The Apprentice, part 9

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

SLAM

whiffle

rustle

tup tup WHAM!

rustle

thud rustle

be - WHAM! - eep

shuffle

tup tup tup rustle tup

shuffle

SLAM

beeeep

Cassandra Cain rolled back to her feet, her brow furrowed. She took the steps to her computer two at a time, glancing at the console when she got to her seat. She didn't sit, but punched the connect code. "Hi Oracle."

The screen flashed the Oracle icon for a moment before clearing to show Barbara Gordon's face. "Hi Cass. You sound winded."

Cassandra reached up to brush at a trickle of sweat dripping down her forehead. "Practice falls," she explained, shifting her weight on her feet to put a slight stretch on her quadricep.

Barbara made a face. "Yuck. I always hated that."

"Trying to invent ukemi kata."

Barbara cocked her head curiously. "Kinda hard to make a flowing form for falling," she pointed out.

"I know. Trying anyway."

"Okay," Barbara allowed, chuckling softly. "When you figure it out, teach it to Dick for me."

Cassandra frowned. "Dick already expert at falling."

She was puzzled when Barbara began laughing heartily. "Yeah, ain't that the truth," the other woman remarked. "I'll have to tell him that."

"I make it up for Steph," Cassandra said, ignoring Barbara's amusement.

The announcement sobered Barbara immediately. "Oh. Did Batman-"

"No, I decide. She got hurt because she afraid of falling. Nightwing thinks falling is fun, Batman think its business, Robin used to it, but Spoiler still scared. That's why fear gas hurt her."

Barbara nodded slowly. "That makes sense." She thought for a minute. "Maybe I need to practice-"

"You should, but you not afraid of falling. You afraid of not getting up," Cassandra pronounced succinctly.

She earned a hard stare from the computer monitor. "And I suppose you're not afraid of falling."

Cassandra shrugged. "Falling sometimes fastest way to change terms of fight. Efficiency not scary."

Barbara continued to stare at her for a moment. "Right. So you think Steph is going to continue as Spoiler after -"

"Probably. She is determined."

"Not if Batman-"

"I notice Batman not always say yes, and we not always listen."

"Cass? You talk to him while you guys were patrolling last night or something?"

She shook her head. "Not talk on patrol. We looked for Du Bois."

"And?"

Cassandra pursed her lips and shook her head. "He - " she made a gesture with her hands, reminiscent of something disappearing in a puff of smoke.

"Damn," Barbara muttered. "Not one sign?"

"Nothing."

"He just pops up and disappears again. No one is that good."

"Batman," Cass pointed out.

"No, not even Batman."

"J'onn."

"Yeah, but its not like there's another Martian floating around. And to make his toxins and get equipment, he'd need to leave some kind of trail, but..."

"Your searches not find anything?" Cassandra asked.

"No," Barbara revealed in exasperation. "No stolen stocks of chemicals, not even suspicious purchases - and believe me, I've been tracking all the specialized components of Scarecrow's toxin, as well as any chemicals that could be combined to make raw ingredients. Every lead I've got has been legitimate purchase."

"Same problem on the streets. Du Bois is not making any appearances anywhere. We checked the SROs, used your alias list - nothing."

"And he doesn't show up on the logs of any hotels in town or in the lease registry. I just wish I could figure out how he so completely effaced his real identity. The database of folks who disappeared around the time Du Bois appeared is just too large to be of much use, even putting in all of Du Bois' data. If I could figure out who he was..."

"You think he's that smart?"

"Huh? Cass, what are you getting at."

"Just thinking. Batman that smart, but if he did that he would ask someone to help."

"Batman would have a hell of a lot more work than most people to make both of his lives disappear completely."

"Maybe Du Bois like me? I have no records. I live in a Cave."

Barbara studied Cass through the monitor for a moment. "You have a point," she said slowly. "Maybe he never was... but that would mean someone would have had to have deliberately kept him out of - like Cain did -"

Cassandra finally sat down, thinking. "Not so hard to smuggle into country. And so many countries don't record all babies."

"True. But then how would he have the skills to create an identity? To - shit."

"What?"

Barbara's fingers were clearly darting over the keyboard in front of her. "Shit. Oh, this could be bad."

"What?" Cassandra asked again.

"I'm so stupid. He's a fucking operative."

"That's not sense," Cassandra objected. "He work with Scarecrow."

"A plant. Fuck." Barbara glanced up and bit her lip. "Sorry. It's just - hell, I don't even know which special force or shadow government or organized crime group to start with. Why would someone put a plant in Arkham?"

"Figure out the bad guys?" Cassandra suggested.

"Yeah." Barbara tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Cass, I gotta go work on this and call the boss. If he'll answer."

"He will," Cassandra promised.

"Yeah, I know," Barbara allowed. "Just - be extra careful out there, okay? I think this might be bigger than we thought."

The screen winked out, and Cassandra blinked at it. "Okay," she agreed softly.

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