Mom and I practiced a lot; Mom smoked like a chimney. She does that when she's nervous. But she didn't drink at all. Not even a drop and that kind of surprised me. We were pretty much ignored by one and all. Otherwise we just waited. I discovered I was very good at that. Waiting, I mean. Patience is an art form and like any art form it has to be learned. I got a lot of practice that month.
But, then, one fine Spring day, just after breakfast, the comm signaled "Incoming Communication", Mom and I left those delicious, hot pecan waffles to get cold and soggy and went running. Literally.
Talia, all right. She stared out at us with impatience from the large screen with those black, black eyes and spoke four words.
"Luthor. Fortress of Solitude."
That was all. Then she melted away into the cyber-ether like a ghost. Mom smiled.
Then the "Data File Transfer" transponder began to flash bright green and some *very* interesting data files downloaded themselves into Mom's computer.
Mom burned a quick CD of the info, printed it out and erased the file.
The biggest shock, I guess, was that Lex Luthor was still alive. No one should have been very surprised, really. And, naturally, if he were alive, he was plotting and scheming his black heart out. Geez. Imagine that. Maybe *the* only fully human male left alive on the whole planet and what was he planning to do? Why take over the place, of course. Using the Children as his foils.
Mom and I studied the blue prints (DO NOT ask where she got them!) of Superman's Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic very carefully. Not exactly the easiest place in the world to break into, trust me. But that was the plan. It didn't take us very long to realize that the key to the whole she-bang lay with Luthor's captive, lobotomized telepaths. They were the ones maintaining the stealth shields around the Fortress. And aside from Luthor himself (and maybe some of the Children) *they* were going to be one of the most formidable obstacles to overcome.
Hey, it can't be real pleasant to have your psyche ripped out by the roots, okay? And at least one of those telepaths, a really noxious piece of work by the name of Mind Boggler, had a very bad habit of doing just that very thing. And enjoying it.
Oh, yeah. You can bet we planned our assault on Castle Lex damned well and very meticulously. Better believe it. But not as well as we'd have liked, I'll admit. We just didn't have the time. Rao's light. Luthor'd already had the Children for more than a month and a half by now. The Light only knows what he'd done to them in that time. We had to hurry. Or at least we felt as if we did. About the only thing we had going for us was stealth.
We had to count on that.
Still, when Mom contacted Faora Hu-Ul, I have to admit I was shocked. Oh, sure. She's free of the Zone. And after the League exposed her to gold Kryptonite as a precaution, she's no more powerful than the average woman, now. Aunt Kara keeps an eye on her and makes her tow the line pretty hard, usually. Frankly, I've never been exactly certain why they let her out of the Zone in the first place. Damned stupid thing to do, if you ask me. No one did, of course. Beats me what they were thinking of, though ... unless she was supposed to be some kinda trophy/reward for Kal-El if he ever made it home again.
Yeah. I know. Not a very nice thought, huh? Maybe not, but they *are* two of the very last pure-bred Kryptonians in the entire Universe. You use what you've got.
Couldn't tell you why she was willing to help with this, either. She's got no love for the Earth or the JLA, trust me on that. I try not to think about what Mom might have offered her in exchange. I didn't listen. But I do know that Mom got what she wanted: *lots* of information about the Phantom Zone.
And the location of a working Phantom Zone projector.
After that, it was all gravy.
The biggest problem, I soon discovered, with having an intricate, well thought out, precisely timed Plan Of Attack is that your enemy is rarely foolish enough to fall for it, step by step. I was still pretty amazed that things were going so very well. Hey, I was *not* happy about the idea of entering the Fortress via the Phantom Zone, okay? The fact is, I was nervous as Hell. Got to admit it worked like a charm, though. Mom set the timer, we stepped in front of the silly looking thing and the next instant -- BLAMMO!
We were ghosts, floating around ... well, in a big empty void, I guess is the best way to describe it. Big, empty, cold ...
Geez, I didn't think I was ever going to feel warm again. I don't think I've ever been happier to be *away* from some place in my entire life. When the tart stinging scent of ozone engulfed me, burning my nose and mouth, I almost cried I was so glad to be able to smell something; feel something. Involuntarily I blinked down at my chrono.
We spent a total of *two* seconds, all told, in that Hellish place.
I'll say one thing. It damned sure made me determined to succeed. There was no way under any sun in the whole blasted Universe, that I was *ever* going back there. I decided I'd take my chances walking home instead.
We hit Luthor sharp and hard, like a boxer with a strong left jab. One-two. One-two. First we cut his communications and then we narcotized his captive tepes. Figures Luthor'd have a way to do that, doesn't it? Just in case. I love a cautious paranoid, don't you? Uh huh. Like a boy scout, Luthor's always prepared. So, naturally, we used it against him.
The robots were a problem, at first. We had no specs to work with. No real idea of what all they were capable of. And, honestly, Kryptonian tech scares the crap outta me. So we improvised. Well, okay, prayed is actually a lot closer to the truth. Prayed and hoped that neutrinos were as destructive of Kryptonian positronic brains as they were of earthly ones.
We guessed right.
I never said anything to Mom, but one of *my* major worries was my fellow Children of the Spring. What if Luthor got really, really smart (as if he weren't smart enough already) and sent them against us? We were cranberry puree, in that case. No question about it. One on one, Mom and I could maybe hold our own even against the really powerful ones like Adam. Once. But in groups? Again and again? No way.
I didn't let myself think about fighting Adam.
Turns out, Luthor really had filled the guys head's with all kinds of crap about what it was supposedly like to be a man ... before "the Fall" ... and how the Amazons were afraid of men, so they raised us all to be wimps and feebs. I dunno. Maybe. It's for damned sure that Philipus was frightened of us. And she definitely thought that Diana'd spent waaaay too much time in Man's World. All I really knew was that, whatever Luthor actually thought about it, he was only planning to use the Children to take down the existing authority. Then he was going to kill them.
We found the kryptonite, okay?
The only other thing that was plain was that all Luthor's philosophy *hadn't* taught Darius not to telegraph his every move nor David not to lead with his not-so-invulnerable chin. They went down pretty easily, all told. I stood guard while Mom cut Luthor's communications and, then, when the tepes were in Snoozeland, we watched the low earth orbit satellite display. The look on Aunt Babs' face when the stealth shield went inoperative was priceless. I grinned like a cream fed tom cat. She didn't waste any time, I'll give her that. The JLA were there within five minutes, kicking major butt. But, true to form, Luthor still had a few tricks up his slimy sleeves.
If it hadn't been for the timely arrival of Superman ...
And even then it was a close thing. Much too close.
When I saw Alexander Maxima sucker-punch poor Kara, I nearly lost it. Rao! Kara was always nice to me. She never made fun of "the weakling" nor patronized me the way so many others did. Kara takes after her Mom like that. She's smart and almost too brave. It hurt to see her abused like that. AM sort of threw her on the growing pile of bodies, making some crude and nasty comment about needing scullery maids when this was all over.
I tapped him politely on the shoulder.
When he spun around, I wasn't there.
Not that he could *see* anyway.
With a scissors sweep, I cut his legs out from underneath him and watched him fall hard to the ground. From the belt pouch around my waist, I surreptitiously withdrew a small gas capsule and broke it under his nose.
"Nighty-night, creepazoid ... " I rasped and watched his eyes roll back into his head. "Hope the bed-bugs bite."
Hey. I was really getting into this witty repartee thing.
I looked up to find Adam staring at me. Oh crap. But that was all he did; stare at me. I looked around and spied Mom fighting back to back with Diana. No help there. Too busy. Catwoman had her own probs. If I called out for her help I'd only distract her; might get her hurt or even killed I stared back at Adam for whet semed like forever..
I guess we may never know what might have happened because Luthor chose that moment to pull his trump card: the kryptonite. I guess he thought it was the only way to deal with Superman. At just about the same time Kal-El's containment suit was breached and Luthor screamed in rage when he saw that. Me? I figured we were all dead. The cacophony of painful howls and confusion grew louder and louder in my ears as, one by one, then in little groups, the Children began to collapse in agony from exposure to the deadly shards of their heritage. I watched with huge eyes as Adam fell to the ground writhing and suffering. I was so stunned that it took me almost a full minute, in fact, to realize that I didn't feel a damned thing. Not even a twitch.
Superman was down. Strangely, he didn't appear to be in quite as bad a shape as I would have thought, given that he's fully Kryptonian. He was pale and sweating and obviously in a lot of pain, but not totally out of it. Weird. But I didn't have time to wonder too hard about it. Moving silently, I slipped behind Luthor and rabbit punched him in the back of the head. I'll bet he felt that even through the suit.
"Hey, Cue Ball!" I snarled, "you forgot about *me*. Bad move."
He went down like a sack of grain, flat on his face, and didn't move. Superman struggled to his feet, smiled like a supernova, and patted me on the back.
"Good job, son," he congratulated me.
I looked away.
"Yeah, thanks ... *Dad*." I replied.
He regarded me rather oddly at the ironic pronunciation I gave that word "Dad". But he didn't say anything else as he moved off. I was glad of that, let me tell you.
There were a few other hairy moments, but, in the end, Good Triumphed Over Evil ... yadda, yadda, yadda. And all was right with the world, right?
Well, not quite.
Standing very still, I watched Adam face his father for the very first time. I'm really good at reading body language. Especially with people I know. Adam was very frightened, I could see that; my eyes told me that. What could he say? What could he do? My heart was a dull ache for him in my chest until Superman reached out and touched his sharp chin with tender hands.
"You've got your Mother's eyes," Kal-El said and, suddenly, Adam was smiling. I bite my lip and turned away from the intimate scene. This was for family, I knew; and that didn't mean *me*.
My jaw set, I turned to my mother.
"Selina ... we need to talk ... " I'd never called her anything but "Mom" before and the name damned sure got her attention. Slowly she turned to face me.
I like to think my voice was firm and authoritative, but I'm not taking any bets on it. To my utter humiliation it sounded high and squeaky in my own ears and, just that suddenly, I was ten years old again, asking stupid juvenile questions about cuckoo's eggs.. Damn, damn, damn.
She turned her green cat's eyes on me and sighed. "Yes, we do, BeeTee," she admitted. "You're right. It's time. And you've earned it."
That last was nice to know. Catwoman's not much for giving praise. I forced myself to brush it aside, though. I had more important fish to fry, you betcha. Oh, yeah.
"Who am I, Selina?"
Involuntarily, I turned to see the many Children cluster around Kal-El, reaching out to touch him, to feel the reality of their father. "I'm not one of the Children of the Spring, am I? That's why the kryptonite didn't affect me. I'm not Kryptonian. And that's why I've never developed any powers, isn't it? I'm not just a late bloomer ... I don't *have* any powers."
She reached out and brushed a stray strand of ebony hair off my moist forehead. "No, you don't," she whispered. "Not one single superpower. You're perfectly human." I closed my eyes and waited.
It seemed like a small eternity before she spoke again, but I'm sure it was only a few moments in actuality.
"I told you once that when the time was right, I'd tell you your name. That I'd tell you what the B.T. stood for. It's time."
I swallowed hard, then met her eyes.
"What's my name, Selina?" I asked, not at all sure I wanted to know this. No, not at all sure.
She reached up and kissed me chastely on the cheek. It seemed to surprise her that she had to do that. Reach up to kiss me, I mean. I'm pretty tall for my age. Just over six feet. The memory of it seemed to haunt her eyes as if her body remembered reaching up to kiss someone many times. Her embrace was clinging, as though she never wanted to let me go.
"Your name," my mother, Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, whispered in my ear, "is Bruce. Bruce Thomas. B. T. If we were still using patronymics in this Brave New World of ours, your full name would be Bruce Thomas Wayne, II."
Dazed, I could only hold onto her as tightly as I could. My God. The son of The Batman. I gulped. That was a lot to live up to. Selina stroked my cheek.
"I couldn't let him die," she mourned. "I - I just couldn't."
I gathered her in my arms, hugging for all I was worth.
"He won't," I whispered back. "I *promise* you. As long as I'm around he'll never die. I won't let him. *We* won't let him."
Her eyes sparkled like emeralds when she nodded.