Buying In
Roleplaying Log: Buying In
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Red Robin zeroes in on the site of an exotic weapons sale, where he encounters a wary 'metahuman' named 'Lucy' who 'also wants to interrupt the sale'.

Other Characters Referenced: Batman, Starfire
IC Date: June 25, 2019
IC Location: Queens, New York City, New York
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 28 Jun 2019 02:21
Rating & Warnings: PG-13
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

It would've just been another piece of graffiti if Karolina hadn't recognized it from light-years away, but here we are.

'It' is a red circle intersected at several points around its perimeter with lines curling inwards 'til they meet in the middle. Elsewhere, perceptive eyes might've seen it tucked into murals, hidden in intricate metalwork, projected in signs; no matter the place, it always meant the same thing:

Safe commerce, no questions asked; courtesy of Red Magnetar Imports.

Elsewhere, RMI is a brand known for its exorbitant bribes, wide variety of interstellar contrabrand, and customer-forward shopping experiences. Elsewhere, RMI's underground boutiques are effectively a part of the community, hidden in plain sight for anyone who really needs them.

Here, though…? Here, they need to advertise; so it goes when breaking into a new market. Karolina spotted the symbol scrawled on a wall, on her way to dinner; turning down the alley it marked led to more— led to a pawn shop with a locked back door.

Robin, on the other hand, probably caught the ad campaign meant to draw new customers in— to give those symbols some actual meaning. It's as simple as rumors circulating as far as Gotham of rare, powerful weapons going on sale in Queens 'soon'; just look for the weird sun shit, they promise. Sometimes - especially if asked just right - the rumors include accounts of seeing those weapons in action. Most are secondhand, but they come with plenty of conviction just the same.

The keywords seem to be 'cannon', 'fusion', and 'fucking huge'.

The pawn shop's locked in front, too, complete with shutter bars over the storefront. The camera hanging over the front door is blatantly obvious; the little black dome over the back— for someone with the right training, it's also pretty obvious—

— but Karolina's not that someone; dealing with locks and curiously durable, horrifically olive green doors is more her speed. Smoke curls from a red hot wound, courtesy of a slender, radiant beam lancing from her index finger; she's breaking into the /back/ door! It's stealthy /enough/, she figures.

* * *

The thing about New York City is that it's absolutely lousy with superheroes.

Yeah, most of them are in Manhattan, but it helps that the sheer volume of people there, people whose points of origin are from all over the country, all over the world, and even points beyond, creates a kind of gravity for the unusual. Besides, it's glitzier than the boroughs, isn't it? Everybody noticed when someone in a costume stopped a schoolbus full of nuns from getting eaten by the demons that invaded Manhattan the year before. Nobody really paid attention to whoever was keeping those nuns' counterparts in the Bronx from getting eaten by presumably less cool demons.

Another thing about New York City, which is kind of a logical extension of that first thing, if we're being honest, is that it has a lot of young superheroes. You've got the younger members of the Avengers, with their state sanction and their registration paperwork all filled out correctly, surely all well on the road to being admirable members of society like a collection of junior Captains America.

And then, you've got the Titans.

The choice to rebel was an active one: The T-shaped tower in the East River stands empty, stripped down to the floors and walls of anything useful. But while they now operate illegally, the mission hasn't changed. Help other young people. Make the world a better place. Set an example.

Sometimes, though, that example involves beaking in to secret facilities. Red Robin actually has a whole list of those he needs to go through, and in classic style he can't really delegate that to anyone else on the team. Which is definitely a control freak thing, but also probably kinda justified, given the temperament and skillset of most of his teammates. Not everbody gets trained to be a ninja by the Batman himself.

Which brings us to that back alley in Queens, behind the pawn shop. Back doors are always a good choice for a break-in, when there isn't a convenient skylight (Gotham has lots of those, this is possibly on purpose) given the exposure provided by a street entrance. And sometimes you just need a torch cutter, it's true - which is all the easier when you are the torch. Most people, after all, don't carry a full lock picking kit with them everywhere they go.

As that focused beam of light cuts into the metal, there's another sound. It's a voice, in fact, and it comes from about ten feet above Karolina's head, where a figure in black and red is actually clinging to the wall.

"Hi," says the voice, conversationally. "First break-in?"

* * *

Karolina tenses.

Rainbow light cuts an erratic arc along the door, only to snap back to the tail of that glowing gash after a second.

It takes a couple more before her breathing's back to normal— before she's wearing a squint that leaves her somewhere between bemused and annoyed, rather than fearfully wide eyes.

"No— "

— quieter— gotta be quiet, duh—

"— no," she groans, "this is not my first break-in, guy— "

It's not her first break-in, but she's not wearing a costume. At least— probably, that's not a costume, since it's just a white cropped cami and blue jeans; the evershifting palatte of rainbow light everywhere else is probably just skin. Skin, and hair; a few brilliant motes sprinkle from the latter as she briskly twists towards Red Robin.

It is New York City, borough or no.

"I'll have you know," she continues in quick whispers, "that not only have I participated in several break-ins, all of them were— " Her eyes - softly luminous - bounce down and up— then down— then up—

" — okay, yes, they were illegal," she allows, "but they were technically all super justifiable."

A small beat passes.

"Which isn't your business," she murmurs, "but— "

Another beat as she glances back towards the beam, still chipping away.

"You're not here to… buy, are you?" she tentatively asks once she's looking at the vigilante again.

* * *

Of course, it could be just a coincidence that this clearly metahuman young woman is trying to break into this particular pawn shop. There's far too many young people with powers out there for anyone to ensure that some of them don't fall through the cracks, so naturally you end up with powered youths turning their powers to less than legal purposes. And what's more classic crime-wise than the old pawn shop break-in? It's one of the fundamentals, really.

It could be just a coincidence.

But it's in the vigilante's nature that he always tries to find out before writing anything off like that.

Whatever's holding him up there, Red Robin seems perfectly comfortable sticking to the wall (in point of fact, it's geckskin inserts in parts of his costume, which use electrified nanofibers and the Van Der Waals Effect to stick to surfaces like a gecko (or a Spider-Man, probably) but he's not about to ruin the mystique) as though he were sitting on his heels there.

"No," is his honest answer to the tentatively voiced question; he's already considered and discarded a few approaches, both 'fully mysterious' and 'voice of authority' in particular. "Actually I heard these guys were hiding some serious firepower and I was planning on breaking in and investigating it myself. It's sort of my thing. So is that your costume?" he wonders, a seeming nonsequitur.

Honestly given how many of his friends have a 'costume' that's just a t-shirt or something, his sense of professional pride is in a state of near-constant offense.

* * *

"They're an int— "

Karolina's new in town. New to New York City; new to the planet - this particular, xenophobic version of it - after more than a year away. She's learned risks involved in being different here— that her particular breed of 'different' could only serve to exacerbate things… but that's about all she's learned. That letter looming over the East River a relic from a group she only ever knew from screens; who they are now, what they represent…

"— yeah," she exhales after a second. "I mean— no, they're clothes— they're clearly— hh. They're clothes; just clothes."

He sounds nice; he looks professional; he's got wall-clinging powers, which— pretty neutral in terms of overall trustworthiness, but it's cool. It helps sell the overall image of a real life superhero.

A real life superhero could be seconds away from lecturing and/or demanding ID from the woman with rainbows beneath her skin—

The beam winks out of being and she drops her arm. In short order, she makes a full turn towards Red Robin, rubbing her forehead with her other hand.

"I— also heard that these guys were hiding some serious firepower," she goes with, letting her hand drop after a second, "but it turns out that they're hiding it behind a serious door." Her arms fold across her chest while she gives him another, more intent onceover.

"So what now?" she wonders, low and taut and tentative.

* * *

A sanctioned, registered superhero certainly would be making sure Karolina was herself properly documented. Captain America would, certainly. Or Captain Marvel. Some, more lenient, might suggest she'd be better off outside of New York; Metropolis was an increasingly popular place for metahumans who can swing the move, these days, for obvious reasons.

And that would be without even knowing the young woman was an extraterrestrial!

There's a moment - the moment before Karolina turns to face him directly, as she releases the beam of heat and light she's been using to cut through the lock - where he shifts positions at the slightest falter of attention. One heartbeat, he's up there on the wall, and the next he's standing in the alleyway, having landed all but silently after letting himself drop.

It's not meant to freak anybody out, and he continues to keep a hopefully relaxing distance, but that whole ninja routine has a way of surprising anybody not named Jim Gordon.

"So you decided to just go and check it out by yourself, huh?" the vigilante muses; his face is only partially covered by the black domino mask he wears, jagged and stylised, but the white lenses that hide his eyes (and, on his side, provide a variety of useful features, naturally) lend a distance, an unreadability. It's difficult to tell exactly where he's looking, difficult to discern what he might be thinking, without that natural connection of reading another person's eyes. "How'd you hear about it? Some personal connection?"

It's a shot in the dark, but if his life has taught him anything it's that a mystery blonde trying to bust up crime probably has a hidden link to said crime.

"Now, though, we have to get past the serious door and find out what they're hiding," he continues, regardless of any answer to his query, and he starts to move towards said door. "I'm Red Robin, by the way."

* * *

The next time Karolina looks at the wall, there's a radiant flurry to mark the occasion: a rainbow of light sparks from her like rain being shaken from an umbrella. The alley gets much brighter for a second, between the sparks themselves and a sharp uptick in the magnitude pouring from Karolina herself. As it fades, she holds her hand to her chest and slooowly exhales, hoping that'll help her heartrate back down to where it belongs.

Karolina had an interesting end to her childhood, and avoiding the attentions of well-meaning superheroes who'd nonetheless make her - and her friends' - lives harder consumed more of it than she would have liked. Sanctioned or not, Red Robin's still The Man in her eyes; it's just a question of whether he's the kind of Man who'll try to jail/deport her, or the kind who'll—

— bringing the state into the picture isn't really an issue. There— is the matter of all those dead parents, but it's been years at this point…

Red Robin gets a scowl when his new post is spotted. It's pure reflex; it softens when he continues to press her with gentle questions instead of lecturing, but she knows full well how easily the one can lead to the other, so the shift is a slight one.

"What— hi, Red Robin— "

Scowling turns into, just— squinting, for a beat. Where are the wings? The beak??

"— I'm— "

shit— out there, she could just give her name, because who cared? She pauses, hesitates; gropes quietly between her ears—

"— Lucy," eventually comes, much to her lip-twisting chagrin.

"How'd you hear about this?" she adds, picking up the pace in an effort to save a little face and avoid giving The Man more than He needs, because old habits die hard. "Were you just kinda…" She looks him up and down, gesturing broadly— increasingly focusing on the wall Robin was hanging from, "… creeping around alleys, looking for crimes to bust?"

— God. He's actually equipped for this — he looks it, anyway — and he's not a jerk, exactly… and he's heading right for the door…

"Unless you've got a key, or, just, all night…" she adds, voice falling as she turns to fully face the door again, "… I can try to get us in, but it's not gonna be quiet…"

The alley begins to brighten as the light pouring from her skin intensifies once more, and she begins to direct her palm towards the door.

* * *

In a curious sort of way, the distrust is comforting.

For one thing, a sensible person really should be wary of some stranger in a costume with an obviously fake name who shows up out of nowhere, no matter how helpful they might try to be. Unless maybe they're Superman. Besides, maybe he can't quite reach the levels of terror incarnate that Batman can, but it's nice to unnerve people more than he did when he was just regular Robin.

It's the principle of the thing.

"Lucy, huh?" the vigilante repeats, seeming to take this introduction amiably enough… Though it's pretty likely he noticed that hesitation, that telling pause. He doesn't get the chance to say anything about that, though, because the mystery girl has turned the questioning around on him.

So?

How did he hear about this?

"'Hearing about things' is a big part of the job," the vigilante admits. "Goons from Hell's Kitchen to Crime Alley are talking about these new weapons and some kind of sun emblem, because if they were smart enough to keep their mouths shut they wouldn't be goons. The rumours even pointed to Queens, which really narrowed things down. And thus," he gestures at the door.

"There was definitely some creeping around alleys," he adds, since she asked.

The offer to get them through said door, though it wouldn't be quiet, forces Red Robin to make some quick mental calculations. Sometimes, speed was more important than stealth, and if it was that hard to get through the locks…

"All right," he says, stepping back out of the way. "Let's see what you've got."

* * *

The door's too durable for cutting around the lock with any speed. This is New York City; reinforced doors are an investment in keeping your business safe from thieves with acidic skin and hypersonic shouts.

This was less of a problem back home, where a lower superhuman population and a more controlled, top-down approach to crime helped to manage random, posthuman break-ins until relatively recently. High technology and a diverse range of potential security issues Elsewhere made for robust doors too, though, forcing Karolina to learn— to adjust, as she does. The door's too durable for stealthy lock-cutting; Karolina was too 'here on an absolute lark with no real plan or fall-back for if things go south' to risk going in loud and making things even harder on herself.

Red Robin wants to see what she's got, though— why she's out here alone, snooping around in her not-a-costume, with her barely-a-codename, like it's her job.

"It's alright," she offers with a small smile. "Disappearing thing aside, you haven't been too creepy, so far, so I forgive you."

Rainbow light explodes from her palm, punctuating her forgiveness— brightening the alley with glaring whorls and a beam that's only barely bigger than the one she held when Red Robin first arrived, focused entirely on the lock itself rather than the metal around it. Contact comes with a booming note; the lock hisses, screams, smokes, and eventually melts into red-hot droplets splattering on the concrete and the floor beyond, both.

"What've you got?!" she wonders over the noise, glancing towards him. "Besides the ninja wall-leaving thing?!"

* * *

If his eyes could be seen behind the featureless white lenses of his domino mask, it would be clear that there was a weighing look in them; that his dark blue gaze was assessing the viability of this 'Lucy' working with the rest of the Titans, a team composed wholly of people who the blonde definitely does not know and has never met before in any way, shape or form. He does have his own ways of getting past doors, after all (it was a key part of Batman's school of hard knocks, all the way from the simple elegance of lockpicking to the modern realities of spoofing various electronic locks down to 'sometimes you just have to blow it up, here's how') but he doesn't even bring those up.

Instead, he's making mental notes, creating a sort of file about 'Lucy' in his prodigious memory. From his perspective, at least, this has turned into an audition.

"Mostly it's the ninja stuff," he explains, raising his voice over the sound of Karolina working, melting her way through the lock. "You know, gadgets for every situation, that kinda thing. Also I've been getting in fights with psycho killers since I was fourteen."

Which is a weirdly matter-of-fact way to talk about it, a fact that can probably be blamed on his mentor.

"Do you have, like, a battle cry at least?" the Red Knight wonders. "Like 'taste the painbow!' or something?"

* * *

"I always heard the public schools here were rough," comes after Karolina takes a silent moment to stare at him and weigh whether he's serious or not. Her voice is quieter; she's looking a ways south of the lock after taking her attention from him. "But— "

Oh, thank God, she doesn't have to keep trying to make— oh.

"I— "

Ugh.

"— 'Try not to die!'," she murmurs after thinking on it for longer than a superhero probably should. "Nice and"

zzzZZZAAAAKT!

Surfing a wave of ruby red force, the door flies right off its hinges. It flies just high enough to avoid slamming into her; the red energy pouring from the doorway is another matter, hitting her right in the chest and hurling her back into the alley wall.

When the light fades, there's a Falcone thug clutching a jet black mace with a glowing red port on one end, wide-eyed and grinning… until it clicks that 'Lucy' wasn't alone.

"… shit."

Another zzzZZZAAAAKT! from a panicked crook summons another burst of concussive red energy into the alley, smaller than the last but roaring after the Gotham vigilante just the same.

* * *

Oftentimes, an infiltration is a lot of nothing punctuated by bursts of frantic action as everything happens at once, as though it were making up for the time spent otherwise. This rather impromptu break-in seems pretty content to follow the pattern, several things happening in quick succession, as the door is simply blasted off its hinges from within, the same blast of energy taking Karolina off of her feet. Definitely not off to a good start.

"So that's a 'yes' on the super guns at this location, cool," the Red Knight muses aloud, the confidence in his voice masking a jolt of frantic concern that 'Lucy' might've gotten straight up killed. Right after what she said about her battlecry too, which has a certain horror movie irony to it.

She'd wondered about wings, and now there were some: Where in Gotham he'd be wearing a heavier suit with a cape and cowl, his Titans costume was more lightweight, with a curious slim-profile pack on his back. Now, compartments on that pack opened up, strips of red and black cloth trailing from it almost like a cape… Until they suddenly harden into wings, and he twists around just in time to interpose one between himself and that blast of red energy. Which doesn't seem like a good plan, because most people have never heard of inertrite before; the metallic substance woven in with the memory-material fabric turning those wings into a tremendous shield, though not enough that the concussive force behind the blast doesn't nearly take him off of his feet. Not enough that the power draw doesn't make the wings collapse back into strips of fabric a heartbeat later.

That's fine, though.

In that same heartbeat, one of the young man's gloved hands moves in a blurring fast motion, tossing a pair of lean, bladed objects the thug's clutching hand, aiming to make him drop the energy weapon. They're unmistakable to anybody who's been involved in the Gotham underworld: Batarangs. It's always batarangs.

"Your jaw's the only bone I need to leave unbroken for you to talk," Red Robin offers as a reminder. He's already drawing his collapsible staff. He's already moving, an angry grit in his voice at the idea someone may have already gotten killed tonight, that it was his own fault. "If you like the other two hundred and five, drop the gun."

* * *

It's always batarangs. The thug drops his weapon without needing to be told, because the batarangs leave him little choice: the pain's familiar and his body responds accordingly. Without the mace, he's just a man larger than Red Robin who has been in a brawl or five in his time; hopelessly outmatched, in other words.

"Little prick—!" is about all he gets out before the vigilante's upon him.

He isn't alone, however.

The door leads into a stock room. The stock room's a mess of shelves stuffed with a haphazard mix of priceless finds, collectibles, and outright junk; none of it's likely to be as interesting as the trio of men charging through it to meet the Gothamite, however. One's clutching a metal pole with a holopraphic ax head floating around one end; the other two carry small, sleek, silvery sidearms. The one with the polearm takes the lead, eager to take Red Robin's head from his shoulders; the blade's sharp enough to cut through just about anything, but the pole's just metal.

"This' a private event, invite-only," he snarls. The men behind him fan out to the sides while their weapons radiate a gradually building hum. "Means spandex ain't welcome— means we can trade that mask of yours in for a discount!"

* * *

An important Goon Fact: There's always more goons.

It's always good to hope, of course, that this was the one time where there was just the one guy on guard duty. Dangle him off a roof, learn what he knows, then study the mystery weapon hopefully without accidentally blowing anything up. No muss, no fuss.

It's never happened yet, but one day.

The appearance of the first goon's backup is a confirmation that this isn't that one day, three more of them barrelling out of the pawn shop's back entrance with an interesting collection of tech. There's not a lot of time to be fascinated by any of it yet, though, because one of them is trying to cut his head off with a poleaxe.

The vigilante dodges with uncanny speed, especially for someone who is in fact an unmodified human: Bending back under the slash, he feels the whistle of the air the metal pole displaces as it brushes past in a near-miss, the holographic blade taking the ends off of a few strands of black hair. He's not especially anxious to test his nanoweave armor against that, for sure.

He keeps moving, the backwards bend turning into a one-handed cartwheel, booted feet swinging at the polearm-wielding thug as he tries to put space between them. The kick, though, is just a distraction. Even the move back is, after a fashion. The real problem is the device he leaves behind, another batarang with one bladed wing jammed into the cracked pavement of the alleyway. A light in the middle of it flashes quickly twice… And then it goes off, a bright flash going off in the otherwise fairly dark alley.

"Invite-only? That'll just make it more embarrassing when they know exactly who let the capes crash the party, then." As he talks, if they're blinded the voice could come from nearly anywhere, rebounding off the walls. That is, of course, because he did what any sensible batling does under these circumstances: He goes up.

And then, from the edge of the roof, he aims to drop back down on one of the sidearm-wielding men, to drag him back up into the dark night.

* * *

There are more swings after the first and Red Robin's ahead of all of them. The pole comes up between the thug and the vigilante's boots, but the blow still sends him stumbling backwards. Just as the other two see their chance to take a shot without the third guy in the way, everything goes blinding white; one of them still fires and a compressed burst of high intensity sonics thunders through the wall behind where Red Robin was, leaving a gaping hole behind.

"Get your coward ass out here," the polearm-wielder commands while frantically scrubbing his eyes, "and I'll show you embarrassed!"

The man with the premature finger is too busy trying to squint through fading white and flickering dots to get a sense of the damage he accidentally did to do anything but shriek when he's snatched.

"Wannabe Bat— — the fuck?!"

The other gunman's spinning in place, looking for some sign of Red Robin, but the polearm-wielder doesn't bother; the vigilante's not within pole's reach, so what's the point?

There's plenty to worry about on the ground, still. Take 'Lucy', for example: her eyes may be shut, but she's still breathing, a fact which dawns on Pole Thug when his gaze sweeps across her. He hustles across the alley until the translucent blade's right against her neck.

(A fun fact: since Majesdanian blood cells carry the solar energy that fuels their extrahuman abilities, cutting one tends to be both aesthetically pleasing and a quick/dirty way to gauge how charged a given one is.)

"Or don't get out here, fuck it!" he bellows as orange-yellow trickles over the blade, moderately aglow. "We still got someone to keep us company!"

"I'mnotwiththemI'mjustheretobuystartrekguns!" the man in Red Robin's grasp rattles off, meanwhile.

"Little biurrkk!!"

"K— kicked— kicked him in the balls! 'm okay— ! … goooodduh…"

The night doesn't remain dark for much longer after that, because there's still a gun to account for. A blinding rainbow blooms from the core of Karolina's being, filling the alley and forcing the other gun-wielder's arm over his eyes while it lasts.

* * *

Though there were other, more pressing things to worry about at the moment, privately Red Robin does have to admit that the star trek guns are pretty cool. There's times when that part of the Rule can get downright frustrating and you start to wonder if Jason wasn't right all along, and most of those times are when somebody has a neat ray gun.

But there were other, more pressing things to worry about at the moment. That Pole Thug noticed the downed 'Lucy' really put a kibosh on Red Robin having the time to methodically take the rest of the trio apart; he shouldn't let it get him angry, because letting anger out was a good way to get sloppy and make mistakes, but he definitely can't just let them finish her off, so he leaves the thug he's caught dangling from the edge of the roof by his ankle and a titanium-weave grapple line, before—

—He hears Pole Thug get kicked in the nuts by the girl he'd probably thought was out cold, and there's a flare of prismatic luminescence, like a second flashbang being set off. So.

"Our battlecry only really works when there's more than one person, so congrats Lucy, you're deputised," the vigilante says, as he jumps off the roof; still recovering from the earlier blast, his suit's wings are useless. The muon-repulsor thrusters on the backpack, though, are not, though he uses them more to direct his fall than to slow it, aiming himself at the blinded thug. The end of his staff crackles with electricity as he swings it downwards at the gun-wielder's upraised arm and shoulder, adding a stun baton's shocking insult to the swing's bone-cracking injury.

"TITANS TOGETHER!" he calls.

See? It'd be weird if it was just him.

* * *

"— deputised?"

Deputised??

"So you are a cop— "

— oh.

That kind of—

"— 'Titans together'!" Karolina repeats as the last thug crumples, convulsing and unconscious thanks to Red Robin. Her fist deliberately balls and rises as the prismatic flashbang races inwards, almost folding itself back into Karolina's being.

She holds it for a beat - solidarity, and all - then extends her index finger towards Polearm Guy and launches a slim, concussive bolt upside his head to make sure he's down.

"Like," she utters, arching an eyebrow while darkness reasserts itself, "The 'Teen'…?" Increasingly curious eyes scan over Red Robin, "I mean…" narrowing as she sizes him up, clearly playing 'Guess The Age' despite his mask. "… well, sure." After a slight pause, she flashes a small, tight smile and murmurs, "Thanks for the cover."

* * *

Teamwork, as they often say, makes the dream work.

Though all things considered, Red Robin can't really blame Karolina for taking another shot at Polearm Guy once he's on the ground.

The vigilante's natural next impulse once the goons are out of commission is of course to get to investigating - the 'cape' dangling from his costume's backpack reels itself in, and he folds his collapsible staff back down, returning it to his utility belt - when the resurgent darkness is filled not with more light but instead with a curious question.

Like… The 'Teen'…?

There is a faint sigh from the young man, as visions of Daily Bugle headlines and their very insistent terminology for the group of young heroes dance in his imagination. Was it the alliteration, he sometimes wonders? It was pretty good branding, he has to suppose. It's catchy.

"Just the Titans," he explains. "Though I guess a few of us are still teens, but Starfire's, like… Twenty-five?" There's a bit of exasperation in his voice, here; the sort that comes from very clear memories of his teen sidekick days, and the kids' table treatment that often came with it. "Nobody gives the Avengers a hard time about having two centenarians on the team, no 'Geriatric Avengers' headlines…"

Clearly, this is a sore spot.

"But hey, you did good. Not a lot of people can keep their head after getting shot with a space gun and then somebody trying to carve them up with a space halberd. Ever think about going pro?"

* * *

"'Ancient Avengers', maybe," Karolina quietly suggests. Her eyes are glued on the door ahead of them because that makes it easier to imagine Red Robin can't see the small, sympathetic grin that formed during his explanation. "I…"

Karolina lets the question linger while she marches through the doorway. The shoulder that took that blast hangs somewhat slack, but both arms are otherwise raised, extended a short ways ahead of her with her fingers splayed out.

The door into the pawn shop itself is ajar. It's not much: a glass display counter with jewelry and knives and the gaping pit behind it dominate most of the space. The wall behind the counter's hung with a small variety of guns, instruments, TVs, and other pricy goods. A few aisles worth of smaller electronics, books, toys, and other second hand goods make up the rest of the shop.

The pit's got wooden stairs. It's only a few feet to the left of the store room door.

"… always thought it was a waste of time, you know?" she finally, quietly admits as she peers down into the darkness. "Big picture-wise, sure: the world gets saved; super-dictators get handled, all that stuff. Everything keeps going the way it's supposed to because— well, 'pros', but…"

The stairs creak as Karolina tentatively starts down them. The blonde notes in her hair recede in favor more radiant, prismatic ones to light the way.

"… 'supposed to' isn't really the same as 'should be', and I— I have a hard time seeing myself as just… just settling, that way. I want to help people— I want to make the world better than it is!" she declares, gesturing in front of herself as passion and dismay swirl together to buoy her words, "But how often do you hear about the Avengers building homeless shelters? What's the Justice League's stance on police brutality…? You see where I'm going, right?"

The hole in the Earth's wide enough for single-file climbing. Karolina turns so she's looking up and back at Red Robin, and one of her arms shifts so she's still got a palm pointed downstairs.

"Back home," she softly continues, "m— there was, this, a cartel, basically, big enough to run an entire city. Cops, judges, politicians… of course the gangs. Big city. And it, you know— it wasn't bad, exactly? At first? It was nice, back home: things were safe, and the city worked exactly the way it was supposed to, and nobody knew what any of it cost… so the pros just left it be. And, you know— I'm not saying that they were wrong, here, that they're incompetent, or evil, or— whatever; just that they didn't know. They never needed to know; they never needed to look that closely, it— it wasn't their job." Her voice twists and curdles with a dose of frustration as she says those last few words, and she follows them with a slow, deep sigh.

"So," she then murmurs, "I guess," a small, shaky laugh rattles forth, "to answer your question: yes; I've thought about it, a little." Sparkling eyes of every color imaginable flit from the vigilante for a tick.

"What's the Titans' stance on police brutality…?" she then wonders, quietly.

* * *

You see where I'm going, right?

He does, of course. In a literal sense, it's hard not to, since she's actively generating light once they've gone through the pawn shop proper - if you've seen one of those, you've seen them all, and Red Robin's attention goes almost immediately towards the gaping pit. Gaping pits are not what you usually find in a pawn shop. But then, most pawn shops aren't dealing mysterious weapons out of their back doors, either.

"I'm pretty sure they're against it," he says of the Justice League. "I mean, Superman and all." Batman's stance on police brutality is of course that sometimes you have to inflict brutality on dirty cops. But that's Gotham for you.

But he does listen. It's one of the (admittedly, many) things he's good at, both by training and by natural inclination. Not just the words, but what's behind them. It goes into that mental file, that newly created room in his mind. A bruised idealism that manifests as a kind of weary cynicism. There's something naggingly familiar about her description of 'back home', but it doesn't quite connect to anything just yet. Certainly it doesn't sound like his own hometown, where all that criminal influence had the opposite effect; nothing was safe, and nothing worked the way it was supposed to. And look what that created.

"We're not big fans either," is the answer to the question about the Titans and police brutality. "That's part of why we went underground instead of registering… Protesting people being forced to put themselves on a list like that. The Titans have always been about helping young people with powers, because a lot of other groups don't really bother with them. I mean, yeah, we do still fight super-dictators, and cults, and last year there was this big dragon and his frozen corpse girlfriend… But it's not just about punching the bad guys and then assuming everything else will work itself out, y'know?"

* * *

At the bottom, there's another door as ugly, green, and (probably) reinforced as the one outside. It has a little slide window to inspect visitors, and it's shut tight. The sounds of frantic scraping, shuffling, and humming faintly leak through. The staircase leaves them in an antechamber that is, if nothing else, big enough for both of them.

"Good," she exhales while leveling one palm with the lock and rubbin the back of her neck. "Yeah, it's— like, I— I really haven't had that long to think about this stuff, and it's not like it's I'm some kind of expert, or, or social worker, or whatever— … it's not like what I've been doing is all that great… but if I'm gonna be a part of something, I've gotta be able to believe in it, right? And trust that the people around me believe in something worth believing in."

'Back home', that something was 'each other'… but 'back home', she wasn't any more of a superhero than she is now, pseudonym aside. The possibility of finding another group of people to believe with and in holds a positively magnetic power to a young woman alone in a city that doesn't really want her… even if it does involve frozen corpses and cults. She heard someone on a podcast say that it gets harder to make friends as you get older, so the downsides fit.

"That could be nice, maybe," she quietly allows as prismatic coruscations begin blooming from her palm, only to freeze.

"Do you wanna breach," she whispers, looking towards the Gothamite, "or clear?"

* * *

"These guys aren't big on style," Red Robin muses as he sees the door, as they're left standing in what passes for an antechamber before whatever might be lurking on the other side of it. Though maybe that's part of the point: Not leaving anything for anyone to hide behind on this side of the door. Killboxes were just good strategy.

Besides, they can't all be flamboyantly themed super criminals.

"It's up to you, though. Not everybody wants to sign up with the first guy in a weird costume who gives them a fake name and says 'hey come be a superhero'. And if you try it and it doesn't work for you, that's fine too. We stopped doing secret blood rituals to keep people in the group ages ago. Really hard to get out of the carpets."

Though given their surplus of gothic witches, they've really started to at least look like a 'secret blood rituals' kinda group. Maybe somebody who lights up like Karolina is just good PR.

The breach or clear question gets a curious look from the vigilante, but he shrugs his shoulders lightly and reaches for one of those myriad pouches hanging from his utility belt.

"Crack it open," he says. "I've got some flashbangs."

* * *

"Honestly, it's— I'm not exactly overflowing with offers for anything, out here," Karolina murmurs. "I'm not saying I'm DESPERATE, but doing something good with my time would be… … I could use the distraction."

On a good day, Karolina is a flashbang—

— a 'flash'. Karolina's a 'flash', realistically; the 'bang' tends to be muted by comparison.

On a good day, Karolina is a flash, but it's night, they're underground, and she's been busy.

After the door SLAMs open thanks to a rainbow burst shoving the knob and lock assembly clear through to the other side, she's happy to fall back and let Red Robin take point in corraling a room filled with a burning aroma, streaks of white light collapsing into a rapidly vanishing point, bare tables, and an open laptop that is nakedly in the process of scrubbing its contents.

"— shit," Karolina whispers as widening eyes flick around what's left.

* * *

They scarcely even look like much: Three little dark spheres that, as the door yawns open… Don't actually wind up getting thrown. Even the briefest assessment makes it clear that whoever was there had made a sensible retreat ahead of any investigators, probably knowing full well that New York was as ever New York, and was pretty lousy with capes whatever the state legislature said.

"It sucks when they're actually smart," Red Robin agrees with Karolina's much more succinct whisper. Goons are almost always dumb, as a requirement of the job… The smart ones have a way of rising higher. High enough to, it seems, have access to some kind of teleportation.

That, he knows he can't do anything about. On the other hand, there's something else there that's much more his speed.

So he beelines for the laptop, his focus tightening on that as he tries to keep it from erasing itself, or failing that to recover anything that seems like it might be useful before the whole thing is just a brick.

"See if there's anything else," the vigilante instructs distractedly. "If we're lucky, they were rushing and made a mistake…"

* * *

There aren't any windows or doors that Karolina can see, leaving her with a big, essentially empty room to briskly circle while running her hands over the walls.

"All the ones worth worrying about are smart," Karolina quietly replies.

There first major obstacle between Red Robin and all that juicy data is the operating system: at first glance, it's a command line-driven affair, primitive in its presentation but otherwise unremarkable. A second glance would reveal the presence of symbols that don't exist in any Earthly language or numbering system dropped in the middle of what's otherwise plain English— on the screen and keyboard, both.

There's a logic here: the English is readily extrapolatable as files, and at least some of the symbols as commands, with a handful occurring over and over in the on-screen text stream. Any plug-and-play tools that the Bat or his Bird might've developed for situations like this one are facing an uphill battle on an architecture that is at best half sensical; fast fingers and neurons might be best suited to carry the load, here, unless Red Robin's ready to code on the fly.

One silver lining: whatever the hell OS this is, it wouldn't take much to determine that it's Unix-based.

Whether via emergency reengineering or clever reverse engineering, Red Robin is eventually able to stop the deletion process in its tracks. Some of the data's gone, shredded before the vigilante could get to it; the rest, though…

Among other things, there's a list of other cities, spreadsheets, a few of weapon schematics, some WIP promo videos, and flyers ready to be printed, all waiting to be combed over… most of which is much heavier in its use of alien symbology. The list, at least, is useful as is, though there are notes that need translating; the flyers and videos are pure English as well.

* * *

Fortunately, when it comes to the Bat-Family, there's only one person computer nerdier than Red Robin.

"I don't recognise some of this," he admits while he works, still distractedly - as though he were talking more on autopilot while the rest of his mental horsepower was occupied with the laptop in front of him, fingers moving quickly over the keys. "Maybe coded language, or something extaterrestrial, actually it's kinda cool." At least half the job becomes unerstanding what he's working with, then, trying to figure out the logic behind the alien symbols and how they're used. Under less pressing circumstances, he'd probably contentedly while away a few hours with it, a problem to poke at and study at his leisure.

Right now, though, he's working against the clock, and he's well aware of it. He doesn't seem frantic, though, there's no rush or obvious haste to him. It's almost a kind of Zen thing, that doesn't let on at all how close it comes to not even working.

And when he's done…

"O-kay," Red Robin breathes, a slow exhalation that takes the tension with it. "We've got… Something. Though I think we're gonna need a space alien to translate it. Fortunately," he adds, as he closes the laptop, "I know where to find one." Obviously, Karolina is a perfectly normal, home-grown metahuman with some kind of light powers, and he presumably means someone else. "We should probably take those weapons on the way out. Uh… How do you feel about Long Island?"

* * *

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