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Marvelous... uh... that is, Wonder...

G O T H A M C O U N T Y

Abandoned Farmstead

The tourists visiting the old farmstead piled out of some expensive rides. Cadillac Escalades. Lincoln Navigators. Even a Porche Macan. It was a lot of money to be out in the unincorporated parts of Gotham County. Especially a zip code where the median income was below the national poverty line.

Shrugging off his duster, the former Boy Wonder stalked through the corn as he wound his way to a strategic vantage point from which to observe the group arrive and then disembark their vehicles.

This was most likely a pick up. The bulk of the groupies were straggling inside of the farmstead. They’d likely be back with their arms full of high flammable product.

For the last twenty years, Dick’s Nightwing suit had remained unchanged. He’d experimented with red iconography once upon a time, but it hadn’t stuck. The bird symbol emblazoned across the chest was in the same muted shade of blue. One thing was different though, as the trousers had clearly shrunk. Maybe it was the wash. Or the spandex just hadn’t held up over time. Whatever the case may have been, Dick’s lower half was dressed in a pair of comfortable sweatpants.

They may not have been the most stylish thing that Nightwing could have worn, but Dick was certain that he’d never had a costume that was this comfortable.

Removing the glasses that he wore for driving at night, the man pressed a domino mask against his face. As it slid into place, the eye slits became faintly illuminated as the lens took over, supplying a HUD interface that also corrected for Dick’s aging vision.

He’d definitely have to pop an Advil later.

He burst from out of the cornfield without a single sound. His movements were not the lithe, acrobat finesse of his youthful years. Now, he moved more like Bruce had. Float like a butterfly, sting like a Batman.

He took down the first goon with a single hit, ducking and weaving as the confusion allowed him time in which to take the second with a two-hit combo. The third managed to clear his gun from out of the waistband of his jeans, but it slipped to the ground with the safety still on as Dick’s fist connected with the man’s face.

Arghhh,” the Nightwing growled under his breath. As he stepped into that last punch, he tried to flex his knee and felt the joint lock up on him. Arthritic pain shot up his leg, radiating at the hip even as Dick’s shoulder began to ache.

He was officially too old for this.

Leaving the goons on the ground, Dick started to move across the yard toward the barn. As he did, he pulled out his burner phone and tried to dial Toyboy again.

Caller not available.

Just what was that robot up to?

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Gotham Corridor Self Storage
Bludhaven, New Jersey | Present Day

The Toy Wonder took another step back.

Anton Schott, face obscured behind the head of a porcelain doll that he was wearing as a mask, continued to loom over the red-and-black attired Robin. “I’ve done everything in my power to help the little one’s survive in this sad, cruel world,” the man declared, arms outstretched as though to indicate the rows of kennel-like cages in which children were huddled and dirty.

Now fully illuminated, the interior of the room told a very different story. Table tops and tools bore the evidence of blood stains. Parts of bodies were visible in trash cans.

“Survive?” the doll tossed back at his former master and confidant. Taking a step forward, the young-looking Robin at last stopped his retreat and instead stood his ground as he angrily answered, “There are dying children in these cages!”

“Some had to sacrifice so that others could live,” Anton barked, gesturing wildly. His hand grabbed hold of a length of chain that was dangling from the ceiling. Slowly, the man pulled on the chain. Toyboy could hear the sound of a pulley system, his eyes glancing up and then to the side as he tried to determine the mechanism at work.

“As children they are helpless. But, as dolls no one can ever hurt them again.”

From the corners of the room, shadows were starting to emerge. Small, thin silhouettes that revealed themselves to be feral children as they came into view.

They had the same mask, wearing the blissful expression of a porcelain doll over their faces. Some still had all their fingers and toes. Others had their limbs replaced with weapons.

“Not even you!

Schott’s taunt was almost lost, the man’s voice drowned out by the sound of two buzz-saws whirling to life. A boy charged at the doll. His forearms had been amputated at the elbow, replaced with mitre saws in place of his hands. The feral child was snapping and spitting at the Toyboy, as he slashed at the doll with broad sweeps of his arm.

There was a rush of air. From the corner of his peripheral vision, Toyboy was aware of a girl whose left forearm had been replaced with an oxy-acetylene torch. Aiming that out at Robin, the hiss of compressed gas heralded the flame.

Lashing out with his leg, Toyboy kicked the Saw-Boy in the chest with sufficient force to lift the child off his feet and knock him several feet through the air. The stream of flames shot out at him the next second, as the Toy Wonder took shelter behind the nomex cape.

He pulled a batarang from the utility with his free hand. Logic processors were compiling data, composing an actionable sequence that would adequately address the present threat. He needed to sever the oxygen line on the Torch-Girl’s arm. The batarang should be sufficient for the task, though the trajectory of attack would require fifteen-pounds-per-square-inch of force with a thirty degree angle of attack.

There were also two more feral children circling around to advance behind him. As he threw the batarang, the pivot motion would supply leverage from which he could cartwheel out of the line of attack, pushing one child into the other.

It was a design that took Toyboy precisely 0.485 seconds to compose.

Sliding on his back foot, the doll dropped his cape and then stepped through into the motion of tossing the batarang. The wing tip bounced harmlessly off the metal of the girl’s arm, but the rubber tube was pinched and ruptured, prompting her shrill yelp as the torch blossomed out in a fireball.

Stepping with the motion of the flow, Toyboy’s body followed through into a cartwheel that took him off center, two feral children colliding in the spot where Robin had been just a moment earlier. Shoving the two of them off to the side, Toyboy’s attention was distracted by the return of Saw-Boy.

Reaching up with his left hand, Toyboy grabbed hold of the boy’s mitre saw arm. The pair struggled for a moment, before Toyboy had his right hand on the boy’s other arm as well.

Pulling the Saw-Boy toward him, Toyboy pitched forward so that their foreheads connected. The Saw-Boy went limp as he was stunned, guided down to the floor as the doll turned his attention back to the son of his creator.

“Psychopath,” the boy snapped, in an uncharacteristic bout of anger.

This time, it was Anton Schott who took a step back.
You're not a wizard, though!


With the Speed Force, he could be.

Thawne best Sorcerer Supreme.
It's not Marvelous Monday without Baal.
B L Ü D H A V E N

First Citizen’s Bank & Trust | February 8th, 1985

Most people tried to be as unobtrusive as possible when robbing a bank.

Others rolled out the fanfare.

The marionettes marched through the doors. Trumpeters heralded the two column approach of life-sized nutcrackers and toy soldiers, as a little drummer boy danced and spun in the center of the formation with a jovial giggle as he beat a happy tune against the small marching drum that he carried.

The wooden toy soldiers split off into a firing line, rifles held out toward the row of bank tellers. The people inside the bank were screaming and scurrying out of the path of the nutcrackers, whose jaws snapped back and forth while they brandished wicked looking scimitars.

With a jaunty step, the little drummer boy did a pirouette and then flipped over the partition that separated the customers from the tellers. Beating out a melody on his drum, the Toyboy sauntered over to the safe that was recessed into the back part of the bank. Unslinging his drum, the child-like doll set the drum against the front of the safe. Then, executing a series of backflips, vaulted away from the safe.

An explosion ripped through the air, sending tremors through the building that brought everyone inside down onto their hands on their knees. The automatic fire extinguishers kicked in, spraying water through the interior of the bank.

Through the rain, the smoke, and the haze, a childish laughter trickled with bubbly mirth. “The Toyman’s toys aren’t just expensive, you might say they break the bank!”

The movement was almost imperceptible.

The toy soldiers went down first, bowled down like pins that were scattered as they rolled around on the floor. The nutcrackers were next, flashes of a dark attired figure cast as a silhouette among the smoke.

A scimitar rattled as it slid across the floor toward the little drummer boy’s feet. “What?” Toyboy chirped, still holding onto his drum sticks, as he looked down, then around to his left and right. He seemed to have significantly fewer toys now than he thought that he ought to. Hey! the doll exclaimed, snapping his head up as he said firmly, “I was playing with those!”


Twirling a pair of batons, the former Boy Wonder stood in the center of the bank. Attired in varying shades of blue and gold, the dark haired man in the mask merely looked out at the pouting child-like figure and noted, “The psychopaths just keep getting younger.”

“That’s okay,” the doll chirped. With a surprising dexterity that would have belonged inside the family of the Flying Graysons, the child-like figure executed a cartwheel toward Dick. Holding out his batons in a defensive posture, the man was surprised when the drum sticks struck against his guard with sufficient force to push him backward. “I can just play with you instead!” the doll boasted in the same sing-song voice.

Holding up his block, Dick dropped his center of gravity. He performed a leg sweep, but the nimbly nymph jumped out of the way.

Something wasn’t quite right, though as Dick found himself getting into a game of back-and-forth, trading blows, between batons and drum sticks... he found he was having a hard time placing a finger on what was nagging at him.

Then it hit him. The boy -- if it even was a boy -- wasn’t looking at Dick. Not his face anyway. Instead, it almost seemed like it was studying him. Evaluating? As Dick moved, the child-like figure seemed to respond and anticipate how that movement would guide Dick’s next move.

He was being analyzed.

That didn’t seem human. Was this... another toy?

“Hey, Mister, what’s your name?” the drummer boy remarked. Vaulting over Dick’s head, the doll landed atop the teller window and continued sparring with Dick from there.

Dick was definitely starting to get the feeling that he was being toyed with. “I’m not ‘sposed to talk to strangers,” the doll continued, babbling on like a real child might have. “But, if you tell me your name then we won’t be strangers anymore!”

Dick tried a feint, snapping out with a sweep of his arm that he’d hoped would have struck the legs out from under the doll. Instead, Dick felt a kid-sized foot land on his face, as the doll nimbly sprang across to the other side of the bank lobby. A bubbly, giggling laughter seemed to accompany his movement.

The man grit his teeth. Now, he was starting to get irritated. “I think you need a nice long talk with a judge down in juvenile hall,” Nightwing snapped, as he spun to turn and face the little hellspawn.

The little drummer boy just shot a Dick a devil-may-care grin. Then, the doll craned his head toward the door to the bank. A second later, the sound of police sirens reached Dick’s ears.

“This playground’s starting to get crowded,” the drummer boy stated, before vaulting back toward the exit. As he cartwheeled out onto the steps, the doll gave Nightwing a jaunty salute as he added, “Hey, mister, let’s play again sometime!”

Standing there, water pooling around his ankles, Dick waded through giant wooden toy soldiers and knife-wielding nutcrackers. And may have just fenced Pinocchio. “Just when I thought that I’d seen it all,” he muttered under his breath.

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Gotham Corridor Self Storage
Gotham County, New Jersey | Present Day

The bubbly giggle echoed faintly. Glimpses of a small shadow seemed to play along the peripheral as the costumed doll ventured through the self storage yard. The place had been shuttered for the last six years, the units weathered but seemingly shut tight. Upon cursory review, Toyboy would have estimated that the facility was well and truly defunct.

That was before he’d turned a corner and seen the bus.

It was the type of short school bus that was known as an A-type frame. The underlying drivetrain was a Ford E-450. The wheelbase was precisely 138 inches, with a curb weight of approximately 5,000 pounds. The precise details that he had observed at the crime scene on Route 16.

Popping open the side door, the Toy Wonder slipped inside of the bus for a closer inspection. Visual inspection in the ultraviolet spectrum revealed traces of blood.

The trail led him to a nearby storage unit. The garage-style rolling door was not secured. Tugging at the underside of door, Toyboy rolled the door up part way. The interior was spartan, with a hole cut into the floor.

There was something underneath the storage facility.

He likely had enough observations to report back to Mister Grayson now. As he started to lower the door, the Toyboy stopped. Holding perfectly still, the doll waited as he listened.

There was a sound. The decibel level was extremely low. But the pitch was in the range of normal child vocalization. Holding himself like a statue, Toyboy remained that way until he had determined that the sound was that of a child sobbing.

Dick’s directive that he should observe and report was immediately rescinded.

Once upon a time, Toyboy had hesitated to do something when a child had been sobbing, because an authority figure had told him to stand down.

It had been a mistake.

It was a mistake that did not bear repeating. Rising up to his feet, Toyboy cast the door to the storage facility open. Approaching the hole in the floor, the doll was aware that this was precisely the jumping into something half-assed that Mister Grayson had specifically warned again.

He’d jumped into something half-assed one other time before, and saved five lives. Even if he saved only one then he was willing to accept the repercussions for his decision. “Hero time,” the boy uttered, as he jumped down into the hole.

He descended into Hell.

Shifting between different bandwidths of the visual and electromagnetic spectrum, the Toy Wonder peered through near perfect darkness and found himself in a room filled with large cages. It was like a kennel.

Only the animals shacked inside of them were children.

There was movement in all but two of the cages. The sound of the sobbing brought the Toyboy over to where a girl in pigtails was rocking herself in a fetal position. “Can you hear me?” the boy whispered. He was analyzing the door to the cage. “It’s going to be okay...”

“Your... worried... about the little ones?”

The boy’s short cape furled about, as Toyboy reared up and turned to face the direction of the voice. The lights were switched on, momentarily flooding the android’s visual cameras. Blinking, the robot was blind as he re-calibrated for brightness.

“Don’t be.”

The same voice. Audio recorders were starting to dissect and analyze for identifying characteristics. Speech pattern. Voice onset time. As the Toy Wonder opened his eyes, the lenses focused on the figure on a man wearing the face of a porcelain doll as a mask. “You see, I love them. More than you could ever know,” the man stated.

Recognition triggered as the pattern of speech found a near match. “Anton?” Toyboy uttered aloud.

Advancing toward where the Toy Wonder stood in the center of the kennel, the doll-faced man said, “Anton Schott died when he was a boy. When the monster took away his innocence.”

As the man stepped forward, Toyboy found that he began taking steps back. As the man spoke of lost innocence, the toy’s memories of Hinkley Creek were triggered. A litany of mistakes played back with perfect clarity.

Holding out his arms, the son of the Toyman declared, “I’m not Anton. I am the Dollmaker.”
G O T H A M C O U N T Y

Gotham Corridor Self Storage

“That’s not the suit that I asked you to alter.”

The air rushed by. The reverberation of the motorcycle radiated through the doll’s body, filling the night with a dull roar. The bike was a modified 1971 Triumph Daytona that had originally been used by Bruce Wayne as part of a publicity stunt, before it had been passed to Dick for use when he’d become a teen. The blue paint was factory, with the only emblematic addition being a muted Robin ‘R’ symbol.

The so-called Robin Cycle had been sitting inside one of the safehouses that had functioned as one of the many fallbacks to the Bat-Cave that were strategically placed in the event that Bruce had to shift operations. Converted from an old warehouse, it was owned by a dummy company that was tangentially connected to one of the Wayne Group businesses. Dick had used it as his headquarters when he’d first arrived in Bludhaven, before buying and converting the apartment over.

Amazingly, slapping in a new battery and putting some gas into the engine had worked. When this was over, Dick was probably going to have to replace the plugs and hoses if this kept up however.

His comment, of course, was not directed at the bike so much as it was the current operator. A short cape fluttering in the wind behind the small driver. While flashes of yellow marked the underside of the cape, the predominant color was black. The short sleeves, the trunks, the gloves, and the boots were all black. Gone was any hint of green. The yellow was significantly downplayed, relegated now only to the R symbol and the underside of the cape. The body and legs were both red, but a far more muted tone than the bright colors that Dick had sported.

“If I had to guess, based on the color scheme and quality of the polyester fibers, then I would say that the previous Robin suit was designed in the late Nineteen Sixties,” Toyboy remarked, quite astutely delivering a proverbial slap across Dick’s ear drums.

Unlike Dick, Toyboy’s vision was inhuman. The lighting had been removed from the motorcycle, as the dark shadow shot down Interstate-12 in completely blacked out conditions. On this part of the interstate, the traffic was light. By the time anyone thought that they saw something, the bike was already vanishing back into the darkness. This ensemble is much more durable and appropriate to the post-modern child superhero,” the doll added, easing back on the throttle of the motorcycle as he approached the turn. Sliding into neutral, the android boy allowed the bike’s speed to bleed away before neatly executing the turn from off the asphalt onto the dirt county road. “The use of black is apparently associated with something that the internet identified as ‘edgelord’,” the Toy Wonder remarked candidly, noting, “This is reportedly a popular trait with tweens.”

If it was possible, Toyboy could hear the facepalm through the Bluetooth earpiece that was clipped to the side of his head. “Popularity with the eight to fourteen crowd wasn’t exactly what I was going for when I was Robin.”

Sliding the bike into third gear, the doll rocked the throttle as the motorcycle underneath him gave a dull roar while the tires bit into the dirt. “Perhaps a reason why the identity has failed to attract a successor in recent times,” the simulacrum chirped brightly. Soft notes of mirth concealed what seemed like a faint echo of giggling as he’d said it.

“All right, you’re coming up on the storage facility. Maintain radio silence unless absolutely necessary,” Dick’s voice noted. In recent time, Dick had planted a GPS tracking device on the Robin Cycle and the Redbird, just in case someone stumbled upon the old Bat-Bunker. “Remember, for this outing it’s surveillance only. Observe and report. I’ll check out the barn and then we’ll compare notes before we jump into something half-assed.”

Easing off the throttle, the doll slid the bike back into neutral. Slowly coasting along the rough road, the bike rolled to a stop just outside the fence that surrounded the confines of the storage facility. “Observe and report. Don’t jump into anything that’s not full-ass,” the boy supplied, his voice betraying the childish giggle at the word ‘ass’. Then, the line dropped as the boy said brightly, “Got it!”

Pushing the motorcycle off the road, the doll concealed it into the brush and removed his helmet. A black domino mask dressed the front of his face.

A light litany of boyish laughter trickled through the air. Taking off in a sprint, the android closed the gap to the fence and then neatly performed an acrobatic leap from the ground. Performing a twist in the air, the small figure landed on his feet on the other side of the barrier and then sprinted toward the nearest structure.

As he did, he uttered under his breath, in a sing-song voice, Na na na na na na... Robin!

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“Got it!”

He had a bad feeling about this. Glancing down at his cellphone, Dick tried to ignore the knot in his stomach and just put the phone in his coat pocket.

He was in a different part of I-12, taking his unmarked police cruiser through a county road that was little more than a one-way path carved through cornfields. He was way outside of his jurisdiction in this part of the county. Proper decorum required that he contact the sheriff to let hi know that he’d be stepping out into his jurisdiction, especially if he was collecting evidence for an official Bludhaven Police Department investigation.

Except Dick knew just enough about the Gotham County Sheriff to know that call would do more harm than good.

First rule of being Nightwing: It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.

He’d found an empty field that was a short distance away, leaving the car and crossing through the corn toward the foreclosed farm.

At first, he’d almost missed the acrid scent in the air. Recognition was gnawing at the back of his brain, but he was distracted by the vibration in his coat. He tapped the side of his bluetooth ear bud. “Grayson,” he answered shortly.

“It’s Chambers,” the voice on the other end of the call announced. “I ran the victims from the Ninety-Six case and found that there is one still here. I’m on my way to see if I can get an interview tonight.”

So she’d found Chambers. “Solid plan,” Dick stated quietly. Peering through the stalks, the man gauged the empty path toward the farm before he ventured out from cover and into the open.

“Blackgate is getting me the names of all inmates who have been released that they think Helzinger would have spoken with.”

That would be a start to growing their list of suspects. “Run that first thing in the morning,” Dick remarked. Then a pause. “What about Ellsworth?”

“So, that’s the thing,” Chambers’ voice remarked. That statement caused Dick to stop short, even before he heard, “What led you to think that Schott was moved to Ellsworth?”

“He’s not at Ellsworth,” Dick uttered, feeling a foreboding sense of dread wash over him.

“They say that they’ve never heard of him.”

Now this was making perfect sense. The knowledge about the abductions. The motive. It had been Anton Schott.

And Dick had just sent Toyboy to face him. Shit.”

“Commissioner?”

“I’ll call you back,” Dick replied, hanging up. Digging through his pocket, the man snatched the phone out. Unlocking it, the man began to cycle through the calls to find the burner that he’d given Toyboy.

A sound caused Dick to stop, his finger poised over the call button.

It was a car engine.

Several car engines.

He turned his head just in time to see headlights shining through the corn stalks, as several cars wound their way toward the farm.

Blocking the road that could take him to I-12. And, more importantly, headed toward the so-called abandoned farm. Where the smell told him everything he needed to know.

He’d just stumbled across a meth lab.

God... fuck.
Requested by @Lord Wraith in Discord.


The gallant figure of the former circus acrobat smoothed the front of his tuxedo, as he crossed from the left side of the stage toward the center dias. The small doll joined him from the right. Holding out the first of several envelopes, the dark haired android introduced the first category.

"For the category of best character concept..."

The doll paused there, distracted by what seemed an awful lot of preening going on beside him. "It your tie on too tight?"

Making a show of adjusting a tie that needed no adjustment, Dick played it off cool as he casually answered, "No, I'm just preparing to accept my award."

"The category is ‘best character concept’ not most recycled 1940s cliche," the doll noted flatly.

Reaching down, Dick snatched the envelope from out of the doll’s hands. Peeling open the contents, the man perused the small square of paper inside as he read, "For the category of best character concept, the nominees are: Shazam by @ErsatzEmperor, Baal by @Stein, Guardians of the Galaxy by @HenryJonesJr, and Mon-El by @Ceta de Cloyes."

Pausing there, Dick seemed to scan back through the list. "Well, there's no accounting for taste..." the man noted finally.

Reaching up, the doll snatched the envelope back. "And the winner for best character concept is... Guardians of the Galaxy by @HenryJonesJr!"

Dick patiently went through the motions of the polite golf clap, as he waited for the applause to quiet and could continue on with the script for this evening. “Moving on to the category for best character development...” the man began, pausing as he looked down to see what appeared to be Toyboy trying to pass him a pack of Post-It notes. “Why are you passing me a bunch of yellow stickies?”

“You should take notes,” the doll stated evenly, his timing impeccable as he added, “You need all the development that you can get.”

Planting a hand on top of Toyboy’s head, Dick forcibly shoved the doll away as he held out the card and read, “The nominees for best character development are: Wonder Woman by @Star Lord, Supergirl by @Inkarnate, Flash by @Hillan, and Spider-Man by @DocTachyon.”

Sliding back across the stage, the Toyboy gave a flourish as he merrily proclaimed, “And the winner for best character development is... Flash by @Hillan!”

A light murmur of childish laughter accentuated the light patter of applause, as the android resumed it’s place at Dick’s side. Head bopping from side to side, as though dancing to a rhythm only the Toyboy could hear, the child-like doll continued, “The nominees for best season are: Captain America by @webboysurf, Guardians of the Galaxy by @HenryJonesJr, Blue Beetle by @Hound55, and Mon-El by @Ceta de Cloyes.”

Reaching down, Dick casually plucked the card from the boy’s hand as he read, “And the winner for best season is... Mon-El by @Ceta de Cloyes.”

With regard to the cheap, made in China, Oscar replica trophy, Toyboy noted, “Wait, this isn’t made of lead is it?”

The detective merely gave shrug. “If it is, we can just stick him in the Phantom Zone until another writer comes along with a reason to reference Mon-El again,” Dick commented dryly. “It’ll be fine.” Probably. Maybe.

Definitely maybe.

Running a hand through his graying hair, Dick drew the next envelope as he said, “The nominees for the category of best story arc are: Captain America by @webboysurf, Supergirl by @Inkarnate, Batman by @Lord Wraith, and Wonder Woman by @Star Lord.”

Reaching up, the doll pulled the card from out of Dick hand’s as he read, “And the winner for best story arc is... Supergirl by @Inkarnate!”

Cycling to the next envelope, the doll continued on as he read, “The nominees for best supporting cast in an RPG are: Guardians of the Galaxy by @HenryJonesJr, Teen Titans by @Retired, Captain America by @webboysurf, and X-Men by @ComradeMaxx.”

Snatching up the card, Dick read, “And the winner for best supporting cast in an RPG is: Captain America by @webboysurf!”
B L U D H A V E N

1013 Parkthorne Avenue


Everybody
Rock your body
Everybody rock your body right
Backstreets back, all right

The doll was bouncing around. He had taken off the hoodie, the brightly colored t-shirt flaring out from the child-like simulacrum’s slight frame as it bobbed and bopped back and forth. A pair of headphones connected its head to an audio jack on the ORACLE terminal. The large screen overhead held a massive display of the popular children’s massive multiplayer online game that was known as Poptropica.

Dick had used Google maps to pull up a view of the crime scene. From there, the boy had been able to access the Google search engine. That had, in turn, introduced him to YouTube, where he had found, among other things, a playlist of 90s pop music -- which was currently cycling through the giants of the age. Dishwalla. Backstreet. Eagle Eye Cherry.

For his part, Dick just stood there. His shirt was hanging open, an untied tie dangling from his shoulders, and a multi-grain bagel in his mouth. Strolling from the doorway over to the computer, he held the half-eaten bagel in one hand and used the other to pluck the headphones from off the Toyboy’s head. This is what you’ve been doing?” the detective asked. Was he surprised? Yes, but to be honest he wasn’t sure why. “Playing?”

Arching his back, the automaton craned its head back so that it was looking back at Dick. “You are aware that I am a toy... right?” the life-like robot supplied in retort. Then, straightening back up, the android gestured up to the monitors as it proudly exclaimed, “I’ve been getting caught up with the latest trends in children’s games and activities.”

It was programmed to adapt to current and emerging trends in children’s activities, in order to be the best toy that it could be. “Turns out pog slammers really didn’t make it past the mid-Nineties,” the robot noted candidly, crossing its arms as it added, “Well, that’s two megabytes of hard disk storage I can reclaim, I guess.”

Dick passed the headphones back to Toyboy. Then, taking a bite out of the bagel paused a moment before asking, “So, there was a bus..?”

“Oh, yeah,” Toyboy chirped, with entirely too much cheer at five in the morning. Minimizing the Poptropica window, the robot started calling up a multitude of different windows in various displays throughout the room. As he did, he explained, “I sorted through the camera footage and was able to locate the school bus entering Route Sixteen from the Gotham Highway off-ramp.”

Bringing one window to the center view, Dick watched as a bus turned onto Route 16. The markings on the side were not so clear that he could read the lettering on the side of the vehicle, but he knew looking at it that it was their crime scene. “Now, check it,” Toyboy interjected, speeding up time for a moment. As the doll resumed normal playback speed, Dick saw a shorter bus making the turn onto Route 16. “Five minutes later, this school bus comes along from the same entry.”

A pit was already forming in Dick’s stomach. Whoever was behind that bus, that was the criminal they were after.

“Assuming that it travelled Route Sixteen at the posted speed of forty-five miles per hours, and alloting for distance, that second bus should have reached the I-Twelve intersection nineteen minutes and twelve seconds later,” Toyboy noted, moving the center window off to one side and bringing up the camera for the intersection at I-12. Pausing the playback, the doll enlarged the area of the window that displayed the timestamp on the footage. “Instead, it appears on camera twenty-five minutes and forty-eight seconds later.”

“Seven minutes off.”

“Presumably the time that it would have taken to off-load the bus and load the children onto this second one.”

Dick finished the bagel with another bite. Rubbing his fingers to dispel the crumbs, the man asked, “What happened next?”

Toyboy resumed the normal playback. Dick watched as the bus made a turn right and then disappeared off camera. “Our mystery bus appears to turn onto I-Twelve North,” the doll noted aloud, before cycling to a third highway camera window. “However, the bus does not reappear on the camera for the I-Twelve/Highway Three-Thirty interchange.”

Dick began buttoning up his shirt. His mouth fell open to speak, but Toyboy seemed to anticipate the question. “I checked the cameras going south, but it does not appear on the I-Twelve/I-Forty interchange either.”

Dick just gave a slight nod of his head. Internally, he had to admit that he was impressed. When he’d decided to pull Toyboy from out of storage to assist with this case, he hadn’t anticipated that the doll would be this capable. “So it turned north onto I-Twelve and vanished somewhere between I-Twelve and Highway Three-Thirty,” the detective noted, as he began fiddling with the tie.

“That appears to be the facts as we know them presently,” Toyboy affirmed quietly.

Hitching the half-Windsor up to the base of his throat, Dick smoothed out the collar as he said, “All right, I’ll see what I can come up back at the precinct and be back in touch.” Stepping off to the side, Dick grabbed his service pistol and holster from a coat rack near the computer. Slinging that around his shoulders, he next picked up a package and turned back toward Toyboy. “Are you programmed for sewing at all?”

The doll just turned to give Dick a kind of curious, head tilt. “Of course,” the automaton answered simply. “The Toyman made certain that I could help him to knit and assemble dolls.”

“Think you could manage some clothing alterations?”

The doll just blinked. It was difficult to ascertain all of the variables involved in a hypothetical when one was missing key components of the problem set. “What would you like altered?” Toyboy asked finally.

“I need you to alter this to fit you,” Dick said, tossing the package over toward the doll.

As Toyboy caught it, the red and green ensemble became clear. It was Dick’s old costume from when he’d been younger. Holding out the Robin costume, Toyboy seemed confused at the meaning or purpose of the task. Finally, lowering the garment, the doll asked, “Are we playing a game?”

Shrugging on his suit coat, Dick just gave a slight nod. “We’re narrowing in,” the detective supplied cryptically, before adding, “When we make our move, if it is Cunningham, then he would recognize you.”

That would bring up questions about what had happened to Toyboy after Hinkley Creek. Which would implicate Dick, Sara, and S.T.A.R. Labs if the right questions got asked by the wrong people. Complications that Dick preferred to avoid.

“Mister Grayson?”

Turning his head up, Dick just looked back over at the doll that was holding the suit that Dick had worn in another era. Another Dick. Another Bruce. Another lifetime ago.

“Why do you trust me?”

It was a pointed question. With a shrug, Dick shuffled toward the door as he offered, “You proved who you are a long time ago.”

His hand turned the knob. “Don’t you mean what I am, sir?”

Standing in the doorway, one foot already out the door, Dick turned back to look at the doll. “No,” the man answered simply. “I do not.”

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“CHAMBERS!”

It was known as the Grayson Effect. The name for the collective pucker of every asshole from the newest police academy graduate to the veteran captains, from the lobby of the police headquarters all the way to the top floor. Commissioner Grayson moved like a man on a mission, each step resonating through the interior as all other sounds immediately stopped. No one so much as breathed.

His voice rolled like thunder, echoing off the walls as he brushed right past the blond haired lieutenant. “My office. Now.”

Her arms full of case files, a report that was past due, and a cup of Starbucks that had been cold for the better part of the last hour, Cissy Chambers came chasing after Dick’s coattails as she dumped her armload of crap off on the nearest desk and then scrambled to make it through the doorway before Dick had slammed the door in her face.

Again, that is.

“Fifteen children missing from our jurisdiction in the last month,” the commissioner growled, stalking around behind his desk and tossing his keys down. Then he turned his head up and said, “Give me something, Chambers.”

Wringing her hands, the woman’s mouth fell open for a moment. “Sir, we have no conclusive evidence that the previous incidents of missing children are connected to the…”

Bullshit.”

Cissy went up on her toes, hair standing on end as Dick summarily silenced the lieutenant. Recovering, or attempting to, the woman smoothed the front of her uniform as she said, “We’re still processing the bus. Now, there are no fingerprints, but we’re hoping that some fibers might come back from the lab and...”

“Chambers, I don’t give a flying fuck what your hopes are,” Dick stated flatly, looking the woman hard in the eyes as he laid it out like that.

Cissy’s jaw was hanging open.

“I asked you to give me something and what you’re telling me is that you’ve got nothing,” the commissioner stated, in the same matter-of-fact tone that so neatly cut the woman straight to the bone.

Dick was quite adept at creating that effect in people. And he should have been. He’d learned it firsthand from the very best.

Bruce Wayne.

Reaching into his pocket, Dick flipped an object down onto the desk. Glancing down, Cissy realized that it was his badge. “You want my job, Chambers?” Dick demanded, pointedly.

Lieutenant Chambers brought her head back up. “Sir?” she asked.

No, she wasn’t sure.

“Fifteen kids,” Dick said. “Inside a month.” Another pause. “Our jurisdiction. My watch.”

Each statement rang out like a nail in a coffin. And the tombstone was engraved with all of their careers. “If we don’t have something soon, I’m going to have to resign,” Dick stated. It was same same level-headed tone. “When that happens, I need someone who is capable of running this department.”

Cissy opened her mouth to speak. Then hesitated. Then opened her mouth again, thought twice about it, and just shut up smartly.

“Where were you in ninety-six, Chambers?”

The woman gave a slight shake of her head. This conversation seemed random. “Nineteen ninety-six? High school… I think?”

“I was on the homicide desk in ninety-six,” Dick stated, at last dropping down into his chair. Looking up at the woman, he continued. “Nine children were abducted from that exact same spot on Route Sixteen. Practically the same day and time. Five made it back alive,” he explained, leaning back to put his feet up on the desk. “Now, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a copycat. But it’s worth finding out if any of those five are even still in this jurisdiction.”

Popping to military attention, Cissy gave a firm nod. “On it, sir.”

The young woman made it halfway to the door of Dick’s office before she’d paused. “...wait,” the woman murmured aloud. She stood there a moment, then cut a slidelong glare over at the commissioner. “You already know the answer.”

It hadn’t been a question.

Dick just gave a slight nod of his head in response. “If you’re going to do this job, I can’t spoon feed you, Chambers,” the man stated firmly. Then, looking squarely at the woman added, “But I’ll give you this much, one’s in Blackgate and another’s in Ellsworth.”

“Ellsworth?”

“It’s a hospital in Metropolis.”

Another nod and Cissy popped open the door out of Dick’s office. His voice stopped her in her tracks. “And Chambers?”

Holding the door, the woman looked back over at her boss. “Sir?”

“Experience has taught me one thing about child abductions,” Dick stated, lifting his feet off the desk and then leaning forward as he said, “Time is not on our side.”

He watched as she left.

Once she had, Dick called up another view of Google Earth. There were several county roads that branched off the section of I-12 that Toyboy had identified. A few were no longer in use, ending in cornfields and dead ends.

If the bus was just hauling bodies away for disposal, it could have gone anywhere. Except, if that were the case, why the elaborate re-creation of the abduction of a school bus that had set-off the Hinkley Creek disaster?

No, to follow through with that example, the kids had to be held somewhere.

A couple of hours polling through city records and cross-referencing the most recent Google Earth footage, Dick had identified two possibilities.

There was a barn on County Road 448. The farm had been foreclosed on, but the structures were still there. That kind of abandoned acreage would make an ideal spot to disappear.

The other was a self-storage business that had gone under when the anchoring strip mall had closed. Later development had made that particular part of I-12 less traveled, as people took by-passes that reduced commutes by a rather significant margin.

Two locations that they’d need to investigate.

Apparently Robin wasn’t the only one making a comeback tonight.
Marvelous Monday to you.

With that, Billy's story will pick back up with the cross-over event.
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