An Arm and a Leg

August 18, 2018:

In the days after Highway to Hell, Red Robin investigates the modified cultists the other Titans retrieved, and finally finds a useful lead… (emits by Peter Quill)

A makeshift lab in the sub-basements of Titans Tower

Lots of neat equipment that makes very scientific beeping. The space has been reinforced against any explosions, for some reason.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Cyborg, the Hulk, Impulse, Tony Stark, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Three bodies lie in a shielded area of the Titan's tower. Three 'prizes' for one night of demonic violence. Three figures in coma like states, their now enhanced bodies lying quiet on medical tables. Thee empty vessals for what was at once a demonic hivemind created…

…somehow.

How is it hard to tell. Since no one has managed to trace the technique. No one has managed to delve deep into the secrets the bodies hold.

At least not yet.

Of course. No one has had the full scientific might of the Titans and the investigative mind of a detective into play. But that was why they were brought back…

…and why they are in this shielded spot too just incase they explode again.

In fact, it's in the basement.

The basement below the basement.

This kind of precaution might border on the paranoid, but caution and a long life go hand in hand: The last thing Red Robin wants to do is risk another explosion in the Tower proper (although it's sort of inevitable that there will be more in the future, it goes with the superhero territory) or to potentially expose the main systems to what he's increasingly concerned is a core part of the whatever it is that's creating these curious metahumans.

So, local computers that are off the grid. So, an active faraday cage creating an electromagnetic field around the enclosed space to prevent transmissions in or out.

So, he has room to work.

After what happened the last time they had a strangely enhanced metahuman in the Tower, he's reluctant to involve the others anyway. Last time, Zatanna had nearly been killed… What might happen now? What if that same computer virus that had been present before got into Cyborg's systems? Instead, it's just him, and the comatose bodies, and lots of closed-circuit recording equipment. Cautious. Careful.

The first round of examinations are simple, using various medical and forensic imaging - some of which isn't publicly available, of course, having fallen off the back of a Waynetech truck or been borrowed from STAR Labs - to construct a baseline of the physiological changes. Blood tests, of course. The sad, morbid part of it is that he'd almost rather have a corpse he could do a full autopsy on… But he means for any living subjects to stay living.

If this was a normal hospital, with normal imaging equipment he might have missed it. If this was a normal investigation they might not have done every test. In this place though, buried beneath the thriving city above there is more than both of these things at work.

The blood test is strange. The needle pierces the skin but almost imeadeatly after removing it the skin mends. The mark non-existent in seconds. The imaging picks up a foreign substance in the blood, non-organic. Microscopic in scale but everywhere in the body.

As for health? It is fantastic. Heartrate elevated to superhuman levels. Strength and agility projections are off the scale, stronger and faster than any human, especially a cultist, as the right to be.

Not as fast as Bart of course, but equal to an excellent martial artist. Stong enough to powder concrete with a fist.

More than enough to be very. Very. Dangerous.

Fortunately, there's no such thing as a 'normal' investigation when you're Red Robin.

It was bad enough when it was just the usual Gotham madness, but in more recent days he's had to apply his abilities to stranger and stranger tasks, from ancient immortal wizards to, yes, mysterious exploding people. In this case, anyway, it's a little bit of both.

"Somebody's manufacturing their own super soldiers," the Red Knight muses, a faint frown tugging at the corners of his mouth as he looks at the initial results. It makes sense for someone like the Church of Blood, you can't be an evil doomsday cult if you don't have the means to bring a little doomsday down, but what's the connection to the guy they found wandering around…?

"Artificially accelerated healing and metabolic functions… Body pushed beyond normal limits because it can just heal from the damage…" He has to admit, there's a kind of elegance to it. Not exactly Captain America in a Can, but if the regeneration was extensive…

Of course, the foreign agent in the blood bears a closer look, a sample put under a microscope. The immediate thought that springs to mind is nanomachines, but given what he'd seen them do they'd have to be enormously advanced… To be able to generate the power to cause a human to emit burning heat and then subsequently explode, well, the mind fairly reels.

"These guys better not have tiny little Stark logos on them," the vigilante says to himself as he goes for a closer look.

Thankfully for all involved…there aren't.

There /are/ nanomachines there. Strange insect looking things with six tiny 'legs' spread out like a beetle. Thousands just in the tiny sample that he is made. Dull gray metal things, though trapped inside each one is…something else. A tiny drop of liquid darkness, hidden under the carapace. Seen only vagely even on the massively powerful scopes of the Once Batling.

They mill around in the scape, trying to find the others of the colony that he just removed them from.

Senosrs indicate something else in the subjects. They have been…altered. The nanomachines seem to help the process, but the process itself seems to now be interestedly part of the sleeping figures on the beds there.

You ever have a bad feeling?

It would be tempting to call someone like Red Robin a young man of purely rational mind: He was someone who focused on the practical, the temporal, by and large. It would be tempting, but it would also be a woefully incomplete assessment. After all, if he lived his life purely on common sense and rationality, he'd never be able to do half the things he does. And while, yes, his skills as a detective do emphasise thoroughness, following the evidence in front of his eyes and doing a complete jobs, the origin of his skills is the deductive leap. Intuition, gut instinct. The bad feeling.

"The way that sample of the magic computer virus had reacted before… Was it trying to connect to more of itself, or…?" He's had quite enough experience in the past year and change with things that take the form of liquid darkness to last him a lifetime or two, but again there is that need to be thorough.

Which is why that sample is subjected to a blinding burst of pure white light, courtesy of an over-tuned flashlight from his utility belt: Designed for use against the Primordial Darkness, sure, but he's also aware that Zatanna used light against the horrible stuff under Stark Tower.

Besides, the best case scenario is that it doesn't do much of anything.

Whatever happens, though, there's still more to do. Figuring out just what sort of alterations were made to the subjects, for one, and for another do something he never got the chance to do with the last one before he exploded: Try and identify them, assuming they had lives before the Church of Blood.

The light hits the sample and for a moment the nanomachines freeze in their cohesive wondering. The tide that keeps bringing them back towards the body on the table. As if the drop of blood could roll its way back to what spawned it…

But then the light fades…

…and with it any hint of cohesion between the strange machines. They mill about now, devoid of that cohesiveness that was there before. Simply a mob now with no direction. Even as Tim watches they attack the blood cells. Some changing them, improving them, others destroying the work in one chaotic mess. The energy created by this work though is immense and they seem to almost feed on it. A feedback loop of motion one that seems to be getting brighter and brighter with no higher function to regulate them.

The light fades - quickly, quickly, a short but brilliant burst of illumination that darkens the lenses of the young man's domino mask in an act of automatic flare compensation - and it becomes clear that the something that was keeping the nanomachines coordinated is gone. Reverted to their most basic instructions without anything to direct them, maybe: They simply try to do their thing, but what had been the work of reconstruction becomes destruction in their frenzy, in their lack of control.

"Boy I hate being right all the time," Red Robin says.

He doesn't, though.

Admittedly, he wants to study what's next, but there's a tiny problem there. Just a smidge of difficulty. He doesn't know all the variables, all the fine details of the process, but he can see what's happening. The buildup of activity without regulation. The buildup of energy, of heat. He knows where this is going.

The utility belt again - so useful, that thing - from whence he produces a small throwing disc, applying pressure until the thin barrier inside shatters: Two tiny, separate compartments now become one tiny compartment, two chemicals mixing together, and he drops the disc on the microscope, frost spreading quickly from it as it drains heat and energy with a frighteningly efficient cryonic effect. The blood sample might not be large, but this isn't really the right situation to be testing the amount of matter to explosive force ratio. So instead, he just encases the whole thing in ice.

Which…seems to work. At least on this small scale. The ice encases the sample. The little robots freeze solid when exposed directly. The energy buildup, the feedback loop there, it is broken as the light from the building explosion slowly fades back into nothing…

…whoever did this at least knew what they were doing.

Not many people in the world /could/ do this.

Whoever did this knew what they were doing.

Which is, in some ways, worse than the idea that they were just meddling with things out of their depth. At least in that case, they could be counted on to make mistakes that would give them away more easily. This…

"How did they get it?" Red Robin wonders, turning his back from the current block of ice. The sample's probably ruined now anyway; the microscope definitely is. "That's the first question. Unaccounted for infected Iron Man tech?" Seems possible. There was plenty of it laying around after the battle at Stark Tower. Heck, the Hulk hit Stark himself so hard there was probably bits of the suit scattered halfway to Boston.

As he talks to himself, he keeps working, though. Fingerprinting the currently comatose cultists, taking retinal and quick dental scans, DNA swabs. Anything that might help identify them. The first guy didn't seem like a cultist, wandering around half out of his mind in Hell's Kitchen. An earlier trial model?

"Someone who wanted to cover their tracks. That transmitter… The other guy was probably set off intentionally. They don't seem to value their subjects. SHIELD? No, they had access but they wouldn't give the technology to a cult. Probably. Stark wouldn't just blow a guy up like that. Probably."

Too many unknown variables. Work the case. First things first: Try and identify the modified individuals, and then see if anything interesting jumps out. And then? Well, he might need to consult with some witches, and see if Stark lost track of any infected suits during the wintertime debacle.

You know, a typical case.

The ID comes though quickly enough. There were cultists, but they were /secret/ cultists. They did have day jobs. The woman worked at a flower shop in the city. One of the men as a delivery driver. The other as a mechanic. Nothing out of the ordinary on the surface. Nothing that could flag them as strange or different.

All of them /do/ have something in common though.

None of them should have all their limbs.

The woman lost an eye in a car wreck a year ago. The mechanic was confined to a wheelchair after a hoist he was under fell and nearly killed him. The delivery man lost an arm in the miltary. All of them had horrible injuries inflicted upon them.

That are now no where to be found.

Could explain the volunteering.

It's a nice advantage of having access to the resources he does, legally or otherwise - some of the less glamorous aspects of detective work go by a lot quicker than having to schlep your way around to where records are kept manually.

"Huh," Red Robin says, both surprised and fascinated by the connection between the subjects. People who'd been maimed, crippled, given a second chance. Something that surely must've seemed too good to be true… But who could blame them for wanting the chance to walk again? To see properly? To be whole?

And yet, in the end, it was too good to be true. It had turned them into something else.

Making sure everything was shut down and secure, the vigilante left the makeshift lab to head for the primary computer, now that there would be less to worry about exploding or getting demonic computer viruses everyhere. Because now he was going to have to spend the rest of his night learning everything he could about the current state of nanotech as a field - including, most importantly, whoever had been doing research in using nanotech for medical applications. Someone, it seemed, had cracked the seemingly impossible.

And as was seemingly the inevitable course of human history, the miracle had been turned into a weapon.

It takes hours.

They slip by and soon enough that old sun would be staring with disapproval at Red Robin. At least he would be if Robin was anywhere near a window. Or…you know…above ground.

However after all those ours. The exhaustive searching. The careful plodding though dry health journals and horrible boring jargan filled with so much hyperbole that it likely isn't even true…

…he finds something.

He finds a name.

Maya Hansen.

The foremost mind in the field of medical nanotech. Now though she's dropped off the face of earth it seems. Picked up by a little known think tank…

…one that has made almost no splash in the entire medical field. One that is sadly, almost agressively…boring.

Sleep, Red Robin would say, is for other people.

Of course if he did say that he'd probably get some very pointed looks from Zatanna at the very least. Somewhere in Gotham, Alfred Pennyworth would let out a faint, disappointed sigh. Every girl he's ever dated would nod knowingly in a shared moment of disapproval.

But luckily, exhaustive searching and plodding through dust-dry, boring technical jargon for research purposes is one of the many skills he acquired during his time as the Boy Wonder, and continued to refine even after he was replaced as Robin and started to fly solo. Even the Bat Himself might not be able to outdo the younger vigilante there, though it would be a close-run thing either way.

It's sifting, in the end. Trying to shake out nuggets of gold from all the dross that surrounds them. But eventually…

Maya Hansen.

The name is memorised. The details surrounding her filed away, creating a new room in the mental construct he uses for recall, the vast memoriae regis shaped like his childhood home. Soon enough, even he'll need to sleep, after a long night's work, but even then, a question will be left bouncing around inside of that ever-active mind of his.

What does Maya Hansen know?

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