An Undisclosed Medical Facility in Gotham City
"How the hell did you let this happen?" Green Arrow shouted.
Oracle wasn't sure which would make her feel better - to slap Green Arrow or to let him strike her. She made the decision to send Dinah to Colombia to retrieve the information Calculator stole from her hard drive. The bastard shot her and now Dinah was in surgery fighting for her life. Oracle waited in a hallway outside the O.R. along with several of Dinah's closest friends while the Dr. Mid-Nite led a team of surgeons trying to save her.
"I didn't just let it happen, Ollie!" Oracle replied."She had backup."
Green Arrow grabbed both arms of Oracle's wheelchair and leaned into her face."A psycho wildcard from Gotham and an over-the-hill Golden Ager misplaced in time? That's your idea of backup?"
"They brought her home, Ollie," Oracle answered."That's all that matters."
Green Arrow gave her wheelchair a slight shove as he pushed himself away. He pointed to the operating room's closed doors. "No Babs, it isn't all that matters! She may die in there and you're responsible!"
Arsenal grabbed Green Arrow's shoulder."Come on, Ollie. Give her a break. We all know our next mission could be our last. It's a wonder more of us don't end up wounded or dead."
Green Arrow pushed Arsenal's hand away."Don't give me that crap, Roy! Babs could have whistled for Superman or Power Girl to retrieve her precious information, but instead she sent Dinah! Hell, she had all those new Titan kids of yours at her disposal! Doesn't that one kid have Marvel family powers or something?"
"The Titans were a distraction meant to keep the meta kids at Windsor occupied. Don't drag them into your blame game too!" Roy yelled.
Barbara heard enough. She slammed her right fist into the arm of her wheelchair."Ollie, shut the hell up!"
Green Arrow's eyes narrowed as he turned toward Oracle."What did you say to me, Gordon?"
"You heard me!" Oracle shot back. She inched her chair into the archer's personal space, forcing him to retreat as she advanced."Roy's right! Dinah knew the risks but she chose the mission anyway! And do you know why? To protect every one of us! She went because she's a hero and if she dies on that table in there then she'll do it the way she lived - as a hero! Now stop pretending she's some helpless, fragile flower or so help me God..."
A pair of emerald hands pushed Green Arrow and Oracle apart.
"This isn't going to help Dinah," said Green Lantern."Let's wait to hear from Dr. Mid-Nite before we crucify one another."
"Hal's right," Wonder Woman added."The important thing right now is Dinah's health. Tearing apart this facility certainly won't help. The best we can do is to wait."
Green Arrow took a deep breath."Fine! God, I hate sitting on my ass and doing nothing!"
Wonder Woman hugged the emerald archer."You're here, Ollie. That's something."
Oracle was thankful for Wonder Woman's calming presence. So often it was lost in the hoopla of her Amazon warrior reputation that she was first and foremost a peacemaker.
"Can't we at least find the Royal Flush Gang and pound them to a pulp while we wait?" Green Arrow asked.
Jay Garrick and Alan Scott entered the hallway.
"Any news yet?" Jay asked as he sipped black coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
Barbara shook her head."Not yet, Jay. She's still in the O.R."
Jay grabbed her hand."Don't you worry little lady. She has the best medical team on the planet in there with her. Pieter is a renowned metahuman surgeon. Ray Palmer and Leslie Thompkins aren't shabby as second surgeon and technical nurse either. She'll pull through."
But at what cost? Barbara squeezed Jay's hand and forced a smile. His faith was sweet and sincere but did little to allay her fears. How could a man who moves faster than light comprehend the loss of one's mobility? She stared blankly at her useless lower limbs and hoped for the best. She could never forgive herself if...
At last the OR doors swung open and Dr. Mid-Nite walked out accompanied by Ray Palmer and Leslie Thompkins. A true professional, his face was impossible to read.
Green Arrow rushed to his side."Is she..."
Dr. Mid-Nite hesitated for a moment as he removed his surgical cap."She's going to be fine. The bullet missed any vital organs but she lost a lot of blood. Give her a couple of months or so and she'll be as good as new."
A crushing weight left Oracle's shoulders as she exhaled deeply."No permanent side-effects?'
Dr. Mid-Nite shook his head."Nothing but a scar."
"Can we see her?" Arsenal asked.
"She's in recovery right now," Dr. Mid-Nite answered."You guys go to the cafeteria and get a bite to eat. I promise to inform you the moment she's awake."
Green Arrow brushed past the others and walked toward Oracle slowly."Good news, huh?"
"Yeah," Oracle replied."The best."
An awkward silence hung in the air between them while Green Arrow shuffled his feet."Look Babs, I'm not good at this sort of thing but I wanted to say..."
Oracle grabbed one of his emerald-gloved hands in her own and squeezed."I know, Ollie. It's ok. You were worried about Dinah. We both were."
"I didn't mean a word of it," Green Arrow continued with a sheepish grin that begged her forgiveness."You know me, shoot first then ask questions later. Same thing applies to my big mouth."
Oracle returned the grin."And you know me, always ready to whip out the Bat-credentials and throw my weight around. Old habits are hard to break."
Green Arrow laughed."And you're still quite the intimidator! I was scared there for a minute!"
Oracle pushed his hands away."You're still a terrible liar, Oliver Queen! We're good?"
"Yeah, we're good," Green Arrow answered."Share a cup of coffee while we wait for Pretty Bird to wake up?"
"Sure," Oracle answered."I'd love to."
Gotham City, Rooftop Overlooking Crime Alley
There were rumors this was the alley where Batman was born. Whether the tales were true or not the Alley certainly witnessed its share of illicit activity over the years. This night was no different.
Three street thugs harassed a woman and her young son who turned into the alley by mistake thinking it a short cut. Huntress watched it go down and thought to warn them but decided it best to watch over them from a distance and not scare them needlessly. It was a good decision.
"You one fine dangerkitty!" howled one of the men as he blocked the path. He stood a head taller than the others and was much more muscular and defined. The others took their direction from him and moved in behind the unsuspecting pair.
"Mommy, I'm scared," the young boy stuttered as he clung to his mother's coat. He looked to be about eight or nine.
She pulled him close and wrapped her coat around him like a mother hen hiding its young beneath her wings."It's ok, baby. These hoodlums won't hurt us."
The men laughed.
"Not if you give us a little gift to keep us warm," said the leader."Get the kid away from her!"
One of the men reached for the boy while the other grabbed his mother and pulled them apart. The boy didn't go without a fight. He kicked his attacker in the shins but was quickly slapped to the ground.
"DeSean!" the woman cried."If you've hurt my baby..."
The leader grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to him."You're in no position to make threats."
The young mother pried loose from the man's grip by letting him rip her hair out from its roots. She ran to the man terrorizing her son and slapped at him but her blows were ineffective. He laughed and pushed her hard to the ground.
"Mommy!" the boy cried.
Huntress had seen enough. She swooped into action from the rooftops via her zip line and kicked the man attacking the young boy through the door of a warehouse.
"What if I skip the threats and move on to the promises instead?" Huntress taunted.
The leader charged at her."Now this is more like it! No momma hips on this one!"
"You want hips?" Huntress asked before executing a perfect hip roll and slamming the man to the ground. She grabbed his right arm and twisted hard as she could before stomping the heel of her boot into the man's ribs."That enough hips for you, big man?"
Huntress took out her crossbow and fired a dart into the palm of the man's hand. He screamed at the top of his lungs as the tip tore through the tender flesh of his palm and pinned him to the asphalt below."Be a good little thug and stay put while I round up your remaining friend."
The little boy pointed towards the fleeing man."He's getting away!"
Huntress shook her head."Not on my watch."
She loaded her crossbow again, this time with a specially-designed bola arrow. Before she could pull the trigger a tall, buxom blonde leaped from the shadows and slugged the fleeing man to the ground.
"No need to waste a shot on this one!" Lady Blackhawk called from the entrance to the alley. "Nothing a little chin music can't handle."
Huntress turned to the victim and her son."Get your son and get out of here! This alley isn't safe."
The woman nodded as she took her son by the hand."Thank you! We thought it would make a good shortcut."
"Better to get a little exercise than to make the nightly news," Huntress replied."Go on."
The woman and her son retreated to the alley entrance, stopping only to thank Lady Blackhawk and disappeared into the hustle and bustle of downtown Gotham.
Huntress put her gear away as she approached Lady Blackhawk."What are you doing here?"
"Good to see you too," Lady Blackhawk answered.
"I'm guessing this isn't a Pampered Chef invitation?" Huntress asked.
Lady Blackhawk looked mortified."Not my kind of party."
Huntress liked Lady Blackhawk. They talked during their Colombian mission for Oracle and got to know one another a little . She was a throwback from a simpler age. She swore like a grizzled war veteran, which of course she was, bragged that she could drink any man under the table, had a reputation for bare-knuckle brawling, and could be crass as they come. And those were her endearing traits.
She was also a no-nonsense woman who said what she meant and meant what she said.
"So what does bring you here, Zinda?" Huntress asked.
"An offer," Lady Blackhawk replied.
"Tell her I'm not interested," Huntress answered.
"But I didn't..."
"You didn't have to," said Huntress."I know who sent you and why and the answer is the same as before - no."
"Sounds like a good gig to me," Lady Blackhawk replied.
"How did she rope you into it?" Huntress asked.
Lady Blackhawk's face lit up."Are you kidding? It's a chance to make a real difference again. And I'll be flying the most advanced private aircraft money can buy."
"And they say diamonds are a girl's best friend," Huntress huffed."Why me?"
"I don't know," Lady Blackhawk replied."I guess she thought you did good in Colombia, but Canary's out of commission for awhile and we need someone we can trust."
Huntress smiled."She didn't say that."
Lady Blackhawk shook her head and reached inside her pocket and retrieved an earpiece like the one Huntress wore on the Colombia mission."No, but I did. Think about it, ok? If I'm going to be out there saving the world again, I want it to be with someone I can trust."
"Saving the world?" Huntress asked."Isn't that a bit melodramatic?"
Lady Blackhawk laughed."Ok, busting some heads, whatever but you get the point. Just think it over."
And with that Lady Blackhawk walked away, leaving Huntress with much to ponder.
Maletta's Restaurant, Gotham's East End, The Same Night
Tony Gallini hoped he wouldn't embarrass the family. Sure, he'd attended many such meetings in the past as his father's right-hand man, but his father was gone now and the family was looking to him for leadership. He wished he had some time to get his feet wet before meeting with the heads of the other Families on the East End, but when a meeting of this magnitude is called you show up - or else.
"Let's get this thing started," yelled Frankie Fusco. He was head of the Fusco family that controlled much of the protection rackets and was now the elder statesmen of the family heads after the death of Tony's father.
Of course everyone in the room knew Penguin was the big boss. The families ultimately answered to him but as long as they didn't make trouble the fat, little bastard left them alone and allowed everyone to perpetuate the illusion the family heads were still in charge of organized crime in Gotham. The arrangement was hardly one-sided. Penguin was all too happy to split profits in order to keep his own hands clean.
"Yeah, we ain't got all night," seconded Franconi Iacobelli."Who called this gathering anyway?"
Everyone looked around but no one stepped forward.
It may have been Tony's first meeting as a family head but he was no fool. He got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach."It's a set-up boys!"
"What the hell is that?" asked a bodyguard of the Pawlak family, a family of Poles that trafficked in drugs and prostitution. He pointed to a mechanical penguin that waddled in through the door.
Those were the last words Tony Gallini ever heard.
Wayne Towers, North Building, 24th Floor
Oracle paused outside the meeting room of her new temporary headquarters. It wasn't the Clock Tower but it would have to do since Calculator destroyed her former nerve center. She was thankful to Wayne Industries for the temporary digs but had to find something more permanent - and secure.
But the hunt for a new place would have to wait. It was the least of her concerns. A powerful bomb tore through Maletta's Restaurant on Gotham's East End earlier in the night killing thirty-seven people, including the heads of all the major crime families on the East End. While she wasn't brokenhearted over the demise of so many important underworld figures, crime abhors a vacuum. Who would rush to fill those roles?
Worse still, with Black Canary out of commission she had no one but Lady Blackhawk in her organization and Zinda was more suited to a support role than beating the streets.
The thought of having an"organization" of her own would have been anathema weeks before. She and Black Canary were a well-oiled machine. Their familiarity and simplicity of operations netted efficient results. Dinah's improvisational tendencies drove her nuts sometimes but Oracle knew she could count on her partner to get the job done.
Then came the newcomers from the other earth. One of them was a young girl calling herself Misfit. She claimed to work alongside her earth's Oracle and Black Canary. She also suggested the Oracle of her world employed multiple agents in the fight against crime. She specifically mentioned Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, which is where Oracle got the idea to send them in as backup on the Colombia mission. It proved to be a life-saving decision for Black Canary.
Oracle wanted to add Huntress to her organization in Black Canary's absence but the young woman turned her down. So she sent Lady Blackhawk to deliver a few more invitations.
Taking a deep breath Oracle swiped her ID card and waited for the door to open. When it did she was happy to see two of the three women she invited seated at the conference table across from Zinda - Gypsy and Flamebird.
"Thank you for coming ladies," said Oracle as she entered the room.
"Anytime," a very eager Flamebird replied. Bette Kane was hardly what the media dubbed an"A-list" superhero. She began fighting crime for all the wrong reasons- to attract the attention of Dick Grayson way back when he was still Robin. Perhaps her"origin" was one reason the hero community didn't accept her with open arms. Still she proved dedicated in her stints with Titans West even without Dick in the picture, but for some reason the greater hero community scoffed at regarding her as a peer.
The other heroine was Gypsy, a former Justice Leaguer from the Detroit and International eras. She possessed an array of powers that including the ability to render herself and anyone in her proximity invisible to foes, the ability to cast illusions by tapping into their deepest fears, and was an excellent hand-to-hand combatant as well.
They weren't Huntress and Power Girl but Oracle hoped they would do in a pinch.
"To what do we owe this pleasure?" Gypsy asked.
"I want to hire you," Oracle explained."Black Canary and I have fought crime as a team for a few years now, but as you may have heard, she's out of commission for awhile."
"I don't typically take money in exchange for services," Gypsy replied.
"You don't understand," Oracle replied."I don't need you for a single mission. I'm asking you to join my organization full-time."
"Like a job?" Flamebird asked.
"And a damn good paying one at that," Lady Blackhawk corrected.
"Count me in," Flamebird said.
Oracle counted on that. Bette craved acceptance from the community at-large. Gypsy was the one she wasn't sure about."I really need you, Cindy."
Gypsy tapped the table with her fingers then looked up."I'll do it."
That was a relief! Oracle hoped Cindy's experience would offset Bette's greenness.
"Now that we've settled personnel matters let's get to the first mission," said Oracle."Thirty-seven members of Gotham's crime families were killed in an explosion last night at a little dive in East Gotham."
"Sounds like a job for the police," said Gypsy. "Or the coroner's office."
Oracle shook her head."Ordinarily I would agree but I feel the GCPD is investigating the explosion from the wrong angle. Security cameras from the pawn shop across the street caught the following image on tape..."
Oracle grabbed a remote from the table and a plasma monitor on the wall powered to life.
"What you see onscreen is a mechanical penguin that waddled into Maletta's restaurant seconds before the explosion," Oracle continued.
"The Penguin," said Flamebird.
"I don't think so," said Oracle, shaking her head. "The GCPD took Penguin into custody for questioning but word on the street is the family heads who were killed were part of his organization. Even if they betrayed him Penguin's not the type to draw unwanted attention to his activities. He would take them down quietly, one by one."
"Then who?" Lady Blackhawk asked. "And why?"
"That's what I want you guys to find out, especially the who," Oracle replied. "Someone had declared war and will fill the void if we don't expose and cripple their operations first."
"Sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don't," said Lady Blackhawk.
"So what now?" Flamebird asked.
"We prepare," said Oracle. "And wait."