she just hasn’t thought of that yet.”