Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Elheru Aran
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Elheru Aran » 2017-10-30 06:16pm

Stewart M wrote:
2017-10-27 09:05pm
The Romulan Republic wrote:
2017-10-26 03:36pm
Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-10-04 12:47pm
"How do you have my fingerprints?"

"I'm Batman."

"..."

"...Also, I got the fingerprint impressions out of the chunks of my armor you crushed with your bare hands."

:P
You know, it occurs to me that you can probably answer just about any question with "I'm Batman", and it works. :)
The question would have to be about the answerer's own behavior. You couldn't use any random question about anything.

"What is the atomic weight of cesium?"

"I'm Batman."
I dunno. That could still be pretty funny and actually work with the proper context. Some villain is trying to lay the beat down on him and is trash-talking by throwing random trivia questions at him, he keeps answering "I'm Batman" as a non-answer... something like that.

Of course, if you have to explain it, it ruins the joke ;)
It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.

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The Romulan Republic
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2017-10-31 02:37pm

That actually sounds like an okay concept/theme for a Batman villain, particularly one on the campier end of the scale- so much so that I'd be a bit surprised if it hasn't been done in the character's seventy-plus year history. But just in case it hasn't been, well, this might come off as a little too much like the Riddler, but...

Villain Name: The Questioner.

Real Name: Joana (because we need more female super villains, and it'll set her apart from the Riddler a little more) Quest.

Costume: White and black suite with blank white face mask and thousands of obscure questions in tiny print covering her costume. Could have trivia tattoos as well. Is constantly changing her costume to add new questions.

Psychological Condition: Obsessed with trivia, with a side-order of narcissism. She is compelled to learn everything, and then prove how much smarter she is than everybody else. And what better way to prove her intellectual superiority than by defeating an omni-disciplinary genius like Batman?

Sympathetic Backstory (Camp Version): Her geeky intelligence was made fun of by the other kids at school. She became a contestant on a trivia game show to prove her intelligence, then lost on the final question. Now she is obsessed with proving that she knows ALL THE TRIVIA!

Sympathetic Backstory (Grimdark Version): Her intelligence was constantly put down, by her over-achieving, domineering parents, by sexists because of her gender, by everybody. After her brother/sister/love interest, the only person who respected and cared about her, got sick, she put all of her meager savings into becoming a contestant on a trivia game show to try to get the money to cure them. She lost on the final question, and suffered a psychological breakdown. With no other way to get her money back, she turned to crime.

Modus Operandi (Camp Version): Uses her knowledge of obscure trivia to set up rigged games to con people. Part of her obsession is that she feels compelled to return the money if her opponent actually wins- so if Batman answers her questions correctly, she will return the stolen property/money to him (so Batman can return it to the victims).

Modus Operandi (Grimdark Version): Puts her victims in sadistic death traps after she robs them, traps that they can only escape if they know the correct answers to her questions.

Villain Rivals: She finds the Joker extremely annoying, because he never takes her questions seriously, and gives random answers that make no sense to anyone but him.

Love Interests: The Riddler, maybe? I mean, I'm trying to avoid Riddler comparisons here, but their conditions and intellects are potentially somewhat similar. Or she might view him as a worthy rival/challenge, in contrast to the Joker.

Sorry if this is too off-topic, but thanks for giving me this amusing little idea. :D
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-01-16 08:10pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 26: The Monroe Doctrine​


Southern Maryland

Batman and Wonder Woman kept silent through their midnight drive to Washington.

A part of Batman would have been been ecstatic to interview a woman whose mere existence overturned so many assumptions of reality, who had walked in the darkest circles of government skullduggery and who might hail from a genuine lost civilization. But he said nothing.

Likewise, Wonder Woman had a powerful urge to pick Batman’s thoughts. Here, finally, a man who fit the myth of Man. A figure of larger-than-life ambitions and ruthless capacities, immune to lesser obstacles, direct and severe. And he was so monstrously intelligent: his mind was more frightening than the rest of him. Yet somehow he was no leader here but a pariah – more alien to mankind than she was. But instead she kept her peace.

The silence was only broken in the trip’s penultimate hour, shortly before dawn. The Packard was low on gas, so Batman found an all-night Texaco station at the edge of a little town. He told Wonder Woman that she would drive in. She questioned this, and he explained that she was better dressed to be seen in public; she should make the transaction while he hid. The Packard pulled to the curb, whereupon Batman moved to the backseat and Wonder Woman took his place behind the wheel.

Wonder Woman voiced her doubts at his plan. Namely, she didn’t know how to drive. Batman assured her that it was a mere fifty yards forward, then a gentle turn into the gas station. Simple. Wonder Woman deftly put the Packard in reverse and knocked over a mailbox. She quickly determined her mistake and set forward, swerving into the Texaco lot at twenty miles an hour. She pumped the brakes, digging the nose of the car into the pavement as it skid. The car stopped just shy of the last pump, parked so crooked it was almost perpendicular. Wonder Woman cut the ignition with a smile. She took some coins from the ashtray and stepped out to find the attendant.

Batman crouched low in the backseat, invisible under the weak roof lights of the little station. He spied Diana through the corner of the window. The station’s night manager jogged out to meet her, glancing in shock at the Packard. As she talked, Batman took out a small flashlight and opened the bag she had brought from her boarding room in Gotham. Inside he discovered some clothes and a sword. He examined the sword then closed and returned the bag.

Of all the tools one might pack for a rescue mission in the 20th century, why bring a sword?

It was a short steel model with a single edge and a wide blade, a cutting sword. He guessed it was a falchion, though he wasn’t an expert on the subject. Whatever the name, it wasn’t a very refined design, more a machete than anything, but the metal was strong and the edge sharp. This wasn’t some toy or decoration; this was a weapon, a killing instrument. Perhaps acquired where she found her fitted bronze armor, and that was still an open question. He didn’t like it at all.

Wonder Woman finished her transaction. Once the Packard was fueled, she raced out of the station, driving partly over a lawn, then continued until the Texaco sign was out of sight. Batman said nothing as he took his place again behind the wheel, and they continued south.

The pink dawn was breaking across the sky as they entered Washington DC. Wonder Woman spotted the Washington’s great white obelisk in the distance with a grim heart. The District had become her home in Man’s World, and now she was an outcast.

Batman noticed her pensive expression but paid it little attention. His informers said that Amanda Waller was at the Fremont Hotel. They didn’t know her room number, and he had never seen inside the Fremont before. This would take some delicate investigation, and if the mission went off rails, he was operating on unfamiliar turf. Gotham was unique in many ways, and he had adapted to survive in that special environment.

He was also adapted to work at night, but the sun would be out in minutes. Batman originally planned to arrive earlier. He wished he had refused Wonder Woman’s detour. He was forced to consider changing into a disguise, though he found the idea distasteful. It aggravated him on a primal level to remove his cowl mid-mission for any reason, and he was especially reluctant to wear a less-concealing guise around his new associate. Also, the logistics of changing were cumbersome. To start, the inner layers of his mask were glued to his skin.

Batman decided to delay changing as long as he could. The Fremont Hotel was near downtown, and though downtown Washington was a sleepy suburb by Gotham standards, the area was hardly deserted, and traffic was already brisk. As he turned onto the street of the Fremont, he had to brake at a sudden traffic jam. The pair saw the source of the jam instantly: halfway down the block, a building was on fire.

It took a moment to see that the fire was very small: the smoke only poured from one end of the third story.

Wonder Woman turned to Batman. “Is that-”

“Yes.”

“Might-”

“Go.”

Wonder Woman burst out of the Packard, straining her door’s hinges. Batman watched her sprint down the street. There was no path through the gridlock, so he drove onto the sidewalk and followed. He didn’t know which room Amanda Waller occupied, but he didn’t trust coincidences.

Wonder Woman reached the smoking building. Its white stone facade was full of elaborate masonry: fancy joints and ridges and columns and other obvious handholds. Wonder Woman took a mighty leap, catching a balconet halfway up the second story, and quickly clambered up toward the origin of the smoke. She found it was pouring out of a single window. Wonder Woman took a deep breath and climbed inside.

The hotel suite was large for its type but small enough to comprehend at a glance. A kitchenette on one side was engulfed in deep smoke, and flashes of flame spat regularly from within. A haze of smoke sat in the air throughout the room, but the open window near the kitchenette served as a escape value for the worst of it. Amanda Waller was slumped motionless on a chair nearby. The wallpaper outside the kitchenette was starting to char and peel. Suddenly, a power outlet burst, showering the carpet under the chair with hot sparks, and a line of flame shot up the wall along unseen wires. The carpet began to sizzle.

Waller was a sturdy lady, not built for easy transport. Still, Wonder Woman lifted her under the armpits and dragged her away in a hurry. More embers ignited a bed as she passed. They reached the door to the suite. It was locked. Wonder Woman kicked it open, breaking off the knob. The knob hit another door on the other side of the hallway, and moments later an old man in pajama bottoms peeked his head out. He watched Wonder Woman exit the burning room and take her first big breath.

“Land sakes! Your lodgings’ aflame!”

Woman Woman gasped and, with some difficulty, hefted Waller into a cradle carry. She glanced at the old man, but before she could respond, he was running barefoot down the hall, knocking on other doors.

“Fire! Fire! Inform the Brigade! Fire!”

Woman Woman found a staircase and descended. At the first floor, a loud bell sounded elsewhere in the building. She entered the lobby and found the room in a panic. Guests were streaming out of other doors and staircases toward the main entrance. She followed the crowd. Outside, she saw the Packard idling on the sidewalk. Both passenger doors were open. Somewhere in the distance, sirens began to blare. Wonder Woman rushed forward and tossed Amanda Waller across the Packard’s back seat. She slipped into the front, and before her back touched leather, Batman gunned the engine.

A convenient telephone pole shut both doors as they passed. At the corner ahead, two fire trucks turned into sight. Batman let them go by them then eased off the sidewalk.

A few turns later, they were in regular traffic. Batman turned his head and looked at Waller.

“Well done.”

Wonder Woman brushed some plaster dust from her shins. “Thank you.”

“She was unconscious when you found her?”

“Yes. She was insensible in a chair, though there was a fire growing just beyond. We made a narrow escape.”

“No bodyguards?”

“No. Does she often keep guards?”

“Often enough. Any idea what happened to her?”

“Her clothes did have an odd smell under the smoke.” Wonder Woman turned and climbed partway over her seat to take a sniff of the limp body. “I recognize it now. Wine.” She sat forward again. “She reeks of wine.” Wonder Woman made a noise of disapproval. “Clearly she was intemperate last night.”

“Mm.”

“What?”

“Waller doesn’t drink.”

“I doubt she poured it on herself and fell asleep.”

Batman conceded a head-shrug. “And no sign of other guests?”

“I don’t believe so. The door was locked.”

“The window was open.”

“That’s true. What shall we do with her now?”

“Now we talk.”

“You seem … eager.” Do you relish speaking with captives?”

“I find it productive.”
---​

Amanda Waller’s wrinkled eyelids shifted in the breeze and her eyes blinked open. She muttered a flat “Uheh?” and smacked her tongue, wincing at the blurred world. She was so dazed, even pain kept at a distance. Her skin was too dry and her brain felt pickled. She was nauseous. She wanted to sleep or wash her face or die.

Then she saw the a dark figure looming over her. She closed her eyes again.

“Ug.”

Batman replied. “You’re welcome.”

Waller winced. “Turn off th’ light, boy.”

“That’s the sun.”

Waller opened her eyes to wince again. She was laying on cool pebbles in a wooded clearing. She couldn’t hear any cars around. That was a bad sign. Waller tried to sit up. She felt a piercing headache, like a cow was standing between her eyes. She lay back down. “Don’t suppose anyone would hear if I screamed?”

“Doubt it.”

“Wha … what happened?”

“I pulled you out of a fire in your hotel room. You tell me.”

Waller’s expression showed a mind strained in thought. She puzzled in silence for a span of seconds, gently cross-eyed. Then a shock of recollection hit her face. “No. Ooo.” She curled and vomited. When her mouth was clear, she struggled to catch her breath. “Dear God, no. Not like this.” She vomited again, dirtying her blouse. The effort left her weak, but she managed to lift an arm to cover her face from the sun. “God. I-,” she dry-heaved and winced again, “Not like this.”

“Looking pitiful doesn’t make you innocent.”

Waller, still bent on the ground in anguish, muttered, “How on God’s earth d’you find me?”

“I’m B-”

“Don’tcha dare say it.” She rubbed her mouth and squinted up at him. “No time for this, boy. You gotta get me to a phone. Ish’a, a national emergency.”

“So you drink all morning.”

“Listen.” She tried to sound candid and plain, a voice that did not sound natural, “We’re in danger. Our county’s on the edge, you understand? Need t’alert the President.”

Batman folded his arms. “

Waller pounded the ground, her voice almost hitching into sobs. “Damn ye-you! We’re all dead! Ge-get that? If I don’t-”

“You’re a lying coward, Waller, but I don’t care about your excuses today.”

She let out a frustrated wail and moaned, “What do you want?”

“Guess.”

“What?” Waller was nearly hysterical.

Batman took out a canteen and shook it. Liquid sloshed inside. “Guess what I want, and I’ll give you some water.”

Waller took a deep breath. She tried to sneer, but she eyed the canteen with obvious thirst. “An’ how’m I supposed to guess what some lunatic wants?”

“Because you’re not stupid. How have our lives intersected that puts me in a bad mood?”

She snorted. “Fancy that, the violent madman in a bad mood.” But despite her words, Waller considered the question, the concentration obvious on her dissipated features. “I’ve heard of you going after some big meatball crooks in that garbage city of yours.”

“Keep talking.”

“Weeks ago, you got in a fight.”

“What fight?”

Waller coughed and wiped her mouth with her hand. “People are gonna die if I don’t go, understand? I don’t have time for this.”

Batman unscrewed the cap on the canteen and poured some water out. He crouched beside her, casting a shadow. “What fight, Waller?”

She frowned at the wasted water. “You were putting the hurt on some bozo, and a lady broke up the fun. You and the lady end up tussling near a slaughterhouse. That’s what the stories say.”

“How are you involved?”

“Why ask questions if you already have your answers?”

Batman stood and stepped back, clearing the way for the sunlight that made Waller flinch. He tipped the canteen again, splashing water on her face. Waller gasped and sputtered, shocked by the cold and teased by refreshment so close to her mouth.

“You met this woman the same night I did. Outside a police station.”

Waller feebly wiped her eyes. “How- How do-”

“Because I’m Batman!”

“Fine! I was. I did.”

“Why am I angry, Waller?”

“Because you think that woman worked with me. Maybe you think I sent her after you.”

Batman screwed the cap on the canteen and dropped it next to her. She opened it and started to drink.

“And?”

Waller emptied the canteen and tossed it aside. Invigorated, she sat up and propped herself against a nearby tree. “No, I didn’t send her after you. I’ve ignored you for most of a year. Why start now?”

“Then explain your meeting.”

“It’s not worth my time to chase after you, but if someone is willing and able to pummel you on their own initiative? Those two virtues catch my interest.”

“You were recruiting her.”

“I’ve told you before: I’m a manager. I’m on the hunt for talent. Think of yourself as an audition in violence.”

“Then why did she attack me? Who is she?”

“Those answers are state secrets.”

“If you’re sanctioning her then we have a problem. I don’t like strangers promising to kill me.”

Waller frowned and rubbed her forehead. “Is that what she told you? Listen, you don’t need to worry.”

“No?”

“She’s not a threat to you. I’ve made sure of that. There’s a reason you haven’t seen her a second time.”

Batman got in Waller’s face, so close she could feel his breath and so angry he nearly shouted. “So I should feel safe because she swore an oath to you? Did she sign a pledge? I don’t know one iota about this woman’s history or intentions, and you expect me to put faith-”

Waller yelled back, “She’s out of the picture, Batman! Get it now? She’s gone.”

Batman paced away then turned back. “Why should I believe you?”

She looked at him calmly. “Logic. You’ve seen what she can do; frankly, I have no clue how you survived throwing down with her. Do you expect someone with that much physical power at their whim can coexist with our national defense?”

“Yet you recruited her.”

“I gave her a chance. Keep your friends close and all that.” Waller shrugged. “The girl blew it.”

Wonder Woman stepped out from behind a tree. “Or perhaps it is you who is blowing it!”

Amanda Waller stared slack-jawed at her. Wonder Woman marched to Batman side, standing over Waller. The pair crossed their arms. Waller faced back and forth, looking at each of them with disbelief. Finally, she coughed and coughed and stared to chuckle and then to laugh. She laughed so hard her eyes watered.

Wonder Woman raised an eyebrow. Batman did nothing.

Waller wiped a tear from her eye. “Another? You sure have a way with the ladies, Batman.”

Wonder Woman opened her mouth, then closed her mouth, then turned to Batman and asked, “What does she mean by ‘another’?”

Batman remained stationary, though she could see the muscles in his jaw flex.

Waller laughed again. “Oh dear, ask him what happened to the last one!”

Batman sounded bored. “Finished?”

Waller snickered through her teeth. “Well, Diana, well-played. Lord knows how you got this stubborn loon on your side, but nicely done. If my head didn’t feel like a crushed melon I might say something witty.”

Wonder Woman stuck her chin up proudly. “We are allied for a righteous cause, as I once though you possessed!”

Waller rolled her eyes. “No gloating, please, just kill me. Something quick, if you don’t mind.”

“Kill you?”

Batman shook his head. “We’re not here to kill you.”

Waller looked confused and exasperated. “What then? What do you indestructible freaks of nature want so badly that you went through all this trouble? Go ahead, I’m a captive audience.” She snickered again and covered her eyes with her hand.

Wonder Woman answered in her most regal voice, “We’re finding Steven Trevor! And you will help us!”

Batman added, “I have some questions about Argentina.”

Amanda Waller’s weary face went slack. She didn’t move her hand from her eyes. But after a moment, her mouth crept into a dark grin. Soon it stretched from ear to ear.

Wonder Woman leaned toward Batman and whispered, “I do not like her expression.”

Waller awkwardly stood. She returned Batman’s serious stare. “Deal, and I’ll do you one better.”

“How?”

“You get to save the free world.”

The three looked at each other.

Batman responded. “You mean from you?”

Waller smiled without mirth. “Oh, that’s rich. Now shut up, ears opens.”

Batman frowned distrustfully. Wonder Woman discreetly tried to wiggle her ears.

Waller said, “I bet you already know more of this than you should, but this is complicated and crucial, so I’ll start from the beginning. For years, Nazi Germany has waged an aggressive espionage campaign across the Western Hemisphere. Until recently, that campaign seems to have been orchestrated by two ringleaders, a Spanish diplomat to Argentina, Carlos Salazar, and a figure that we knew only by codename, Der Wehrwulf. This Salazar ran activities in South and Central America, while Der Wehrwulf ran North America. The two were fiercely competitive and interfered with each other at every opportunity.

“Now, Carlos Salazar was just a man. He built one of the largest and most capable spy rings on the planet, but he was a regular human being like me and,” Waller glanced at Batman and Wonder Woman and hesitated, “… Regardless, he was human. Der Wehrwulf isn’t. Batman, I trust by your familiarity with Miss Diana that you’ll believe me when I say some people in this world have unexplainable abilities.”

Batman answered, “I’ve noticed.”

“Corralling them is my responsibility. I’m good at it, and I say with no exaggeration that Der Wehrwulf is by far one of the most dangerous cases I’ve encountered. I’ll use ‘her’ and ‘she’ to describe her, though you’ll understand in a moment why those terms are imperfect. Der Wehrwulf is like a nasty spirit out of a bad folk tale. When she’s herself, she looks like a little blonde woman, all done up in Nazi tattoos. But she steals bodies.”

Wonder Woman asked, “She kidnaps them?”

Waller shook her head. “No, she occupies bodies. If she touches you, she turns into a vapor and seeps into your skin. Then her mind attacks your mind. She puts you in a corner. You can still see and hear and feel, you can still think, but you can’t act. You can’t do. You’re possessed. She takes over your body like a squatter and stays as long as she wants. And while you’re trapped in a corner, she reads your memories. That way she can talk your talk and walk your walk. She’s very convincing.”

Batman said, “You sound awfully familiar with the process.”

Waller gave him a vicious smirk. “Oh, I ought to be. She did it to me. But I’ll get to that. We don’t know how long Der Wehrwolf has been active in America or how many people have been under her spell. See, she has this vicious method to stay unnoticed. She’ll find someone useful, possess them, then when she’s finished, the last thing she’ll do in the body is set up an accident or suicide, something you can’t escape, then she’ll vapor out of you, you’ll die, and she’ll be on her way. I only found this because of two victims who survived to tell the tale, both by sheer luck.”

Batman sounded grave. “The fire. You don’t touch alcohol, but she drank until you were helpless, then started a fire to kill you and destroy the evidence.”

Waller scrutinized him. “Ignoring how you could know that about me, that’s right.”

“The fire was only a few minutes old. She’s still here in Washington.”

“No, not likely. But as I said, I’ll get to that.”

“She knows everything that-”

Waller snapped her fingers at his face. “Down boy! Hush!”

Batman glared at her. She continued. “As I was said, that’s her method. She can assume the identities of powerful individuals and learn their secrets. Recently, she was in control of Carmine Falcone, a big gangster in Gotham City.” Waller saw Batman’s neck stiffen but he didn’t interrupt. “He was part of a military program to use criminals to root out Nazi spies. By your lack of surprise I guess you’ve heard of it. Well, since this Falcone was controlled by a Nazi spy, the program was obviously a failure. Falcone fed the military a lead that Carlos Salazar was a spy. Ironically, this lead was true. Salazar was a spy, though Falcone said that Salazar was person behind the Der Wehrwulf codename. You can see how this was a nice move for the actual Der Wehrwulf.”

Wonder Woman explained to Batman, “She would be manipulating the powerful American commanders to hurt or even vanquish her southern rival while simultaneously burying their suspicion toward her own misdeeds by placing them at her rival’s feet.”

Batman didn’t look at her. “I get it.”

Waller went on, “I had my suspicions, so I had Falcone arrested.” She saw a minor change in Batman’s posture. “That’s new to you?”

“Arrested citizens have a right to a lawyer and a trial.”

“Fine, ‘arrest’ may not be the legal term. Let’s just say he cooled his heels at my involuntary hospitality. Don’t pretend he’s some saint. This was a lucky move, since we snared Der Wehrwulf at the same time. Though we had no idea she existed, so she managed to escape. The good news is that Falcone survived her escape, and he was happy to explain who she was and what she’s been up to. That’s why she has to kill her victims: not only can a survivor squeal about her, but the survivor's seen everyone she’s spoken with. Falcone names just about every Nazi agent she had. We’ve made a huge wave of arrests, and the FBI turned the screws on these fools to give up others we missed. Der Wehrwulf built this incredible spy ring for years, and we swept it away almost overnight. Hell, if we could do that to the Soviets, our counterespionage office would be out of work. Unfortunately, there’s bad news. Shortly after she escaped, Der Wehrwulf possessed me.”

Wonder Woman gasped. “Wait! Were you under her thrall when you ordered me to be put out of the picture?”

Waller sighed and shook her head. “I’d lie, but you’d realize the time lines don’t match up. At least he would.” She gestured at Batman. “No, that was me. But I’m getting to that. Once she had me, Der Wehrwulf was in an awkward position. Her precious crew was down the drain, and we were setting up protocols to spot her sort of infiltration if she tried again. And it’s a struggle for her, keeping up appearances. You can fight her, make her stumble from the inside, now my colleagues are watching for just that sort of slip. You have no idea how many false alarms that’s caused, but that’s beside the point. The last thing she did before she tried to kill me was make arrangements to flee the country. Looks to be almost noon now, so she’s already gone. She wants back in the game; she lost her team, but there’s a big team in South America that’s missing a coach.”

Wonder Woman asked sharply, “How does this help Steven?”

“Here’s how it helps your boy, missy: you told me weeks ago that Salazar revealed to Captain Trevor many clandestine projects that only he knew about. Shortly afterward, Trevor shot him dead. Now Trevor’s the only one who knows, assuming he hasn’t revealed anything during the numerous interrogations I’m sure he’s endured by now. You told me about these secrets, so Der Wehrwulf learned it from me. She’s off to find Captain Trevor, read his mind for Salazar’s secrets, and resurrect his spy ring. Afterward, she’ll almost certainly kill him.”

Wonder Woman lips went tight and she looked at the ground, but she said nothing. Batman asked, “How does Der Wehrwulf know where to find Trevor?”

Waller made a slow clap. “Excellent question as usual. You wanted to know about Argentina? Here’s where things get fun.”

“Well?”

“After Captain Trevor shot Carlos Salazar, he was arrested. We have a few contacts in the area, so we were able to suss out where he was kept. I sent a rescue team to recover him. By sheer bad luck, our team was narrowly beaten to the prison by what turned out to be a German recovery team.”

“German.”

“Presumably agents of Salazar who wanted to understand why an American killed him. Salazar's role with the Reich was an open secret to the Argentineans, but we didn’t know until Falcone tipped us off. The assassination must have been an awful surprise.

Wonder Woman interrupted, “A German team has him now?”

Waller shook her head. “Calm down. My boys freed him, but he wasn’t in a condition to take back, so they had to leave him for the Argentinians to recover.”

Batman looked thoughtful. “If Salazar was openly tolerated, then Germany and Argentina must be allies. Why risk bad relations by staging a prison-break?”

“Well, that’s just the thing. Argentina’s politics are at a very sensitive place-”

“The civil leaders support either America or neutrality; much of the military wants an open alliance with the Axis powers.”

Waller shrugged. “Simplified but not wrong. The different groups have acted more and more independently. No one’s really in charge, but neither side has made a decisive move for all the marbles. By sheer good luck, it seems Trevor fell into the hands of the friendly Argentinians.”

Wonder Woman smiled. “So they will return him home.”

Waller clucked her tongue. “He killed a diplomat on their soil, kid. Friendly just means he’s not in Berlin. Or Madrid.”

Batman said, “So Der Wehrwulf is off to an Argentine prison to find him.”

Waller frowned and didn’t answer for a few moments. “After his aborted rescue, the Captain was brought to a second, more remote site safe in the hands of the neutrality faction. One of Der Wehrwulf’s contacts somehow learned his whereabouts, so she made me propose another rescue mission with more manpower. It happened yesterday … or today … whatever time it is. Naturally, it was a set-up. We sent a platoon, but Der Wehrwulf tipped off the pro-Axis faction, so they’re standing by with a much bigger force. Our platoon storms the base, does the dirty work, takes the causalities, then the fascists march in, slaughter one of our finest units, and snatch the spoils. Just her little goodbye present before leaving me to die.”

Wonder Woman scowled, “So now the evilest Argentinians have Steven.”

Waller nodded. “And therein lies our mutual interest. You want to rescue Captain Trevor. I’ll tell you where my little Nazi friend believes he is.”

Batman asked, “In exchange for what?”

Waller gestured to him. “You’re good at finding people who don’t want to be found and getting places you don’t belong.” She gestured to Wonder Woman. “She’s good at breaking things. Find Der Werwulf. Kill her.”

“Why?”

Both Wonder Woman and Amanda Waller stared at him. Waller exclaimed, “Why?”

“Why should we kill her?”

Waller sounded as serious as a sermon. “Do you know what I hate about chess? It’s a game of perfect information, but it has the gall to call itself war. Nothing could be further from the truth. War is ignorance and doubt. War is blind. The side who manages to stay a little less blind usually wins, and now Hitler’s little angel has seen our team with a damn magnifying glass.” Waller tapped her forehead. “Do you have any idea how much I know? Names, cyphers, schedules, reports. I supervise dozens of agents, foreign and domestic. I’ve seen bases that aren’t on maps. I’ve seen weapons that aren’t in catalogs. I keep drawers of blackmail. Boy, I am a big deal. Do you understand what she’s run off with? Der Wehrwulf is the greatest single threat to our way of life and must be neutralized at any cost – no matter form she inhabits.”

Batman slowly responded, “No. I meant: why should we kill her when you have so many resources at your command. Why entrust this to us?”

“Two reasons. One, this would be a big, delicate mission. it would take time to convince my superiors and more time to prepare, and that leaves precious few options. She might be in the wind before we get our boots on. And two, she’s read my mind from cover to cover, so she’s going to expect all the responses I could possibly prepare. If we send soldiers, she knows where they’ll land. If we hire a killer, she’ll recognize his face. But you two! Oh, Batman, you wouldn’t work with me in a million years. And Diana, you’re dead.” Waller smiled again, “Oh yes, you two would be the last move she’d expect. Isn’t it brilliant?”

Wonder Woman nodded bravely. “We’ll do it!”

Waller turned to Batman with curious eyes. “Is that so?”

Batman looked past her, expressionless. “Yes.”

“Oh good, we all get what we want. Although...” she eyed Batman. “What do you get out of all this?”

“That’s my business.”

“Well, I’ll find out soon enough.” she turned to Wonder Woman. “I have to hand it you, dear. For someone who can hardly tie her shoes, you really have a way of wrapping men around your finger.”

Wonder Woman looked confused. “Just strength, but I would use several fingers.”

“Right.”

“And I tie shoes very securely.”

“There’s an airfield in Northern Virgina where I keep a plane crewed and fueled. If you head there, tell them I sent you, say it’s condition double red, and give them a destination, they’ll fly you south and call ahead to ready connecting flights down to Argentina. Oh, and Diana?”

“Yes?”

“One other thing about Der Wehrwulf. She knows about the Amazons.”

“What? How?”

“Good question. She plucked it from my mind and said it was familiar. Go find her, and you can ask her yourself.”

Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-16 08:47pm

Yaaaay!

Also Batman and Wonder Woman driving through the general vicinity of my stomping grounds, though I'm not sure I'd characterize the parts of Maryland they'd pass through en route to DC as 'southern' so much as 'central.'
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-01-18 08:54pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-16 08:47pm
Yaaaay!

Also Batman and Wonder Woman driving through the general vicinity of my stomping grounds, though I'm not sure I'd characterize the parts of Maryland they'd pass through en route to DC as 'southern' so much as 'central.'

You're absolutely right. I have no excuse there. Sadly, I can't edit here.

Stewart M
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Posts: 162
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-02-11 01:06am

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 27: Don't Cross the Streams​

The woodlands of Maryland.

Batman and Wonder Woman left Amanda Waller behind in the forest clearing. They did nothing to threaten or restrain her before they walked away; she was in no shape to follow. Batman estimated that Waller would wander at least an hour before she found the edge of the forest, and it was anyone’s guess when she might reach a home with a telephone. These rustic townships could be awfully simple that way.

Batman had parked the Packard behind a small hill. He drove awhile through a nearby stream to hide tracks of their direction out. Wonder Woman sat tall in the passenger’s seat with a determined smile. It was untroubled and defiant. He had never seen her in the light of day.

When they reached the road, Wonder Woman pointed ahead. “I know this land. When we near the city, I can guide us to Virgina.”

Batman stopped the car. Her smile didn’t waver, but her eyes grew concerned. “Have we exhausted our fuel again?”

Batman said nothing for a time. He stared out the windshield. “You came to me for help in finding your man Trevor. Now you have his address. I’ll take you this airport, then we go our separate ways.”

“I don’t-” Wonder Woman looked at him, then ahead, then back at him again. Her smile collapsed. “I don’t understand.”

“I’ll make do without his confession.”

“But what if my path proves false or incomplete? I may need your wisdom further.”

“No. We’re done.”

She struggled to stay composed, “But- But why? Why this?”

Batman said nothing.

She grabbed his arm with both of hers. “Face me and tell me why!”

Batman’s free hand moved under the dashboard and rested on a hidden knob. He slowly faced her, but still he said nothing.

She waited wide-eyed for a response. When none returned, she exhaled bitterly but didn’t squeeze. “Why this, Batman?”

“Because you’re a zealot.”

She released him. “What is a zealot?”

“A fanatic. A person who can’t weigh consequences, who can’t pursue their goals reasonably.”

“And who are you to judge my employment of reason?”

“When you sought me out, you were desperate, and that’s fine. Desperation is a sane reaction to crisis. But there is a limit.”

“I pursue only what I need to-”

“To get what you want, you need to stay alive. And clearly you aren’t committed to that.”

“I am!”

“Amanda Waller just confessed to murdering you in cold blood, carefully and at enormous expense, and she didn’t show a hint of remorse. When you agreed to her plan, I was sure you were setting her up for a trick, but no. It’s incredible: you sincerely intend to try.”

“You agreed as well!”

“I lied. It scares her to think we work together.”

“Then let us scare her to her death!”

“Her confession ought to teach you enough, but let me explain who you’re dealing with. I’ve studied Amanda Waller. She manipulates. She never stops. People are cards in a deck to her. She plays them without a thought.

“How could her proposal be a deception? We caught her asleep in a fire! She could not know we would be there. And how could she plot? She couldn’t have been more disoriented or further from safety.”

“I agree, it’s beyond belief this was set-up from the beginning. She’s reacting. Yet even then she read us in minutes. She improvised a story and sold you on it. That’s how good she is. There’s no reason to believe that if you go where she wants that you won’t be greeted by a firing squad, or that your airplane won’t have a bomb aboard. Waller prepares for these opportunities. I’ve seen it.”

“But her saga matched so many facts we’ve found. How could she know what we knew?”

“I don’t doubt there’s some truth to her pitch. Great manipulators deal in half-truths. Even without a trap, she’s sending us alone into the heart of a nascent civil war on the far end of another continent. If she wants to get rid of us, that’s a sound strategy.”

Wonder Woman considered this. “What does nascent mean?”

“And she wasn’t so clever. She had to invent an evil sorceress as the villain.”

Wonder Woman shrugged. “What about it?”

Batman paused and looked at her. He took a measured tone. “I don’t know what counts as normal in your home, but there’s no magic here.”

“I’m here. Would your innocent scholars not call me magic?” she asked with a condescension he had never heard from her.

“You are … theory-breaking, but demonstrating the existence of one class of the impossible doesn’t confirm every other class of the impossible. Possessing bodies, reading minds; that’s altogether different from your thick skin. We have no proof of other anomalies, native or visiting.”

Wonder Woman looked away with deep doubt on her face. “You forget. There is another.”

Batman narrowed his eyes at her. “I-” Then he remembered; he felt like an imbecile for forgetting.

As one, they looked at the golden cord at her hip. She unwound a length and held it gently between her hands. It glowed.

“We Amazons partake little in magic. We know of such powers: tales of demons and obscene things, and the spirits of the elements and spirits of symbols and wilder forces besides. Most are strange to us, but we treat the stories with great solemnity. Our singular magic lay in the divine tools gifted by our patrons. They are holy to us and precious beyond measure. This lariat is a snare of Truth. Its captives share no falsehoods or omissions of any sort. You know this, I think.”

Batman repressed a churning in his stomach. “Yes.”

Wonder Woman looked down at the cord, seeming almost regretful. “It is mine to use, as we knew your world was full of lies, but it was issued with the caution that such a sacred tool must not be swung easily or crassly. It is a last resort, and furthermore, I swore to take every pain to keep its power secret.”

“You used it on me.”

“I believed you one of the demons or obscene things. Or worse, a man who consorted with them.”

Much later, Batman would be flattered by this. “You’re sharing the secret now.”

“Did you not suspect its purpose?” She looked at him with a passion. “But our speech shall not divert. You speak of reason? Do not believe me stupid, Batman. Amanda Waller admitted to seeking my death. She has no honor. I know this. I also know her malice pales next to the Nazi menace as a candle to the sun, and I must marshal my efforts against the true enemy. You speak of reason? it seems unreasonable to me that such a diversity of magic can be known to one lone island and not exist at all in the world beyond. Her story of a magic Nazi sounds reasonable to my ears. But now I challenge you: if I prove it true beyond doubt, is that not a threat worth any effort to confront?”

Batman glanced again at the cord. He considered this. Then he conceded a short nod, put the Packard into gear, and turned back into the forest.

As he drove, Wonder Woman still inspected her golden rope, now with a guilty air. “I must confess, perhaps I have used my vow to excuse a prejudice. I vowed to use this holy weapon to bring the worst of Mankind under loving submission. I never dreamed of using it on a woman. I have been blinded though my journey by my expectation that any woman who has risen to power in your world must be of shining virtue. I had hoped so much of Amanda Waller. Clearly I was wrong. It is most disheartening to say this, but perhaps we are all, Man and Woman, born ready for impiety.”

Batman gave no reaction.

Wonder Woman added, “Though Man far moreso, of course.”

Batman shot her a dubious glance.

They soon reached the clearing of Waller’s interrogation. She was gone, but Wonder Woman studied Waller’s prints in the grass. They found her heading and set off deeper into the woods. They found Waller in two minutes.

Waller did a double-take as Batman stepped out of the bushes. “Ugh, what now?”

Batman paced up to her. “I decided I needed more convincing.”

“What do you mean convi-ouch!” Waller looked down and saw Batman pulling a syringe out of her shoulder. She jumped back. “The hell was that?”

Batman returned the syringe to his belt. “A tongue loosener. My recipe.”

“How the- Hey!”

Batman produced a blindfold and swiftly wrestled it around her head. “The drug makes your eyes sensitive. This will save your retinas.”

“Get off me this second!” Waller struggled to pull off the blindfold, but Batman held her by her wrists and pulled them behind her back. “Stop.” He nodded into the bushes. Wonder Woman crept silently out and wrapped her golden cord around Waller’s wrists, securing them behind her back. She retreated a few paces.

Batman ordered, “Pay attention.”

Waller asked, “Where’s Diana?” She called out, “Diana! Diana!”

Wonder Woman’s lifted an eyebrow but said nothing.

Batman said, “Diana’s gone ahead. I told her I forgot something.”

Waller snorted and spat. “Finally living down to your reputation.”

Batman ignored her. “What’s your social security number?”

Waller’s expression turned puzzled, then shocked. Her jaw moved like she was chewing. Then she recited a number. Afterward, she looked nauseous. “What have you done to me?”

Batman glanced at Wonder Woman who gave him a meaningful look. Batman asked Waller, “What’s your most cherished childhood memory?”

Waller answered, “When I was young, I’d sit with Nana Gloria on this tree swing in the park. She’d buy me a can of pop, even though Mama said it’d rot my teeth to the gums and never kept any in the house. Nana and I’d watch the fireflies come out in the evening, and I’d ask Nana whatever was on my mind, and she’d be the only adult who answered me like I mattered.” Waller was quiet for a moment. She looked at the ground. “Batman, stop. Please.”

Batman crossed his arms “Your story: the Argentinians and Captain Trevor and Der Wehrwulf. Is it all true?”

“Every word.”

“You were possessed by a magical Nazi spymaster who had also possessed Carmine Falcone?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re confident Der Wehrwulf is heading to Argentina right now to adopt a spy ring by stealing their whereabouts out of Trevor’s head?”

“Yes.”

“And we’re the best option to stop her? There aren’t other assets you could use?”

“After I make my report? They’ll put me in isolation until they’re sure I’m not still being possessed. And that’s if I convince them I was possessed. Otherwise I just sent sent forty-some men to their deaths and might have sparked a new war. It’ll be a miracle if I don’t die in prison.”

“Are there any details you neglected to tell us that would affect our survival?”

“We really don’t know much.” Waller thought for a moment. “The German agents who tried to rescue Trevor. I believe they’re subjects of the Peña Duro process.”

“No one’s ever survived.”

“We don’t know that. This is only my private suspicion, but whatever they are, they’re big and tough and probably collaborating with some fascist general. Watch out for them.”

“Was your intent that this mission kill us?”

“Kill you? No. Fine, if you happened to die on the way home, I’d call it a happy coincidence. But no, I want you to go down there and take scalps, understand? A mind much stupider than yours could figure out we have a unique shot at an unparalleled threat. My one concern is taking that shot.”

“Then what are your plans for us afterward?”

“Afterward, I’m more focused on myself. You’ll recall the aforementioned odds of prison.”

“Try.”

“Well, Batman, I was begrudgingly content to leave you alone. I’d run into dead ends trying to find you, and you didn’t seem about to cause further harm to federal property. If I had my chance, I’d still love to bring you into the fold. About time you used your talents for something useful.”

“And Diana?”

Waller rolled her eyes. “Lord knows what we’re going to do with her. If Diana removes Der Wehrwulf from the board, that would win her some major attaboys in Washington. Guess we’ll have to come to an understanding. Did she tell you what her goal is? Besides rescuing that boyfriend, I mean.”

“What?”

“Her queen – her secret little nation has a queen, you understand - wants the military protection of the United States of America. As if the President’s going to park an aircraft carrier off an island we can’t find on a map. Heh. Poor girl didn’t think that one through.”

Wonder Woman glared. Waller continued, “ All the same, we still don’t know how she’s alive. My successor will to need some hot countermeasures in case she isn’t friendly. But we have a few in the works. Plus, we own her boyfriend. Though I’d bet he’s ending up in a cell after what he’s done. That one’s up the river for a good while.”

Wonder Woman kept up a defiant chin, but Batman could see in her eyes that she was distressed. Aiming to divert the conversation, he crossed his arms and asked, “Are working on any projects that you-” he paused, “That a regular, ethical civilian would consider inhumane?”

Waller stiffened but eventually answered. “Yes.”

“Where’s the worst?”

“Matter of opinion.”

“What’s your opinion?”

“Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.”

“What are you doing there?”

Waller told him. Batman winced. “What about in Gotham?”

“Now that Operation Underworld is a bust, I don’t know any other projects at my level.”

“What major public officials do you know to be corrupt and how?”

Waller snorted and chuckled. “How much time do you have?”

Wonder Woman glared at him and made a hurry-up gesture.

“Just the five biggest.” Waller gamely listed five as Wonder Woman looked impatient.

When Waller finished, Batman nodded to Wonder Woman who unwrapped the golden rope from Waller’s wrists. “Fine. We’re done.” The costumed pair walked away.

Waller rubbed her wrists and responded to the sudden silence. “Hey. Hey! Forgetting something?”

Batman answered over his shoulder. “Wear the blindfold another hour.”

Waller called to him. “I want whatever you doped me with, Batman! You’re going to give me that recipe!”

After they were out of earshot, Wonder Woman asked Batman, “What if she removes the cloth now and pursues us?”

Batman shook his head. “I dosed the fabric with a chemical to sting her eyes if she opens them.”

“What was in that syringe?”

“Saline solution. Harmless.”

They walked in silence for some time. Finally, Wonder Woman stopped and faced him with hands on hips. “Enough. I delay no longer. What is your decision?”

Batman looked at her, his tone driving her mad with its calm. “Why specifically do you want my help?”

“Because you know the ways of spies and aircraft and cameras and treaties and every novel thing. I am a stranger and struggle from ignorance. Ignorance may cause me to err. Yet today I must not err. And you Batman, I see you do not err.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is as close as any mortal I may hope to meet.”

“So just because I’m available.”

She huffed through clenched teeth. “Yes! Must I say it? Yes. I am desperate. Yes, because I have no one.” She held out her hands to plead. “I carry the world in this journey, on my shoulders alone! The laughing Fates offer no one else. Is it not hubris most foul to carry the world alone? Must I beg?” She grasped at the fabric on his chest and shook him. “Mother forgive me, but I will beg if I must.”

“No!” Batman interrupted with a voice of apology. “No. Please. I wasn’t trying to shame you. I just need to understand your intentions.”

She scoffed in anguish. “Are my intentions not plain?”

“What are your exact goals?”

“To rescue Steven Trevor and return him safely, to rout any Nazis and their allies who may hold him, and to understand and slay the magic woman who is journeying to unite them.”

He eyed her intensely. “What do you mean by ‘rout’?”

“What else? To strike down left and right, sowing dread, repaying their wickedness in a blood fee until those remaining drop their arms and flee. That is a rout, the reward of tyrants and slavers so long as an Amazon draws breath.”

He crossed his arms and was silent. She would have this no longer. Stepping forward, Wonder Woman towered over him by several inches, and she drew upon all her regal presence to compel his tongue. “Your choice?”

He finally answered, calm as ever. “I’ve learned more government dirt in the last five minutes than your Captain Trevor could possibly reveal.” Wonder Woman’s flushed with disappointment, but he continued. “I was able to do so only because you lent me a sacred treasure to satisfy my doubts. I’m grateful for that. And I’m convinced there might be a danger to the free world who we’re in a unique position to assess. I’m-” He hesitated. “-Not unsympathetic.”

“You’ll join me?”

“If you follow two rules.”

“What rules?”

“First, our objective is to bring the Captain home. If that’s impossible, our new objective will be to leave. We do nothing that compromises the objective.”

“And the second?”

“Second, don’t kill.”

“What?”

“Don’t end a human life. Fascists, for all their crimes, are human. We can study the opposition if it doesn’t distract from the objective, we can ruin their equipment and disrupt their plans given the opportunity, but we don’t kill.”

“But they are the enemy!”

“I subdue my enemies. I don’t kill them. That’s my sacred rule.”

“What of defending yourself?”

“Do you know how many assailants have tried to kill me? I’ve lost count, but I’m still here. And I haven’t killed. It can be done.” He paused and aired a trace of a challenge. “Unless you’re more fragile than I am.”

Wonder Woman resisted glaring at him and bit back her response. Instead, she asked, “What about Der Wehrwulf?”

Batman looked unsure. “She may not be human. She may not be biologically alive. I can’t presume an ethical code for a task I don’t understand.”

“So we need no rule for her?”

“We’ll improvise.”

Wonder Woman stepped back to provide personal space. “Fine. I concede to your rules.” She held out an arm. Batman lifted his hand to shake, but she gripped his forearm. “With this, we are sworn sisters of war until our deed is fulfilled.” Batman raised an eyebrow. Wonder Woman let go of his forearm. “The oath does sound odd in translation.”

Batman said nothing and headed for the Packard.

---​

GCPD Third Division Headquarters.

Taxpayers were stingy landlords. Police stations, the quintessential government property, were known for rusty locks, broken blinds, old desks, and not much budget left over to clean bloodstains and paper over misfires in the walls. But Third Division Headquarters bucked that trend. The lights were bright and the tiles were clean and all the faucets ran. Perhaps the taxpayers spoiled Third Division; something was certainly spoiled there.

When Third Division’s Captain Michael Weems gathered tomorrow's day shift in the briefing room, the first man through the door was Detective Arnold Flass. His face still sported a big cut from his scuffle with the famous Jim Gordon, though at least his coat was new. A line of Flass’ cronies shuffled into the briefing room after him, followed by a crowd of other cops. Last was Officer Renee Montoya, arriving from the distant corners of the second sub-basement. Since being assigned to Third Division, Montoya – who had already earned several citations for merit in her brief career – was tasked with organizing the Division’s cavernous file room, a chore which seemed to have last been performed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Once Officer Montoya found a seat, Captain Weems called for attention and announced, “Here’s the news, men. I’m sure you’ve all heard that Arturo Bertinelli is in lock-up downstairs. We are responsible for transporting him to the border tommrow and handing him off to the canuckleheads and whatever pattycake they call a justice system. Now, there’s some people in this town would like to see Bertinelli free, and a lot more who’d like to see him dead. With that in mind, the following roles have been delegated to those deemed most loyal and capable. Detective Flass, I’m pulling you off investigations for a day to lead the expedition. Don’t let me down. Officers MacKenzie, Nico, Bryant, Gellart, Rose, and Pelt will also be escorting.” Several of Flass’ goons smiled at each other. Weems pointed sternly at them. “From the moment Bertinelli leaves his cell tomorrow till the moment he steps over that border, no one else but those officers will touch, speak to, or share the same room as our jailbird. Officer DeSalle, you’re responsible for checking the van and escort cars tonight. Officer Montoya, you’re responsible for sandwiches.”

The audience laughed. The Captain chuckled and added, “Got that? Yo soy cooking some tortillas, Carmen Miranda?” Officer Montoya forced a smile. After the laughter died, Captain Weems continued. “Just kidding. If Officer Montoya or anyone else I have not named tries to interfere with any step of this operation, I’ll have your badge so quick it’ll make your head spin. And that will be the least of your problems. Got it?”

The audience replied, “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Then get out of my face.”

---​

Northern Virginia.

Wonder Woman knew the roads around the nation’s capital well. She and Batman soon crossed the Potomac and neared the military airfield where their promised flight waited. The airfield was outside a busy town on the cusp of a small city. Batman stopped at a vacant lot half a mile from the airfield’s entrance gate. There was still some traffic here, but not much. He took the key out of the ignition and handed it to Wonder Woman.

She looked at it. “Am I to drive again?”

He shook his head. “Consider the key a safeguard of my oath.”

“What do you mean?”

“Waller may be telling the truth, but I don’t trust the military enough to walk through their front door in broad daylight.”

“We cannot wait for night.”

“We won’t. We enter separately. You approach. Tell them the code phrase. If they attack, you can fight your way to safety. If they cooperate, they’ll bring you to an aircraft large enough for transcontinental flight. I’ll be waiting inside.”

“So ... this key is a promise you won’t flee after we part.”

“It says I’m stuck here. We see this through to the end.”

She contemplated this, then contemplated him. “Thank you. But how will you get in the aircraft without permission?”

“Leave that to me.”

Wonder Woman nodded, took her bag, and left. Batman watched her cross the road. It had been a hollow gesture, of course. He could easily hot-wire the Packard and leave. Or he could steal a car. Or he could change out of his costume and walk. There were plenty of opportunities for him to renege his oath once she was out of sight, and she had to be aware of a few of them. But he knew the gesture would put her at ease. He had thought often of his last failure at teamwork, and he had learned a little in the process.

He choose not to escape. Instead, he slipped into a longcoat and low hat. Then he removed some incriminating items from the Packard and tossed them down a sewer grate. He picked others and loaded them in his belt. Then he disappeared.

Half a mile away, Wonder Woman soon reached the entrance of the base. A young soldier at the gatehouse watched her approach with sleazy confusion.

He called out to her, “Woah, woah, hold up dollface! Where’s the circus, mama?”

Wonder Woman called back loudly, “I have been sent here on a secret mission. Show me to your aircraft.”

He laughed. “What’s that, honey?”

Wonder Woman declared, “Condition Double Red!”

The soldier gave her an odd look, but he unlocked a drawer in the gatehouse and pulled out a codebook. She watched confidently as he leafed through it. He stopped on a certain page and it gave her no small measure of gratification to see him tremble as his eyes grew wide.

Deep in his book, in the middle of a page, was written:

Condition Double Red: Stand up straight! Treat the code-speaker with deference befitting an acting flag officer. Escort him to your station’s wing commander immediately.

After rereading the entry, the soldier snapped the book shut and offered a crisp salute. “S-Sir, welcome to Fort Mazouz. Please come inside.” He lifted the arm of the gate and Wonder Woman walked through. The soldier picked up a handset and made a hasty call. In a minute, an open-topped green car sped out the base and stopped nearby. The nervous soldier in the driver’s seat also saluted and offered her a ride. Wonder Woman adjusted the bag on her shoulder and accepted.

She was taken to the comfortable office of a Major Young. The Major asked her business, and Wonder Woman repeated, “Condition Double Red.”

The Major paused then asked, “Where to?”

She said, “Argentina.”

He asked, “When?”

She answered, “Now?”

The Major nodded. In ten minutes, they were standing in front of a Douglas DC-2 as it taxied out of a hanger. She was a sleek, medium-sized twin-engine bird with wings low on the frame. She had a few years on her, one of the first reliable passenger aircraft and a mainstay of VIP travel.

The Major spoke over the low roar of the engines. “We’ll get you to Alabama with a connecting flight ready when you land. Godspeed.”

Wonder Woman climbed aboard, fully expecting to see Batman waiting to greet her. But the cabin was deserted, and the two pilots who briefly stepped out of the cockpit to introduce themselves were stranger. The cabin held six seats, though it was large enough to fit twice that. The remaining space was a collection of boxes and cabinets, all strapped or welded down for flight. After introducing himself, the head pilot pointed at the boxes and said she could take anything she needed. She nodded blankly and went to buckle in.

As they speed down the runway, Wonder Woman’s heart sank with the glum understanding that Batman had broken his oath. It made her angry. She scowled. Shortly after take-off, as the plane began to level, she heard a noise behind her. Still scowling, she turned and saw Batman climbing out of a box, cutting the straps with a short blade. She watched in shock. He nodded at her and took a seat.

She was still watching him as he inspected the plane. He said, “Interesting. There’s equipment aboard for any sort of mission. Must be transport for some quick-reaction team. Do you eat?”

Wonder Woman blinked. “Huh?”

He looked at her. “Do you ... consume food? Are you hungry?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, I eat food. I could be hungry.”

Batman nodded towards the cabinets and boxes. “Now is our chance to rest. There’s food if you want it.”

Wonder Woman was still recovering from the shock of his appearance, but she made her way to the rear of the cabin and searched through the containers. Batman was right, there seemed to be gear here for everything: food, clothes, a small arsenal of guns, grenades and sundry other weapons, tents, shop tools, radio parts, fuel, ropes, maps, reference books, and a hundred other things besides.

She took a bag of rations and returned to her seat. The label promised it contained biscuits, sausage, and dried fruit. After eating, she found each of these claims suspicious. Some time into the flight, the co-pilot came to check on her and nearly pulled his weapon when he saw Batman. Wonder Woman hurried to calm him down. He eventually left them alone. Batman didn’t move a muscle through the event. Afterward, she whispered to him. “Are you asleep?”

He slowly answered. “Meditating.”

“It would be good to sleep, we have been awake since yesterday.”

“I’ll try not to wake you.”

Wonder Woman nodded but thought this a strange comment; she couldn’t imagine Batman being loud by accident. The gentle turbulence of the slight was very soothing. The last sight to reach her weary eyes as they fluttered closed was Batman taking a long cloth and wrapping a gag around his mouth.

---​

GCPD Third Division Headquarters.

Officer Dennis Pelt was the most junior member of Detective Arnold Flass’ goon squad. He was young, scrawny, had no family in the brass, and was just starting to collect favors and blackmail – the currency of the dark side of the Force. He was Flass’ errand boy. At the moment, that errand was packing lunch for the prisoner transport tomorrow. He was alone in the staff kitchen, stuffing food into paper bags with names scribbled in black marker – Flass’ crew each had favorite dishes, and he was expected to know them by heart. At least no one cared what the prisoner ate.

When Officer Pelt was nearly finished, he heard a door slam open behind him. A loud voice said, “Where’s my chain, Denny?”

Pelt turned and saw his nemesis: Officer Mitch Gellart. If Pelt was the bottom of the goon squad’s totem pole, Gellart was one spot above. Both knew the easiest way for Pelt to switch their roles would be to make Gellart look bad. Then Gellart would be the errand boy. Their rivalry was vicious. Flass egged it on for entertainment.

Pelt tried to stare him down. “What are you talking about, chump?”

Gellart stomped up and poked Pelt in the chest. “I said where’s my chain? You took it out of my desk.”

Pelt shoved Gellart back. “I never touched your chain, dingus.”

Gellart’s prized possession was a little gold chain with a saint’s emblem. He rubbed it for good luck all the time. Pelt had considered stealing it before - they had done far worse to each other - but it seemed too petty for a prank.

Gellart shoved him back. “I say you took it. And I say you better fess up, or you’re fixin’ for trouble.”

Pelt cured his hands into fists. “Let’s take this outside.”

Gellart cracked his knuckles. “Ladies first.”

The two stormed out of the kitchen, leaving it empty.

Moments later, Officer Renee Montoya slipped inside. Gellart’s gold chain shifted in her pocket. She quickly found Arturo Bertinelli’s lunch.

---​

The rain forests of Chile, just west of the Argentine border.

A fair number of boys joined the service at the suggestion of a judge when their other path led to prison. The courts intended this alternative for minor crimes: stolen cars and black eyes. Floyd Lawton was an exception. He grew up in Hub City, Chicago’s demented little brother. Lawton fell in with gangs at a young age, but remarkably, he wasn’t arrested until he was twenty-two. Living by the gun in one of the bloodiest zip codes in the country, his prosecutor could only guess what brutalities Lawton had committed over the years, but the police had eventually caught him bleeding in a bar with an empty six-shooter and eight dead bodies that had recently been alive and armed. However, in typical Hub City fashion, the investigators contaminated half the evidence, and while Lawton was no genius, the profits of his profession afforded him a sharp legal team. In the end, the state couldn’t explain beyond a reasonable doubt how Lawton could have killed so many armed men alone, nor could it conclusively prove that he had shot any of them. The best the judge could stick him with was possession of an unloaded firearm and trespassing. While the prosecution desperately haggled to maximize the punishment, Amanda Waller swept in and convinced all parties that Lawton should be drafted. The exhausted lawyers found her idea satisfactory: he would be off the street for a few years, and if he had to shoot people, at least it would be foreigners.

Waller’s offer proved fateful to many important lives, usually by ending them. Private Floyd Lawton wasn’t a good soldier – he had been busted back to private four times thanks to all manner of insubordinate conduct – but he was a Mozart of a marksman, and Waller had no shortage of targets that demanded his talents, so she had managed to keep him out of the stockades so far.

However, Waller’s patronage was only useful if Lawton lived to enjoy it. As far as he knew, the First Special Platoon had been wiped out, ambushed by a wave of Argentinian troops and a few others he couldn’t recognize. The tall ones with tank plate for a catcher’s vest. Wilson had said they were krauts last time. All Lawton knew is they sure ate their Wheaties.

Of course, now Wilson was dead. That was a shock to Lawton. He respected the Lieutenant, never once messed with the old guy and never regretted following him. Heck, Lawton would have voted for him, and Lawton didn’t vote.

But he had bigger problems. Private Lawton had run wildly for a few minutes in his retreat. He had been the last GI on the field, mainly by hiding in a tree behind the field, and he wanted to put a safe amount of jungle between his skin and the many men who wanted to replace it with lead. But after Lawton slowed to catch his breath, he focused very quickly on the terrain. Lawton wasn’t a good soldier, but his aim wasn’t his only saving grace. In boot camp he had discovered a knack for orienteering. As a lifelong city slicker who rarely made trips without neon signs to point the way, this surprised him as much as anyone. As the Platoon sharpshooter, he had been issued a map and compass, and that was enough.

Lawton didn’t know why American soldiers had been allowed to land in Chile and raid its peaceful neighbor, and he didn’t know who the Chileans running the little airstrip answered to, nor the other Chileans who drove them in trucks to the edge of the forest in the dead of night. Enlisted men weren’t told these things. Enlisted men didn’t care, not unless something backfired. Lawton wasn’t surprised by any of it. He saw the world as full of gangs. Some really big gangs called themselves governments, but gangs did what they did for all sorts of reasons, and usually not the reasons they told their kids.

Now he knew that the whole mission was a set-up, and the Chileans might be in on it. As Lawton hiked, he took stock of his options. He had dropped his rifle, though it was zip on ammo anyway. He had a .45 on his hip with seven rounds. That was nothing to sneer at in his hands, but even his hands were shaky after wearing the finish off that rifle bolt. He didn’t like his odds if he ran into anything larger than a bowling team.

A mile of jungle later, Lawton reasoned that it didn’t matter. If the Chileans were in on the fix, then their hosts at the airstrip would have made short work of the Platoon’s pilots. Lawton didn’t know how to fly; he’d need to cross the country on foot. That would be difficult, as Lawton had neither money nor food nor Spanish. He had bullets, and bullets could be used to acquire the first two without much of the third, but he would quickly run out. And if needed more, people who had bullets tended to either horde them or share them too eagerly.

As Lawton felt the weak midday sun on his neck, he found the road where the trucks had deployed them early that morning. He stayed well off the road but traveled beside it, moving gradually from jungle to scrubland. When he finally arrived at the airstrip, their plane was still around, but he was surprised to find a truck parked outside the tower. Eight soldiers in Argentinian uniforms were harassing four men kneeling on the ground. Lawton peered through a break in the bush. He realized that he recognized the men on the ground. They were from the First Special Platoon but stripped of their coats. They had to be freezing.

The soldiers were about forty yards away, standing in the open. They paid no attention to their perimeter. All but two had their rifles slung.

Lawton drew his .45. Excellent light. Little wind. He took a knee and eyed down the sights. He fired carefully – only face or upper torso: he had to be conservative. The first two rounds went as fast as he could pull the trigger. He started with the rifle-ready pair, of course. By then the rest were running for cover, so he took them slowly, waiting two second intervals near at the end. All seven rounds hit true, but that left one survivor returning fire. Lawton flopped down as rounds cut through the bush nearby, and he crawled away. His work was down.

On the airstrip, the four battered men of the First Special Platoon saw the enemy scythed down in seconds. One last foe was hiding behind the plane’s landing gear and firing wildly at the treeline. He fired until his rifle was empty. As he struggled to reload, the four rushed him. Their hands were numb, so the process took a few moments. But only a few.

Lawton soon came out to join them, and after looting fresh weapons and coats from the deceased, they moved into the relative shelter of the tower. Their four’s story was simple. In the initial battle for the Rio Apiculata garrison, the Platoon had suffered five causalities. As the fighting ended, these five were sent back on makeshift stretchers with two carriers each. They were well into the jungle when the Argentinians ambushed the main force at the garrison. They could hear the mayhem behind them. Some returned to help the fight. The rest continued their orders to withdraw the wounded. Soon, Argentinean patrols started appearing in the forest flanking them. Crossfire grew heavy. These four survivors were two carrier pairs who had abandoned their stretchers and ran. They made it to the airstrip, only to be intercepted and captured by an Argentinian squad waiting there. The pilots and their Chilean hosts were nowhere to be found.

Once they shared stories, they pulled together a plan. The five knew there was a powerful radio on their plane. They ripped it out along with some supplies and brought them into the Argentinians’ abandoned truck. Then they drove west. One of them knew a little Spanish. Hopefully, they could find a friendly town with a phone. Failing that, they could reach a nice mountaintop and try the radio. One of them might figure out how to work it by then.

Lawton, at least, was able to relax. Now he had plenty of bullets.

---​

Farm country, west of Gotham City.

Agent King Faraday and Carmine Falcone cruised through the countryside smoking cigars. Faraday drove. Falcone was handcuffed in the passenger seat. They made occasional small talk, but very little. Faraday had a pistol on his hip. There was no doubt of their destination.

Falcone puffed on his cigar. “This is funny. When I was much younger, and the world was large and wild, I often assumed I would die in the clink, or at some cop’s gun. But as I aged, and the world grew small and orderly, that seemed such an empty concern. Fate delivers a mighty punchline, no?”

Agent Faraday shrugged. “I guess.”

“I’m glad they sent you.”

“Yeah?”

“You are interesting. You’ve fought for convictions. A man is no man without scars.”

“Not sure I agree.”

Falcone tapped his cigar out the window. “The most depressing thing about the average person is that half the people are even worse.”

Faraday chuckled.

Falcone said, “You know who I really disdain? Bankers. They are bloodless men. Clever, but little true vision. No steel in their back. A useful cretin is still a cretin, eh? I don’t trust any bank I don’t own.”

“What a nice problem to have.”

“Before I started owning banks, I found other places to put my money. Many years ago, I had made my first fortune. I was young, and being poor was all I knew. So, like a poor child, I stashed the money. Well, most poor children would spend it, but the smart ones, they stash it. That’s what I did: three hundred thousand dollars in greenbacks, another two hundred thousand in bearer bonds, and ten thousand in gold jewelry. I didn’t talk to a broker, no. I hid that treasure with all the suspicion of a little boy with his first nickel. Didn’t tell a soul. If everything fell apart, I could dig up the money and start fresh. Everything transpired to not fall apart, and I made many fortunes afterward. But I never touched that first one.”

“That’s … nice.”

“Here’s what I propose, Agent Faraday. Go to this treasure. It will fit in the trunk of this car. You can pick it up at no risk to yourself, then disappear. I see no ring on your finger; nothing to tie you down. Take the money and go live the life of your dreams.”

Faraday thought of this and asked, “And let you free, I imagine?”

“I would consider that a fair favor.”

“I could take the money and shoot you.”

Falcone nodded. “You could.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

Falcone shook his head. “Some of my colleagues would. Not me.”

“Because you deal straight.”

“Because I deal straight.”

“Might be dangerous leaving you alive. You might decide you don’t like me and hunt me down.”

“I’ve never been angry at a man for doing his job. And I’ll certainly never begrudge someone for not doing his job on my behalf.”

“Maybe. What if I want to keep my job? You showing your face above the dirt would make me look bad. I might end up in your shoes”

“Then keep your job if you like it so much. Do you really think I’d show my head in public when the G-men want it on a platter? I have many friends. They’ll help me act as a ghost. If you tell them I’m dead, I have no reason to ruin the masquerade. You’ll recall that I’m in the vocation of avoiding scrutiny. I’m very good at it.”

Agent Faraday drove in silence for half an hour. Finally, in a too-casual tone, he asked, “Where’s this treasure?”

Falcone was lighting a new cigar. “So we understand each other?”

Faraday took a drag of his own and blew a long trail of smoke. “We’ll see.”

---​

The woodlands of Maryland.

It was well past noon and Amanda Waller hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. Her wine headache had become a hunger headache, which was less sharp but more frightening as it would only get worse. She was too tired and pained to process what had happened to her. There was a real working truth serum? And the Batman had it? On most days she would kill to get her hands on a truth serum, but today she had bigger problems.

She stumbled forward for who knew how long, catching every brier, until eventually the forest ended. She found a road. And in time she found a house. This house had a Confederate battle flag hanging from the porch rail, so she found another house. The residents there welcomed her with a great spirit of hospitality. They shared an early supper and drove her to a post office which had its own phone. She made a mental note that she owed them a favor.

At the post office, Waller called the Admiral. He answered with great relief. Her peers in the clandestine services had been in a panic all day after news spread of a fire at her hotel room and witness reports of her being carried away. Waller kept the details to a minimum, but she explained that she had been kidnapped and released. She could hear the Admiral shouting orders. Men were coming to pick her up. She would be confined for debriefing on the potential security leak of the kidnapping alone, and that was before she admitted she was the victim of possession and later a truth serum. She wouldn’t lie to them. She had become a genuine risk, and they needed her cooperation to plug the enormous hole she had torn in national security. That was all that mattered now.

Still, she would be out of the game indefinitely, perhaps forever. That stung. She would share her opinions, suggesting what the enemy had planned and what countermeasures to take, and they would listen to her, eventually. And they might trust her. But she wouldn’t be in command. She wouldn’t even learn how the story ended; that would be classified.

As Waller waited on a bench in a humble post office, she considered the doomed men she had sent to Argentina. She knew their fates with nigh-prophetic confidence, having designed both sides of the battle. But war was messy; there was always a chance for an upset. This was her last opportunity to hear a report from the front, before her clearance was shredded. She wanted to know. She deserved to know.

Waller called a secret switchboard operator. The operator connected her to a radio-telephone service to South America. At that point Waller wasn’t sure how the system worked but it was a modern marvel. The call was routed by hand several times until somewhere the signal was broadcast via radio at a frequency used by the First Special Platoon’s transport plane by towers along its route. If the radio user on the plane caught the broadcast, he could then respond, causing the process to happen in reverse. She would hear his answer about two minutes after she spoke, and the call would be established.

Waller expected silence. She sat in dull resignation for two minutes.

Then a voice came through, “Uh, what was that?”

Waller almost dropped the handset. “I said, this is Amanda Waller. Who am I speaking with?”

“This is Private Floyd Lawton, ma’am.”

“Lawton! What’s happened? Report.”

Waller thought she heard muttering through the line. Lawton finally responded. “That’s a bit of a story, ma’am.”

“Let’s hear it, Lawton!”

Lawton quickly recounted the day’s events as he knew them, from their assault on the garrison to the overwhelming counterattack and how the five of them escaped. She asked the whereabouts of Captain Trevor. Lawton admitted that he wasn’t sure. Lieutenant Wilson was leading Trevor when the counterattack commenced, then Lawton was focused elsewhere. However, he told Waller that he didn’t have high hopes anyone else made it out. Anyone in that camp was dead meat when the first mortar landed.

Waller processed this news with cold acceptance. She asked Lawton if his band of survivors were armed. He confirmed that they were. Then she asked if they were willing to take one more mission.

Lawton discussed this with his four comrades. Then he got back on the line. “We all want promotions, got it? I want to be a sergeant.”

Waller answered. “Private, pull this off, and I’ll make you a major.”


---​

Somewhere in Argentina.

Captain Steven Trevor woke up in a poor man’s impression of a hospital bed. He was alone in a dim room he didn’t recognize. That was familiar and didn’t bother him. He also woke up with a long, painful cough that shook his guts. That bothered him.

At least he was alive. He liked any day when he woke up on the right side of the dirt. Though pneumonia would be a pretty dismal end for a fighter pilot. He hoped whoever dragged him to safety this time kept a decent medic around.

He took a deep breath and croaked, “Help! Doctor!”

There were voices and footsteps outside. The door opened. A tall, grave Argentine officer walked in carrying a bag.

Steve weakly raised a hand. “Hola.”

The officer closed the door and slid a chair under the knob. “The American is awake. Finally.”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, little help? Un agua, por favor?”

The officer opened a bag and took out a small towel and a roll of tape. Steve watched transfixed as the man stuffed the towel in his own mouth, packing it tightly, then sealing it in by wrapping tape around his head. Then the officer removed a set of handcuffs. There was a iron ring in the wall near Steve’s bed. The officer cuffed his own wrist, fit the open cuff through the ring, then cuffed his other wrist.

Steve wondered whether this was a fever dream. The officer looked calmly at him, standing there after gagging and cuffing himself. He was sure it was a fever dream when the officer began to fade into a mist.

The mist drifted off and coalesced into the shape of a woman. She was small, blonde, and densely tattooed, and she was looking at him like he was a pot roast and she missed dinner.

Steve tried to shift to the far side of the mattress. “Uh, hello.” He noticed that the officer hadn’t disappeared. He was still standing there. Loud moans were coming out of him; they must have been screams without the gag. His eyes were bugged, and the veins on his neck pulsed.

He only had a moment to watch the officer, as the lady with the tattoos leaned over him and cupped his chin. She faded again to mist.

Steve’s mind was too weak to process the next few minutes except that it was a nightmare.

His mind returned and he saw the woman appear from mist again. Now she looked furious.

“Nein!” She slapped Steve across the face.

Steve groggily rubbed his cheek. “Ow.”

“How are you so stupid!” The lady fumed and paced beside his bed. “You must know more. Ja, I will try later. Try deeper.”

“I don’t know what you want, lady, but I’m probably just stupid.”

The lady didn’t respond. She took a key out of the agonized officer’s pocket and opened his handcuffs. Then she faded to mist once again and entered him. His moaning stopped instantly, and his face turned calm. Then he ripped off the tape without a flinch and spat out the towel. He put all his items in his bag and straightened his shirt. The officer moved the chair from the door then exited the room.

Steve heard the door lock from the other side.

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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar » 2018-02-11 05:09pm

She's interested in info on Diana.
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-02-12 03:24pm

Wow. Batman is really paranoid about that golden lasso.

I don't blame him.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-02-13 02:30am

LadyTevar wrote:
2018-02-11 05:09pm
She's interested in info on Diana.
Or on information about Salazar's network for her to take over.
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-02-19 06:21pm

Batman 1939: Swimming In the Styx

Chapter 28: The Styx​


Alabama.

It was evening when the Douglas DC-2 landed. The Gulf of Mexico had been visible during its final descent, but through a window. Wonder Woman had forgotten what it was like to travel by air and arrive while still inside the aircraft. It was a very pleasant experience. Batman had not moved in hours. She presumed he was asleep, though it was impossible to say with much of his face covered. Since they first met, she had been curious whether he had regular human eyes under those white lens. Perhaps those were his eyes. If they ever managed a casual conversation, that would be her first question.

As the DC-2 taxied toward a hanger, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit. He looked ready to speak, but he hesitated when he said that Batman had a cloth wrapped around his mouth. He glanced uncomfortably at Wonder Woman who shrugged. The co-pilot took a step toward Batman and prepared to speak again when Batman suddenly removed the cloth from his head and unbuckled his seatbelt. “What’s wrong?”

The co-pilot was taken aback at this sharp question. “Uh, sorry, we just got word that the next leg of your trip is canceled.”

Batman and Wonder Woman both stood. Batman asked, “Why?”

“We’ve had good men trying to book any flight we can find into Argentina, military or civilian, but no luck. Word’s come out from Buenos Aries that the country’s experiencing some sort of revolution. All Americans have been barred from entering the country, and they’ve grounded all incoming flights indefinitely just in case. No airline in the hemisphere is chartering flights there now, and we’d need orders from the President if you want us to go in their airspace.”

“And you just learned this now?”

“We’ve been trying to figure out a solution half the flight, but we didn’t want to wake you.”

Batman rubbed his jaw. “Could you fly us to Columbia?”

The co-pilot scratched his head. “Sure. Once we refuel. But I’m telling you, no pilot there is going to land in Argentina.”

“Do it.”

“Okay. You’re the boss.” The co-pilot returned to the cockpit, muttering, “Somehow.”

Wonder Woman turned to Batman. “Perhaps Der Wehrwulf has been similarly delayed.”

He shook his head. “The Fascists are behind this flight restriction. If she’s with them, she’ll get through.”

“What are you planning in Columbia?”

Batman crossed his arms. “I have friends in Bogotá who can get us Argentina faster than anyone.”

Wonder Woman looked impressed. “You have friends?”

---​

Bogotá, Columbia.

It was after midnight when the DC-2 landed in Columbia. Batman and Wonder Woman took clothes from the plane into the small airport’s restrooms. They emerged from their respective restroom at the same time, nodded mutually, and left.

Both carried a bag. Batman wore large aviator sunglasses, a blue suit, matching gloves, and a white panama hat. If he had difficulty seeing at night through sunglasses, she didn’t notice. Diana was impressed that the outfit managed to cover nearly the same portion of the man as his caped costume. It only jeapordized his nose, and it wasn’t a remarkable nose. Meanwhile, she wore a blouse and skirt in pastel reds, almost in a proper size. It wasn’t from her bag; the variety of fine women’s outfits stored in the military craft was nothing short of astounding.

Batman led her to a street car which brought them to a fruit market. Tucked off the main avenue was a restaurant that was lit inside but closed for the night. He entered through a rear door into a large kitchen in the late stages of the nightly cleanup. The chefs stared at them but said nothing. They walked to a staircase leading down, but it was blocked by a surly teenager in a gaudy yellow suit.

The teenager eyed him and Diana and puffed out his chest. Batman asked in capable Spanish, “Is Abuela home?”

Diana was as surprised by this as the boy, as Batman’s voice hadn’t merely turned Spanish but smoother and friendly.

The boy growled. “Who wants to know?”

Batman smiled. “Forgive me. Tell her Esteban Bacardi is in town.”

The teenager sniffed and rubbed his nose. “Wait.” He eyed them both again, then stomped down the stairs.

Diana eventually looked at Batman. “Esteban Bacardi? Is that your true name?”

“It’s one name.”

“Are you from here?”

“I’ve visited.”

“Who is Abuela?”

“Hopefully our ticket south.”

“From a chef?”

“Consider the restaurant her side job.”

Before Diana could ask more, the teenager returned. He told them to leave their bags and beckoned them down. The dim basement was much livelier than the restaurant above. Men and women gambled at round tables. In the center was a cockfight surrounded by spectators. The teenager led them to the end of this room where a curtain and two grim men isolated one corner.

One of the men began to pat her down. Diana’s eyes grew large and her fingers bent into claws, but Batman shot her a stern look. She gave him a furious glare in return but resisted the urge to remove the offending man’s arm. When he was finished, he patted Batman down as well, then opened the curtain. Inside was a old woman in a sequined pink gown fit for a stage diva. She stood over a short desk counting money and pecking at an old adding machine.

Batman coughed into his fist. “Abuela.”

The woman looked up and smiled. “Esteban!” She circled the desk and scurried over in very tall heels. Batman leaned over and she kissed both his cheeks. She looked aside at Diana. “And you’ve found a Mrs. Bacardi. I was sure I’d need to marry you off myself.”

Diana stared at them in blunt disbelief. Abuela remarked, “A good bit too tall, but I suppose that can’t be helped. And she needs some food in her, this one.”

Batman gently said, “Abuela, we need a favor.”

Abuela snickered and waved them both to seats inside. “Always to business. What can I do for you?”

“I have a meeting in Argentina.”

“I heard they aren’t showing much hospitality today. You’ll need to go on foot, Esteban. But don’t worry,” she placed her hand regally on her chest. “Abuela can recommend a guide!”

“No. I’m in a hurry, Abuela. I need to get in by air.”

“Then you might as well have a meeting on the moon.”

“The plane only needs to fly over. They don’t need to land there. I’ll parachute in.”

Abuela whistled and slapped her knees. “This is quite a meeting then.”

“It is. Do you still know that outfit in Santiago?”

“I do. They might have a stupid-enough pilot.”

“Name your price.”

“Oy, Esteban.” She came around the desk and kissed his cheek again. “Seeing you finally settle down is payment enough.” She rubbed Diana’s stomach. “But I want to see babies next time, understand?”

---​

An hour later, Batman and Diana were flying to a layover in Peru.

After saying very little for an hour, Diana finally asked, “When she said-”

Batman exhaled uncomfortably. “I apologize for that. You won’t need to see her again.”

“It was a mild offense. Is she-”

“She’s an old friend, but she can be …”

“Too friendly?”

“Delusional. ”

“Oh. Are all people who show care for you delusional?”

“She doesn’t care for me, she cares for a fiction. In that sense, yes.”

Diana considered this. “Do you have many fictions?”

“Just enough.”

---​

Gotham City. GCPD Third Division Headquarters.

The convoy to ferry Arturo Bertinelli to the border was a show of force not seen in the GCPD since the Vendettas. Detective Arnold Flass and six of his most trusted officers would drive north, taking a lead car, a van, and a tail car. Their arrangement was modest compared to some high-profile prisoner transports in the old days which stretched five vehicles or longer. But the war was over. Their trip had the clear blessings of the Families, and no credible force in Gotham would attack a project that City Hall and the Families both endorsed.

Except maybe the Batman. But folk wisdom agreed that if Batman was sure to tolerate one activity, it was a prisoner transport.

There was a staircase and two halls between Bertinelli’s cell and the Division garage. These were cleared of all staff, then Flass’ team formed a human ring around their prisoner – a wall of crisp blue uniforms around his frayed inmate’s cottons - and marched him out. That vicious Bertinelli reputation had not been forgotten. The Family had always been the most openly violent of the Four Families, especially to the police, and especially when cornered. Over the years, four officers had been hospitalized and two killed by Bertinellis trying to escape custody. Arguably the most genius feature of the Peace of Falcone was getting the cops and the Bertinellis to a truce.

Under this cloud of animosity, Detective Flass had been picked to lead the convoy because he had a reputation for finishing dirty work. He wouldn’t let grudges or scruples or sympathies distract him. And his boys would follow his lead. Joining Flass’ crew was one of the juiciest positions for an ambitious young officer in the GCPD. It was the fast track to fame and promotions, since Flass had his pick of prestige jobs across the city, and it was a stunning doorway to riches, as Flass ran protection like no other cop.

Arturo Bertinelli reached the Third Division garage and was secured in the back of the van. The van’s rear compartment was a steel box with two benches on the walls. There was one small window covered in a thick grille, and the door was locked from the outside. Bertinelli was already handcuffed, and these were chained to ankle shackles once he found his seat, and the shackle chains were fastened to the bottom of the bench.

Then Arturo’s only companion for the trip took his own seat on the opposite bench. Officer Leonard MacKenzie was one of very few young men who could stroll into Flass’ crew without so much as a ‘please’. His uncle was the Commissioner, and his success was preordained. MacKenzie was a big meaty kid who outweighed the trim Arturo by at least forty pounds. He had a body made for shoving matches. Prisoner escort was right up his alley. And MacKenzie was eager to do it. Even Family cast-offs like Arturo had a morbid mystique for cops, especially those too young to have served in the Vendettas. Riding in the van was the most desired role in the convoy.

The garage door opened, and the convoy moved out onto the streets. It would be a ten hour trip to their rendezvous at the border, and they would only make only two stops for nature. Bertinelli was told this last night with a laughing suggestion to go easy on the water, since they wouldn’t make a third.

The pair stared at each other until the convoy reached the turnpike north. Bertinelli’s bored face said nothing. MacKenzie’s little sneer said enough. It said he knew Arturo was a scrapper. MacKenzie had heard the stores. How the Bertinellis always went down fighting. And maybe Arturo was dangerous back in the day, at least for a featherweight. But it knew Arturo was over the hill. And it said MacKenzie didn’t need the billy club on his lap or the revolver at his hip, even if Arturo was out of those chains, he would rip that mustache off Arturo’s little olive face and beat him with it. It said that might be fun.

Bertinelli didn’t care. Tough guys had sneered at him since he learned to walk. This one was uglier than most, with his pug face and beady eyes, but that was all. Bertinelli had greater concerns. His cousin had shown no mercy. There would be no keys under his mattress. No looking the other way. They would take him to Canada and put him in prison. He might get out on good behavior in his lifetime, but good behavior had never been his strength. No, they couldn’t put him in a cage. He would cut this short one way or another. He thought of Marie.

---​

Chile.

Diana discovered upon arriving in Chile that the ‘Santiago outfit’ was an organization of wool smugglers. They usually operated by sea, but kept a few small aircraft handy for special orders. The existence of such vast and sophisticated wool smuggling implied volumes about the laws, markets, and sheep of Man’s World which Diana had never suspected.

Amanda Waller had revealed that Steve Trevor had been taken from a Argentine border outpost in the southern Valdivian rain forests by Fascist insurrectionists. Waller had witnessed evidence that Steve’s new captors planned to bring him east to the port city of Río Gallegos. The city was a major base of the Argentine Navy, and the Fascists planned to take it as a major step in their military coup. The Navy was believed to be staunch Loyalists, so Waller predicted that Río Gallegos wouldn’t submit without a fight.

Batman, in his infuriating calm, had taken that as good news.

Diana asked him how.

Batman responded that Steve would be caught in a war zone.

Diana again questioned how that was good news.

He explained that the Fascists would be easy to find, as battles were loud, conspicuous affairs and typically stationary when one side was a city. Even better, an army at the front lines was focused on the front lines. Their sides and rear would have less security.

The smugglers did have a pilot who was willing to enter Argentine airspace for Esteban Bacardi once they discovered he was offering fifty thousand Chilean pesos for their trouble. Diana wondered whether he had taken that money from the DC-2’s supplies or whether Estaban had the foresight to carry a bounty in Chilean pesos all the way from Gotham.

Shortly before leaving, Batman retreated to a storeroom in the smuggler’s compound and returned properly as Batman – cape and cowl and white lens all in place.

He met Diana alone in the small mess hall. To his surpise, she was still in pastel reds. “You better go change.”

“Indeed.” Diana held her arms out to her sides, made a quarter-turn and began to spin. She turned like a top, faster and faster. On her third turn, there was a flash of groovy technicolor light and in Diana's place stood Wonder Woman.

Batman stared at her tight lipped.

She returned his stare proudly, hands on hips. “Now we are ready.”

Batman stared a moment longer then walked out of the room.

Their hosts weren’t actually in Santiago; they were well south of the city, which was useful, as Río Gallegos was even more southerly still, further south than all but a few settlements on the planet. They were headed for barren, cold country, an ocean on one side and low hills and glaciers on the other. Fortunately, they would be arriving at night; the dark would provide concealment where the landscape didn’t. Batman was nearly certain that neither side in the battle would have anti-air weapons, but if they did, that further justified traveling by night.

As the aircraft neared their jump coordinates, Batman and Wonder Woman donned parachutes. They could hear muffled explosions far below. He had asked earlier whether she had used a parachute before. She admitted that she had not, but assured him that it really didn’t matter. He accepted her assurance. Before jumping, Wonder Woman picked up her bag. Batman seemed to wrestle with some private uncertainty, then he stepped in front of her. “We agreed no killing.”

Wonder Woman nodded. “Certainly. I will honor that as-”

He crossed his arms. “Diana, I know about the sword.”

The surprise broke her next words words into incoherence. Finally, she sputtered, “The bag was never out of my sight!”

“It was. Several times.”

“You spied on my possessions?”

Batman sounded tired. “Yes. Resent me. But first tell me how you use a sword without killing.”

Wonder Woman looked away then looked back at him. “You don’t.”

“Leave it here, Diana. Please.”

Wonder Woman opened her bag and removed the sword. “No. I will not.”

“What could you do with a sword that you couldn’t do with your hands?”

She flicked the blade upward. It spun twice in the air, inches from their faces. She raised one hand with two fingers extended, and the sword landed across her fingers like the pivot of a seesaw, keeping balanced. “Such innocence.” She dropped her fingers and caught the weapon by the grip again. “If one day you have the fortune to see the sword arts of the Amazons, you will never ask this question.”

“I won’t fight beside a killer.”

She looked at him curiously. “Would you stay on the plane? To retreat after coming this far for a righteous cause?”

“I’ll be acting for a righteous cause.”

She inspected the sword’s fine edge. “Your convictions are so neatly ordered. Do you never suffer doubt?”

“I never doubt the evil of welcoming death.”

The pilot shouted from the cockpit, “Prepárate! It is time!”

Wonder Woman told Batman, “I seek to cause no harm, but battle is chaos. What if the moment comes when I must take a life to save Steve Trevor? Or you? You would deny me this option?”

They heard the pilot shout again, “Vayáis! Ahora! Get out!”

Wonder Woman pulled open the cabin’s sliding door. A rush of frigid air pulled at them. The sound of explosions below was clear. She looked at expectantly.

Batman stood rigid. “It’s never an option.”

Wonder Woman grit her teeth and cursed. “This is nigh-heresy. May Hera spare her wrath.” And with that, she tossed the sword to the far end of the cabin, plunging the blade through a seat.

A fighter craft sped overhead, raking them with machine gun fire. Two lines of brilliant tracers cut the dark sky. Their wing cracked and split with a tremendous noise, and the plane flipped. Wonder Woman was ejected into the void. Batman slammed against the ceiling. The plane spiraled as it dropped out of the sky. Batman struck another wall then bounced out the open door.

---​

The State of Gotham.

The GCPD convoy made its first stop late that morning at a diner on the turnpike. Artruo Bertinelli was let out of his ankle shackles and allowed to stand. He declined to use the outhouse on the property. The cops in his escort relieved themselves or took a smoke break as the convoy’s engines cooled. Radiators could only do so much under the August sun, and Lord help the cop whose ride breaks down during prisoner transport.

After a wait in the fresh air, Bertinelli was led back into the van and his restraints. Before the door closed, a policeman handed him and Officer MacKenzie bagged lunches. They set off down the road again, and MacKenzie quickly tore into his bag. He was a sloppy eater, demolishing half a corned beef sandwich and starting on a can of peanuts.

Bertinelli didn’t have much of an appetite today, and seeing this didn’t help. Still, he opened his bag and found a ham and cheese sub in wax paper. He shrugged, unwrapped the paper, and took a bite. This nearly broke his tooth. Bertinelli flinched. He glanced across the compartment, but Officer Mackenzie hadn’t noticed, being too busy with the second half of his sandwich. Bertinelli glanced back down. The sub’s bread and meat had fallen apart at the bite mark, revealing a sharp metal tip sticking through some cheese.

It was dim in the back of the van; even so close to noon, that little window offered little light. Still, Bertinelli tried to mask his excitement. He casually lowered the sub back into the paper bag and pulled out the metal. It was a screwdriver, the blade just under five inches long, hand-sharpened to a fine point. He’d seen his share of these. Bertinelli slipped the screwdriver into his sleeve, taking care to not make noise rubbing against his handcuffs. He quickly took another bite of the sub, struggling to look normal. He could hide the handle so long as he kept his wrist bent, though the point pressed painfully into his skin. He just had to act casual.

When Bertinelli was nearly finished eating, he noticed a white paper note at the bottom of his bag.

It read: RUN AT 2ND STOP. FRIENDS WILL HELP.

Bertinelli read this note four times then ate it. He put the empty bag aside and rested his hands on his lap, carefully hiding the screwdriver in his sleeve. He pretended to take a nap, hardly resisting to smile. He thought of Marie.

---​

Río Gallegos, Argentina.

Wonder Woman tumbled through the freezing air a minute before wresting some control from the elements. When her feet pointed down, she pulled the cord on her parachute and felt an fierce tug under her armpits. The horizon stopped spinning, and she saw the land laid under the moon like a table map.

Río Gallegos lay a mile ahead. Flashes along the streets gave a fair impression of its design. It was small, hardly a city, but it had a city-sized harbor. She recognized several hulking warships at dock. One was out at sea, and it occasionally fired back at land. Its shells were the largest munitions in the battle, and their detonations dwarfed the little pops of other weapons of the field. Some distance from the city’s edge was a long, narrow camp. Grids of small artillery flashed from its corners. A few aircraft buzzed around the scene, though she couldn’t discern their intentions.

Wonder Woman knew from experience that falling out of a plane meant wind, but she was surprised how much stronger the wind was here than near other planes she had fallen from, and how far the wind caused her parachute to drift. She wished to land at the camp, but she realized she was floating toward the city.

Wonder Woman finally landed in a cobblestone alley. One foot touched the ground, then a gust picked up and carried her sideways against a wooden fence, the parachute acting as a great sail. Now both feet touched the ground, but another gust whistled the other direction, knocking her into a house. Finally, she slipped her arms from the straps and watched the parachute fly away like an errant kite. She rested on her knees a moment then rose to her feet. Orange lights touched the sky here and there, but the street was dark. There was not a single lantern in the windows. Wonder Woman saw the outline of a church tower and ventured toward it, seeking the high vantage point. She soon found the church on the other side of a public square with some icy trees in the center. As she was crossing, a mortar lanced from above and struck a tree, igniting it.

Wonder Woman shielded her face from the blast. When she dared to look, she saw the burning tree made a strong glow throughout the square. In its light she noticed a strange piece of debris on the cobblestones.

It was a seat from an aircraft, and lodged in the center was her sword.

---​

Batman woke with his face submerged in icy water. He tried to move, but his muscles were hot for lack of oxygen, and his body was wrapped in heavy cloth like a mummy. He wanted to thrash but resisted the urge. Instead, he produced a batarang and began to cut, methodically carving holes for his arms, then he shimmied and swam out of the cloth.

He found himself on the surface of a river shallow enough that he could stand. Membranes of ice floated around him. He was forty yards from shore. The cloth – his parachute – quickly sunk. When he reached shore and sensation began to return to his extremities, he learned that his ankle was broken and he had strained muscles in his back and neck. A concussion felt likely. He remembered having been thrown around the crashing airplane. He couldn’t have been struck unconscious; he wouldn’t have opened his parachute. It must have been the cold. Fortunately, his boots were thick: he could walk on a broken ankle. His other wounds were distractions for now.

There were no landmarks around, save the sounds of battle in the distance. He walked to steep-walled gully at the foot of the nearest hill. It was a meager hideaway but better than nothing. He started a fire on the wet stones with kindling from a kit. He then laid on his side and curled around the fire, warming his suit. He fed the fire with torn-up fistfuls of grass which gave off harsh smoke but kept it going. He faded again to sleep.

When he woke again, the fire was out. He was being poked in the back by something sharp. Someone rolled him over. There were two men above him with rifles. They were debating whether he was dead. Batman’s left hand was covered by the fold of his cape. He dipped it into his belt and pulled out a small glass capsule. He closed his eyes and flicked it at one man’s chest. The little capsule shattered, producing a tremendous flash. Both men stumbled over, blinded. It was one of the most simple weapons Batman carried, essentially a zirconium flashbulb from a camera. A point blank flash at night would be like staring at the sun through a good telescope.

Batman rose and threw one man hard to the ground. Then he picked up his dropped rifle, removed the bolt, tossed the bolt, and plunged the rifle bayonet-down, pinning the man into the gravel of the gully by spearing through the gap in his bandoleer. The other man was stumbling around, clutching his face. Batman grabbed him by the arm and neck and marched him away.

In the moonlight, Batman recognized a military uniform. After they traveled a ways, Batman tried to interrogate the soldier but it wasn’t much use. The information he needed most was directions, and the soldier couldn’t offer directions blind. Batman let him go.

He hiked to the top of the hill toward the sounds of battle.

---​

The State of Gotham.

It was a hot afternoon when the GCPD convoy slowed for its second stop. Arturo Bertinelli was still pretending to sleep. Officer Leonard MacKenzie was struggling to stay awake. The air was stale in the van. MacKenzie had long ago unbuttoned his collar and was fanning his flushed face with his hat.

They both felt the van turn onto a rocky side road. Officer MacKenzie quickly buttoned his collar and pulled on his hat. He saw Bertinelli was still asleep. “You! Up and at ‘em!”

Bertinelli didn’t move. Officer MacKenzie leaned forward and rapped Bertinelli’s shin with his billy club. “Hey!”

Bertinelli gently flinched, but his eyes stayed closed, and his head sank against his shoulder.

Officer MacKenzie stood up from his bench and stepped forward, grabbing Bertinelli by the shoulder. He felt a pain deep and low in his gut. He hardly had time to see Bertinelli – eyes wide open – pull something out from under his ribs when he felt it again. MacKenzie let go and tried to move back, but Bertinelli had seized his belt. He rose up and stabbed him through the collar, nicking his throat. MacKenzie struck him across the face with his club. Bertinelli folded under the blow, nose and mouth bloodied. MacKenzie clubbed him again in the spine and arm, but he began to feel faint, and his next swing missed. His shirt was warm and wet. Bertinelli, bent over in his seat, hugged MacKenzie around the waist and stabbed anything he could reach in a wild attack, tearing into his hips and lower back and everything around. MacKenzie clubbed Bertinelli in the back of the head as he collapsed onto the bench next to him. Bertinelli was stunned; his vision faded. There was a concerned shout from the driver, but Bertinelli couldn’t understand.

When his vision returned, he saw that Officer MacKenzie wasn’t moving. They were both slathered in blood. Bertinelli had trouble moving his shoulders. He took a deep breath and pulled the revolver from the officer’s belt holster. The chain securing his handcuffs and ankle shackles to the bench had only a little slack. Still, he managed to grasp it so a few loose inches stuck out of his fist. He held the barrel of the revolver against this loose chain like he was lining a hammer against a nail. He fired.

The bullet ricocheted twice around the steel compartment and hit him high in the back. Arturo Bertinelli cried out, but pain only pushed him forward. The chain had snapped. He crawled toward the door. There was yelling outside, through the gunshot had deafened what little hearing he had after his beating. He thought of Marie. A lock turned. The door opened.

Brilliant sunlight came in. Bertinelli fired twice into the light. He rolled out the door, landing roughly on his feet. But when he looked out, he didn’t see friends. He didn’t see a rescue. He saw lots of cops pointing pieces at him and screaming.

He lifted his revolver. The world turned bright.

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-02-19 10:40pm

Well, that's a loose end depressingly tied up.

Probably not a good day to be Detective Flass, though.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 162
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-03-17 10:54pm

Batman 1939: Swimming In the Styx

Chapter 29: The Vergency
Río Gallegos, Argentina.

Batman wasn’t a military analyst. He didn’t schedule time to study cannon calibers and navel tonnage and which battalions used what boot polish. His passion, at its most distilled, was to protect his neighbors from his other neighbors: local, civilian problems with local, civilian solutions. Most criminals lacked the war chest for actual war, and he paid good taxes to delegate those to other people.

Still, Batman was a know-it-all. Indeed, he had been a know-it-all before he became Batman He drank knowledge like a storm drain in a flood and then inferred the world from scratch. Batman wasn’t a military analyst, but his galaxy of ideas was usually comprehensive enough to infer cannon calibers and navel tonnage and boot polish from other trivia.

In this way, when Batman reached the windswept Patagonian hilltop outside the city of Río Gallegos, he looked down at a small Army siege camp and guessed confidently at its equipment and doctrine. Knowing that an army was Latin American and subtropic and wealthy and schooled by German advisors was as descriptive as knowing that a painting was Pointillist or that a building was Neoclassical – it brought probabilities into much clearer focus.

From Batman’s distant hilltop, their site appeared as shadows, but Batman was fluent in shadows. He could see this camp was a rushed affair, more an unpacked baggage train than a finished encampment. Perhaps the Fascists had expected only token resistance to take the city; they may not have planned to stop at all. He guessed they housed two or three companies of men. Given the field of trucks in the rear, at least one company was motorized. He saw a few aircraft parked there as well. There was also a screen of light artillery flanking both ends of camp. Batman doubted how useful those aircraft would be at night, though he acknowledged that he had nearly drowned thanks to one of them.

Thoughts of that plummet reminded him of Diana. When Batman had staggered nearly-frozen out of the river, he briefly feared for her life. But those loose emotions were soon replaced with skepticism at whether she was even in danger. Diana had suggested that falling out of an aircraft wasn’t a concern, and it sounded like she spoke from experience. What could threaten her then? The cold? The biting atmosphere would be miserable on her bare arms and calves, but windchill wouldn’t be the end of her. Batman was no closer to explaining what material exactly she was composed of, but he swore that if they ever met again, he would steal a hair or skin flake to take back to his microscope. He didn’t expect that reunion would be anytime soon: the winds could have carried them ten miles apart.

Batman decided that worrying about her now was a luxury. The cold numbed his strained muscles, but he still felt tired and nauseous. Lying prone, continued to inspect the siege camp through binoculars. He noticed that among the slapdash lean-tos were permanent buildings. The camp had been built around a village. They would use genuine buildings for a planning rooms, field hospitals, and most importantly, holding cells.

It occurred that Batman that he could leave. Even on a broken ankle, he could retreat before dawn. He had no pragmatic reasons to stay, and whatever vows he had sworn were, if not expired, at least brought into doubt. But if he went forward, he might obstruct a fascist insurgency that would mutilate thousands and oppress millions. There was justice in that. Nuanced, speculative justice of uncertain utility, but justice nonetheless. Or, if not justice, perhaps an even more ambitious virtue, altruism. It was hard to argue that the group lobbing artillery shells at their own citizens weren’t the bad guys.

And in the process he might save a man from cruel, semi-justified captivity. That was something.

---​

Capitán Mateo Vega commanded the the 7th Rifle Company, the vanguard of the assault on Río Gallegos. Capitán Vega was known as a responsible, brave officer, so he had expected more consideration when he pled to delay their attack until morning. His ranks were thinned from the bloody fight at Rio Apiculata. A mishandled assault here might doom the campaign, and support fire at night would be worse than useless (if artillery and aircraft were any good in the near-polar winds to begin with). But Coronel Romero had been fanatical, accepting no delay. He would capture Río Gallegos before the fleet at anchor could escape. With that fleet half the country would be firmly in their hands.

Capitán Vega’s 7th Company and what remained of the 5th had spent much of the day struggling to break through the city’s outer fortifications. They finally entered in the late evening, and the enemy line had since been pushed back to a rough arc around the naval base. Save for a few pockets cut off elsewhere, Vega’s men had the run of the city, and he was starting to believe the mission might end neatly.

But he couldn’t rest. Both sides shared a uniform, and skirmishes popped up so suddenly in the dark that combatants were tripping over each other. In such conditions, the battle could turn against them any minute. Capitán Vega felt it prudent to place extra security around his own post. Some infernally lucky band of locals might stumble across him even now. The center of that security was Manfried. Five of the Germanic giants had been attached to 7th Company. If they had ranks or surnames, these were not shared with Capitán Vega. They had arrived with their own armor and weapons and enough pidgin Spanish to take orders. Vega and the other commanders were still experimenting with the right way to deploy their large guests in combat. Vega’s plan wast to embed them equally among his platoons as regular infantry, but some of his peers were using them in special teams or even as bodyguards.

Vega was inspired by this last idea and kept Manfried in reserve tonight. The pale, enormously-muscular man had been shot in the leg and the jaw in the attack on Rio Apiculata. His leg hadn’t fully healed, and half his mouth was still missing, but otherwise it had been an extraordinary recovery. Now Manfried stood at attention, indifferent to whatever pain a man felt with most of his teeth absent.

The Capitán’s command post was a small schoolhouse well behind the front line. As the Capitán studied his maps, there was a desperate knocking at the door. Manfried opened it. An exhausted young soldier entered and saluted. The young man tried twice to report, but each time he had to stop to catch his breath.

Capitán Vega watched impatiently. “What is it?”

The soldier finally answered, “Capitán, the south bridge is lost! Our squad is in retreat!”

Capitán Vega was outraged. “The Communist gangsters have pushed south! How many men did they send?”

“None, sir!”

“What!”

There was yelling and the rapid pop of rifle fire outside. The young soldier dived to the floor and cried, “She’s here!”

The Capitán growled and picked up a rifle from a table. “Out!”

He rushed from the room, with Manfried and his other guards and assistants close behind.

The command post was one of the few illuminated sites in the city. Lanterns had been hung in the schoolhouse windows and from the eaves of surrounding buildings. The four men posted in the street were firing at something at the hazy edge of the lamp glow. Capitán Vega watched several rounds spit downrange. A few caused a flash of sparks like struck flint followed by the hollow sound of a ricochet. The Capitán peered ahead as his eyes adjusted to the night. The wind picked up, making the lanterns swing and casting the target into view.

It was a tall woman in a metal swimsuit. She approached at a brisk walk and carried a sword with its edge smeared black. All the men opened fire. The woman moved her arms. It must have been a trick of the light, but no one could track the motion between her initial and final poses. A blink, and suddenly her forearms were across her chest, then a blink, and they covered her face, then a blink, and she had turned to the side.

As she grew close, the soldiers could see her grim smile. Two threw stick grenades. These tumbled through the air. One went high, but the woman kicked up like a line dancer and punted the grenade skyward. The other landed short. Two seconds later, it detonated.

The blast knocked her off her feet, a peppering of shrapnel sunk in her skin and clothes. The men continued to fire. She curled tight and tried to stand, continuing to deflect bullets with her free arm. But she missed one which struck her in the leg, and she fell over again. Another round struck her armored ribs. Most of the rifles ran empty then, and the men paused to reload. One soldier tossed another grenade instead. With uncanny speed, the woman rolled to a knee, snatched the grenade out of the air, and tossed it back.

The men scattered. Most dodged the blast, but Manfried was slow and toppled to the ground. Now the woman was on her feet. She found her sword and sprinted forward. Some men stood their ground and finished reloading, but many ran. Capitán Vega shouted for them to come back, but it was no use. He gave up and started climbing to the roof of the schoolhouse.

The woman reached the nearest soldier with a flying kick that shot him into a wall. Two others nearby turned to fire, but she flipped over their heads and cut both mid-leap with a swing of her sword. A forth soldier, several paces away, gave up on fumbling with his rifle and went for his pistol. The woman was quicker, but instead of a pistol, she drew a golden lasso and snapped it from the hip. The lasso loop caught the soldier, pinning his arms to his side, and she tugged hard. He flew towards her until she intercepted his chest with her blade.

Capitán Vega reached the schoolhouse roof and started to unsling his rifle. The woman caught sight of him silhouetted against the moon. She picked up the dropped pistol at her feet, and, with a horrendously incorrect grip, fired. Capitán Vega flinched as pistol rounds licked past him. Then the fire stopped. Vega realized every single round had missed. He and woman stared at each other for a moment. She glanced at the pistol, still trying to pull its trigger. He shouldered his rifle and fired.

Three bullets struck the woman in the chest. They bounced off her shining armor but knocked her backward. Before she steadied herself, she was grabbed from behind. Manfried was standing again, He swiftly lifted her up and whipped her into the ground. She landed on her back, and he straddled her and seized her throat. She reached up and grabbed his throat as well. Both squeezed.

To their mutual surprise, neither neck broke. However, both Manfried and the woman began to wheeze and their faces turned red. Manfried gave up first. He released her throat and tried to pry away her hands. The woman felt his imbalance and rolled him over. She picked up her sword and brought it down at his face, Manfried caught the blade barehanded and pinned her arm in a wrestler’s lock. She didn’t expect this and fell forward. He leaned into the lock, pressing hundreds of pounds against her shoulder joint.

Her arm felt like it would snap off, but then the pressure disappeared. She twisted away and saw that he was cradling the bloodied hand. There was a large, ugly cut across the palm, nearly bisecting it. The sword had also grazed his arm, and that long gash was shedding blood as well. He tried to grab her once more, but she caught his bad arm, tucked her sword around, and finished the job.

Wonder Woman finally stood. She saw no men around: all were slain or fled. She wiped her sword on the giant man’s pant leg and continued onward, picking shrapnel out of her skin.

---​

The motor pool behind the Fascist camp had, near its center, a stacked pyramid of fuel drums. Though the camp was surrounded by sentries, manpower was at a premium, and command was sure that the enemy was bottled in the city and amateurs to boot. Consequently, the night watch along the rear of the camp was thin and less than attentive. However, when the stacked pyramid of fuel drums near the center of their motor pool caught fire, they noticed. This instant bonfire reached high into the night, a star come to earth.

Some men thought that the drums had been struck by a shell from the distant navel cannons. Others disputed this, claiming they would have heard a blast. Regardless, much of the camp dropped their tasks and sprung to action, moving parked trucks and storage crates before they too ignited from the million embers on the wind. No one bothered attempting to extinguish the fire; it was far too large, but a few men did check around it for anyone injured. The motor pool was thought deserted, but someone might have been passing through.

Those brave searchers found no one injured by the fire, but their search took time and news passed slowly to the rest of camp. Meanwhile, a hunched figure draped in a soot-stained cloak hobbled into camp. He used a stick for a crutch and wore an enlisted man’s cap, and his hands and face were wrapped in sooty bandages. Some men racing for the fire stopped to aid him, but he begged them to pass by. He could walk, he said, and there were those hurt far worse still caught near the flames.

Eventually, this bandaged figure neared the commandeered village in the camp’s center. There were more guards stationed here, guards who hadn’t run to help with the fire. The figure slowly circled to the far side of the village, opposite the fire which cast a blinding glare even here. The light worked to his advantage here, offering a wealth of shadows and ruining the night vision of those ahead. Working through the shadows, he reached a one-room cottage on the periphery and found the door unlocked.

The room was dark. An officer snored in a dirty bed, half-undressed. The figure quietly removed his cap and pulled the bandages down his face. It was Batman. He found a flask from the floor. It sloshed, half-full. Batman crept to the officer’s side. In a motion, he smothered the man’s mouth and nose with a hand and poured water over his face. The officer woke immediately and struggled to free himself, shaking and punching, but Batman’s grip was iron. Batman dropped the flask and carefully placed his other hand around the officer’s throat. He released the officer’s mouth. The officer drew breath and tried to yell, but Batman used this delay to carefully tighten his grip on the officer’s throat, silencing the cry.

Batman leaned in close and demanded to know where the prisoners were kept. The officer resisted. He hissed that Batman was a communist and a degenerate radical and a Jew, and that the gallows was too good for him. But Batman was persistent and eventually earned the answer he wanted. He took a syringe from his belt and pricked the officer’s arm, delivering a sedative. Batman waited to see its effect, then pulled on his cap and bandages. He exited the cottage, visible for a moment in the hot light of the bonfire, and disappeared.

Batman had expected that if the camp did have stockades, they were likely in one of the larger stone or brick buildings, structures with several rooms, or even better, a basement, that could be fashioned as cells. His expectations proved true. The officer confessed that the camp did hold one prisoner, and he was locked away in the cellars under the largest building around, an old brewery. Furthermore, the camp commander, Coronel Romero, had decreed that no one but himself was to visit the prisoner.

Batman found the brewery easily enough. Its main hall was the camp’s busy headquarters. Batman found a secluded spot across from the brewery and studied the patterns of the occupants. He considered infiltration routes, but he was distracted by a dizzying rush of nausea. This tempered him, and he decided to hold back. Batman was certain that the initial panic around the fire had turned to suspicion: the camp would be hunting infiltrators. No, he would wait for the heat to die down.

---​

When Wonder Woman had fallen from her plane, she had judged that the edge of Río Gallegos was perhaps four miles from the invader’s camp. She had neared that edge, facing west over that crater-pocked road when she saw the flame. A column of light appeared ahead, lifting to the heavens, casting shadows that stretched acres. In an instant, she recalled the Batman’s predilection for fire, and she felt no doubt. Yes! Yes, he had survived. Of course he had. Wonder Woman grinned, flush with battle. It was the grin of a predator joined by her pack. It was cathartic and eager. The Amazons praised the glory of war, yet her kind had not fought a man in centuries. Endless young warriors grew old yearning for glory they could never touch. But tonight, if the shackled passion of ten generations could be freed in one heart, Wonder Woman felt it released in hers.

Wonder Woman pressed on, hindered but not mightily by the wounds in her legs. Some minutes later, a column of fresh soldiers approached on the road. Most came on foot, but they followed a line of vehicles whose headlights found her at a far distance. Voices called at her to move. She walked forward. A warning shot hit the dust at her feet. Her walk sped to a run. Orders were yelled, and a row of guns barked but failed to slow her. Reaching a sprint, she hopped over the hood of the lead truck, crashing headfirst through the windshield and landing on the driver. She disposed of him and tore through the cabin’s rear to the bed of the truck where twelve men sat. The rearmost eight scrambled out onto the dirt, but the first four weren’t quick enough.

Now the other trucks and cars were swerving off the road to make space, and their passengers rushed out to join the others on foot. As Wonder Woman engaged the nearest foes, a line of soldiers near the end of the column began to set up machine guns. She hacked through the panicked crowd as she came, causing five to scatter from her path for every one she slew. Gunfire buzzed from all directions now, straining her reflexes. She saw the machine guns a moment before they attacked. Two jets of metal spit at her. With extraordinary speed, she kept the jets at bay for an entire second, then bullets began to slip through her guard. Her chest and legs were sprayed, each round pounding like a hot hammer. Then two large rounds hit her forehead and nose, and she tumbled to the ground blind.

Another round hit her arm as she lay, but only by luck. The night was still dark this far from the bonfire. The gunners’ aim was hindered by the flash of their own weapons, and they were reluctant to hunt too wildly for a target when their comrades lined the road just beyond. Wonder Woman headed this respite and crawled through her pain into the grass. She rested here, cowed by the fiery welts in her face. She heard soldiers dare each other to search the grass. Most refused.

When her mind unfogged, she saw that she was near a car. Wonder Woman crawled further until she was only paces away. An older soldier stood outside the car snarling into a radio handset. There was a lively madness in his eyes. She continued close, almost close enough to strike, but his nerves made him keen, and he spotted her. As she stood, he reached into the car and pulled out a fat pistol. Wonder Woman prepared to protect herself, but he pointed the weapon skyward and fired a flare. Its cool red light arced across the stars, making the landscape clear for fifty yards around.

Of course, Wonder Woman’s sword cut open the old soldier before the flare reached its apogee, but it was too late for her to stop it. Under the sudden light, a dozen rifles turned to her and fired, now with commendable accuracy. She sprinted away from the road, chasing the night.

---​

The commander of the Fascist rebels assaulting Río Gallegos was Coronel Santiago Romero. His long-serving staff knew him as a loud, fiery man – a ‘character’ as the yanquis put it. But in the past few days, the Coronel had acted cool and cautious, even shy. Most of the staff believed the difference was a reaction to their bitter victory at Rio Apiculata. Perhaps the chains of command must chafe at any sane man after such butchery. Though none yet admitted it aloud, a few staffers had feared the change was proof that the Coronel had lost his nerve.

But even these skeptics admitted he was in his element tonight. Coronel Romero had stood all evening at a large table in the brewery-turned-command post. No uncertainties could frustrate him nor bad news make him flinch. No, he issued calm orders hour after hour, steady as a rock.

He wasn’t without opportunities. His planners had not heard from the front in some time, and some grew nervous. Silence alone wasn’t proof of tragedy: their forces in the city had only three radios and broadcast conditions were miserable. Still, if the battle was proceeding well, someone ought to have reported by now. The Coronel was confident in their situation, but he had recently deployed one of their last fully-manned reserve platoons to be safe. They estimated that the platoon would still be on the road, but it would report from the city within the half hour.

A technician at a nearby radio began arguing into his machine, drawing the attention of the room. He continued for a brief conversation, raising his voice with every line to ask for more details and clarity. Finally he was nearly shouting, but there was silence on the line.

All staff officers in the room eyed him expectantly, and the technician answered, “Sirs, that was Teniente Primero Lopez of the reserve platoon. They are under attack, though he was not clear about the attacker.”

Mummers filled the room. Coronel Romero ordered, “Capitán Garcia, muster what remains of Sosa’s platoon and wait at the first milestone.” An officer saluted and left the room. The Coronel then asked, “Soldier, what did Lopez say?”

The technician sputtered. “He- he said a wild woman was coming at him with a sword.”

Coronel Romero shook his head. “What of the other attackers. How many did he see against the platoon? Did he know anything?”

“Forgive me, Coronel, he said they were all attacked by a woman with a sword. He spoke of no one else. Machine gunners struck her down, and he claimed she was gone, but then he screamed and the call dropped.”

A stupefied silence fell on the table. Before anyone spoke, a messenger ran in and announced that camp spotters had seen a flare above the road halfway towards the city. His announcement was interrupted by another rush of conversation at the radio. This speaker was more coherent, as the technician was able to pursue questions at length. Finally, he reported, “Sirs, Teniente Primero Lopez is dead! One of his men says the platoon has suffered nine casualties. The woman was indeed alone, but all who saw her claim she could swat bullets like flies. Only the machine guns stopped her, but not for long. Then Teniente Primero Lopez fired that flare in his last moments, and the flare finally scared the woman away.”

Coronel Romero asked, “Where did she run?”

The technician repeated the question into the radio. After a pause, he answered, “South-east. They have lost sight of her and request orders. Should they give chase?”

For the first time that evening, Coronel Romero hesitated. His staff noticed a mean gleam enter his eyes. He looked around the table. “That fire in the motor pool. Was it perhaps started by lightning?”

His officers tried not to look puzzled by the question. Finally, his most senior advisor said, “No, Coronel. There were no accounts of lightning.”

Coronel Romero looked unconcerned. “Hmm. Not likely in league with him, anyway.”

The senior advisor blinked. “Pardon, sir?”

“Order the reserve platoon back to camp at full speed. Muster every idle man in camp, whether infantry or cooks. Go!” Another two officers hurried from the room. “How many machine guns have we?”

His quartermaster answered, “They are all in the field sir.”

“How many lights?”

“Uh, lights? At least forty lanterns and flashlights.”

“And flares?”

“Two dozen perhaps.”

“Ready the men into blocking units. Don’t waste time finding rifles, but provision them as much lighting as possible. Make cloth torches if you must. I want a line of men half a kilometer long to approach the city in formation. If they spot this woman, they will wait until she is close and then fire a flare. Our artillery will saturate the flare’s location immediately. Is this understood?”

His staff officers, all of them hard, solemn men, were taken by surprise. Some blanched, none objected, but none moved.

The Coronel’s face contorted and he screamed, “Now!” And they ran to work.

Only his senior advisor stayed. After a few moments, he asked, “Sir, emptying the camp leaves us almost defenseless.”

Coronel Romero seemed about to sneer, but restrained himself. Instead, he said, “Set up a pair of large fires around a platform at the road in front of camp. If our line does meet this woman, I’ll prepare another defense.”

---​

Batman had expected to hide across from the brewery housing the camp’s command staff for an hour or more until its defenders grew complacent and let him enter unobserved. To his surprise, only minutes after he settled in to wait, he heard a commotion inside the building, and a group of officers and their adjutants spilled out. They spread across the camp, crying questions and orders. Batman noticed that they took most of the brewery’s visible guards away with them, leaving only one at each entrance, and none at the cellar door.

Batman was hiding in the loft of a maintenance shed. His ankle had quieted to a modest burn while he lay in wait, and he descended the rope from the loft with his hands alone to spare his injury. He couldn’t walk faster than a brisk limp on a broken ankle, and people were frequently traveling by; he wouldn’t make it across the brewery lawn unseen. Batman puled his hat down and continued on, hugging his cape tight like a cloak. Fortunately, every cold army in history respected warmth over protocol, and men hustled around in every sort of coat or wrapped in sheets and blankets.

Batman made it to the cellar door, cast a final glance around for onlookers, and climbed in. He was surprised to find the cellar wired with electric lights, though the rest of the space was as he expected. The ceiling was low, and the air had a strong scent of wood and beer. The walls had no cover, just wooden framework exposing the bedrock like the sides of a crude mineshaft. Stacks of fat barrels divided the space into three narrow paths. Batman felt uneasy, and it took him three steps to realize why: he didn’t see anyone. The camp was desperate for shelter – they were under bombardment – and here was a sturdy underground room with electric lighting, not to mention enough beer to satisfy an army. Why wasn’t there an army? Why reserve it for one prisoner?

Batman paused to consider this. There was constant muffled noise above, but he couldn’t hear anyone else in the cellar. There were still two paths he hadn’t seen yet, and that hadn’t seen him.

An old-fashioned switch was mounted near the staircase. Batman turned off the lights.

Through the darkness, a man’s scratchy voice cursed, “Was zur Holle!” Then it called out awkwardly, “Ehhh … Hola?”

Batman heard enormous feet clomping towards him. He trained to see in the dark, but obviously that meant the partial dark, the euphemistic dark which still carried faint moonlight or a similar cheat. In the actual dark, like a sealed basement, Batman was as blind as anyone. He limped quietly into a different row then the approaching footsteps. In the tight space, there was nothing he could do to get the drop on someone except to hope they passed his row at the intersection.

Fortunately, the stranger passed by to reach the switch. Batman crept up behind.

The light turned on. It was an enormous soldier, pale and shaved bald, hunching his chin so far to fit under the ceiling that his chin was below his shoulders. He began to turn, but he only made it halfway around when Batman whipped him with his stick. There wasn’t enough space for a proper baseball swing, so Batman swung like a golf drive, torturing his strained back to smack the stick across the big soldier’s jaw. It was a strong piece of wood, two inches thick and limber, and it snapped on impact.

The soldier swayed back and blinked, perhaps bothered most by wood chips in his eyes. But he only blinked twice when Batman stepped around and smashed his head into the bedrock. Then Batman turned off the lights again and slipped an arm around the soldier’s throat. As was common, it took a moment for the soldier to realize he was in a chokehold. Batman nearly had to climb his back to secure the hold, and when the soldier straightened up to respond, it lifted Batman’s heels off the floor and sandwiched his head against the ceiling. This didn’t deter Batman, nor did the soldier’s thick neck.

However, the soldier knew some wrestling. He wasted no time on useless motions but quickly hunched his shoulders and worked to pry a hand under the attacking arm. He was extraordinary strong, inhumanly strong, but sometimes knowing a sport just means knowing you’ve lost. Without space or leverage or even sight of his assailant, the giant had no counters. Yet the struggle pressed on – three seconds, then five, then eight, then ten, then twelve, lasting longer than any chokehold Batman ever tried in a dojo. And still Batman’s arms tightened like an anaconda, shifting to evade the earnest defenses until they stopped.

Batman knew the fight was over when his feet touched the floor. He tripped on his bad ankle and felt a moment of horror when he sensed the enormous body was going to fall on him. But the limp giant turned sideways, bounced off a barrel, toppling it, and rolled to the floor with relative grace. Batman switched on the lights.

When he had heard the soldier yell in German, Batman remembered Waller’s warning about the Pena Dura subjects. Even before seeing her records last year, Batman had heard the urban legend around the fringes of the medical research community - some mad scientist attempt at turning normal men into Hercules using drugs or radiation or animal grafting, depending on who told the story. The mainstream consensus said such a project was impossible. Batman had learned lately to take the impossible with a grain of salt. He speculated that if such a program was possible, it would enhance a body in the way a body usually improved through good exercise, just moreso. And human anatomy had very little muscle protecting the throat again a properly-applied chokehold. Even if a man’s neck strength doubled or tripled, Batman’s arms were still stronger. And every brain needed a blood supply. No measure of toughness would change that.

Of course, it could have been a regular German supporting the Argentine rebels, one with uncommonly loud footsteps, but Batman’s response would’ve been the same, except perhaps without the stick.

He inspected the giant’s glassy expression. Contrary to its common name, the victim of a “sleeper” hold was usually unconscious for a less than a minute, and often only a few seconds. This was a problem. Batman had packed two more doses of sedative. But sedatives were a delicate, dangerous science. His doses were conservatively measured for a typical man, and Batman was still reluctant to use them on the world’s most typical men. How would a dose might affect his current ‘patient’? One shot might do nothing, and two might be lethal. However, he also needed every advantage in securing the soon-conscious human weapon. There wasn’t much here he could improvise into restraints.

Batman made due with the tools at hand. He administered one dose of sedative, and used almost all of his rope to bind the giant’s wrists and ankles. Even if his captive stayed bound, he was in plain sight of the door. Anyone who entered the cellar would see him immediately. However, the ape was well past three hundred pounds; Batman couldn’t move a load like that with a bad back.

As usual, when everything else might go wrong, Batman’s only guarantee was speed.

In the rear of the cellar, where the oversized guard had been, was a strong wooden door with an old iron lock. Batman managed to stave off his headache and trembling arms long enough to pick it open.

The room beyond smelled like it once stored hops, but now it was empty save for a small bed occupied by a gaunt blond man who watched Batman with mild interest.

Batman walked to his bedside. “Steven Trevor?”

Steve squinted at the bandaged stranger wearing a soldier’s cap. “Uh-huh. Who’re you?”

“I’m Batman.”

Steve sighed. “Fine, don’t tell me.”

---​

Wonder Woman raced through the dark, pressing her weary legs to ever greater glory. It was not in the nature of an Amazon to retreat, but Wonder Woman considered what she had performed to be more of a lateral move. After all, her objective wasn’t to strike down every villain in this country individually: that would be prohibitively time-consuming. No, her objective was to make it to the camp, and there was nothing shameful in arriving by a slightly circuitous route if it meant fewer obstacles. That was just being smart.

As Wonder Woman neared the camp, she could observe it in the sharp contrast provided by the glorious skyflame. She ran darted across some figures in the dark. They saw her and objected, but she was already past. Then she heard a familiar whistle and saw her shadow on the ground. Wonder Woman looked over her shoulder and found two flares launched in high arcs overhead. These meteors were so striking that Wonder Woman slowed to watch them. They didn’t seem harmful. Unless they were alive, perhaps: some species of bird sent to chase her. Though the last one hadn’t. They weren’t birds, or at least they were lazy birds. Perhaps they were just illumination. That was just as well: otherwise Men might learn to fight in the dark. Well, more men, anyway. She knew the art wasn’t lost on all of them.

Seconds later, twenty small artillery shells detonated above the men she had run past. Several thousand shrapnel pellets rained down from the sky, skewering the earth and everything on it – a colossal shotgun from the heavens pointed down. Wonder Woman heard brief cries and saw silhouettes fall in the dim of the distant skyflame.

She ran. But she wasn’t quite fast enough to outrun the next burst. Five lead pellets struck Wonder Woman from above. Three bounced off her bronze armor, but two hit her ear and neck. She hissed and stumbled, but even on her knees she didn’t stop, crawling a few paces until she could return to her feet. Her tiara was askew, but she didn’t care. The next burst struck her again, but she endured.

---

Batman quickly unlocked the shackles holding Steve Trevor to his bed. Steve rubbed his skin and sat up. Batman pulled him to his feet. “I’m with Amanda Waller. I’m getting you out.”

Steve nodded. “Where am I, anyway?”

Batman didn’t answer but stood very still. There was a noise in the main cellar. Someone yelled in Spanish. They heard a crowd of footsteps. Batman firmly gripped the shackle chains and pulled, tearing the chains out of their mounts on the bed frame. He swung the free chain at his side and flicked it upward, breaking the room’s sole light bulb. Now only a shaft of light came through the doorway which Batman quietly hid beside.

The shaft of light was almost obscured as another giant soldier jogged into the room. He saw Steve standing beside his bed and called out. “Der Häftling!” Another giant and a regular-sized officer entered after him. The small room was almost full. One of the giants turned and accidentally elbowed Batman. “Euh?”

Batman tossed down a flash bomb, blinding the others who were packed at the center of its brilliance. Batman swung the chain, striking the officer in the chest, then he caught the chain and wrapped it around the nearest giant’s throat. It was a wild struggle in the dark as bodies bounced off the walls and each other. Batman pulled and the giant gagged. The other giant pawed around and caught Batman’s cape. He gave a simple tug and Batman crashed to the floor. The pain stunned Batman, but when the giants clumsily felt for him, Batman pulled out his thermite applicator, ignited it, and swiftly jabbed their hands and arms. They squealed at their sudden burns, pulling their hands back. But one gritted his teeth and body-slammed Batman. The flame pressed into the giant’s armor and smoked, but the impact knocked the tool out of Batman’s hand and knocked the wind out of Batman’s lungs. The giant sat up and hit Batman once in the face, knocking him senseless.

---​

As Wonder Woman reached the camp, the artillery long behind her, she finally saw the site as more than an outline of shadows. As she looked from end to end, she could finally discern tents and buildings, and her attention was drawn to an obvious entrance at the main road. Here, she saw two large fires, not nearly at large as the great flame in the rear of the camp, but large enough to roast a steer. She knew at once that these were made for her to find. A tower of crates and sacks had been set up between the fires. There were two men at the top of this tower, standing for all to see like a surreal stage play.

Wonder Woman walked towards the tower. A few soldiers crept cautiously out of the camp and circled around her, but they kept their distance. Finally, she was close enough to see the faces of the two men. Her breath caught in her throat. One was Steve Trever, weak and unshaven. A cloth gagged his mouth, and his hands were tied. The other man was an officer pointing a pistol at Steve’s head.

The officer saw her and called down in English. “I think you know who this is!”

Wonder Woman stopped at the foot of the tower and responded. “Yes, Fascist. Release him!”

The officer raised an eyebrow. “… No.”

Wonder Wonder frowned but said nothing.

The officer said, “As you see, your Captain is unharmed, but that depends on your cooperation. Drop your sword.”

Wonder Woman looked down at her sword and narrowed her eyes, but the officer interrupted her thoughts. “Ah, you are thinking to throw the sword at me. I suggest otherwise. Even you are not faster than this trigger.”

Wonder Woman grit her teeth and tossed the sword aside. “Now what, coward?”

“Now you remove that gilded lasso from your side and hold it out. Yes, there you go. We Argentines know how to use a lasso.”

Four soldiers approached her like an angry mare loose from its stall. One paused in front of her, flinched at her stare, then took two quick steps and grabbed the lasso out of her hand. The other three grabbed her arms. Wonder Woman watched the pistol pointing at Steve and didn’t resist. The soldiers pinned her arms behind her and bound them with several loops of the lasso. They led her into the camp.

The officer called to his guards. Two giant soldiers stood in the shadow of the tower. One climbed up and carried Steve down. The other waited as its base and offered the officer a hand as he descended on his own.

This strange parade - Wonder Woman bound, her four handlers, Steve Trevor, the officer, and his two enormous armored bodyguards - walked through the camp to its largest building. They passed the front doors and climbed down into a cellar full of barrels that smelled of beer.

The officer led them into a room in the back where three lanterns had been hung from the ceiling. Wonder Woman gasped. In their flickering light, she saw Batman, bruised and ragged, chained to a metal ring in the wall. He sat on the bare floor, and two more soldiers guarded him. The officer gave his soldiers curt orders in Spanish. They tied the ends of Wonder Woman’s lasso to another metal ring nearby, providing hardly enough slack for her to stand. Steve Trevor was tossed onto a bed, and the rope holding his wrists was quickly quickly tied to its frame.

The officer ordered all his men to leave the cellar. They hesitated but complied. The officer shut and locked the door behind him. Then he turned and smiled at Wonder Woman, offering a short bow without letting his pistol dip. She stared daggers at him.

The officer stood against the far wall. “I know what you’re thinking again. That blessed cord won’t tear, but with your strength, you could pull that fixture out of the wall. Yes, I suspect you could. And even tied up, you’d likely kick me to death, but pulling free would take more than a few seconds, weak as you are, and that’s ample time to shot your friends. You are too valiant for that, I imagine. Compassion is a dangerous virtue for a warrior.”

Wonder Woman said nothing, but she glanced at Steve and Batman.

The officer noticed and nodded at Batman. “This one we found in bandages and a stolen hat. But I recognized him when those props were gone.”

Wonder Woman couldn’t hide a bit of surprise. “You did?”

“This is the great Dark Knight of Gotham, the Batman!”

Steve made a noise in disbelief through his gag. Batman tilted his head away, the first motion Wonder Woman had seen from him. The officer wagged a finger at Batman. “Yes, this one thought an exaggeration. Maybe he found a few lucky breaks here and there, surely! Yet he made it this far on his own. If it was luck, he has the Devil’s own luck. I can’t wait to hear the stories he’ll tell.”

Steve rolled his eyes. Wonder Woman sneered. “You underestimate his resolve, Fascist.”

The officer feigned doubt. “Do I? Perhaps, but I have a gift for getting to know a person, Diana.”

Diana’s blood chilled. “… Der Wehrwulf?”

The officer doffed his hat. “That’s been a good name. Though it’s getting too popular, wouldn’t you say? It might be time for something new. Speaking of which-”

The officer found yet another metal ring in the wall. He took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, and in a practiced motion, cuffed one wrist to the ring. Then he crouched and tossed his pistol just out of reach on the floor. Then he faded into a mist.

The room’s other occupants gaped as the mist formed into a slight woman with short blond hair and many tattoos. She stepped forward and picked up the pistol right as the officer behind her stretched to seize her. She turned and pointed the pistol at him. “Nein, Coronel Romero. You still have a part to play. Don’t make me kill you now.”

The officer, Coronel Romero seethed. “Te asesinaré, vaca!”

Der Wehrwulf stepped forward and slapped him. “Acalla!” She returned to Wonder Woman. “Forgive his poor manners.”

Wonder Woman asked, “What do you want, Der Wehrwulf?”

“A great many things. From this pig in uniform, I want an army. His isn’t very large, so I imagine I’ll trade for a bigger one soon. From you, firstly, to learn how you’re alive, and how your Waller survived. She led you to me yes? That’s the only way I can fathom. From your good Captain Trevor, well, I wasn’t expecting him either, but I suspect you know what I want from him. And that leads us to this brawny mystery.” She strutted over to Batman and pressed her shoe against his chest. “This one is the biggest surprise of all. Waller fears him. You fought him and lost-”

“I didn’t lose!”

“You certainly didn’t win, don’t be petty. No one knows who he is, and everyone hates him. Fascinating! Do you know how rare it is to meet a truly different individual? I’m something of a gourmet, and this will be a luxury. Yes, I’ll start with him. What brings the Batman here?”

Wonder Woman opened her mouth but Der Wehrwulf shushed her. “No, no, Fräulein. I don’t need a story. So tiresome! I’ll know him soon enough.”

With that, Der Wehrwulf dropped the pistol into Batman’s lap and touched his cheek. She melted into him. Steve winced.

When she was gone, Batman remained motionless. Wonder Woman peered down with a frightened expression. “Batman?”

Batman twitched. His head lolled from side to side, then stretched around. “Ah!” He coughed. “Oh dear. He is very injured. Ugrr! I think his foot’s broken. Can he even stand? And this headache!” Batman took the pistol and pointed it at the others, having just enough slack in his chains to do so. “Well, at least his hands work.” He twitched again and his hands trembled. “Oh. He does not like that at all. Oh my.” Batman tensed until his hands stopped shaking. “This is … refreshing.” He grunted some more. “No, your name isn’t actually ‘Batman’, stop resisting. Ahh!”

Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor, and Coronel Romero glanced uncomfortably at each other. Batman squirmed. “This is a challenge. Gut! I like a challenge. Ugh. But I must take it slow, yes.” Batman took several deep breaths. “Nice and slow. In the meantime, let’s learn more about you, Princess.”

Diana sternly asked, “How do you know me, Fascist demon?”

“That would be telling. And I know enough about that cord that you will be doing the telling. Isn’t that true?”

Wonder Woman pursed her lips, but eventually she had to say, “Yes. I must speak Truth when asked.”

“That’s useful. A shame it’s been wasted on you. Not that I need the help, of course. So, our friend Waller sincerely believed you dead. Why aren’t you rotting at the bottom of the ocean?”

Wonder Woman deadpanned, “I swam.”

Batman giggled. “Indeed? Then what?”

“I returned to America.”

“To do what?”

“Enlist aid to find Steve Trevor.”

“And that’s why you’re here?”

Wonder Woman and Steve looked at each other. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“Many reasons.”

“Name the first.”

“Because I love him.”

Steve made a noise behind his gag. Batman sighed theatrically. “Oh, that’s sweet. You fall in love with the first man you ever see. What are the odds? Do you even know what love is, girl? Of course not. How could you?”

“There’s differe-”

“Yes, I meant romantic love. Obviously. That is funny, though. You’re like a grand experiment: raise a girl from birth without ever seeing a man until she’s a woman and record the results. Even the Nazis haven’t tried that one yet. But I can't blame you. He is a handsome one, isn’t he?” Batman smiled approvingly at Steve, who recoiled. Then Batman’s smile started to fade. He twitched again. “My, he’s not happy. Mghhh.” Batman bent over like he was suffering a stomach ache. He cried out, “Mein Gott!” and began shake like a seizure, then collapsed.

Der Wehrwulf believed that she was the only being alive who could occupy a mind. No one else knew how it felt, but if she had to describe the sensation, she would say that occupying a mind was a little like climbing a ladder and a little like searching a maze and a little like braving a haunted house. The act was fundamentally hostile, so even a dullard's mind resisted. But Der Wehrwulf had much more experience invading minds than any victim had in resisting. Once she decided to attack, she considered the outcome settled. Carmine Falcone had been intelligent and possessed of great self-control. When she invaded him, she found his ladder was more like a rock wall. His maze was a marathon of narrow passages. His haunted house was full of locked doors and accusations from the stormy voice of God. But she was eager for a challenge, and ultimately she conquered him. He submitted because he was just another man, softened with age, and his willfulness made her domination all the sweeter. Amanda Waller, likewise, was a true challenge, perhaps even more paranoid than Falcone. She too submitted in the end. And Steven Trevor, while not as feisty as the other two, weakened in spirit by his ordeal, still showed a heroic resolve. He didn’t go without a fight, and she was convinced he still held secrets. Then Coronel Romero had been as ornery as a bear and twice as tough. All worthy adversaries.

But her intuition was correct: Batman was different. At first his ladder seemed merely tall and slick. A challenge. But then it began to sting, and she realized it was a ladder made of glass shards, and there was no end because it bent into a Möbius strip. Every surface of his maze was glass shards as well, and it traversed dimensions she could hardly perceive. All the rooms in his haunted house were on fire, and all the furniture called her names from childhood bullies she had forgotten, and the voices were also on fire. The walls compressed and melted, and the burning air turned to shards of glass as she breathed it, the splinters in each breath sharper than the one before. And she could sense there were far more miserable rooms yet unseen. Hundreds of them, each smaller and louder and hotter and sharper than the last.

Der Wehrwulf had tried to force Batman to his knees with all her strength and technique, but in the end he denied her satisfaction. Yet when she surrendered, it was not from exhaustion, not yet. She surrendered when she lost faith that there was a healthy mind under his defiance at all. She realized that whatever he hid in his mind might poison her. She had never used her power on madmen, and this was the reason.

Batman phased into mist, which rushed out of him and quickly formed into Der Wehrwulf. She lay on her side, struggling to catch her breath. Finally, she looked at Batman and exclaimed. "Mein Gott! You are nothing but a fortress of suppressed feelings. How do you function? Your mind ist unter such strain; it should gehen kaputt! Herr Freud would have a field day mit you."

Batman didn’t respond, hanging limp from his chains, seeming dead to the world.

Der Wehrwulf shook her head to clear it, then stood and reached for her pistol. But Batman’s grip had not gone limp. His fist had curled around the pistol, and she struggled to pry his fingers free. He was rigid. She attacked him, hitting his face for all the good it did. Wonder Woman discreetly laid a foot against the bedrock behind her and pushed. She leaned forward, and with a rasping sound, the metal ring holding her lasso started to pull from the wall.

Der Wehrwulf noticed her and pulled at Batman’s grip all the more viciously. “Nein! Nein!”

But it was too late. The ring popped out of the wall. Wonder Woman was free. Der Wehrwulf dug her hand into Batman’s glove and pulled out a sharp batarang. She lifted it to Batman’s throat, but she wasn’t quick enough. Wonder Woman hopped up and pistoned Der Wehrwulf in the chest with a two-footed kick. She flew across the room, toppling over the bed and landing in a heap. Wonder Woman landed much more elegantly on her butt.

Coronel Romero, seeing no immediate threat to his life, began to scream. “Ayuda! Ayuda! Guardias! Ayuda!” He had a very loud voice. Steve moaned in fear and annoyance. Wonder Woman heard yelling in the cellar. She looked around in panic, struggling to wiggle out of her lasso. Someone tried the doorknob outside. Wonder Woman almost freed a hand from the cord. Then a body hit the door, shaking it on its hinges. On the next hit, splinters caved in, and an eye peered though. Wonder Woman finally freed her hand, stepped forward, and punched the eye through the hole in the door. With her free hand, Wonder Woman grabbed one end of the lasso and willed it loose. The binds around her went slack, and she wound it and slung it on her hip in one movement. A body hit the door again, and it burst open.

Outside was one of the giant armored soldiers flanked by a squad of friends. Several guns fired, but Wonder Woman stood her ground and deflected every shot. Wonder Woman stood practically in the doorway, so the only direction for the rounds to ricochet was back where they came. Most of the soldiers ducked or dived to the floor, but the giant stepped forward and cocked an arm. Wonder Woman was too quick and kicked him in the nose. This distracted him but didn’t move him, so she leaned in and shoved. The giant stumbled back, tripping over one of his fallen comrades and landing on another.

Wonder Woman felt a rush of strength. She stepped back into the room, reached up, and grasped one of the wooden beams forming the simple ceiling. She pulled. Her arms shook and beads of sweat covered her skin. Finally the beam came down, and with it a curtain of dust and pebbles. She pulled at the next beam, already loosed from the collapse of the first, and when it broke, piles of clay and stone showered over her. The air was chalky white in a cloud of dust, but Wonder Woman set to tearing out a wall beam, then another, and half the room’s ceiling sunk downward. It hung static for a moment, then something shifted and a cave-in blocked the doorway.

Until the soldiers could move a few tons of rock, they were alone again.

Wonder Woman clapped her hands clean and turned around. When the dust settled, she saw Steve Trevor standing on the far side of the room, holding a batarang to his throat, and Der Wehrwulf had disappeared.

Steve’s voice had an eerie calm. “Well done, Diana. But this must end.”

Wonder Woman glared at Steve with her arms akimbo. “You are finished, demon.”

Steve smiled. “Finished here, perhaps. Soon.”

Wonder Woman stepped forward. “Do not try my patience.”

Steve stepped back and circled, careful to face Wonder Woman with every move. “Do not try mine. I have faced proud youths for many years, child. You know I will kill your love without a care. Now, you will tie your arm to another ring in the wall, and we shall see how-”

As Steve circled, he stepped in front of Coronel Romero. The Coronel reached out and grabbed Steve’s arm, forcing it from his throat and spinning him around. The Coronel then launched a haymaker across Steve’s face. Steve collapsed. The Coronel then spit on him. “Vaca.”

Wonder Woman eyed the Coronel warily. “Gracis.”

The Coronel spit at her as well.

Wonder Woman frowned but didn’t answer. She lifted Steve off the ground and placed him on the bed. He was unconscious and had a new bruise, but otherwise seemed well. She brushed his hair off of his face. His head turned and his tongue fell out.

Wonder Woman took a loop of her golden lasso and wrapped it around Steve’s hand.

She commanded, “Out, falsehood. You are an impostor. His actions are not true to him. Be gone.”

A mist seeped off of Steve, and soon Der Wehrwulf lay beside him on the small bed. She seemed in agony. Wonder Woman took the loop from Steve’s hand and swiftly tied Der Wehrwulf with a similar binding that she was trapped in not long ago. But with Wonder Woman’s skill, it was much more secure. Her job done, she hefted the smaller woman off the bed by the arms and brought her around.

However, Der Wehrwulf was all lean muscles and heavy for her size, and she was shaking in pain. Wonder Woman overcompensated and swung her further than intended. This brought Der Wehrwulf right into the Coronel’s reach. With impeccable timing, he launched another haymaker across Der Wehrwulf’s face. She went limp. The Coronel spit at both of them.

Wonder Woman smacked him hard enough to daze him for a few minutes, but she still couldn’t find it in her to rebuke him. If anything, Der Wehrwulf no longer seemed in pain. Wonder Woman lay her near a wall, well out of reach of the Coronel. Then she found the dropped batarang. She went to Batman, still sitting on the floor, still clenching the pistol. She crouched and gently pulled his fingers apart, took the pistol, and broke it. Then she snapped each shackle and guided his arms down. He didn’t respond.

She touched his shoulder. “Batman?”

Batman’s head moved. He muttered something

She leaned in. “Batman?”

He made a noise between a cough and a wheeze. “Can’t-”

“Can you hear me?”

“-see.”

“What?”

“Can’t see. I need to see.”

“Were your eyes injured?”

“I can’t-” Batman paused, looking confused. It was an unusual look for him. “No. No optic trauma. But I can’t see.” He began to sound coherent and sat a little straighter. “Brain damage.”

She gasped. “No.”

“Probable concussion symptoms.” He considered this and lightly shook his head. “But wouldn't be like this. No. This is-” He paused again. “Streaks. This isn’t blindness. There’s some faint light. Bring a lantern.” Wonder Woman stood and took one of the two remaining lanterns off its hook on the ceiling. She held it near his face. “Now?”

“Show me your hand.”

She waved her hand in front of his eyes. He nodded slightly, seeming encouraged. “I’m not blind, but something’s blocking my vision. I need to see.”

Wonder Woman took her hand away. “There’s nothing on your eyes.”

“Not outside the lens. Take it off.”

“What?”

“My mask.” He gingerly lifted his hands to the back of his cowl and pulled at something hidden. The top of the cowl loosened, and he pulled it off like a hood. Under it was a thin mask stretched tight over his head. Batman reached into his belt and pulled out a tiny bottle. Just this effort seemed to tire him. “Rub this along the seam and the mask comes off.”

Wonder Woman took the bottle and opened the cap. She poured a few drops on a fingertip and rubbed it along the edge of the mask on his scalp. It the liquid seemed to soak into the fabric which unglued in seconds. As more of it pulled off, she began to feel uncomfortable, like she was transgressing something sacred. She paused, but he shook his head and said again, “I need to see.”

She finished the edge of the mask. It nearly slipped off on its own, dragged down by the weight of the lens.

Under the mask, she found a man, bruised and cut, but most gruesome of all, his eyes were smeared in blood. She winced.

He frowned. “Blood?”

She nodded, then realized that wasn’t helpful. "Yes."

Batman reached a trembling hand up and wiped his eyes with his thumb. She helped clear off the rest with her hands. He blinked.

She asked nervously, “Can you see?”

“He focused on her face and nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”

“What caused," She pointed at his eyes. "That?”

Batman stared grimly in thought, looking exactly like she expected he would staring grimly in thought.

Finally he answered. “My best guess is hematidrosis.”

“Blood ... sweat? I haven’t heard of that.”

“It’s rare. Caused by extreme stress.”

Wonder Woman looked at him with pity and whispered, “What did she do?”

Batman met her look impassively. “Lose.”

“That was not a helpful answer.”

He inspected his mask. The insides were smeared red-black. "I can clean these lens easily, and my vision’s fine. Although, it blurred earlier tonight. That likely was the concussion.” He touched his face, stretching his jaw from side to side. “And I’ve taken more hits since then, but I – what? What is it?”

Wonder Woman had leaned closer as he spoke and was staring intently at his mouth. He eyed her suspiciously in return, but before he could act, she reached forward and pulled his gums apart.

His eyes widened in shock.

She let go and grinned at him. “Your teeth grew back!”

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
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Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-18 12:34pm

Yaaay reaction post!
Stewart M wrote:
2018-03-17 10:54pm
Capitán Vega was outraged. “The Communist gangsters have pushed south! How many men did they send?”

“None, sir!”

“What!”

There was yelling and the rapid pop of rifle fire outside. The young soldier dived to the floor and cried, “She’s here!”

The Capitán growled and picked up a rifle from a table. “Out!”

He rushed from the room, with Manfried and his other guards and assistants close behind.

The command post was one of the few illuminated sites in the city. Lanterns had been hung in the schoolhouse windows and from the eaves of surrounding buildings. The four men posted in the street were firing at something at the hazy edge of the lamp glow. Capitán Vega watched several rounds spit downrange. A few caused a flash of sparks like struck flint followed by the hollow sound of a ricochet. The Capitán peered ahead as his eyes adjusted to the night. The wind picked up, making the lanterns swing and casting the target into view.

It was a tall woman in a metal swimsuit. She approached at a brisk walk and carried a sword with its edge smeared black. All the men opened fire. The woman moved her arms. It must have been a trick of the light, but no one could track the motion between her initial and final poses. A blink, and suddenly her forearms were across her chest, then a blink, and they covered her face, then a blink, and she had turned to the side.
"Careful! She's from Idaho!"
The soldier swayed back and blinked, perhaps bothered most by wood chips in his eyes. But he only blinked twice when Batman stepped around and smashed his head into the bedrock. Then Batman turned off the lights again and slipped an arm around the soldier’s throat. As was common, it took a moment for the soldier to realize he was in a chokehold. Batman nearly had to climb his back to secure the hold, and when the soldier straightened up to respond, it lifted Batman’s heels off the floor and sandwiched his head against the ceiling. This didn’t deter Batman, nor did the soldier’s thick neck.

However, the soldier knew some wrestling. He wasted no time on useless motions but quickly hunched his shoulders and worked to pry a hand under the attacking arm. He was extraordinary strong, inhumanly strong, but sometimes knowing a sport just means knowing you’ve lost. Without space or leverage or even sight of his assailant, the giant had no counters. Yet the struggle pressed on – three seconds, then five, then eight, then ten, then twelve, lasting longer than any chokehold Batman ever tried in a dojo. And still Batman’s arms tightened like an anaconda, shifting to evade the earnest defenses until they stopped.
Giant Nazi: "I just figured out why you've been giving me so much trouble... I haven't fought just one person for so long. I've been specializing in groups... You see, you use different moves when you're fighting half a dozen people than when you only have to be worried about ... one."

[THUD]

Batman: "I do not envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But in the meantime, rest well and dream of large Fräuleins. Briefly."
Batman walked to his bedside. “Steven Trevor?”

Steve squinted at the bandaged stranger wearing a soldier’s cap. “Uh-huh. Who’re you?”

“I’m Batman.”

Steve sighed. “Fine, don’t tell me.”
:D
Der Wehrwulf believed that she was the only being alive who could occupy a mind. No one else knew how it felt, but if she had to describe the sensation, she would say that occupying a mind was a little like climbing a ladder and a little like searching a maze and a little like braving a haunted house. The act was fundamentally hostile, so even a dullard's mind resisted. But Der Wehrwulf had much more experience invading minds than any victim had in resisting. Once she decided to attack, she considered the outcome settled. Carmine Falcone had been intelligent and possessed of great self-control. When she invaded him, she found his ladder was more like a rock wall. His maze was a marathon of narrow passages. His haunted house was full of locked doors and accusations from the stormy voice of God. But she was eager for a challenge, and ultimately she conquered him. He submitted because he was just another man, softened with age, and his willfulness made her domination all the sweeter. Amanda Waller, likewise, was a true challenge, perhaps even more paranoid than Falcone. She too submitted in the end. And Steven Trevor, while not as feisty as the other two, weakened in spirit by his ordeal, still showed a heroic resolve. He didn’t go without a fight, and she was convinced he still held secrets. Then Coronel Romero had been as ornery as a bear and twice as tough. All worthy adversaries.

But her intuition was correct: Batman was different.
He's Batman. :D
At first his ladder seemed merely tall and slick. A challenge. But then it began to sting, and she realized it was a ladder made of glass shards, and there was no end because it bent into a Möbius strip. Every surface of his maze was glass shards as well, and it traversed dimensions she could hardly perceive. All the rooms in his haunted house were on fire, and all the furniture called her names from childhood bullies she had forgotten, and the voices were also on fire. The walls compressed and melted, and the burning air turned to shards of glass as she breathed it, the splinters in each breath sharper than the one before. And she could sense there were far more miserable rooms yet unseen. Hundreds of them, each smaller and louder and hotter and sharper than the last.

Der Wehrwulf had tried to force Batman to his knees with all her strength and technique, but in the end he denied her satisfaction. Yet when she surrendered, it was not from exhaustion, not yet. She surrendered when she lost faith that there was a healthy mind under his defiance at all. She realized that whatever he hid in his mind might poison her. She had never used her power on madmen, and this was the reason.
This is some good stuff.
Batman phased into mist, which rushed out of him and quickly formed into Der Wehrwulf. She lay on her side, struggling to catch her breath. Finally, she looked at Batman and exclaimed. "Mein Gott! You are nothing but a fortress of suppressed feelings. How do you function? Your mind ist unter such strain; it should gehen kaputt! Herr Freud would have a field day mit you."
To be fair, these are all extremely accurate evaluations...
However, Der Wehrwulf was all lean muscles and heavy for her size, and she was shaking in pain. Wonder Woman overcompensated and swung her further than intended. This brought Der Wehrwulf right into the Coronel’s reach. With impeccable timing, he launched another haymaker across Der Wehrwulf’s face. She went limp. The Coronel spit at both of them.
This guy's entirely understandable rage is becoming almost dark comedy. :D
“It’s rare. Caused by extreme stress.”

Wonder Woman looked at him with pity and whispered, “What did she do?”

Batman met her look impassively. “Lose.”
Very Batman answer.
Wonder Woman had leaned closer as he spoke and was staring intently at his mouth. He eyed her suspiciously in return, but before he could act, she reached forward and pulled his gums apart.

His eyes widened in shock.

She let go and grinned at him. “Your teeth grew back!”
Oh you sweet summer child...
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 162
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-03-25 07:49pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 30: A Bat Out of Hell​


Captain Steven Trevor woke up to to a rough headache and a sore jaw. He’d started a few fights in his life and taken his share of lickings, so this wasn’t new. He could handle it. Step one, he sat up and looked for coffee.

Steve couldn’t find coffee. Instead, he found a half-collapsed underground chamber lit by a pair of weak lanterns. He found Wonder Woman crouched over Batman who was slumped against a wall and pulling on a mask. He turned the other way and found a snarling Argentine officer handcuffed to a wall. The officer was staring at the last occupant, a little blond woman laying senseless on the floor. Bile rose in Steve’s throat. He wanted ever so badly to kill her. Before he could remember moving, Steve was on top of the blond woman with his hands around his throat. The officer barked encouragements and laughed as he squeezed. Then Steve was lifted off his feet and tossed back on the bed.

He saw Wonder Wonder looking down at him. “What are you doing?”

Steve shrugged. “Oh, just murder.”

“She’s defenseless.”

“That’s the best time.” He tried to sit up again but she put an unmovable hand on his shoulder.

Behind him, Batman said, “Control your impulse.”

Steve hadn’t heard Batman approach. He twisted around. “Huh?”

Batman was straightening his cowl. “We’ve seen several victims of Der Wehrwulf’s mental control: Amanda Waller-”

“Waller was caught by this freak?”

Batman nodded. “As well as you, this officer, and me. All have shown a deep desire to kill her at the earliest opportunity. It may be compulsive.”

“You don’t look like you want to kill her.”

Batman was rigidly silent. He looked at Der Wehrwulf on the floor then back to Steve. “I don’t kill.”

“Fine. Would you let me up, please? Feels like I’ve been rotting in this bed for days.

Wonder Woman let Steve stand. They looked at each. She said, “It pleases me to see you, Steven.”

“Good to see you too, angel.”

Wonder Woman touched his face. “You have a beard!”

He chuckled. “Yeah, do you like it?”

“I’m ... not sure.”

“Don’t worry.” He winked. “They grow on you.”

Wonder Woman patted her face in alarm.

Batman interrupted. “We’re going to die in ten minutes.”

Steve, Wonder Woman, and Coronel Romero, who knew a little English, stared at Batman.

“Wha?”

“What?”

“Qué?”

Batman pointed up at the lanterns. “The lights are starting to dim. They use oxygen. So do the four of us.” He looked in the corner. “Der Wehrwulf’s chest is moving involuntarily, so she likely does as well. We have no ventilation. I estimate the oxygen trapped here will support us for ten more minutes. That’s assuming the soldiers outside don’t clear the debris. If they do, then we have about two seconds.”

Wonder Woman said, “I could dig upward and reach the surface.”

Batman responded, “And you might survive, but we’d all be crushed by falling earth in the process.” Batman looked at the pile of rock and timbers blocking the door. They could hear voices outside and the scrape of slowly-shifting stone. “We have one exit. Can you clear the obstruction?”

Wonder Woman nodded. “Certainly.”

“Then we’ll be facing half the camp in a confined space unarmed.”

Steve said, “We have that pistol.”

Batman shook his head. “We’re not using the pistol.”

Steve was exasperated. “How are you still alive?”

Wonder Woman lifted her chin. “I can fight through our foes.”

“Batman inspected her. “Can you? You’re fatigued and injured. There are contusions around your throat from hands that span a ten inch width. One of the giant soldiers got close enough to strangle you. Must not have been an easy fight. By now, they’ll have all available giants working to clear that doorway. We’ve seen at least two. I subdued a third earlier. There may be more. How many do you think you fight at once?” Wonder Woman hesitated. Batman continued. “Those welts across your body are bullet wounds. They’re going to deploy as much firepower as they can fit down here. If you miss a bullet, it’ll hit one of us. They hardly need to aim.”

Wonder Woman gestured to Coronel Romero. “We have captured their commander. Perhaps they will parley for his safe return.” They looked at the officer. He scowled back at them.

Batman frowned. “Even if he cooperates, using a hostage is difficult. The moment he feels safe, he can send his forces after us, or his subordinates may attack on their own initiative.”

“I meant we reach an agreement for safe passage.”

Batman looked again at Coronel Romero who made a rude gesture. “I doubt he’d honor that.”

Steve asked, “What was your original plan to get me out?”

Wonder Woman answered, “Retreat to the naval base and board a ship.”

Batman shook his head. “Steal a car and head west.”

Wonder Woman glanced at him in annoyance. “There was some disagreement on the escape route.”

Batman crossed his arms. “We’d improvise.”

Steve waved them both to be quiet. “Listen, here’s a short term solution: let’s kill the Nazi. One less pair of lungs means more air for the rest of us.”

Wonder Woman looked at Batman with concern. “It is indecent to slay a beaten enemy, but did we not agree she was too dangerous to live?”

Batman shook his head. “We agreed to decide about her when the time came.”

Steve knelt next to Der Wehrwulf. “I’d say the time’s here, buddy. So what? Do we put this to a vote? Next time she might take over the President or something.”

Batman said, “We may need her.”

Wonder Woman asked, “Why?”

Batman didn’t answer for a moment. “Diana, when Der Wehrwulf escaped me, I was disoriented, but I thought I heard you kick her in the torso.”

“Yes.”

Batman told Steve. “Lift her shirt.”

Wonder Woman and Steve stared at him like his face had fallen off. Steve cleared his throat. “Buddy, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but-”

Batman ordered, “Now.”

Steve raised his hands, “Fine, fine.” Wonder Woman watched them both suspiciously.

Steve pulled Der Wehrwulf’s shirt toward her neck. Like the rest of her body, her stomach was inked with Nazi tattoos. As the shirt lifted further, they saw an ugly purple bruise reaching from just above her belly button to her collarbone, hidden marginally by a plain bra.

Batman gestured for Steve to cover her again. “After Der Wehrwulf was stuck, she possessed Steve, then returned to her own form, but the transformation didn’t heal her injury. When she’s hurt, she stays hurt.”

“So?”

There was a loud noise on the other side of the debris pile as a large rock was moved away. The pile shifted as the center sunk. Coronel Romero cried out for help again.

Batman told Steve with a little urgency, “Bring her to the bed.”

Steve picked up Der Wehrwul and dropped her on the bed. Der Wehrwulf was groggy, just beginning to come to her senses. Her eyes blinked open. She saw Batman dark form looming over her in the guttering lantern light and recoiled. “Ach!”

Batman grasped her jaw and forced her to look at him. “Pay attention.” He took two short syringes out of his belt, removed the caps, and held them so she could she. “One is a painkiller. One is a stimulant.” He held one syringe in his mouth, injected the other in the crook of her elbow, dropped it, then injected the first. “The combination’s toxic.”

Wonder Woman grabbed his shoulder. “Batman!”

He ignored her and spoke to his patient, “Your heart’s racing already. You’ll go into shock in forty seconds. No doctor could find the counteragent in time, but I have it.”

Der Wehrwulf reached up and tried to touch his face, but Batman was too quick. He caught her wrists and forced them down. “It’s skin contact, isn’t it? That’s the trick.”

To Batman’s mild surprise, he saw Der Wehrwulf’s eyes turn wet. “Nein! Don’t kill me. I don’t want to die.”

Batman nodded gently. “Good. Save me and I’ll save you.”

Der Wehrwulf showed confusion through her distress. “Was?”

Batman lifted her to sit, watching her hands. He pointed at Coronel Romero. “Take him.”

Coronel Romero’s eyes widened in terror, but before he could make a sound, Der Wehrwulf sprung from the bed. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman hesitated, uncomprehending. Before they could act, Der Wehrwulf caught Coronel Romero’s arm and turned to mist which covered him.

There was another grating noise from outside the room. The pile shifted again, and a pinprick of light opened near the top.

Batman spoke to Wonder Woman, “Diana, the cuffs.”

Wonder Woman was beyond following the situation and simply complied, ripping the handcuffs off Coronel Romero’s wrists. He stared incredulously at Batman.

Batman limped over grabbed his shoulders. “Unless you want to live in that body for the rest of its life, you need me. Get us out safely. Understand?”

Coronel Romero eyed him up and down with caution and a mote of respect. “… Ja. We do this. For now.” He gestured to the golden lasso at Wonder Woman’s hip. “Bind yourselves! Act the part.”

With clear skepticism, Wonder Woman unwound her lasso, but Batman stopped her. Her took out the last of his own rope, and she tied his wrists with it. Then she used her lasso to tie Steve, and Coronel Romero tied her, and held the end of the lasso himself. He picked up the pistol. “Clever, Batman.”

Batman responded, “Don’t forget. She’s bulletproof and wants to take your head off.”

“Understood.”

The three ‘captives’ huddled in the corner out of sight of the doorway. Coronel Romero stood and waited for the rest of the dirt to be dug away. When a head-sized hole opened, he saw the barrels of ten rifles pointing at him. He didn’t seem in any danger or duress, so when he ordered the men to stand down, they complied.

More dirt and stones were dug away, largely by four of the giant armored soldiers working by hand. Finally, there was enough space to walk, and the Coronel exited followed by Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman, and Batman.

It was clear the soldiers crowding the rows of the cellar were on a hair-trigger. They didn’t like the strange evening, and Wonder Woman terrified them. But they were well-discipled all the same. Whatever had happened behind the debris, somehow the Coronel had singlehandedly gained control of the prisoners. Yes, somehow. They trusted the other officers would root out any funny business. Indeed, as the Coronel walked out, two of his capitáns approached with serious questions on their faces. They would not be brushed off, but before they could start an interrogation, Coronel Romero told them that he would debrief them as soon as they went upstairs. Such a talk wasn’t fit for a dank cellar near the crass ears of enlisted men.

This was a tolerable answer, and gave he his officers orders to send the men back to their tasks. They were in battle, after all. He would meet them in a minute, and the large Germans would be his escort in the meantime.

They gathered out of the cellar. A brisk wind blew past. The oil drum fire had diminished, but still monopolized the horizon and cast long shadows everywhere. After a moment, the Coronel was alone with his his captives and his four giant guards.

He spoke quietly to Batman. “My Argentines comrades believe I only speak Spanish, so there was no way to talk amongst them without being understood or drawing suspicion. These oversized half-wits are loyal to a fault and don’t know what I speak, and they also don’t know English, so we can talk freely in front of them if I act condescending.” He backhanded Batman across the face. “You really should see someone about your neck. It did not feel good.”

A few of the officers who were performing their tasks at a short distance were watching the group over their shoulders. At this backhand, many stopping scrutinizing.

Batman suppressed a wince. “Now what?”

Coronel Romero sighed. “Happily, the camp’s running on a skeleton crew. That’s the expression, yes? I sent everyone senior enough to challenge me on a short, urgent task. But they’ll expect me to give an account of myself in our little headquarters in scant minutes. No time to wander off.”

An aircraft buzzed overhead.

Steve gasped. “Is that yours? You have an air force?”

The Coronel answered, “Yes.”

“How close?”

“A short walk. Why?”

“Listen, I’m the best flyboy alive. Find me a four-seater and I’ll get us all out of here.” He grinned that cocky pilot’s grin, weeks of captivity vanishing from his face. He pointed a thumb at Wonder Woman. “Unless you want to explain to your pals how you got the better of her on your own.”

Wonder Woman smirked and crossed her arms. The giant guards looked at each other and said nothing.

Coronel Romero considered the option. He glanced at his guards. Then he stood up straight and, in flawless German, ordered them to attention. Surprised, the guards obeyed in lockstep. The Coronel briefly explained that the rest of the Argentine camp had turned traitor to the glorious Aryan cause. The prisoners were his own agents in disguise, and he and they and had to be ferried to safety at any cost.

As the Coronel spoke, Batman watched the other officers, several of whom had stopped giving their own orders or inspecting the camp and were openly staring at this display. When the Coronel finished, the four guards saluted as one.

“Jawohl!” they cried.

Coronel Romero nodded to Wonder Woman and let go of the lasso. She slipped it easily off her wrists and wound it up. One of the giants picked Batman up and hugged the Dark Knight to his chest. Batman had a sense of the plan and didn’t resist, though he couldn’t have anyway. Wonder Woman and the other three giants formed a human wall around Steve, the Coronel, and Batman’s carrier. They headed towards the airfield at a run.

Many called out to them, and a few brave souls tried to stand in their way. But assaulting one’s commanding officer went against every good soldier’s indoctrination, so even the most suspicious subordinates held their fire until the strange group was within sight of the parked aircraft.

Finally, one junior officer could stand the farce no longer. Something had obviously changed in the Coronel, and he needed to be stopped for the good of the cause. This young officer’s shot missed, but instead of being attacked as he expected, the other soldiers chasing the fleeing bunch joined the attack.

The towering oil fire was nearby and anyone standing on the airfield washed in the glow. But while they may have been easy targets, they weren’t soft targets. Bullets from three different rifles struck the back armor of the rearmost giant. Wonder Woman turned and held her ground when she heard the gunfire, letting the others find a ride. Most of the camp’s few aircraft were already in the air, and Coronel Romero knew only one still on the ground was large enough to fit all of them. As Wonder Woman drew the camp’s fire, he directed them towards it, an old two-engine near the middle of the field. All the aircraft were fueled for battle, but it would take time to start nonetheless.

Captain Trevor, Coronel Romero, and Batman climbed in, while their four guards stayed outside to hold off the camp. Steve and Batman took the pilot and co-pilot seats, while Coronel Romero waited near the open door.

The props started spinning, but by then, Wonder Woman was being pushed back under withering fire, and some squads were flanking around her and taking potshots at the plane. Their giant guards suppressed these assailants with their machine guns, but it was difficult to protect a moving target as the plane gradually turned onto the runway.

Coronel Romero called to the cockpit. “Take off!”

Steve called back, “Not without Diana!”

Coronel Romero cursed. He could see the whole of the battle. Forty yards ahead, Wonder Woman was holding back a river of lead like a dam, with the giants holding a line behind her. If she turned to run, the Argentines could approach and focus their fire at the plane. One lucky round to the windshield or engines could ground them.

He shouted an order in loud, clear German. The four guards, who were firing prone or in cover behind the struts of other aircraft, stood and charged. They raced past Wonder Woman, firing from the hip with a battle cry. She heard her name called and looked back. Coronel Romero was waving from the door of the taxing aircraft. She looked ahead. One of the dashing guards was struck down. The rest endured fierce fire, but they didn’t stop. Then she heard her name again. Steve Trevor was also at the door and urging her to come. A bullet stuck the fuselage three feet from his head and he ducked inside.

Wonder Woman ran. She hopped inside the aircraft and Coronel Romero shut the door behind her. She looked out the small window and could faintly make out their guards amid the smoke and gunfire. Incredibly, two were still standing. One had dropped his gun and was making his way into the score of troops from the Argentine camp barehanded. The plane sped and climbed away before she could see his fate.

“Remarkable, aren’t they?” said Coronel Romero.

Wonder Woman looked away from the window. She stumbled to a seat as the plane lifted off. “You know of them?”

Coronel Romero occupied an opposite seat. He drawled, “Oh yes, but I think that story must wait for a more proprietous hour.”

“Why?”

“These Argentines are rank amateur in the air. Night sorties are challenging, so this Romero’s little squadron only launched one model of craft tonight, and the pilots were instructed to attack any other silhouette they see in the air. Soon enough, they will spot us in their faster, better-armed fighters and try to shoot us out of the sky, not realizing this craft is one of their own.” He smiled. “Ironically, the same reaction as if they knew exactly who we were.”

Wonder Woman reflected on this and stammered, “Then why agree to this plan?”

“Ah, you forget! I saw inside your kleines Schätzchen.” Coronel Romero looked toward the cockpit. “He really is that good.”

Moments later, the buzz saw drone of machine guns strafed overhead, but Captain Steve Trevor already had the feel of his bird and dipped in time. The fighter came around for another pass, but Steve had already tilted up, dodging gunfire with nearly prescient skill. By the third loop, their plane was nowhere to be found. Steve had plummeted down, flying nap-of-the-earth over the unfamiliar hills and glaciers. As the hapless fighter searched the air above, drifting further away, Steve stayed low, swerving back and forth to keep his nose out of the landscape, dodging the black horizon with fractions of a second to spare.

This continued for eight minutes, Steve hugging the earth so close that the heights of trees were a major concern. The Colonel and Wonder Woman held their seats in a white knuckle grip. Batman co-piloted with his usual grim calm. Steve grinned the whole way. Finally, they had flown what seemed an ample distance from the battlefield without spotting another aircraft, so Steve climbed to a sane altitude and leveled off. They were headed for the border, but that was really a consequence of generally heading northwest, as that was the most sophisticated navigation they could perform under the circumstances.

Once they were flying steady, Batman left the co-pilot’s seat and joined Wonder Woman and Coronel Romero in the short cabin.

“It’s time we talked.”

Coronel Romero crossed his arms. “I have heard much of the infamous Dark Knight’s interrogations. Let’s see your technique.”

“Not my technique. Hers.” He nodded at Wonder Woman.

The Coronel frowned. “Unsporting.”

“You think I care about being sporting?”

“I wasn’t sure. Seemed worth a try.”

Wonder Woman took a loop of her golden lasso and tied it to the Coronel’s arm.

The Coronel began to sweat. “No, not again. Don’t-”

Batman cut him off with a gesture. “We won’t eject you. Yet.”

“You realize this over-promoted lout will hear everything we say. If you have any sense, I hope you plan to kill him.”

“I thought he didn’t know English.”

“Why take the risk?”

Wonder Woman sat in front of the Coronel, idly holding her lasso. “I will begin. Explain these large soldiers who fought for you.”

“Very well. Have you heard of the Peña Duro experiments? As far as I’m aware, no one has all the records of that disaster, but my late rival Salazar managed to acquire some for the Reich. We ran our first tests in Hamburg in the summer of 1936. Twenty-two paratroopers volunteered. They were in peak heath, ages 23 to 29. Results were catastrophic. Thirteen died from heart or liver failures and four others from uncertain causes. Of the five survivors, three were crippled and discharged to veteran’s hospitals. One was physically unharmed but mentally sickened and was sent to be euthanized. Only one test subject was deemed a success.

“The doctors decided that the problem was maturity. The harsh procedures overwhelmed a grown body, but it was thought perhaps a child would survive, being more adaptable. The next test was run early in ‘38: forty-one prepubescent boys drafted from orphanages. This test was a marvelous success: survival rates reached nearly twenty percent. Within six months, their bodies changed from those of boys to hulking warriors larger than any man. A painful process, I’m told, but a valuable one. Several planners even celebrated the ratio, as a child contributes very little to the war effort, so removing five children to produce one über-soldier seemed an excellent exchange.”

Wonder Woman expression grew bleak as the story was told. When she spoke, it was as much to herself as to another. “These giants are children.”

Coronel Romero was indifferent. “The eldest may now be thirteen. All are given two years of the Wehrmacht’s finest training and discipline after they finished growing, which is why the first batch has only recently been deployed, but the results speak for themselves, no? The bodies of heroes with the minds of eager, obedient boys.”

Batman asked, “How many have been … produced?”

“Early on they suspected the dreaded organ failure may merely be delayed in a child, so trials were kept small. I believe fewer than sixty are field-ready today, but now our schools are finishing that many in a season. By next year, it will be three hundred in the same time.”

“That’s six thousand orphans.”

“Yes, eventually supplies will run low. I suppose they’ll turn to regular children then, but that isn’t my program.”

Batman paced along the fuselage, which was difficult with his injuries and the turbulence. “Before you commanded this force attacking Río Gallegos, you controlled Amanda Waller. What do you think of her?”

“A bit gossipy for a vigilante, aren’t we?”

“The whole story. Every detail that seems relevant to you.”

“If you insist, I think there aren’t ten leaders in Washington with a mind like Amanda Waller, and from an untermensch of all people. She has a finger on the pulse of your generals, and more importantly, your politicians. You see, battle plans are nice, but the greatest strategic coup is knowing just how far you can go, how much patience you can abuse before an adversary will retaliate. To take spoils from the table without suffering a war is the greatest win. And thanks to Waller, I had a fantastic sense of how many cuts I could make on the beast before it turned its claws.”

Wonder Woman sounded curious, “What do you mean?”

“I had a good thing going, as the Americans say, with Carmine Falcone. Perhaps I was a bit reckless – a lesson for next time. Regardless, Waller had the extraordinary boldness to arrest me. I doubt anyone else would have done that. So, I leave Carmine behind, and he confesses all my programs to Waller. Well, I have Waller by then, but I still need to go through the motions. I shut down all my own accomplishments in North America. I hardly rescued three. That stung, oh yes, that galled me. So I decided to retaliate.

“Without my spies, it was time to leave the United States. Too dull. I do well in civil wars. More opportunity. Argentina was the place to be. I would build up my resources and take another crack at Uncle Sam in a few months. Still, I had some leverage to hurt the United States before I left. That was my mission, but I also saw it as a chance to get even. I would kill her anyway, but I wanted to insult her before she died.”

“How?”

“Amanda Waller has an unorthodox theory of modern war. She’s certain that that much of war is won by specialized forces – spies and commandos and instigators. She believes it is crucial to win the skirmishes beyond the conventional front lines. And she’s been collecting your best and brightest to do just that. Incredible bunch. Most of your Army would hardly challenge Portugal, but her team is something to behold.

“Frankly, I don’t agree with her views. Offer me ten commandos or ten battle tanks, and I would take the tanks. Still, with her great intelligence, I worried that she might be correct. Naturally, I had to dispose of this miracle team before I left. That would be my retaliation as well as insurance against her theory. Neatly done, no?”

Batman frowned. “Sending an American platoon to save Captain Trevor.”

“That’s how I pitched the idea. Shame they only let me send a platoon, Waller has lists with a few companies of desired recruits she’d shanghai given the opportunity. Still, a rousing success. I sent her best into a hopeless ambush with old weapons, no intelligence, and no support, and they still bled those Argentinians dry. Can you imagine the chaos these warriors would cause on a proper mission? If they came to Europe, we’d have to send a battalion after them! But now the cream of America’s fighting men has been spilled on some cold corner of South America, the Americans have no diplomatic angle to react, and Germany didn’t pay a cent. Well, except for the large boys we sent to asset, but that’s a small price. You know, I’m almost glad Waller is alive. Now she has more time to appreciate what it feels like to lose years of hard work in a span of days!” The Coronel spat this last line with venom in his voice.

“What do you mean, that’s how you ‘pitched’ the idea?”

“Ah, another Americanism. It’s getting to be a habit.”

“What were you implying?”

“I was implying that it was an excuse, of course.”

“Rescuing Captain Trevor was an excuse?”

“Obviously! If I wanted him that badly, I’d have tried another extraction of my own. Or paid off the jailer. Or control him myself. A battle is a poor way to keep someone safe. Do you know how those Argentines began their counterattack on the Rio Apiculata garrison? With mortars. A rescue mission would not start with indiscriminate explosives.”

“Hold on!” said Captain Trevor. “Then how in the blue blazes did you catch me? And why get so angry interrogating me if I wasn’t the point to begin with?”

Coronel Romero, Batman, and Wonder Woman stared at him.

Wonder Woman delicately asked, “Shouldn’t you be flying the plane?”

“We’ll be fine for a few seconds.”

She looked at him pleadingly. “It is good to see you again, Steven, but would you please fly the plane?”

He rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay, but speak up, guys. I can barely hear you up front.” He strutted into the cockpit and yelled over his shoulder, “And my question stands, fog lady in the truth rope!”

Coronel Romero raised her voice and answered, “Luck, young man. Though it wasn’t a priority, I still made orders to take you if by chance you survived. Conveniently, I’m told you were found unconscious in the middle of the woods, so you were taken without a struggle. Luck. And of course I interrogated you. It was for the same reason that I made an earnest effort to steal you away from your first captivity. Making an espionage ring from scratch is difficult. I much prefer to steal one. And by now everyone knows that you’re the last man with the great Salazar’s secrets. I had worried your earlier interrogators had taken those names from you and ruined the opportunity, but if you resisted me, they had no chance.” There was quiet laughter from the cockpit. The Coronel didn’t hear it and continued, “I held such dreams of what I could do. It would be easy to run Argentina once this coup succeeds, but with Argentina and Salazar’s resources, perhaps I could run South America. Once the time was ripe, I could take it by proper conquest. Then the United States would be too busy to enter war, and I’d rule a continent.”

The laughter grew from the cockpit until it couldn’t be ignored.

Wonder Woman looked concerned and called out, “Steven, are you well?”

Captain Trevor stayed in the cockpit, but once he managed to stop laughing, he cried out, “That’s what this was about? All you jerks trying to control me because of what that fat guy knew? What made you think that?”

Batman and Colonel Romero looked at Wonder Woman. She blushed and called to Captain Trevor, “After we separated at the party, I told Amanda Waller that I had extracted secrets from Carlos Salazar about his many plots, but he confessed in Spanish, so only you understood him.”

There was silence in the plane for a moment, then Captain Trevor called back, “He gave a summary! We hardly talked for two minutes! You thought he spilled useful details on a dozen operations in two minutes? That’s what you told Waller? We didn’t have enough time to discuss one of them! My Spanish isn’t even that great!”

Wonder Woman’s blush reddened. Colonel Romero sighed and rubbed his eyes.

Batman asked, “How many minds have you occupied?”

The Coronel scoffed. “Ever?”

“Yes.”

“Please, I’ve lost count.”

“Guess.”

“Three hundred.”

“How long do you typically stay?”

“Oh, child, it truly depends.”

“Guess.”

The Coronel shrugged. “A week. But many far briefer, and some much, much longer.”

“What’s the longest?”

“Just short of a decade, if memory serves. You’d never guess who.”

Batman stopped to think. “How old are you?”

“Isn’t it rude to ask a lady her age?”

The golden lasso shimmered and the Coronel twitched uncomfortably. “Fine! I was born in 1793. I trust you can do the math.”

Batman stopped again to think, so Wonder Woman interjected, “How are you still alive?”

“Magic.”

“Elaborate.”

“In my youth, I disliked the idea of death, so I sought alternatives.-”

Batman asked, “Where were you born?”

“The city was Düsseldorf, though my country changed several times as a child thanks to Napoleon. At times Prussia, at times Westphalia, always Düsseldorf.”

“What is your birth name?”

“Batman, Batman, no honor among pseudonyms?”

The golden lasso shimmered again. Coronel Romero shut his eyes tight. “Paula.”

“Family name?”

“von Gunther.”

“von? You were nobility?”

“Born into it, yes, but that soon changed. Again, thanks to the Corsican.”

Wonder Woman said, “Continue to elaborate on your magic.”

“I had seen enough death and wanted none for myself. I studied books of the great alchemists and sorcerers. In time I found a teacher who promised to save me from death. I thought my final lesson would grant me immortality. In a way it did. See, my teacher was not human as she appeared. She is a goddess or a nymph or some other spirit, I cannot know, but my final lesson opened my soul to an aspect of her, and we became as one. I gained her gift to possess others, and my own body would not age so long as I wasn’t using it. However, I am bound to her wishes. Her thoughts are my thoughts; I lost any distinction between the two long ago. Is that elaboration enough, Amazon?”

Batman frowned. “This spirit has become you? To whom am I speaking?”

The Coronel laughed, “The question is meaningless, Dark Knight. I have become her, and a small drop of her is me. I imagine you have some empathy for a combined personality.”

“What is its name?”

“Oh, I dare not speak it.” The golden lasso shimmered, but Colonel Romero grit his teeth. “No! I will not.” The lasso shimmered harder. The air grew warm and the dim cabin lights flickered. “I must not!” They hit a choppy patch of turbulence and the plane lost altitude.

Steve turned around and yelled, “What’s going on back there?”

Batman looked uncomfortable. He was about to withdraw the question, but Wonder Woman held her lasso with conviction. “Yes, what is your demon patron’s name?”

Coronel Romero twisted in agony and finally hissed, “She has many names. The Metamorph. Ishtar. Herald of Trigon. Your legends know he best as … Circe.”

The turbulence stopped. The air was cool again, and the cabin lights were steady. Steve called back, “False alarm, we’re all good.”

Coronel Romero looked like he had just sprinted a mile. He panted limply in his seat.

Wonder Woman wore an expression which Batman couldn’t place. Not angry or determined or sad, but something between these. Coronel Romero eventually looked up at him. “You’re welcome to sit, Batman. I know it hurts you to stand. We have a long flight ahead of us.”

He sat.

Coronel Romero stretched. “I must say, that was refreshing. I suppose confession really is good for the soul.”

Batman asked, “Three hundred minds?”

The Coronel shrugged. “Thereabouts.”

“And you learn from all of them? Crafts? Sciences? Arts? Languages? Philosophies?”

“You name it, I’ve probably heard it. Of course, I can forget like anyone else. Some patches are muddled. For instance, I can’t recall anything from the 1880s.”

“You’re being awfully forthcoming, volunteering unasked information.”

“I’m a survivor, Batman. At the moment, my life depends on you and your potions. I’m not stupid.”

“Why serve the Nazis?”

“I like what they have to say. Not many fresh ideas when you get down to it, but a nice spin on the classics. And I always admire a conquest of France.”

“You could be anyone. Running spies must be grunt work for you.”

“True. Why work for the Abwehr? Because Circe wills it. She wants them to win, and so do I.”

“Why would a spirit care about some human conflict?”

Wonder Woman glanced oddly at him. The Coronel sneered. “Have you never read a myth? You might think they do nothing else! But no, like so many of the old stories this starts with a prophecy.”

Wonder Woman sat up straight. “You have heard it?”

Coronel Romero eyed her suspiciously. “Have you?”

Batman looked back and forth between them. “Let’s hear this prophecy.”

The Coronel nodded. “I am not Circe’s only manifestation. She is also somewhere an oracle. And she prophesized that the Amazons of lore would soon leave their ancient island. They would try to beguile the world, then they would try to win it by force. And Nazi Germany was the only power who could resist their charms and stop them.” He looked at Diana. “So the Amazons have heard this as well?”

Diana’s inscrutable expression turned hard and bitter. Batman didn’t try to stop her as she wound her lasso and silently walked to the cockpit.

The Coronel gave Batman a small smile like they shared an inside joke. “Looks like I touched a nerve.”

Batman asked, “Why America? Why not take some lofty spot in Berlin and serve there?”

“A few reasons. One, I’m bored. I need adventure. Two, I’ve spent most of my life in Germany, often doing exactly that. But lately I’ve grown concerned that my too many people will see through me if I stay in one place. The world is changing, it seems. I decided to leave Germany for a time. But where to be truly useful the Reich outside of Germany? It was essentially America or a war zone. And not the fun kind of war zone. That is why. Oh, and your music is much better. Nazis do not understand music.”

Up in the cockpit, Captain Trevor flew as Wonder Woman sat in the co-pilot’s seat. He could see that she was in a temper and kept quiet. But after half an hour flying quietly through the night beside her, he sensed that her foul mood had mellowed to tired boredom.

He cleared his throat. “Uh, Diana?”

She glanced at him. “Yes?”

“Was it my imagination, or did you see Batman with his mask off?”

She nodded. “Yes. It was dirty.”

He gaped at her. “You saw Batman’s face?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Well, who is he?”

“Batman.”

“I mean what did he look like?”

“His eyes were bleeding. But I don’t think that is permanent.”

“Can you describe his features?”

She hesitated. “Er … Manly.”

“Manly.”

“He looked like a man.”

“That’s it? No hair color? No nose shape? Nothing?

Wonder Woman shrugged sheepishly. “I am new in this world.”

“So?”

“Men often look the same to me.”

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-26 02:02am

Stewart M wrote:
2018-03-25 07:49pm
Batman lifted her to sit, watching her hands. He pointed at Coronel Romero. “Take him.”

Coronel Romero’s eyes widened in terror, but before he could make a sound, Der Wehrwulf sprung from the bed. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman hesitated, uncomprehending. Before they could act, Der Wehrwulf caught Coronel Romero’s arm and turned to mist which covered him.
I feel so sorry for Colonel Romero. This is just NOT his day... or week.
He spoke quietly to Batman. “My Argentines comrades believe I only speak Spanish, so there was no way to talk amongst them without being understood or drawing suspicion. These oversized half-wits are loyal to a fault and don’t know what I speak, and they also don’t know English, so we can talk freely in front of them if I act condescending.” He backhanded Batman across the face. “You really should see someone about your neck. It did not feel good.”
Der Wehrwulf is, I have to say, an entertaining villain. Is she from DC comics, or is she an original character?
“Hold on!” said Captain Trevor. “Then how in the blue blazes did you catch me? And why get so angry interrogating me if I wasn’t the point to begin with?”

Coronel Romero, Batman, and Wonder Woman stared at him.

Wonder Woman delicately asked, “Shouldn’t you be flying the plane?”

“We’ll be fine for a few seconds.”

She looked at him pleadingly. “It is good to see you again, Steven, but would you please fly the plane?”

He rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay, but speak up, guys. I can barely hear you up front.” He strutted into the cockpit and yelled over his shoulder, “And my question stands, fog lady in the truth rope!”
...Beautiful.
Captain Trevor stayed in the cockpit, but once he managed to stop laughing, he cried out, “That’s what this was about? All you jerks trying to control me because of what that fat guy knew? What made you think that?”

Batman and Colonel Romero looked at Wonder Woman. She blushed and called to Captain Trevor, “After we separated at the party, I told Amanda Waller that I had extracted secrets from Carlos Salazar about his many plots, but he confessed in Spanish, so only you understood him.”

There was silence in the plane for a moment, then Captain Trevor called back, “He gave a summary! We hardly talked for two minutes! You thought he spilled useful details on a dozen operations in two minutes? That’s what you told Waller? We didn’t have enough time to discuss one of them! My Spanish isn’t even that great!”
Even more beautiful.
The golden lasso shimmered again. Coronel Romero shut his eyes tight. “Paula.”

“Family name?”

“von Gunther.”

“von? You were nobility?”

“Born into it, yes, but that soon changed. Again, thanks to the Corsican.”
Ahhhh. So she IS a DC character... sort of. And yet, not quite.
Wonder Woman shrugged sheepishly. “I am new in this world.”

“So?”

“Men often look the same to me.”
Even more beautifuller than the last beautiful thing. :)
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 162
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-04-02 05:56pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 31: The End of the Beginning​


Chile.

The twin-engine airplane carrying Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Steven Trevor, and Coronel Santiago Romero away from the midnight battle for Río Gallegos didn’t carry enough fuel for a trans-continental flight. Happily, the city was at the slender tip of South America, only a short hop from the border with neutral Chile. Their navigational maps didn’t extend far into Chile, and the old plane didn’t have the most modern instruments for night flying, so it was impossible to be sure just where they were. Captain Trevor merely flew until he reached the Pacific then followed the coast north, rationalizing that this was the best way to find a settlement, and if he had to make an emergency landing, at least it wouldn’t be in the mountains.

Hours into the flight, as the fuel ran low and the edge of the sun touched the horizon over the eastern hills, the long-dead radio on the instrument panel squawked to life. Captain Trevor nearly fell out of his seat, and acting co-pilot Wonder Woman was woken from her nap. Steve toggled the radio and answered.

It was the Chilean Air Force. An interceptor was on his tail and wanted to know why a lone aircraft with Argentine military marks was in his airspace.

Steve hesitated. He looked at Wonder Woman who shrugged. He answered that he was an agent with the United States government looking for safe passage.

There was silence on the line. Finally, the Chilean provided coordinates for an airstrip an hour north and ordered them to follow his escort. The Chilean plane flew overhead, keeping pace just in front of them.

By then, Batman and Coronel Romero were in the cockpit to see the situation.

They group discussed their options, whether they could escape or land or return to Argentine airspace, whether they could slip away on the ground or fight their way out, all except Batman who kept silent.

Finally, Batman told them to land where directed and not resist. Steve pointed out that it would be difficult to explain themselves wearing an Argentine Coronel’s uniform, a bat costume, and bronze armor, and while several of them were conspicuously bloodied. There were no other clothes on board. Wonder Woman mentioned that she could change her outfit, but she would still look wounded.

Batman dismissed these concerns by pulling out fifty thousand Chilean pesos.

Steve asked what they should do if the authorities simply stole the money. Batman answered that, in such a scenario, they would be obliged to fight their way out.

Happily, the Chilean authorities let the group go for a small customs fee and the donation of their aircraft. On their new temporary visas, they were listed as war refugees, which was almost accurate if one squinted an eye and closed the other. The authorities were even generous enough to leave them enough pesos for a train to the capital and a change of clothes.

They took the train to Santiago. Steve, now dressed as a humble Chilean farmer, visited the American embassy and exited with four new passports and IDs. His own was real. The others were temporary fakes. Batman, now dressed as a humble Chilean farmer who saved up for a nice pair of sunglasses, entered an international bank and exited with several traveler’s checks and a few American newspapers.

They traveled to the airport and found a restaurant while they waited for their flight.

Steve thumbed through their passports. “These will get us into the States. Study carefully.”

Diana, dressed as a humble Chilean farmer, asked, “Did you tell the embassy staff our story?”

Steve nodded. “I sent a diplomatic cable, yes. They have the rough summary.”

Batman asked, “Did the embassy staff treat you strangely?”

Steve shook his head. “Considering the circumstances, no.”

“Not at all?”

“Why? You sound nervous.” Steve clicked his fingers. “Wait, you're worried because you're a fugitive from the federal government, aren't you?”

Batman gave him a long, level look. “So?”

Steve snickered. “I'm an agent of the United States. What do you think I ought to say to you in this situation?”

Batman considered the question. “Welcome to the club.”

“Huh?”

Diana gently explained, “Amanda Waller predicted that when you returned, you would be arrested.”

Steve frowned. “Why?”

“Assassinating an ambassador.”

“Oh, yeah. That.”

Diana held his hand. “You don’t need to return to captivity.”

“Diana, I swore an oath to my country. I think I did the right thing, but if they disagree, well, sometimes you just got to face the music. I’m no coward.” He smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry, angel, I’ll figure out a plan to get you out before I turn myself in.”

Diana hummed uneasily. “Actually, Waller promised that I would be rewarded for killing Der Wehrwulf.”

Coronel Romero, dressed as an arrogant Chilean farmer, put down his spoon without sipping his soup. “And you just say this in front of me?”

Diana sneered at him. “Don’t fear. I’m sure they’d find a live Nazi more useful than a dead one.”

Steve chuckled. “Hey, there’s my answer. I helped catch the Nazi, they’ll give me a pass.”

Diana asked, “I thought you were going to face the music?”

“Sure, but I’m not going to break into the concert.”

Batman said, “Our last connecting flight is from Miami. They'll likely arrest you there instead of waiting for you to land in Washington. They'll be waiting in the terminal, so I'll part ways shortly after we disembark.”

Diana asked, “What will you do in DC without us?”

“I'm heading for Gotham.”

Steve looked at him skeptically. “You're taking the flight to Gotham? They just issued your new ID. They can track the plane you board.”

“They can try.”

Coronel Romero growled, “Don’t think you can leave without healing my poison, child!”

Batman faced Diana. He reached into his bag, took out a syringe, and laid it in Diana’s hand. “Use it on your guest when you want.”

After the meal, they waited in the terminal for their flight. The others talked or read. Batman slept. At least, his companions thought he was sleeping – he sat erect and moved somewhat less than usual. When anyone needed to speak with him, he was alert within a second. At one point, Coronel Romero had to use the restroom, so Steve escorted him. Diana sat beside Batman and looked at her knees. “I haven’t thanked you yet.”

Batman didn’t respond.

She looked at him. “Thank you.”

Batman didn’t respond.

Diana said, “We disagreed about our task, but when our aircraft was struck, I feared for your life. I was heartened to see you survived. Without you, I don’t believe I would have triumphed.”

After a moment, Batman finally spoke. “Before we were shot down, you agreed to follow your promise to me. No killing. You swore it. Then I see you with blood on your hands.”

Diana’s brow creased, but she resisted her anger. “From wiping your eyes. I saved you.”

“I made it to the heart of their camp on my own, all the way to their jail cell. They caught me because when they came to fetch Captain Trevor. They were using him as a human shield, weren’t they? Because you sacred them. You must have been terrifying. How many did you kill, Diana? How many children?”

She huffed and answered in a low tone, “I did not know about the children.”

“Neither did I, but my ignorance doesn’t leave corpses. I guess their human shield worked, since she caught you soon afterward. In the end, what did your violence accomplish?”

“But you were also violent. You poisoned Der Wehrwulf.”

“She was never in danger.”

“What?”

“I gave her a mild stimulant. The other syringe was empty and missed the vein. The 'cure' I gave you has a little distilled water from the restaurant. She’ll be fine.”

“You let her fear she is dying.”

“Fear is a luxury of the living.”

“Well, I’m sure I won the battle for the virtuous side. That will save lives.”

“Perhaps you did, and perhaps it will. But that wasn’t your promise.”

“I saw a sign, Batman. I was lost and alone and saw a sword in a burning tree.”


“And?”

Diana finally looked angry. “I will not be shamed if your are blind enough to dismiss signs, Batman. It was war! I confess I was wrong, but only in swearing to you. That was my true sin. Perhaps you would have succeeded, but I refuse to trust that your methods are best for all places or all people. I think you are the zealot.”

Batman said nothing. He still hadn’t faced her. She leaned over him, trying to shake his composure. “Well? Do you say nothing to defend yourself?”

“You rescued your man. You have your captive. We're done.”

Soon the others returned from the restroom to see Diana fuming and Batman still asleep. Steve looked between them. “What did I miss?”

---​

Batman, Diana, Captain Trevor, and Coronel Romero were on their final shared connecting flight to Miami when Diana spoke to Batman again. “I still think your beliefs are mistaken.”

Steve and the Coronel looked at Diana in confusion. Batman didn’t respond.
Diana continued, “But I did break my vow. That is inexcusable, and I must make amends."

Steve asked, “Diana, what are you talking about?”

“I have wronged Batman. I owe him.”

“Wronged Batman? How?”

“I had-”

Batman interrupted. “That’s between us. You owe me nothing.”

Diana shook her head adamantly. “No. I will pay my debt.”

“Fine.” Batman looked at Steve. “Captain Trevor, if you’re still a free man, I’ll find you to ask about crimes performed by the United States government. Then some day I may need you to testify in court. If they don’t let you testify, there are journalists who will want to interview you. Promise me you’ll do this when that day comes, and whatever debts she owes me are clear.”

Steve hesitated. “Well hold on, I’m not sure if-”

Diana interrupted. “Of course he will. He is brave and will face the music. But I loathe to pass on a debt for convenience. How can I help you? What do you need in Gotham?”

“Solitude.”

Diana crossed her arms. “Hm.”

When the four reached Miami and stepped off the plane, the bright Florida sun shone down on them. They glanced up and shielded their eyes. When they looked down again, Batman had disappeared. Steve looked around the tarmac. It was empty for ten yards in every direction. He shook his head and fumed. Coronel Romero chuckled.

They entered the terminal. The four Bureau agents were easy for Steve to spot. It was the haircut. They walked up and introduced themselves. The agents dutifully flashed badges. One asked Steve to confirm some details of Der Wehrwulf in his report from the embassy, while another rest put the Coronel into handcuffs. Steve answered the questions, and the agent mentioned that they were building protocols for just such an occasion since Waller's discovery. Diana handed over her syringe, and three of the agents took the Coronel away.

Steve asked the remaining agent. “What about us?”

The agent said, “For you, I imagine you'll find out at your court martial.”

Steve accepted this solemnly. “Understood.”

“For Batman, I was told he would never be caught walking with the rest of you, and I shouldn't waste manpower combing for him.”

“And Diana goes free. Fair enough.”

“Actually, Captain Trevor, those aren't my orders.” With that, eight other occupants of the terminal stood up and formed a loose circle around them. “I'm taking both of you in.”

Diana looked around and said sharply, “We were promised I would be at liberty.”

The agent asked, “Promised?”

She hesitated. “It was suggested.”

“Hands behind your backs. Let's make this easy.”

Diana frowned.

Twelve minutes later, panting and sweaty, she and Steve climbed aboard the direct flight to Gotham. Their wardrobes and haircuts had changed. Steve knew enough about civil aviation to dismiss the possibility that they would ground all flights to find two fugitives. They might station cops at destinations of likely outbound flights, but Steve hoped Batman would have some advice on avoiding that.

They walked down the aisle of the plane and saw Batman near the back. Happily, there were two seats open near him. Batman frowned.

---​

The Peppermint Club, Bludhaven.

Detective Arnold Flass sat on a couch with his arms around two young ladies. After half an hour in their company, Detective Flass had learned that one was named Brandy and the other was not. Brandy thought his camel hair coat looked expensive. Not-Brandy thought trumpets were funny instruments.

Flass ordered another round for the table and continued his story. “-So there I was, rescuing the mayor from a tiger, when lo and behold, the boat starts to sink.”

Not-Brandy gasped and covered her mouth. Brandy filed her nails and checked her teeth in the reflection of her glass.

Suddenly, a shadow fell across the table. Flass half-turned and muttered, “They’re with me, punk. Hit the road.”

A mean voice answered, “Only if you tag along.”

Flass looked up, past the considerable frame and into the sullen eyes of Marco Bertinelli. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

Marco pulled open a flap of his coat, showing the handle of a Hargrave .31. “Then you shoulda ran more than three miles out of town, nitwit. Or maybe stayed outta clubs owned by friends of ours. That would make sense too.” Flass looked past Marco and saw two other goons near the entrance. He muttered something to the girls and left the table. Marco put an arm around his shoulders and led him outside, tipping the waitress as she walked by and sharing a nod with the doorman.

They slid into the backseat of a car.

Marco tutted as the driver pulled into traffic. “The great Detective Flass, hiding like a scared little girl. Heard you was supposed to be a real streetfighter.”

Flass crossed his arms. “Marco, right?”

“Yeah. Guess you usually deal with the Falcones. Here’s a hint: your posse shot my cousin.”

“Careful. If you touch me-”

“Heh, dat’s funny. Nah, this ain’t that. See, you’re cordially invited to inaugural meeting of the Committee For the Keeping of Gotham from Burning to the Dirt. See, because you’re the guest of honor.”

“What a gas.”

Flass had been happy to obey his mandated leave pending the investigation into the Arturo Bertinelli convoy disaster. He wasn’t stupid enough to believe it would blow over completely if he kept his head in the sand, but he had survived storms before by taking time to get his story straight and letting the hotheads tire each other out. Patience was a virtue.

There was also something to be said for tact, and Flass kept his mouth shut for the remainder of the ride. They ended up at a shabby hotel in midtown. Even a mover and shaker at Detective Flass’ level had precious little interaction with the Families directly, but he knew they had a particular code of etiquette for big meetings. It was never as flashy as one expected, and he guessed the owner of the place was some neutral party, an out-of-town investor or one of the exceedingly rare gangs with no Family ties. They ushered him through a lobby where everyone was armed and into the private lounge.

With Bertinelli carrying a Hargrave, Flass might have expected one of the dons to come by, but he didn’t expect all of them. Franco Bertinelli, Salvatore Maroni, Giuseppe Nobilo, and the biggest wild card of all, Mario Falcone. Flass wouldn’t have been more shocked if Roosevelt showed up. He also recognized Walter Brown, an old schlub City Hall sent around when they wanted to send a message off the record.

Flass was ushered to the table. He looked across the faces there and didn’t know what to say, so he nodded and said, “Gentlemen.”

By tradition, Falcone led these meetings, but only when that name meant Carmine. Mario hadn’t earned an ounce of the veneration his father commanded. Carmine’s runner-up in power and seniority had always been Sal Maroni, so he began instead.

“Officer. Heard you was out of town.”

Maroni was known as friendly but temperamental, and Flass couldn’t guess what might get on his bad side today. He glanced at Mario Falcone. Flass was tight with the Falcones, and Carmine was known to favor the police when possible, making them his obvious guardians in this crowd, but Flass had never met his son Mario. By reputation, Mario had a real short fuse, and it was an open question whether he was anywhere near the same negotiator as his old man, let alone where his interests lay.

Flass answered Maroni, “That’s true, sir. I was out of town. Vacation.”

“Oh, that’s not suspicious. Do you know what’s happening since you’ve left?”

“I’ve heard a little.”

“What have you heard?”

“I understand the Commissioner is on a warpath. Every friend and associate of the late Arturo Bertinelli they can collar for whistling without a permit is getting the third degree.”

Walter Brown stood up. “Er, yes, that’s correct, Detective Flass. He has been quite fiery in his campaign. However, the city has also suffered a number of other setbacks. A long list of neighborhoods considered, well, safe have suffered a sudden spree of muggings and burglaries. Gotham’s Sanitation, Teamsters, and Cementworkers Unions have all gone on strike on claims of unsafe working conditions. There have been two major riots in Blackgate Penitentiary, forcing extra correctional officers to be called in from across the state. And, strangely, numerous members of city government have had cars and houses repossessed to cover outstanding debts. Needless to say, the Mayor’s Office would like all of these problems to stop.”

Flass wanted to snicker, but he kept a straight face. This was the Families playing nice. A warning shot.

Franco Bertinelli suddenly spoke. “Arturo broke the rules, so my people wiped our hands of him. Everyone knows this. Then he kills a cop and gets blasted in return. Not our fault, not our problem. I'll pay for his funeral and bury it there. But still they harass us. That is inexcusable.”

Flass opened his mouth, but Bertinelli shook his finger and interrupted, “You cops, you say, 'ah, but Arturo had a shiv'. You cops assume I armed him.” Bertinelli scowled. “Why would we do that? You know what I say, I say some cops slipped him the shiv. So my business associates and I decide to demonstrate that we won't be railroaded like two-bit hustlers on a plea deal. What do you say to that?”

“Mr. Bertinelli, believe me, I agree.”

Bertinelli squinted at Flass. “Really?”

“It was a cop, but not all cops. We're on the same side here. Listen, I have been a steady partner to the Families for many years. I have nothing to gain from this. No one on my crew has anything to gain from this, and I have grilled them over the flames, believe me.”

“Then who does, Flass?”

“I don't know who slipped Arturo a shiv or how they did it, but I know this: that person wanted us to hate each other. Start a feud. Your cousin, hey, God rest his soul, but he was a tiger. You can't put him in a cage. We knew that. Whoever gave him a weapon must'a believed he was going to hurt as many cops as he could, even if it killed him. And Arturo took the bait.”

“So you're saying your bad at your job and useless to me?”

“Mr. Bertinelli, I don't know who passed the shiv, but I know who's behind it. You're right, there had to be a cop involved. No other way. And there is only one cop in Gotham who's proven time and again that he wants to wreck our mutual arrangement that badly: Jim Gordon.”

“Gordon.”

“The Golden Boy, you've heard the name. My friends in the Department have been working hard to sideline this nutjob for years, but he keeps turning up. And he's grown his own little crop of sycophants.”

“So one of them reached Arturo? Get near his cell?”

Flass hesitated. "We're still checking 'em wit' a fine-toothed comb. Most were nowhere near. There is one of 'em, this little doll of his in my station, but we keep her in the basement where she can't get up to no trouble."

“Then what is this Gordon to us?”

“I'm telling you, somehow it was him. All of you, ask your best earners how many good rackets he's knocked over. He's a menace, and this is right where he wants us. He's going to tire us out and go in for the kill. But I'm going to go out there and make him spill what-”

“No," said Mario Falcone. The word was simple and ended the discussion. "Detective, you had your chance. I'm putting an open bounty on this Gordon's head. Ten grand." He looked at the other dons. "If it was Gordon, problem solved. If not, one less troublesome cop. No one plays us for chumps. That will put us on the right foot to deal with the Commissioner.”

The other dons eyed each other with restrained displeasure. This was not how matters were settled. They should have retired to discuss the matter in private. Mr. Brown knew that. Detective Flass knew that. The young buck in Carmine's chair absolutely knew that. They could see behind the brash act well enough – he had to prove himself to the old guard. But this was the wrong move. There were avenues to investigate this Gordon first, make sure they had their man. And if it was time to take him out, their were professionals for a reason. Little Mario was looking to make a show of it like the old days, but the Families had grown very good and very comfortable working behind the scenes, and an open bounty was the hundred piece orchestra of shows.

Still, this was a test. The Falcones were first among the Families for a reason. To step back at Don Mario's first challenge would be a defiance tantamount to a vote of no confidence, and that was a dangerous road indeed. They could only make him back down if all three stood together right now.

Bertinelli was the first to pound the table. “I'm in. Ten grand.”

After a pause, Maroni rapped his knuckles as well. “Ten it is.”

Nobilo simply nodded.

---​

The GCPD River and Maritime Patrol had its headquarters in a converted fish plant near the private wharfs of the Colonial Waterfront neighborhood. The two-story building was set on an anchored platform fifteen yards from shore. It could be reached on foot by a wooden pier, but most visited the River and Maritime Patrol HQ by sea. The building's entire perimeter was fixed with berths and mooring lines, and there was always a small flotilla present, both utility craft for the Patrol's use and boats impounded as floating crime scenes.

River and Maritime cops spent more time in the field than most GCPD stations, so its headquarters tended to feel empty. The building rarely held more than thirty personnel, and today held just eighteen. Four were members of the Patrol's Homicide squad. One was Sergeant James Gordon. Gordon was in his undershirt and briefs, idly holding a hairdryer over his drenched uniform. He fell into water about weekly now, and his Accounting wouldn't comp him for dry cleaning.

Gordon's desk phone rang.

He lifted the receiver. “Homicide. Gordon speaking.”

“Sergeant, it's Montoya.

Gordon turned off the hairdryer. “Go ahead.”

“I tapped Flass' phone. He just passed a call to the street patrol lieutenant around Colonial Waterfront to lay low for an hour. There's an open bounty out.”

Gordon almost dropped the phone. He fumbled it back to his ear. “What! On who?”

“No idea, but it's your neck of the woods, and Flass is involved. Figured, well-”

“Yeah, okay. Hey, Montoya?”

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“If … well, tell my family I love 'em.”

“Will do.”

Gordon hung up.

The open bounty was born in the most desperate days of the Vendettas. If a Family boss wanted to make a hit public and crude, an open bounty meant anyone was free to cash it in at time by any means. The offer spread by word of mouth from the Families' subsidiary gangs, to the smaller gangs in their shadow, to the rough crowds on the fringe of the criminal life. There were more than enough desperate souls in Gotham to blanket the streets with would-be murderers if the price was right. In practice, the target's own family or coworkers usually did the deed, but if the target survived longer than an hour, then the hit became a communal activity. Eventually, someone would spot the target, and crowds of opportunists would mob them and finish the job.

Sergeant Gordon picked up his revolver, checked the chambers, and was about to exit the room when his phone rang again.

“Homicide. Gordon.”

“Sergeant, I'm back in town. We need to meet.”

“Batman, thank God! Are you psychic? You need to tell me if you're psychic. I'm making that a rule.”

“What's going on?”

“I think I just got an open bounty put on me.”

There was a silence on the line. “Can you get out on a ship?”

Gordon blew air through his teeth. “Maybe. But the beat cops around here have just been told to stand down, so the bounty's must've already been passed to every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a rap sheet. If any have the notion to sail in, I don't like my chances caught alone on the water. No, I'll turn the place into a dang fortress.”

“Hold tight, Gordon. I'll send help.”

They both hung up. Gordon wasn't sure what Batman meant, but it managed to put a smile on his face. That was one buddy you wanted in your corner in a fight. Holding his revolver high, Sergeant Gordon exited his office. Officer Ritter, one of his homicide boys, was eating a danish in the mess room across the hall.

Ritter looked up. “Hey, Sarge. Where's your pants?”

Gordon pointed at him and barked, “Ritter, get everyone in the building to the front desk right this second.”

Ritter nodded. “You got it.”

Gordon returned to his office, slipped on his sodden trousers and a belt, then left for the lobby.

The eighteen occupants of the River and Maritime Patrol HQ quickly came together at the news that the Homicide Sergeant was running around in his skivvies with his sidearm out. Gordon found that he was the highest ranking man in the building at the moment, which wasn't a surprise, as their captain spent as much time as possible on 'inspection' cruises on pleasure craft owned by shipping magnates who disliked intracoastal safety procedures.

Gordon paced back and forth in his bare feet in front of the assembled officers and other staff. He wasn't pointing his weapon at anyone deliberately, but he didn't seem concerned about its direction either.

“Listen up! Who here remembers what an open bounty is?”

Several hands went up. Those officers with their hands up looked terrified.

“Well, long story short, I'm a wanted man. A lot of bad guys are about to come here to punch my ticket in exchange for a whole lot of dough. Anyone interested in trying themselves better step forward now. No? Good. Prescott, unlock the armory. Everyone load up for war. If you don't carry a badge, consider yourself deputized and get yourself a piece. You two.” He pointed at two of the building's maintenance crew. “Get out front and find a way to break the pier. No one walks here. We are now in a state of siege. Mack, take six men with rifles and find positions on the roof. Wait for my orders to fire unless fired upon. The rest of you, let's barricade the entrances.”

The River and Maritime Patrol hopped to it. Gordon used the front desk phone to call around and see if anyone could provide dirt on the bounty or send help. If Montoya's warning was credible, his enemies in the Department would run interference as long as possible. He'd never seen a open bounty mob in action, but he'd heard the stories. They went from nothing to nasty in seconds flat. If this wasn't such a fancy part of town, no doubt someone would've taken a swing at him by now.

One of the maintenance men ran into his office with a fire axe. Gordon coolly put him in his sights and the man froze. “No, stop! They're coming!”

“Who?”

“Big crowd heading up the street.” Gordon followed him to the nearest front-facing window. He pointed out. “Look!”

Careful to keep out of reach of the man, Gordon peered through the window. A crowd of people, about thirty strong, were approaching the wharfs. They were a rough bunch, mostly young men with a surplus of stubble and scars. They carried bats and chains and other classics. He saw that the pier was broken – a twelve foot section of boards had been hacked apart. He wondered how many in the crowd could swim. Fifteen yards was not very far.

No one seemed interested in trying yet. But then someone in the crowd noticed a rowboat tied to the pier on their side. They untied the boat and six hooligans jumped in, almost capsizing it. The oars weren't around, so with the surprising teamwork of a mob, the new sailors used their bats and hands to set off. The others on land cheered them on.

Gordon muttered, “Oh, no.” He ran to the roof and ordered one of his riflemen to make a warning shot near the rowboat. The hooligans flinched at the shot and one fell out. Two friends pulled him back in, but their petty momentum was lost, and the nose of the craft started to turn. Another warning shot, and they reluctantly climbed back out onto the pier. Gordon ordered the officers to scare any trespassers off as long as possible, and to stop anyone who crossed their moat. He admitted to himself that the crisis was going pretty well, all things considered. No one had ever survived an open bounty, but he couldn't recall whether other bounties had a police station's worth of backup or a makeshift castle. He felt okay.

Then he saw more punks join the crowd. At least twenty were coming one way, some on bicycles, while five cars arrived from the other direction and spilled their passengers into the throng. Some carried guns. One of his officers shouted through a megaphone that anyone who tried to approach would be met with deadly force. The faint mummer grew louder with curses and jeers. One lean man took a running leap and crossed the gap in the pier. He made it across, but then the officers on the roof opened fire. The young man was hit and collapsed.

The crowd screamed. Some ran away, but most were simply angry. A few with guns took potshots at them. The rest of the roof flopped prone and looked at Gordon for orders. He told them to hold fire – he wasn't about to start a massacre if he could avoid it. Instead he told them to head down into the building. The upper windows offered more cover than the roof, and visibility was no longer their priority.

The two sides settled into a stalemate as yet more angry people joined the mob outside. Soon there were at least a hundred. Occasionally, a few would try some scheme to get across – swimming or other boats sailed in, and the police inside would drive them off with rifles and pistols, then the gunslingers in the mob would return fire in vengeance, though not very well. Once, a truck rolled up and off-loaded a man-sized catapult. They flung a flaming bottle at the building, breaking a window and staring a small blaze in a storage closet. When they loaded another flaming projectile, one of Gordon's riflemen fired at it before it launched, catching the catapult aflame.

This stalemate continued for half an hour. Then Gordon heard one of the most beautiful sounds in his life: police sirens. Two cruisers raced up the street. The drivers must have noticed the mob's size at the last moment, as they hastily stopped and tried to turn around. The mob pelted the cars with bricks and clubs. One finished the turn and sped off, but the other was surrounded. The officers inside stumbled out and ran while the mob flipped the car and set it on fire. The River and Maritime Patrol officers cried out in dismay. Gordon was too busy noticing more little gangs arriving left, right, center to join the mob. How much had it swelled? One hundred and thirty? One hundred and fifty?

One of the newcomers brought his own megaphone to the lynch mob. He made it to the front of the crowd and addressed the cops.

“Give up James Gordon, and y'all can live!” The mob yelled and fired into the air. The new ringleader continued, “Keep him and you'll get what's coming!” More yelling from the mob.
Gordon watched from a high window. Four others stood in the meeting room around him. Most looked defiant, but a few seem troubled. He pointed at the most uncertain-looking, a deputized janitor. “You're Huey, right?”

The man nodded. “Yeah, Sarge.”

“Can you make sure all the motorboats round back are ready to sail? I'd be nice to have an escape route.”

Huey seemed to be relieved by the idea. He gave a thumbs-up and left. Gordon's expression remained grim. He needed to maintain morale, but that escape route was a pipe dream. The position of other wharfs forced their craft to run parallel to the shore for a fair distance before reaching the open Bay. They would be easy targets for even a lousy marksman, and patrol craft had no armor.

Then they heard more sirens. Salvation! A line of police vans appeared in both directions. Some press cars followed after. The vans formed a loose arc around the mob, who let loose with their stones. A platoon of officers emerged from the vans in helmets and heavy jackets. Their front line marched in swinging batons.

The chaos was vague, but the noise was horrifying. Flashes of gunfire were seen. After a minute of violence, Gordon and his defenders in the building could see the mob losing ground. They were already pushed to the waters edge, and some started jumping in and swimming for their island. As the mass of the crowd saw their rear lines break, more and more jumped in themselves. Dozens struggled through the short stretch of water. Some seemed to drown, though it was impossible to track anyone in the confusion.

The early swimmers began to reach the other side of the moat. Gordon considered ordering his men to hold fire in case they were attempting surrender, but he was too late. Several of his cops fired out of his fort, and the panicked rioters rushed for the only cover on the platform – the building itself.

As his cops struggled to fight them off the walls, the whole neighborhood heard a loud buzz. A yellow plane swooped low overhead. A figure jumped out, dropped fifty feet, and landed in a roll on the station roof.

It was Wonder Woman.

She stood at the edge of the roof, arms akimbo, and addressed everyone. The thirty-strong rearguard of the mob in the station's courtyard watched. The cops who could lean out their windows and look up at her watched. And both sides of the melee on shore stopped and watched.

She cried out, clear and even as a bell, “Stop this fury! See the humanity in your foe. Is he not your brother? See that you love him, then leave and fight no more.”

The assembled hesitated two seconds, then they all continued brawling.

Wonder Woman looked disappointed and cracked her knuckles. “So it is this.”

She dropped from the roof, landing in front of a ragged man trying to break through the doors with a crowbar. She picked him up by his collar and belt and threw him aside. Across the courtyard, a large lady with a wooden plank was pummeling one of her own comrades, a bald man curled on the ground. Wonder Woman tossed her golden lasso and caught the woman like a rodeo steer. She pulled the lady off her feet, knocking three others over in the process.

At this point, most of the courtyard mob took notice of the tall stranger. Even some who had made it into the station and were struggling hand-to-hand with officers inside paused to watch her. Like a tidal wave, the mob held back, then rushed her at once. She retracted her lasso and clotheslined the first two who approached, grabbed the third by his face, and shoved him at the fourth. She heard two street toughs run from behind and pivoted with a spinning kick, booting both airborne. Without lowering her leg, she shifted and snap-kicked another, then another. Each kick hit like a bus.

Sergeant Gordon watched dumbfounded from his window as this one-woman whirlwind demolished a baseball team's worth of thugs and cutthroats in as much time as it took to describe. Then he heard breaking glass behind him. A mean voice yelled “Payday!” and another yelled “Meat!” Gordon turned. Two wicked-looking twins, hardly old enough to drive, had smashed open the neighboring window and climbed in. One had a chain wrapped around his fist, and the other pulled a wrench from his waistband. Their hands were cut from the glass.

Gordon fired his revolver from the hip and hit Chain-boy in the leg, but Wrench-boy closed the distance and swung at him. The wrench head struck Gordon a glancing blow, more sleeve than shoulder, but he dropped the revolver and flinched. Wrench-boy raised his arm back to knock Gordon's lights out, but Gordon popped him in the nose with a good jab-cross. He was about to finish with his patented left hook when he felt a crushing sharpness in his calf. Gordon glanced down and saw Chain-boy biting him from the floor. He stomped on the kid's ear and hobbled backwards. Wrench-boy swung again and hit his forearm. Gordon growled in pain and ran. There were no other cops in sight, and the pair were blocking his path around the building. The only escape was the staircase to the roof.


Gordon hustled up the stairs. Wrench-boy followed steps behind, hissing taunts. They reached the roof and Gordon turned around. Wrench-boy had taken his twin's chain and causally spun it in his off-hand. He stalked toward Gordon who continued pacing back. The kid was no wimp, and if it came to duking it out here, Gordon didn't like his chances. He considered hopping into the water when he saw a round shadow expand on the ground. Gordon looked up. So did Wrench-boy, but a moment too late.

A parachuter fell out of the sky and landed on Wrench-boy's chest. They tumbled to the roof, getting lost in the parachute which settled over them. Gordon pulled aside the parachute to find the attached man sitting on the kid who clearly had the wind knocked out of him.

Sergeant Gordon helped the man stand, then picked up the kid by his collar, marched him to the end of the roof, and tossed him into the bay. He turned back to find the man slipping out of his parachute pack and removing his helmet. He was young and blond, clearly military, though his jumpsuit looked civilian. Gordon strongly doubted he was here about the bounty, but he eyed the stranger carefully just the same.

The blond man held out a hand to shake. “Steve Trevor, Army Air Force.”

Gordon shook the hand. “Jim Gordon, GCPD. Thanks for the help.”

“Hey, no problem.” He smiled. “Jim, you said? You're just the man I'm looking for.”

Gordon's jaw tensed. The GI looked strong. Gordon could take him, but it would be a slog. “Is that right?”

Steve nodded. “Batman thought you could use some backup.”

Gordon's jaw stopping tensing so hard it dropped. “Batman's working with the military?”

“Well,” Steve shrugged unconvincingly, “Kinda.”

Gordon walked past him. “Explain that mess later. I need to get back.” He headed down the stairs and found his revolver. Chain-boy had crawled off somewhere based on the blood stains. Steve followed Gordon down. “Any spare guns?”

Gordon glanced back. “You can borrow any you find.” They looked out the window. The wild woman was almost finished clearing out the courtyard. The mob was either limp on the ground or jumping back into the water. Only one incredibly confident thug still faced her. She knocked the starch out of him and surveyed her handiwork.

Gordon nodded at her. “You know that gal?”

Steve grinned with pride. “That's right.”

“What is she, Batman's cousin?”

Steve stuttered, but Gordon wasn't paying attention. Back on land, the larger mob had rallied after the initial push from the riot police. Several more cop cars had arrived on the scene since, but the mob's weight in numbers was finally forcing the GCPD line back. Pockets of officers on the flanks had been surrounded or driven off. Having seen his share of riots, Gordon knew the police were in trouble. “Jeez, they're about to crack us like an egg!”

Steve pointed at the courtyard. “Don't count your chickens before they hatch.”

The woman below had noticed the dire situation on the other side of the water. She ran down the pier, cleared the gap with yards to spare in an enormous leap, and tore into rear of the mob with a vengeance.

Steve said, “I got to help her.”

Gordon glanced across at him, dubious. “I need to see to my men. Good luck.”

They shook hands again. Steve jumped out the two-story window and landed in a roll. Gordon rolled his eyes and paced down the hall. He reached the lobby mezzanine and found three of his squad resting behind an overturned table. The officers waved at Gordon. Officer Brewer said, “A crew of 'em made it through the front doors. Looked bad since one had a Tommy gun, but it jammed. Guess he ain't heard you don't swim with it. We took two down. Rest scampered off.”

Gordon nodded. “Let's sweep the building. Make sure all the bad guys are out of our house. Check for causalities. Tell everyone on our team to regroup in the lobby.”

“Sergeant, don't we need everyone at their posts?”

Gordon shook his head. “You haven't seen outside?”

“No.”

“Fights over, Brewer. Cavalry's arrived.”

---​

A stone's throw behind the ring of police vans, a gaggle of journalists and photographers reported on the riot. Being a reporter on Gotham City's crime beat meant a near-pathological indifference to danger, but on days like this the men really earned their health insurance. Maurice DiMilo of The Chariot had already been beaned with a glass bottle and was resting in his car. They all could see the cops were losing. That would make for great press, but if it got much worse, they'd need to pack up before they were trampled. Most people didn't realize the job required such delicate timing.

They had spied a figure earlier on the roof of the River and Maritime Patrol building. They couldn't hear that oddball over the din or get a good look at them. They figured they never would as the figure soon jumped.

Oliver Endelburg, a photographer with The Gazette, was the first to spot the woman. Gaps in the police and rioter lines momentarily matched like the planets' aligning, and Endelburg glimpsed the middle of the riot where the woman held two men off the ground by their shirts and knocked them together. He took a quick shot, though he wasn't sure what he had seen.

Joe Siltz, a cub at Citizen's Weekly, was the first to point the woman out. She had cleaved a path through the rioters and reached the front line. After wrestling a bearish miscreant to the ground, there was a lull near her. She took a deep sucking breath, shoulders hunched forward, and dragged a curtain of matted hair out of her face. Joe quickly slapped his neighbors on the backs and gestured at her. “Hey, boys, check it out!” She stood a head or two above the crowd with a red breastplate. His colleagues noticed.

“Yowza,” said one reporter. “Hot dog! Look at her go!”

“Wow,” said another as she snatched a bat out of a thug's hand and smacked him with it. “What a dame!”

“Yeah,” said a third. “She’s a real wonder woman!”

The group paused. Something clicked their collective journalistic minds. They slowly looked at each other, nodded, and scribbled furiously in their notepads.

Soon enough, the mob was broken. Many scattered. The rest were arrested en masse as more police vans arrived and sent to lockup or the hospital. In the middle of it all was Wonder Woman, exhausted but standing tall. Captain Steve Trevor sat on the ground nearby. He was cut, bruised, and carrying a bent golf club. When the riot had nearly ended, a squad of officers approached Wonder Woman, keeping a fair distance. Steve, who had swam the moat and fought to her side, acted as her agent with the cops. He showed them his soggy War Department ID card. Legally, this meant nothing, but in a riot, the difference between a helpful citizen and a rioter was an officer's judgment call, and the police tended to respect a soldier. Steve managed to convince them that he was a good guy, and she was with him.

Finally, the cops let the press through. Steve and Wonder Woman were resting when the reporters rushed toward them. They ignored Steve entirely and surrounded Wonder Woman.

“Who are you?”

“Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“Are you with the police?”

“What makes you so strong?”

“Is this a political statement?”

“Does your husband know you're here?”

Wonder Woman blinked at the flashbulbs and tried to quiet the gaggle. “My name is Diana Pr-” She looked over as Steve patted her arm. He stood and whispered in her ear. She seemed uncertain but nodded. “Princess Diana of Themyscira. I came to aid these noble law enforcers in restoring peace.”

A reporter asked, “Princess of what?”

She spoke more confidently. “Themyscira. A nation … known to few, but ...” Steve nodded subtle encouragement. “... But which has recently signed a treaty of alliance with the United States of America!” Steve was stunned and waved unsubtle discouragement, but Wonder Woman continued, “I was sent here as ambassador to negotiate this treaty, as both our peoples are concerned by the menace of Nazi Germany. I am forever grateful that your leaders recognize our mutual interests. In that spirit of gratitude, I have stepped beyond my role as ambassador to offer my talents to your military and law agencies in whatever manner they see fit. Your safety is my safety, and our successes are one.”

Steve watched her speak in mute horror. The next reporter asked, “Ambassador, with respect, can you confirm your association with the US military or law enforcement?”

Wonder Woman hesitated, then smiled confidently. “But of course. I would like to introduce Captain Steven Archibald Trevor, of your Army Air Force.” She gestured to him regally with both hands.

Steve, against his better judgment, stood at attention and offered a crisp salute. “Yes, hello. I am Captain Trevor, and recently I was honored with the task of serving as the official liaison to Princess Diana while she volunteers with our national security mission. You gentlemen have seen with your own eyes how handy she is at knocking some sense into the enemies of freedom, and you have my word as a commissioned officer of this country that she is just as dedicated to democracy, baseball, and apple pie as any American.”

A reporter in the back raised his hand. “Captain Trevor, are you saying this riot had military or diplomatic implications?”

Steve took a stern tone. “I'm sorry, that's classified.”

The questions continued from all sides, and Steve and Wonder Woman handled them like pros.

---​

A shabby hotel in midtown.

Open bounties rarely lasted longer than four hours. Anyone worth putting a hit on tended to be known to the underworld, so finding them wasn't a challenge, the manpower was available at the drop of a hat, and it was virtually impossible for the hit itself to fail. On the contrary, the most common problem was that evidence for who specifically performed the coup de grâce was hard to come by since the final instant was often ten ruffians against one dope. When there were several claimants to that final hit, the prize could be split or fight over. The later option was more popular.

Knowing how quickly open bounties were resolved, the bosses of the four Families had elected to stay at their designated meeting site until the bounty was closed so they could move on to other business. It was just over two hours after the call was put out when their lieutenants called them back to the conference table. They expected good news, but they were in for two surprises.

First, Detective Arnold Flass meekly explained that Sergeant James Gordon had survived the attack on his life, and he and his allies were going into hiding. Before Flass could explain how Gordon had survived, Mario Falcone stood and threw his water glass across the room. The other bosses glared at this horrendous breach in protocol, but Mario had already began to yell that they needed to send a professional this time and that Gordon would not defy them any longer.

At the moment, the second surprise walked in. Carmine Falcone, older than ever but clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and serious as the grave, didn't take his eyes off his son as he crossed the room. Mario sputtered in disbelief. The other bosses watches as Carmine kissed his cheek and spoke quietly to him, then Mario marched from the room like he had seen a ghost.

Carmine Falcone took his rightful seat at the table. He nodded graciously to the others. “Don Maroni, Don Nobilo, Don Bertinelli, forgive me for my absence. It was a private matter, and I don't wish to speak of it today. Instead, I request we handle larger dangers at hand.”

This was agreed around the room. Few would notice, but lines of relief crossed the other men's faces. Don Falcone was back.

“Detective Flass, you may go. I must request in the strongest terms that you mention my appearance here to no one. Consider me a dead man until I instruct otherwise.” Flass hastily nodded and backed out of the room. Falcone waited until the door shut behind him. “I am withdrawing the open bounty on James Gordon. He may yet be our enemy, but this is not how we stop our enemies. This is how we make them.” He turned to Franco Bertinelli with a voice of velvet on iron. “Frank, the Police Commissioner has all but declared a vendetta on you. We will not abandon you, but since it was your man that brought this upon us, you will bear the most weight to fix it.”

Bertinelli held out his hands. “Carmine-”

Falcone raised a single finger, and the interruption died. “Frank, you will stop any harassment of the cops or the city. No further retribution, I don't care what insults he spits or how many of your family he takes to trial. And however the rest of us are aiding you will stop as well. We will be model citizens. Agreed?”

The bosses all nodded, Bertinelli with some surliness. Falcone continued, “Good. Then we will make our amends. Our accountants will determine the price of the harm we've caused, and we will pay reparations. That means lost work from labor strikes or repairs for prison riots. Also, we will ensure that the Commissioner and his family will never want for anything again. If his children go to college, if his brother buys a car, it will not cost them a cent. The bills for these amends will be divided like this: Frank, you will pay half, and the other half will be split between the three of us.”

Bertinelli stood and planted his hands on the table. “Carmine, you go to far. My cousin was also killed by this man's officers, and we don't know whether they planted the shiv.”

Falcone slowly shook his head. “No, Frank, this ends. Perhaps they did plant the knife. Your man picked it up. It doesn't matter. We’re all paying for the unrest you’ve allowed to happen.”

“No, I-”

“Don’t challenge me on this. You’re risking our hard-won position, and I promise you if you do anything to damage the peace, today or tomorrow or next year , then we’ll have your head.”

Don Maroni and Don Nobilo slowly nodded.

Bertinellli sat down, simmering red.

---​

The White House. Washington DC.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Come in, Cordell. Seen the evening edition? Same headline, every paper.”

“Yes, I've seen it.”

“Each one: 'Wonder Woman'.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Unless I'm mistaken, I've never signed a treaty with a country called Themyscira. I was about to call our friends in the Senate and see if they've sent me such a treaty.”

“There is no nation called Themyscira, sir.”

“Yet I'm informed by Army Intelligence that this woman has worked for us.”

“That's … interesting.”

“And this Captain Trevor was indeed her official liaison. At least until he sparked that fiasco in Argentina. Now he's a wanted man.”

“That was him?”

“We will take the Captain in, and we will get to the bottom of the story.”

“My press secretary is already drafting our formal denial of this 'Wonder Woman' and her claims. For the sake of consistency, I've held off all calls from the papers until it's done, but that should be in a few hours, sir.”

“Good, I suspected that'd be the case, Cordell. I've given this some thought and wanted to discuss with you the bigger picture.”

“Sir?”

“This fake ambassador, this 'Princess' Diana. Well, we're seen some polls already. She's the most popular figure to come out of nowhere since Charles Lindbergh.”

“Surely-”

“No, her numbers are better than mine. And what's not to like? Good smile. Good speech. She beat the stuffing out of some Gotham street trash; America loves that. And our Air Force man takes a good picture, too.”

“She's a fraud, sir. Whoever she is, she's using us.”

“Perhaps. But I've told you for years, what's my number one mission?”

“Sir-”

“Let's hear it.”

“... Rolling back isolationism. Countering the Axis powers at every level.”

“That's right. Winston knows the score. The Brits have been at the battlements, red in tooth and claw. It's high time we take up the banner.”

“Sir-”

“And from line one, this Wonder Woman throws her hat in the ring. As 'both our peoples are concerned by the menace of Nazi Germany'. What an opener.”

“She's dictating our national position!”

“Yes, and the reaction has been unprecedented praise. Cordell, I need a cheerleader. If this girl didn't exist, I'd need to invent her. Look, she didn't tie us to a declaration of war. Let's just wait and see if there's an arrangement to be found before we rebuke her and burn this opportunity.”

“Are you asking me to withhold my press release, sir?”

“No, 'asking' isn't the word I'd use.”

Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 162
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2018-04-02 05:59pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Epilogue​
Coastal Road East. Three miles from stately Wayne Manor.

Bruce Wayne leaned against the door of his silver BMW roadster. The little open-topped race car was parked in a grassy forest clearing, hidden from the road by a curtain of pines and boulders. This coastal road ran through a sparse forest on a long hill overlooking Gotham Bay. Some stretches ran along cliffs where a driver could enjoy unparalleled views of sunrise over the bay, and these alone sold many of the neighborhood’s million dollar properties.

The view where Bruce stood wasn’t one of them. Several yards past him the pines began to thicken as the hill grew steep. He could hear waves lapping at the rocks fifty yards away but could barely glimpse them through the trees.

There was a rustle of pebbles behind him. Bruce watched a black compact Chevrolet trundle into the clearing. It parked, and Alfred Pennyworth stepped out.

Bruce smiled. “I said I didn’t need help with this.”

Alfred walked up to him and nodded deferentially. “And yet you waited, I see.”

“You’re a man of the theater, Alfred. Couldn’t let you to miss the chance to stage a show.”

Alfred looked around the clearing. “And these backwoods are your stage?”

“Haven’t you heard? All the world’s a stage.”

Alfred sighed. “Let’s see your props, then.” He clucked his tongue. “Fine automobile, the BMW. Bit of a pity, no? I don’t suppose they’ll be making more of these for a spell, seeing how the war is headed.”

Bruce shrugged. “My first choice was the Aston Martin.”

Alfred frowned stiffly. “Not even as a joke, Master Bruce.” He walked to the BMW’s passenger door. ”Get yourself ready, and we’ll have this done in a trice.”

Bruce complied. He took a folding knife from his pocket and began cutting at his clothes. He was wearing a white linen shirt and brown pants, and he quickly put several tears in both, even cutting off a shirt button.

Meanwhile, Alfred was pulling several bottles of brandy out of a paper bag in the passenger footwell. “We couldn’t have just used beer, sir? Perhaps some cooking sherry?” He tossed Bruce a bottle.

Bruce caught and opened it. “Devil’s in the details, Alfred. I’m not known for beer.”

“At least your grandfather’s liquor cabinet is getting some use. Though I daresay he expected his descendants to enjoy it more conventionally.”

Bruce splashed brandy over his shirt and lap, then took a swig, gargled, and spit it out. “It’s for a good cause.”

Alfred was pouring another bottle along the seats and dashboard. “Quite.”

Bruce tossed his half-full bottle into the car. He picked up handfuls of grass and pine needles and rubbed them on in his clothes. Then he took the knife and carefully stabbed his thumb. As a small flow of blood ran from the wound, he traced the old cuts on his face and the new cuts in his clothes.

Alfred picked up a rock, lifted it overhead, and tossed it through the windshield. Half of the windshield shattered inward. He went to the Chevrolet and returned with thick gloves and a brush and dustpan. Alfred swept the smaller glass fragments off the seats into the dustpan.

“Ready, Master Bruce?”

Bruce put on a pair of sunglasses. “Go ahead.”

Alfred took a pinch of ground glass and tossed it at Bruce’s face. He sprinkled more down Bruce’s head and shoulders. Bruce removed the sunglasses and nodded. “That’s about it.”

Alfred pulled off his gloves. “And where do you intend to go?”

Bruce nodded up the hill. “The Kensington Estate.”

“That would be nearest, but you haven’t made their acquaintance.”

“Then they’ll take me at face value. I’ll just be living up to my reputation.”

“Come, sir, you’re not thought of that poorly.”

Bruce considered this. “I could be.” And with that, Bruce carefully slid into driver’s seat of the BMW. He turned the key in the ignition and shifted into gear. The car began to slowly roll downhill. Alfred grasped Bruce’s arm and helped him exit the car.

“They’ll take your driver’s license for this.”

“Good thing I have a chauffeur.”

They watched the BMW pick up speed, brush against a tree, ramp off a rock outcropping, roll over, bounce off another tree, and hit a third tree head-on.

Alfred pursed his lips. “Heaven forgive me for asking, but do you suppose you look injured enough, Master Bruce?”

“You could hit me in the face with a branch.”

“I’ll decline.”

“The crash wouldn’t stand up to investigation if they bothered, but I’m not after insurance money.”

“If you say so.” Alfred hunted through the bushes and found Bruce a good stick for a crutch.

Bruce tested it, keeping his broken ankle off the ground. “You should get to the manor. I’ll have them place the call in about thirty minutes.”

“What if the Kensingtons wish call you an ambulance instead?”

“An ambulance?” Bruce sounded mock-offended. “With my good man Pennyworth just up the road? They might as well leave me in the woods. Besides, he’ll take me to my private clinic.”

Alfred chuckled. “Smartly said. Your neighbors do love their clinics.”

“No clinic can hold a candle to you, Alfred.”

Alfred restrained a smile. “I’ll be off, then. Let’s not to make a habit of all this, eh? Don’t want to be sending you to the office on a bicycle.”

---​

GCPD Headquarters. Gotham City.

Sergeant James Gordon had hidden out of town for a day, until word came through the grapevine from trusted sources that the open bounty on his life was gone. There were no whispers in the criminal community to strike at him. If anything, his survival made him a walking folk tale. No one would cross him lightly now.

There was a summons waiting from the Major when he returned home. Major Theo Jefferson was the highest-ranking superior Gordon had ever spoken to. A summons from a major to a sergeant was very rare indeed. Gordon said a prayer of thanks that his second suit was already dry cleaned.

When he arrived, Major Jefferson got straight to business. “Gordon, in light of certain new directions laid out by the Commissioner, I intended to have this conversation before your attack. Glad you're still with us.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Well, here you are now, so I'll get down to bass tacks. Gordon, you’re the public toilet of people: loathsome, but functional and necessary.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Given recent events, I’ve been asked to test out a new task force to investigate graft, blackmail, and overall malfeasance among city officials. Historically, those guilty of malfeasance seem to all hate you, which lends you an odd credibility. The job’s yours. Lead it, bring along your little boy scout troop if you wish, do the badge proud, yadda, yadda.”

“I'm sorry, sir, what do you mean by 'test out'?”

“I don’t respect you enough to lie. Some municipal elections are coming in five months, and recent events have caused government trustworthiness to become a very serious voter concern. The folks who sign both our paychecks want to give Johnny Voter the impression that he has some real crusaders in office, and the broadsheets still think you’re Lancelot reborn, so go out there, find a dirty garbage man or tollbooth operator, cuff him, smile for the cameras, and don’t do anything stupid like dig into the Department or, heaven forbid, the Mayor’s office. Get us some red meat to toss the voters, then after the election, you can go back to chasing bank robbers or the Batman if that’s what floats your boat. What do you say?”

“It would be an honor, sir.”

“Fine. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.”

---​

Late that night.

Sergeant James Gordon had spent most of the afternoon closing his affairs with the River and Maritime Patrol's Homicide squad. Usually, having a unit lose its commander so soon after a major attack on its office would be disastrous to its performance. However, any fair observers would admit the the River and Maritime Patrol's Homicide squad didn't have any performance, so Gordon was conformable with his sudden exit. He would keep in touch, though. They were a good group, and he needed all the friends he could get.

He would sleep well tonight, his first good night of sleep in weeks, if only this went well. He had smacked his head against the wall long enough, the stubborn thing finally about to crack cracked. One more win, then things were looking up. He smoked and watched the smog from his fire escape and waited for his guest.

“Gordon.”

“Batman. Enjoy your vacation?”

“I'm sorry I left you in the middle of an emergency.”

Gordon crossed his arms. “Not a whole lot to say about it now. At least your friends helped in a pinch. You working for the military now?”

“Not in the least. But some of them owe me a favor. And I have rock-solid leads on half a dozen ongoing federal crimes across the country.”

“Any in Gotham?”

“Not yet, but we may make use of them.”

“Mm. All right, forget it. Let's move forward. Plenty of work to do.”

Batman didn't respond for a moment. “I know about Bertinelli, Jim.”

Gordon quietly cursed. So much for a good night's sleep. “Yeah?”

“I read the news. Officer Montoya had to plant that screwdriver. She wouldn't have done it without your order. You knew his tendencies. You ordered Arturo's death, and enabled the death of that officer.”

“I won't deny it.”

“Do you want to defend it?”

“To you? You who ran off leaving me holding the bag? Not really, but fine.” Gordon ground out his cigarette. “I finally shook 'em, Batman. The Commissioner was this close to going to war on the Bertinellis, and the feeling was mutual. Sounds like the Families are patching things up, but this had to rock the boat. Next time, it just might capsize. If I had let Arturo get to Canada, all our efforts would be toast. You know a loose end like Arturo only comes around once a blue moon with them.”

“I'm sure that's all true.”

“So? What do you plan to do about it, Batman?” He sounded calm, but that masked defiance, and that covered more nerves than Batman had ever heard in his voice.

“Jim,” Batman hesitated. “We're partners. I value that more than I can say. If you value it too, then I need you to tell me you won't ever do this again. Not for any reason. Not even the likes of Arturo Bertinelli.”

Gordon breathed a sigh of relief. He stuck his hand up through the landing above. “Deal. Partner.” They shook hands.

---​

Downtown Gotham City.

The Wayne Enterprises Building, that 103-story Art Deco landmark, was one of the most valuable pieces of commercial real estate on the planet. Many Wayne divisions and subsidiaries were within walking distance, themselves blue chip titans with their own skyscrapers. Other office towers housed branches of many partners to the Wayne empire. All these firms supported elite marketers, lobbyists, attorneys, bankers, and therapists who also set up shop in the neighborhood. This sheer density of wealth and deal-making made the area a paradise for upscale restaurateurs, and when the lunch hour rolled around, hungry executives had their pick of a smorgasboard of eateries too fancy for a smorgasboard.

The Wayne Enterprises Building alone housed sixteen restaurants, many quite upscale, but a quirk of office politics demanded that more prestigious workers went out for lunch: eating in-house made you only slightly less of a wage drone than eating at your desk. It was understood that employees who ate at their desks were often the most productive but only the drab kind of productive that wasn’t rewarded at promotion time – a distinction invisible to those suffered from it most. Even as early as upper-middle management, more directors from visiting firms could be found in the building’s restaurants than directors who actually worked in the building.

The pattern only grew more pronounced up the corporate ladder, with the logical conclusion, of course, that CEO and Chairman Bruce Anthony Wayne had never eaten in the Wayne Enterprises Building in his life, and this was almost true. He especially liked to lunch out because it was less conspicuous when he took the rest of the day off. Today he had a reservation at Le Royale, a restaurant so exclusive that even he had a reservation. Bruce had already ordered an appetizer when his guest, Lucius Fox arrived.

Bruce saw him at the entrance and waved. “Hello, Lucius!”

Lucius turned a few heads as he passed, and he heard their mutters, but nothing more. No one harassed Bruce Wayne’s guest a block from the Wayne Enterprises Building. Lucius gave a small wave back. “Hello, Mr. Wayne.” He saw Bruce wore a neck brace, and his face had several bandages and a cast on the nose. As he pulled out his chair, he noticed a cane leaning against the end of the table. “We all heard about the car accident. You have my deepest sympathies.”

Bruce laughed. “Relax, Lucius, I’ll be out of this mummy tape in a week, you’ll see. Anyhow, It was my own dumb fault.”

“Well, thank you for inviting me to lunch. What did you want to talk about?”

“Let’s have something to eat first.”

“I’ll second that motion.”

They ordered and made small talk until their dishes arrived. Lucius spoke about his wife and children, and they shared board room gossip. They were nearly finished eating when Bruce put down his silverware and folded his hands in front of him.

“Cards on the table, Lucius. I have a lot to say, and I’m not sure where to begin.”

Lucius patted his mouth with a napkin. “Start with something simple.”

“I have an incurable heart defect, and I’m going to die.”

Lucius had started to chew another bite and choked. He pounded his stomach coughed. “Well … well, I don’t ... are you certain?”

“I’ve been certain for a long time, Lucius. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered weak spells. They come with no warning, and I have to rest until they’re over. The doctors’ say there’s something wrong with a valve in the ol’ ticker.” Bruce tapped his chest. “If you wonder why I sometimes miss meetings, why I step out of parties early, now you know.”

“Mr. Wayne. Bruce-”

“And when I’m gone for a few days? Sure, I like to tell people I’m off sailing. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, that’s an excuse. I’ve visited just about every doctor there is, hoping for a better answer.”

“You’re-”

“I’m tremendously selfish. I hope to correct that today.”

“You’re sure it’s terminal?”

“It might happen today, it might be five years, but yes.” Bruce gestured at his bandaged face. “I guess my accident gave me some perspective.”

"Who else knows?”

“Alfred. No one else.”

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why tell me?”

“I’m stepping down as CEO.”

Lucius didn’t respond at first. He studied his plate. “I see.”

“I’ve always felt that running the family business was an honor and a duty, but Wayne Enterprises deserves better. I might be taking more time off as it gets worse, and if I died in office, the transition would be a nightmare.”

“I see. That’s sensible, I suppose, but it will be a real shame to see you off, Bruce.”

Bruce shrugged. “Let’s not pretend I was the perfect man for the job. I inherited the big chair at an age most guys are fighting for junior manager.” He chuckled. “And I was no star student before that. It’s a good thing my last name makes the market happy.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow. “Always with the self-deprecation. I don’t understand you some days.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your executive team isn’t stupid Bruce. Yes, investors like having an heir run a family-owned business, but do you believe we would give you this much leeway if we didn’t think you were pulling you weight?”

“I also sign your paychecks.”

“Bruce, before you came along, there was no Wayne at Wayne Enterprises. Heck, with all due respect to your old man, you know he wasn’t the most hands-on owner back in the day. Your staff are used to getting what they want. Some of them reached their positions when you were still in diapers. These aren’t yes-men.”

Bruce responded sardonically, “I’ve noticed.”

“Do you know what I’ve noticed? You like to pretend your head’s in the clouds, but I’ve never known you to be factually wrong about anything in the office. Not once. Isn’t that remarkable? You have never misquoted a conversation or mistaken a number from a report. And while you never take credit for ideas, you have this marvelous habit of letting the right ideas float to the surface. If you couldn’t hold your own, these old guns would have steamrolled you years ago. Or left. Can you imagine the signing bonus an executive here gets if they jump ship to LexCorp or IBM?”

“Lucius-”

“There are worse flaws than false modesty, but let’s not pretend losing you wouldn’t be tragic.”

“I’ll still be chairman, Lucius. And I’m not just being an altruist. Stepping down as CEO will give me more time to pursue my hobbies and spend time with people I care about.”

Lucius waved a placating hand. “And that’s entirely fair. Absolutely.”

“Thanks for understanding.”

“But it doesn’t answer my question.”

“What?”

“Why tell me first?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I want you to take my place.”

Lucius nearly knocked over his glass. “No! You can’t do that. I certainly can’t do that.”

Bruce crossed his arms. “That’s a funny way to treat a promotion.”

Lucius seemed to deflate and rested his forehand on his palm. “Look, Bruce, you’ve always been a progressive man. But you need to be practical.”

“I thought I was never wrong.”

“It would be a catastrophe. Announce me as CEO and I can think of five department heads who would quit that very day. Some almost did when you named me President of Engineering, and that was a job I was practically doing already.”

“Any Wayne employee who behaves like that doesn’t belong here.”

“That’s a nice sentiment, but there’d be factory walkouts the first time I gave a speech. My family would get death threats.”

“You’ll have the finest security money can buy.”

And sales! How much of our revenue comes from the Deep South alone? Nine percent? I can see statewide boycotts. The stock price would tank. You’re majority owner, Bruce. You’d be hurt most of all.”

“Shame. I had my eye set on that tenth yacht.”

“I can’t do it. There isn’t a company like ours in the country with a colored man in charge.”

“You’re half-right. There isn’t a company like ours in the country.”

“Please don’t dance around this.”

“I am majority owner, so I can choose to ignore the market as long as I want. They’ll see you can do the job eventually. Then we’ll have good candidates lining up for all the empty posts, and the market will snap up cheap shares. Greed beats hate nine times out of ten given the chance.”

“I really don’t share your faith.”

“Maybe four times out of five.”

“Even ignoring my skin, there are more experienced candidates then me. They’ll demand an explanation.”

“Good thing I have one.”

“You have my full attention.”

“Listen, Lucius, I meet lots of people when I travel, and not just doctors. This is strictly off the record for now, and I can’t reveal my sources, but you need to understand: America’s going to war. It’ll be soon, and it’ll be a long fight.”

Lucius looked uncomfortable. “What am I supposed to say to that?”

“Remember that report from Donald Alder’s team in Finance?”

“Sure. He thought the shift to a war economy over the next three years would move demand out of consumer goods into industrial tools and heavy machines. I think he estimated a twenty percent shift.”

“Try forty percent and two years. Since taking the job, I’ve been trying to push into consumer goods. That was my mistake. But we still have advantages in industrials, right?”

“Sure.” Lucius counted on his fingers. “We have the most aluminum fabrication capacity in the country. We’re second in commercial-size sewing machines. We lease the most popular patents on synthetic rubber-”

“Exactly. So we reorient now and optimize. Push those advantages. Who cares about some private boycotts? When Congress orders ten thousand new fighter planes, and they need aluminum, do you think they care who supplies it?”

“I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“They’re going to be desperate. We’re all going to be desperate. Wayne Enterprises doesn’t need a great marketer right now. We don’t need a savvy accountant, or a top forecaster. I know what’s going to sell. What it needs is an engineer who can maximize production and a research administrator who can organize the largest and most productive private labs in the world. Heck, that’s what America needs. You’re the man for that job, Lucius. No one else comes close.”

“This is why you called me about that-” Lucius looked around for eavesdroppers and leaned in to whisper, “That weapons program.”

Bruce nodded. “I knew the big one was coming then, but I didn’t understand the scope. Whatever happens, Lucius, that project is crucial. We’ll talk later about expanding it.”

“You haven’t seen any reports yet.”

“Whatever it is, we need more of it.”

“Bruce, I’ve almost tapped out funds that I funnel into it discretely.”

“Then I’ll find you other sources of funding. We’ll talk.” Bruce spoke in a tone that made the matter settled.

Lucius conceded, “Sure, Bruce. Whatever you need. I’m happy to run Engineering, but this CEO role?” He shrugged. “Sorry, but it still sounds absurd.”

Bruce didn’t look concerned. “I understand, Lucius. Just promise me you’ll take some time to think about it. I won’t announce anything until I hear an answer from you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wayne. I appreciate that.”

“You should know that if you do take the position, there’s another favor I’d ask of you.”

“What would that be?”

“You’re familiar with my parent’s charity?”

“Yes, of course.” Everyone in the city had heard of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation, and most lives had been touched by it one way or another.

Bruce folded his hands. “It’s very important to me. In fact, just between you, me, and the flambé, philanthropy is the foremost pursuit in my life.”

“That’s admirable.”

“Well, for all the good its done, I’ve been running the Foundation very conservatively. I have a team of top humanitarians scouting opportunities to do some good with my money, but I personally approve every major expenditure, and business keeps me too busy to review nearly as many proposals as my team provides. But once I step down, I intend to focus on the Foundation full-time. I’ll turn the faucet from a drip into a gusher. My dream is to see my family fortune do some good in the world before I die. That’s going to happen sooner rather than later, which sets up a tight schedule. Once the Foundation is my full-time job, I’ll design a plan to give it away in four years.”

“It?”

“Everything. It's not one of these charities endowed in perpetuity to spoon wealth out over decades. That just means most of the wealth is waiting in a vault somewhere. Hogwash, I’ll make use of it now.”

“How can I help?”

“I’ve lead the Foundation by myself until now, but this project is more ambitious. I need all the support I can get, and if I don’t outlive the plan, I need replacements I trust to finish it. To that end, I’m setting up a five-man board of trustees to advise me and run the ship when I’m gone. Each trustee has a specialty. I want one to be my replacement CEO. I’ll need to coordinate my actions with the company so I don’t get a bad deal, run afoul of the SEC, or crash the firm.”

Lucius was aghast. “Crash the firm?”

Bruce held his hands wide and nodded. “By my projections, I’ll start liquidating my controlling WE shares around the end of year two. That’s going to rock the boat.”

Lucius shivered. “No kidding.”

“Take the CEO job, and the trusteeship is yours.”

Lucius was speechless for a time. Finally, he straightened his glasses and asked, “Just to play devil’s advocate, Bruce, I’d point out that you’re no stranger to this prosperous lifestyle. Suppose, by some medical miracle, you happen to live much longer than the next four years. What then?”

“Then I’ll get by with two or three yachts like a regular Joe. No problem.”

---​

Buenos Aries.

The National People's Restoration Front, known universally to foreign observers as Argentina's Fascist Party, was the official face for the junta that had recently launched an attempt to depose the weak and short-sighted elected government and claim the country by force. After a short but fierce campaign, the Fascists had demolished organized resistance across the north and raised their banner in Buenos Aries, Córdoba, Rosario, and several other major cities. The country's population and industry were almost entirely under their thumb.

The Fascist leaders were nearly all military officers, with a few businessmen and bureaucrats in marginal roles. Since fighting started, these officers had been spread across the country leading their own formations. Now the war was as good as won: they had an insurmountable position and could sweep up the final territories at their leisure. It was time to declare victory, assert their role as Argentina's new sovereigns, and restart the government. They decided to hold great celebration in the capital. This would be the political moment of a generation. The entire Fascist leadership would attend.

The four senior generals who ultimately ran the party would open the festivities. Then perhaps they would choose a volunteer between themselves and crown him president. It was a nice formality. What was important was that they continued to work together. The four knew that they ruled atop a mountain of ambitions and grudges. The junior generals and lesser officers would only be kept in line through a unified show of discipline.

The balcony of the lavish civic building was an ideal place to announce a new regime. Four plush chairs were lined a row with a microphone in front where the generals could take turns to speak. The public square below held hundreds of cheering supporters. Roughly a quarter were plainclothes police, and at least a hundred armed soldiers patrolled the grounds and the surrounding buildings, all evacuated. No one within six blocks had been allowed to stay if they showed the smallest trace of disloyalty. The generals were practical, suspicious men, but they moved out to the balcony without fear. Nothing nearby could possibly hurt them.

Over a mile away, Private Floyd Lawton hid under a canvas tarp on an apartment roof. He cradled a large rifle.

---​

Washington D.C.

The Accolade Theater was a popular movie palace in Georgetown that ran a Friday night double feature for forty cents. Captain Steven Trevor and Ambassador Diana Prince ran past an usher and slipped into their seats. They grinned like children. A short man in the row behind Diana frowned. Steve had a fat bag of popcorn under each arm and passed one to her. Corn was unknown to the Amazons and butter was a luxury: this was a treat fit for royalty, which she found appropriate.

The red curtains parted and the newsreels played. A newsman described the new Atlantic Charter over patchy footage of Roosevelt and Churchill shaking hands. The narration turned to the siege of Leningrad with still images of dirty workers digging trenches and uniformed women at anti-aircraft batteries. A cartoon map of eastern Europe popped up, with menacing red arrows stretching from Finland and Germany into the Soviet Union. In the corner, a cartoon Adolf Hitler sneered and rubbed his hands. The audience booed, and Diana booed with them.

The cartoon map of Europe became a cartoon map of Argentina under a superimposed question mark. Flames and bombs blasts erupted at its borders. The newsman told a tale of a country entering another stage of crisis. Shortly after seizing the country, the military council behind the coup had been decimated by a stunning attack by Loyalist assassins. Reports emerging from inside the country few claimed surviving coup leaders had turned on each other. Most reports came from Argentina's wild south where the coup's offensive had failed. Loyalist camps maintained the old government there under its democratic constitution. The rest of the nation was collapsing into a many-sided civil war. Steve saw that Diana's face was troubled.

But her eyes widened when a colorized photo of Wonder Woman appeared on the screen. The audience cheered. Steve squeezed her hand. There was a clip of Wonder Woman shaking hands with dignitaries in front of the Capitol Building while the newsman summarized her gallant story. Wonder Woman then took a podium, but Steve and Diana instantly realized the voice was dubbed. As Wonder Woman's mouth moved on the screen, a voice actress with a sweet American accent gave a pitch for war bonds. Diana fumed, crushing the popcorn in her hand, but she stayed in her seat.

Finally, a distinguished man at a desk talked about the new Office of Price Administration, how there would be price controls on certain foods and everyone had a responsibility to be honest and frugal in these trying times. He thanked the audience for being good citizens and, with a twinkle in his eye, shared his hopes that they enjoyed the movie.

The red curtains closed.

Diana grabbed Steve's arm and whispered a yell, “That was not me! They did not share my voice!”

Steve peeked around to see if anyone was watching and muttered back, “That might be a good thing.”

Soon, the curtains opened again. The first feature film of the night was The Gray Ghost and the Curse of the Cavalier. The Gray Ghost was a pulp hero on the radio when Steve was a kid. It was fun to see the mysterious crimefighter on the silver screen, punching crooks and saving damsels. It was less fun trying to answer all of Diana's questions. Every minute she leaned over with a new one – always blocking his view - and each time he responded as briefly as possible that yes, the drums she heard were background music and didn't actually exist in the scene, and no, he wasn't sure how the editors caused the wavy effect during the dream sequence, but no, it wasn't because the camera was sleepy. It was all Steve could do to remember who was punching damsels and saving crooks.

Then the final fight began. The hero and his foe, the dashing and sinister Cavalier, engaged in a rapier duel on the maintenance catwalk inside a clock-tower. Steel met steel as the deadly dance pushed back and forth along the narrow platform. Diana rolled her eyes at the first loud parry. After a string of thrusts and parries led to the disadvantaged villain rolling under the hero's legs to get behind him, she snorted. In a whisper that gradually stopped being a whisper, Diana began a live commentary on the errors in their sword technique. Other patrons began to shush her. Someone threw popcorn at them from the back rows. Steve slumped low in his seat and covered his eyes. Soon, an usher marched up. Steve pleaded for Diana to be quiet, she reluctantly complied, then Steve slipped the usher a buck and promised it wouldn't happen again. Diana crossed her arms and sulked for the rest of the film.

That was the low-point of the night. Happily, the film was almost over. Before the second feature, the theater played a few Looney Toons shorts. Thanks to the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and company, Steve confirmed a long-held suspicion: beyond language and culture, slapstick was universally funny.

Diana was in a much improved mood when the second feature began. It was some sultry romance Steve hadn't heard of called Tender Hearts Meet. He recognized the leads, Basil Karlo and Paige Monroe, from more interesting films. Of course, to Steve, interesting usually meant saving punches and damseling crooks, but he supposed there was no accounting for taste. Diana certainly seemed intrigued. She hardly asked questions after the first act. During a heated argument between the leads about a broken promise made as children, Steve noticed Diana was so engrossed that she held a fistful of popcorn under her mouth for an entire minute without eating it.

Eventually, Steve also started to enjoy the movie. The screen couple, William and Annabelle, met under the most unlikely conditions. They shared sunny days together, then hurt each other with careless words, and the rift was torn further by schemes from jealous rivals. The audience laughed and cried. In the final scene, he knocked on her door on a rainy evening.

William, always uncomfortable with words, finally shared how he felt. “You look so pretty tonight, Annabelle, and you’ve become very special to me.”

The woman noticed something in his arms and blinked in surprise. “Oh, William, what are those?”

William stared at his feet. “Well, I wanted to get you something nice. I wanted to get you roses. But with my luck, the flower lady was out of roses. All she had were, uh, these tulips.”

“Tulips?”

“Yes, yes, I know girls like roses, but I couldn’t just come empty-handed, see? These are the best I could do. I’m sorry. I understand if you’re still cross with me.”

“Oh, William. Tulips are fine.” She took the flowers and stepped forward. “I’d even settle for one lip.”

“A what?”

Annabelle leaned her head in, paused to look him in the eye, then gently bit his lower lip. She nibbled on it a moment, then William put his arms around her and they progressed to a proper full-lipped kiss.

There were gasps and whistles from the audience. Steve and Diana, who had both been caught up in the scene, happened to glance at each other. Steve smiled and looked back at the screen, but Diana was still watching him. Harp music swelled from the speakers. She leaned her head in. Steve noticed at the last moment and turned. Diana paused to look Steve in the eye, then bit his lower lip.

Steve screamed.

---​

The Batcave.

Batman sat unmasked in front of a typewriter. His arms were motionless on the table. His hands were balled into fists. He stared at a blank sheet spooled in the cylinder. He had sat this way for several minutes tonight. In the previous nights, he had stared at the paper until he lost his nerve and left. But tonight he sat longer than before. He prayed. He cursed.

Finally he rubbed his eyes and set his fingers to the keys. He typed:

Dangerous Person Countermeasures Plan #273

Name: James Worthington Gordon

Occupation: GCPD Sergeant

Tactical Threat Assessment: 9

Socio-Legal Threat Assessment: 13

Section A: Biographical & Associates

Section B: Prospective Threatening Behavior

Section C: Contingencies – Low Impact/Deniable/Reversible

Section D: Contingencies – Emergency

Batman continued to type with steady diligence until the file was complete. He put it in his records, then he returned to the table and laid his head in his hands. He sat in this solitude a while longer, alone under the endless shrieking of the bats.

---

Three months later. Gotham City.

Detective Harvey Bullock was discharged from Charlotte’s Grove Hospital on a cold afternoon in late autumn. He had lost weight during his recovery, and he was clean and well-groomed. He looked years younger, perhaps looked like a new man altogether. Harvey still wore a wrap bandage over much of his lower face, as the bullet that had struck his mouth and exited his cheek left a wound which wouldn't fully close so long as Harvey moved his jaw. Once the three bullet wounds in his gut had healed enough to let him eat solid foods, moving his jaw became non-negotiable.

A few days before his release, Harvey had been visited by an old acquaintance, Marco Bertinelli. Marco gave Harvey a train ticket and a reminder that he had one day after he left the hospital to get out of Gotham forever. The ticket would make that permanent departure nice and easy. The Bertinellis were known for these kind gestures. Harvey decided to return the favor.

That night, there was a party at the home of Franco Bertinelli. It was a lovely home, bright and well-furnished, with a long brick driveway and a lush garden that wrapped around the house. Several fine cars were parked in the driveway and the street. There were two men outside tonight, young Eddie Angelo and Tommy Santini. They paced the garden path and smoked cigarettes. It was a friendly, peaceful neighborhood, and they didn’t expect any trouble.

During a particular lap, as Eddie was walking through the rear garden, he heard noises from the street. The music inside was too loud for party guests to hear the street, but outdoors Eddie couldn't miss it. He didn’t see anyone as he rounded the house and crossed the front lawn, but he still kept his hand in his jacket. Then he got a look at the cars. A few hood ornaments were crushed, windows were smashed, and headlights were cracked. It looked like some vandal had gone to town with a pry bar, but to do this in front of Franco Bertinelli’s home was beyond belief. And Tommy had disappeared.

As Eddie inspected the damage, his head was caved in from behind with a decorative rock etched with the word ‘Welcome’.

Harvey dropped the rock.

Inside the house, the Bertinelli's precious princess was celebrating her birthday. Young Helena sat at the head of a long dinner table in a frilly violet dress. Aunts and uncles and cousins passed dishes and sang and argued and joked. Mommy and Daddy shared stories nearby while Grandpapa played the piano.

Uncle Santino carried a lasagna from the kitchen to the dining room. He passed the bay window in the hallway. From the dark outside the window, a shotgun fired and tore Uncle Santino apart.

There was pandemonium in the Bertinelli house.

Outside, Harvey loaded another shell in his short-barreled shotgun. He walked to the next window and looked into the dining room. The party was struggling to flee the room, bottlenecked by its two small doorways. Two of the men had drawn handguns. Harvey aimed through the window and fired at the nearest of the two. He and the lady beside him went down. Before anyone could react, Harvey ducked below the window and continued. He moved around to the front corner of the house where he had a good angle on the porch and reloaded.

The front door burst open. A line of children escaped across the lawn. He saw some women follow. Then a young man behind them. Harvey fired and winged the young man who stumbled but kept running. Harvey reloaded and entered the front door. A woman was crying in an open bathroom near the foyer. He ignored her. Harvey crossed to a family room, and an old man ambushed him from behind a piano with a fire poker. He shot the old man center mass. Then someone tackled Harvey from behind, clawing at his neck. Harvey was bigger and manged to spin around: it was the crying lady from the bathroom. She scratched at his face and eyes in a fury, screaming to break glass. Harvey kept her at arm's length, but his weapon was dry. He shoved her to the ground, fished the handgun from his pocket, and shot her.

Harvey dropped his shotgun and kept the handgun at the ready. He stepped into the kitchen. A man was escaping out the back door. Harvey shot him in the back. He heard a cool voice behind him say, “Yo.”

Harvey turned, but Marco Bertinlli didn't wait to fire. The pistol round went through Harvey's parted lips, chipped a tooth, then drilled out the half-healed cheek where his last bullet had said goodbye. The next round grazed his ear. Harvey finished turning and shot Marco twice times in the chest.

The shock of the moment finally hit Harvey, and he stumbled against the kitchen wall. He gingerly felt the new hole in his cheek, just where the old one had been. Harvey laughed. He laughed and shot Marco again and laughed. He spit out the chip from the tooth. The now-torn bandages on his face seeped red.

Harvey saw that Marco had been smoking a long cigar when it fell. It sat smoldering on the tiles where Marco's pooling blood would touch it in a second. Harvey reached down and picked it up. He took a short puff. The cockroach had taste.

Harvey heard a whimper nearby. He brought his handgun up with a start. Then he saw it was a terrified girl in a frilly dress hiding in a pantry. Skinny and coltish, maybe fourteen. She held a table knife across her chest.

Harvey crouched a few paces from her and tried to sound comforting. His wound made his mouth whistle and wheeze. “No, honey, I’m not gonna hurt ya. Sorry, you’re - what? His daughter? Niece? The big guy and I lost touch awhile back, so I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced.”

The girl kept her trembling silence, but her eyes were open and icy cold.

Harvey nodded, understanding. He puffed on her Uncle Marco’s cigar. He savored the taste for a long moment then blew the smoke through the bloody hole in his cheek. She recoiled in disgust, and he grinned with tired eyes. “Do me a favor, though. Tell them the Falcones send their regards.”
The End

---

Author's Footnote
Dear reader, thank you for staying with me to the end of Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx. It has been a pleasure and an honor sharing my take on this excellent franchise with you. Regrettably, this is the last fan work I intend to write. However, I am considering giving commercial fiction a shot. If you enjoy my work and wish to be informed of my next writing project, please message me with your preferred method of contact. I'll update you when I've cooked up my next adventure.
Thanks again and happy reading!​

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SCRawl
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by SCRawl » 2018-04-02 10:42pm

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but your Gotham in prose is more fully-formed, richer, and more...well, let's say interesting than any comic book depiction I've ever read or seen. And the stories themselves are certainly worth reading. Good luck with your next project.
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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar » 2018-04-02 11:23pm

I thought Harvey had a bit more ... restraint...

Otherwise, Excellent end to a fantastic adventure. Please keep me in mind when you begin another Batman chapter :)
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