Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Stewart M
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Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-22 09:02pm

August, 1941. In Gotham City they say the Four Families are untouchable, and no one is more dangerous than Batman. Both these myths are shattered in one night. The first by the Dark Knight himself. The second by a myth far older than Gotham's little tales, a myth that's fearsome and unrelenting and wondrous.

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 1: Strange Bedfellows​

Arturo Bertinelli was a compact gentleman on the graying side of forty with a dark Italian complexion and a well-trimmed mustache, but this was hard to see through the dust on his face. He awoke in bleary confusion to something cool caked on his skin and his wife Marie yelling beside him. But the detail which held his attention was the sight of the beautiful stars overhead: part of his ceiling and roof were gone. And the hole was cut in the stylized shape of a bat.

Arturo sat up and coughed. Each movement caused a puff of dust to float off his hair or nightshirt. It took a panicked minute for him to find Marie and hug her and for the couple to convince each other they didn't know what was going on. He climbed out of bed and pulled the lamp cord.

There was a huge message on the wall.

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?

Arturo gasped and clutched his chest. His wife turned and screamed. The massive letters were written in black paint. Arturo paced across the room to catch his bearings as much as escape from the message. The powder on the bed and floor was clearly plaster from the hole in the ceiling. It wasn't clear what caused the plaster to fall, where the frame studs and shingles had gone, or how this had occurred right over his head without waking him.

He decided the first step to making sense of the situation was to wash out his eyes. He gestured for his wife to be calm and walked into the master bathroom. He turned on the lights and found the message on the mirror.

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?

Arturo flinched and turned away. No one called him that name. No one had called him that name in eleven years. Not since the Vendettas. Not since his brothers died. He focused on his breathing to quiet his racing heart, coughing on more dust for his efforts, and hastily washed his hands and face. The moist plaster did not come off cleanly but left behind sticky streaks of residue. He looked at the message again, superimposed on his reflection, and it took a force of will to not smash the mirror with his fists. He splashed the hot water and rubbed his face and hands harder and harder until the worst of the plaster flaked off. Marie joined him at the sink. She clutched the revolver from his sock drawer. Amidst his panic, he felt a glow of pride: his wife never scared like a dame.

They heard a shriek and ran into the hall to help. Paulie, their youngest, was standing in front of his room in shock. His sisters Anita and Lucia were trying to comfort him despite being obviously spooked themselves. The hall lights were on, and the children stared at a black message painted across the hallway.

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?

As Marie rushed to their young son, Arturo marched furiously though the house, turning on the lights as he went. The message desecrated every room.

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?

WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?


The offending question was even graffitied on the mantle above the dog's basket. Their spaniel Zito was awake now, panting earnestly at his master's confusion. Arturo kicked the basket in rebuke. Zito flinched and whined, and Arturo cursed at him. What good was a dog who slept when an intruder came?

Then he noticed something in the foyer. The wall with his family's photographs had been changed. He walked over slowly, doubting his eyes. All their nicely framed portraits were scattered on the floor, replaced with a messy collage of shipping manifests, prints of passport pages, immigration records, and receipts for steamship tickets pinned to the wall. Arturo knew the meaning in an instant. Until now he merely felt alarmed by the vandal, but now he knew doom.

Back in the hallway, little Anita was crying and Paulie had retreated to his room. Marie was at the telephone, fighting to keep her hand steady long enough to enter a number. He caught her arm with more force than he intended. "Smetti! Stop!"

She looked up, too surprised to be annoyed. "What?"

"What are you doing?"

"Calling your cousin." He can help. He'd want to know. The elaboration was unnecessary and unsaid.

Arturo grimaced. It was true. An attack on their home was a Family matter. He was obliged to let the Family know. The Bertinellis looked after their own, and they would level the city to do it. On any other night he would have already made the call.

He didn't let go of her arm. "No. Not now." He took the receiver from her and returned it to the cradle. "Not just yet."

"Dear, what are you doing?"

"Not yet, not yet." He kissed her neck. "Not yet."

She stole a worried glance at the children. "Why not?"

"You have to trust me, yes? You have to leave now."

She nodded distracted. "We'll stay at Frank's house. Or Aunt Clarisa. Or-"

"No!" He held her shoulders. "You can't. Not anyone. You remember that hotel? The hotel from our anniversary? Take the children and head straight there, no stopping. Book a room. Not under our name. Use a different name."

"What? Arturo, that's nonsense."

"Don't you let anyone know where you are! I'll call you there soon."

"Arturo, that's hours away. Why not go to your-"

He glared and kissed her on the lips. "Go. I need to know you're safe. I'll take care of this."

She looked at him uncertainly. "I love you."

"I love you more. Don't take anything. Drive as fast as you can."

Marie left him to gather the kids. Arturo picked up the revolver she had left next to the phone and ran a finger across the beveled metal grooves of the cylinder. It had been awhile since he held one. He looked at the phone. The Family could never know. But he was gravely out of his depth tonight. He would need help.

He laid down the weapon and dialed a number. It rang ten times. A clipped voice picked up on the eleventh ring. Arturo spoke as calmly as he could manage. "This is Responder Shiloh Green. I need to speak with Admiral Cornwell."

---​

Crime in Gotham City was a feudal system. Only desperate bottom-feeders and a few specialists were fully independent. Everyone else ran with a crew. Most large crews were willing to let smaller outfits work their territory in return for tribute or favors, and territory wasn't always as simple as a spot on a map. Some gangs claimed a line of business, like carjacking, or a relationship, like the tolerance of a ward captain responsible for claims of carjacking. Taken together, Gotham's gang hierarchies were complicated, vast, and secretive, but two simple facts were absolutely certain: everyone bowed to the kings at the top, and the kings of Gotham were the Four Families.

The Four Families - the Falcones, the Maronis, the Nobilios, and the Bertinellis - were a loose but stable alliance of the most powerful criminal syndicates of the Gotham underworld. They weren't just major contenders, they were a league apart. Most felons considered it the job of a lifetime to spend five minutes in a bank vault. The Four Families bought and sold banks. Many racketeers offered bribes to the police so they could partake in illicit behavior. The Four Families received bribes from the police so the police could partake in illicit behavior. The wealth, muscle, and connections their empires possessed were practically beyond measure, and it didn't seem likely to decline anytime soon. The alliance was almost a decade old, or half a century in mob years, and together the Families knew they were invincible.

Part of the Families' long success was knowing how to handle the authorities. This was easy with local and state officials whom they could muster a hundred forms of leverage against, but even they had little influence with the federal government. Accordingly, the Four Families went to great lengths to please and distract federal agencies. So when men from Navy Intelligence visited in the early spring with a proposition, they listened very carefully.

In short, the Navy wanted informers. Washington feared that the Axis powers were trying to sabotage the fledgling American war machine, and Gotham City was an industrial giant with the largest shipyards in the country. But countering espionage in Gotham was like hunting a single mosquito in a jungle. To even think about peeling back its layers required the help of an insider, and the Four Families had more roots in the city's dank crevices than anyone. They would know if someone was agitating the Italian-American longshoremen or the German-American steelworkers. They saw who was buying weapons or selling secrets. They could stop any union strike in an afternoon. They even had ears in the Bund and other pro-fascist clubs. They were perfect for the job.

The Four's patriarchs knew instantly they would accept. Any chance to make nice with federal men was a good move, and they had a bone to pick with Mussolini. But of course they asked what the Navy was offering in return. Not missing a beat, their visitors showed papers from the Justice Department concerning Tommy Maroni and Gus Falcone, two mob lieutenants who were sentenced to life in Alcatraz a decade ago. If the Families cooperated, the two would be moved to a low-security prison near Gotham with parole in five years. Then the Navy men produced a stack of court dockets for sixteen cases being investigated by the FBI and Treasury Department against businesses the Four had investments in, hinting that these could quietly disappear.

It took the dons nine seconds to reach an agreement.

The Navy's commander of the project – soon named Operation Underworld by someone with a flair for the dramatic – was Admiral Bernard Cornwell. He had to admit those dirty racketeers had been unfailingly helpful from day one. The number of solid leads they provided exceeded his staff's most optimistic projection by a mile. Nothing in the city got past the Families. And, much to his surprise, the crooks never asked for more rewards or compensation. If he didn't know better, he might think they were serving out of some grain of altruism. Maybe they were patriots.

So it was with mixed surprise that Admiral Cornwell received a call from one of the crooks shortly before midnight. His maid woke him and brought him the phone. It was his secretary at the office claiming he had one of the Gotham special informers on an emergency line.

"Yes, hello?"

The call to his home in Falls Church, Virginia through the Navy Department's switchboard in Washington from a phone in Gotham City sounded perfectly clear. Any misunderstanding was the fault of its participants.

"Is'zis Cornwell?"

"This is Admiral Cornwell, may I ask who's-"

"It's Arturo. We need to talk quick, see?"

"Arturo? Arturo, Arturo."

"Bertinelli. We met."

"Hm. Oh yes, Mr. Bertinelli." Arturo was one of the least productive sources in the program, and the Admiral couldn't remember ever speaking with him. "How can I help you, sir?"

"Listen. I need backup, and I need it fast."

The Admiral sat up straighter with a sudden serious expression. "What's the danger?"

"No time to squawk, I'm dyin' over here. Just pick me up lickty-split. I'll be at my safe house. Got that?"

"If you want our protection, I need to know the nature of the threat."

"Fine, it's … well ..."

"Pardon?"

"It's Batman. Batman's after me."

" … "

"Hey! You still there?"

Cornwell hadn't attended the infamous Project Galen deposition last year, but everyone knew the rumors. Two anarchists in gaudy outfits broke into an Army research base, stole sensitive items, lit half the camp on fire, and somehow escaped, never to be seen again. To top it all off, the whole fiasco happened under the nose of the mighty Amanda Waller, the only woman with the President's number and the only person to ever intimidate J. Edgar Hoover, or so the scuttlebutt said. This pair had hoodwinked her, leaving only a single clue about their identities: one anarchist called himself Batman.

In those weird backrooms of power where spooks swapped stories, the name had become something between a punchline and the Bogeyman. He was the Headless Horseman. He put Pancho Villa to shame. The Admiral was sure he didn't exist. Not like that anyway.

"Yes, yes I'm still here, Mr. Bertinelli. Who is Batman?"

"Who? You ask who? Is that a joke? You think I got time to jaw around some funnies now, buddy?"

"Well, I'll confess I'm not familiar with many of the notables of your city, and I thought perhaps you've heard-"

"Ughh! Come ha fatto un grasso, pigro sempliciotto-"

"Now hold on, sir. This is not how one addresses an … I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"Look pal, it doesn't matter whose boots you gotta kiss, get me the Marines. Or get me the Mounties, I don't care. If you want me to still have all my limbs by sunrise, have someone with a lotta' firepower pick me up at my safehouse, capisci?"

"Alright, alright, Mr. Bertinelli, I'll make sure that-"

The line went dead.

"Well that was quite rude."

---​

With a few phone calls, Admiral Cornwell had a young officer rousing three of his colleagues to discuss ideas on who might help Arturo Bertinelli on short notice. His team for Operation Underworld had men stationed in the city, but at the moment they were all administrative staff, not bodyguards. They dared not call the police; Underworld was too important, and the GCPD would be furious about it. The FBI had several offices in Gotham, but the story would send them boiling over worse than the cops (who might at least have a working relationship with the mob). The last thing Cornwell wanted was one of his informants in FBI custody. The agents would ask questions with answers they weren't cleared to know.

One of the Admiral's colleagues, an expert in organized crime, had been silent for most of the meeting. Now he interrupted to point out that Arturo's request made no sense. Whatever the threat, the Italian gangs never sought outside help. Never. Not for a private matter. It was unthinkable. They handled their own affairs with a tight-lipped discipline most spy rings could only dream of. And the Bertinellis were big shots. A senior member like Arturo could have rallied five family soldiers and a dozen loyal street toughs to his defense in the time it took to call the Admiral. They all lived near each other for a reason.

Cornwall had no answer for that puzzle, but the fact remained that Mr. Bertinelli, an established asset of his operation, was in imminent danger. Whatever the reason, it could be dealt with once he was safe. Another colleague from the Army recalled that his own branch's intelligence might have a man passing through Gotham City at the moment: a real cowboy, in fact, no stranger to dust-ups, and he could keep his mouth shut. He was a captain named Steven Trevor.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby FaxModem1 » 2016-09-23 03:47pm

Interesting, please continue.
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-23 08:03pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 2: Unknown Predators ​


Batman stood in a brick wall and couldn't stop grinning. He felt alive in a way he hadn't in a long time.

Finding Arturo Bertinelli's safe house had been easy. Most big mobsters kept several. In fact, knowing Arturo had only one revealed as much about his finances as his fallback options. It wasn't even a safe house, it was a safe room, and he didn't even bother to hide it in a basement like a sensible fugitive. No, it was a fourth floor apartment in a neighborhood downtown. Even more bizarrely, the room was owned in his name. Mobsters loved real estate and knew a dozen tricks to twist a deed: fake names and proxy owners were child's play. None deterred Batman for long, but a token effort was expected.

Arturo's safe room did have an especially armored entrance. Its wooden door could be barricaded on the inside by a sliding wall of overlapping steel slats which rolled down on tracks like a garage door to lock shut with two latches sunk into the floor. This sliding barrier wasn't the most sophisticated piece of security Batman had seen in a criminal lair, but it was among the most practical. With three seconds and a strong arm, someone could shield the apartment against any force short of heavy construction equipment, and big machinery wouldn't fit in the elevator (perhaps the fourth floor had a perk after all).

The walls were just as important. Instead of mere drywall, Arturo had installed three layers of sturdy brick. A determined man with a sledgehammer might break through eventually, but the noise would wake the building, and police patrolled this street at all hours. The walls were so thick that their sheer dimensions puzzled Batman. The size of Arturo's room hadn't changed, so if three mortared bricks were a foot thick, then his neighbors' already-tiny apartments had to be a foot smaller and asymmetrical. The floor and ceiling were also bricked which implied even odder scenarios above and below. Gotham had some weird apartments, but not in this part of town.

A little investigation revealed the answer: the neighbors didn't mind because they weren't home. All adjacent apartments had absentee owners. Batman suspected these were rooms for junior Bertinellis or their allies. Like every other detail of the mission, that served him perfectly. The apartment to the west of Arturo's had a window facing the alley which meant Batman could casually come and go with as much gear as he could carry. So he brought a gas mask, left the window half-open, and laid a heavy tarp on the floor. Confident the site was ventilated, he slowly opened a glass jar of strong muratic acid and brushed it on a man-sized segment of the wall. Once the acid had softened the mortar to a thick putty, Batman used a sharp chisel to carve around each brick, then he eased them out with the aid of a prybar and his prodigious hand strength. One by one, hour by hour, he quietly carved a hole though two layers of the wall. He did not carve through the third layer. He still applied acid and loosened the bricks with the chisel, but he didn't push the point though. The wall still looked untouched from the other side.

That was last night. Now Batman crouched in his new alcove, waiting in the dark. It occurred to him that he could simply wait inside the room, but as much as he regretted frightening the man's children, he was hell-bent on using every ugly tactic he had tonight. He had triple-checked every lead. He spent four evenings setting the scene. The plan was more polished and reviewed than any he had ever devised. He was fit, rested, focused, decked out in tools, and armed to the teeth. He had taken every precaution. He would make no mistakes. The only challenge was staying calm. His gut rolled with contempt and a mighty eagerness.

---​

Dr. Lyle Pemberly was a distinguished fellow at the Franklin Institute for International Relations. It was a new position for him, one last relaxing post before he eased into retirement. He already had twenty years in the foreign service and eight in academia under his belt. During his teaching years, he also consulted as an expert on treaty law, but the role was behind him now. These days he enjoyed coming in late, writing papers on whatever struck his fancy, mentoring the younger researchers, ordering lunch on the Institute's dime, and taking Fridays off to hit the links.

Still, when an old State Department friend called in the morning to beg his help on a diplomatic conundrum, Dr. Pemberly had to admit he was intrigued. If he agreed, he would meet a man late that night in complete secrecy, and he wouldn't be paid. The bold inconvenience of the request was beguiling. If his friend had tried an appointment during sensible hours, or if he had explained the issue or offered a fee, Dr. Pemberly would have declined. But requesting a covert consultation on short notice pro bono? Something was afoot. Diplomats rarely saw as much intrigue and skullduggery as many people imagined, but they saw far more than semi-retired professors. Dr. Pemberly was a rover at heart, and deep down he missed the intrigue.

He had agreed to meet the man at his home near the Institute benefactor, Hudson University. The tree-lined streets around Hudson were the closest one could be to the city center and still find private lawns with white-picket fences. Naturally, the rent for a small home there could ransom Wyoming. But money wasn't a concern for Dr. Pemberly. Consulting had been lucrative. If war was the last resort to settle matters between nations, he was the second-to-last resort. Very few conflicts were purely practical - two starving men fighting over one dinner, so to speak. Many were about saving face: any leader who backed down from a conflict looked weak. Sometimes nations had a solution both would tolerate, but neither trusted the other to keep it, and a few disagreements were literal formalities, the title of a dead monarch or the name of a bridge. Whatever the contention, Dr. Pemberly had a knack for finding a deal which sent everyone home happy. He had friends in every embassy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of diplomatic procedures, cultural subtleties, and each nations' own legal precedents maybe five scholars on the planet could match. And no one could guide a negotiation with such adroitness. In the Great Game, he was a ringer.

As the hour turned late and the pot of tea he set out grew cold, Dr. Pemberly paced up and down his den. The wool of his sweater vest was getting itchy; he was normally in his silk smoking jacket by now. As he was about to give up and turn off the porch lights, he heard a quick knock at the door. A young man stood outside, a strapping fellow who introduced himself as Captain Trevor but cheerfully insisted that Dr. Pemberly call him Steve. Steve could have stepped out of a recruitment poster with his crisp Army dress uniform and sharply-parted blonde hair. Dr. Pemberly had met enough military men to recognize the pilot wings and bronze star on his coat. Curious.

They shook hands. Steve offered a folded note of introduction from Pemberly's State Department friend. Dr. Pemberly read it and invited Steve to take a seat inside.

Steve stayed stiffly at the door. He said, "Forgive me, Doctor. But I have to ask a question or two first," then added, "Orders" like it was a valid apology.

Dr. Pemberly eyed him suspiciously. "Alright."

"Did you mention this meeting to anyone, sir?"

"No."

"No one at all?"

"No."

"Is there anyone here who might overhear or interrupt us?"

"Do you see a ring on my finger, Captain?"

"Sir, this is important."

"I promise I'm the only one here. But you might get some attention if you keep standing on my porch."

Steve nodded sheepishly. "Then excuse me for a moment. I hope you don't mind that I brought a guest."

"Oh? Err, alright."

Steve walked towards his car. Dr. Pemberly pondered this development. Who would demand such discretion? Some disgraced ambassador? A deposed head of state? He watched as the young captain led a figure though the dark of his driveway.

They came near and he realized that "figure" was the right word indeed. Dr. Pemberly was a lifelong bachelor and well past his prime, but even he did a double take when she came into view. The lady was tall, two heads above him and one over Captain Trevor, and most of that height was filled by limb. When she approached, he came to his senses and started to offer a small bow, but she held his hand in both of hers and smiled.

"Thank you for seeing us on short notice, Doctor. My name is Diana Prince."

She had an accent he couldn't place. Dr. Pemberly nodded a bit too much and replied, "Oh, oh, naturally, yes. A pleasure to meet you, Diana. Do come in." She inclined her head graciously and entered. Steve watched this with the curved lip of someone holding in a smirk. Dr. Pemberly felt a tad annoyed at him.

Inside, Dr. Pemberly finally viewed his new guest under the light. Diana had faint Mediterranean features but blue eyes. Her black hair was pulled into a modest bun, and she wore round-framed glasses - unflattering, in his opinion. Overall, she seemed warm and poised, serene and professional, with an air of absolute confidence he rarely saw in anyone, let alone a woman of no obvious rank or heritage. He couldn't guess her purpose by her outfit, a dark blue jacket and pencil skirt found in any office, but he did find it strange that her clothes didn't fit. The details were minor but hard to miss: the shoulders of her jacket pinched, her skirt hung lower than most of that style, and her white blouse was a size too tight. Dr. Pemberly had never met – frankly couldn't imagine – a lady with such obvious class dressing so carelessly.

He realized he was staring and hurried to shut the door. "Yes, both of you please take a seat. I'm afraid the tea is cold, but I'm happy to make another hot beverage if you wish. I also have a collection of spirits if that strikes your fancy."

Steve hung his hat and seemed to consider the second offer, but Diana replied before he could speak. "We're fine, Doctor, thank you." Steve didn't seem to mind her making his decision and took a seat in a plush den chair. Diana took the chair beside him. Dr. Pemberly didn't entertain often, but he had enough furniture for a party of three. He poured himself a glass of port from a nearby decanter and found a spot on the couch across from them.

"Well, well." Dr. Pemberly had the prim and measured diction of an Oxford don. "How can I help you fine young people?"

Steve leaned forward, all business. "You understand, Doctor, that this meeting is completely confidential. Not a word can leave this room."

Dr. Pemberly returned a wry look. "So I've inferred."

"I'm obliged to make completely sure."

"Young man, I was working in the federal service before you were in grade school. I can hold my tongue."

"Of course. Sorry."

"No harm done." Dr. Pemberly waved a hand. "Now, what's the problem that needs my help?"

Steve spoke. "Doctor, imagine the United States discovered a new nation. Do you know any precedents for such a thing?"

"A new nation, eh? Terra incognita. An interesting question." Dr. Pemberly went silent in thought. He steepled his fingers and sunk back into his couch, letting out a deep, slow hum. "Yes and no. Yes, there is precedent, though none recently, of course, and not by America. A Brit named James Cook wrapped up the last of the globe in the 1770s or so. The map is fairly complete."

His guests looked crestfallen. Steve said, "I see."

"Granted, every so often a mining expedition will come across a new tribe deep in the Congo or a similar wilderness. I suppose these communities qualify as nations by one definition of the word. But none of them are matters of diplomacy. These little tribes become de facto subjects of whichever proper state has sovereignty over their territory."

Diana responded with unexpected pep. "What about an island? Have you carved all the seas as well?"

Dr. Pemberly looked taken aback, either by her phrasing or by such a forceful question from a lady. "Well, no. There are unclaimed islands around, and I suspect some must be inhabited. But I confess, this is really outside of my expertise. Perhaps you should try a cartographer or an anthropologist."

Captain Trevor pressed on, more gently than Diana. "That won't be necessary, Doctor. But humor us. Say there was an inhabited island found," he gestured vaguely, "In some sea somewhere. No one else owned it. What would the government do?"

"Not much. Any tribe hidden this long must be quite primitive." Captain Trevor cringed and glanced at Diana, but her expression remained pleasantly neutral. Pemberly didn't seem to notice. "Few of these isolated communities develop writing, let alone finer notions of statecraft. How would we conduct diplomacy? And over what issues? They never have the population or industry to carry weight in world affairs. Not in this century, anyway. I daresay we've met more than enough indigenous groups to prove that. Yes, I imagine we would simply leave them be."

Diana spoke again, eagerly. "Presume our island nation was sophisticated, Doctor, with writing and cultivation and architecture."

"Architecture? Like a city-state?"

She nodded. "Yes, a city-state home to thousands. A culture with scholars in every field of natural study and artists in every medium. And a standing army as brave and well-drilled as any Man could hope to muster."

Dr. Pemberly didn't glean her nuance on the capital M. He rubbed his chin and took a minute to consider this with the help of some port. "Mm. That would be most remarkable. But it is a bit late in the evening for intellectual exercises, my dear. If such a civilization existed, it must be on an island large and temperate enough to produce food for thousands. Yet it remains unknown? In two hundred years of global travel, it is irrational to think that no foreign vessel would see this island. If that weren't enough to refute the proposition, all coastal peoples that size invent boating. Why haven't we found a settlement made by one of its seafarers? After all, the Polynesians crossed the Pacific in Stone Age canoes."

Diana didn't know who or what Polynesians were. She added it to her list of topics to look up. Steve tapped his fingers on the wooden arm of the chair and made a face like he was deciding how to phrase something. "What if ... What if, Doctor, our hypothetical island was ... hidden."

"Hidden?" Dr. Pemberly chortled and had another sip of port, now enjoying the game. "Hidden how? By a wizard?"

Diana opened her mouth, but this time Steve cut her off. "By a unique weather system. Constant storms and mist obscure it for months at a time. Only the most modern vessels could hope to navigate though, and it's far away from any trade route so few captains would bother to try."

Dr. Pemberly picked up the thread. "And if our modern ships struggle to pass through, the islanders surely couldn't hope to leave. I'll admit that's a clever explanation, Captain, well done. Of course, I can't say how likely such a weather system is."

Diana spoke. "Regardless, how would the government proceed?"

"Well, we would send an envoy. If the islanders reacted favorably, we would learn the rudiments of their language and discuss a treaty to formalize relations. Then all sorts of possibilities arise. I imagine they would want to know about the rest of the world and its developments. Once an embassy and a proper port were built, I can think of groups that would quickly send teachers, missionaries, and surveyors. Depending on its location, the Navy might negotiate to set up a fueling station, perhaps even a base. Other great nations would want their own embassies and visitors. Once the locals learned of our systems of commerce, trade would be discussed. That means engineers, prospectors, loggers, farmers, fishermen, factory owners, maybe retailers in time. It would be very exciting, I'm sure."

His two guests sat in inscrutable silence. Steve finally opened his mouth but Diana beat him to it.

"Doctor, is there any way the government could recognize a nation secretly?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"What if it was suspected this island wouldn't react favorably to public attention? Could a formal treaty exist, but knowledge of the nation's existence stay limited to a minimum of authorities? Are officials formally obliged to share their discovery with the world?"

"I ... I ... No one has proposed such a thing. Keeping an entire nation a secret? In this day and age? I'm not sure that's even constitutional. I confess I wouldn't know where to start."

"How many people would need to be told for relations to be established, and who?"

"I would have to consider that." Dr. Pemberly scrutinized her more closely. He still couldn't place her accent, and he had heard most of them. "I'm sorry, Miss Diana, I meant to ask while we were making introductions, but may I inquire in what capacity you work with Captain Trevor?"

"Guide," Diana answered as Steve said, "Friends." They looked at each other awkwardly. She couldn't tell a fib to save her life. Steve faced the Director with a toothy smile. "Diana is a nurse at an Army hospital in DC, but she went to school for political affairs so lately I've recruited her as an assistant in this little research project I've been assigned."

"To study hypothetical diplomatic scenarios."

"Yes."

"Secretly."

"Yes."

"In the middle of the night."

"... Yes."

A diplomat had tact. "Ah."

The phone rang. Dr. Pemberly excused himself and went to his old rotary machine on the wall. "Hello? Yes? Yes?" He looked at Steve. "He is. Yes. Just a moment." Dr. Pemberly lowered the receiver. "Captain Trevor, there's an officer on the line who wishes to speak with you."

Diana looked curiously at Steve who shrugged and stood. Pemberly handed the phone to him returned to the his seat. "Hello? Captain Steven Trevor, USAAF. Yes. Yes. More or less. Just my service pistol. Yes. About twenty minutes from downtown. No, I can't say I'm familiar. Who? From who? What's a batman?"

Dr. Pemberly was busy enjoying his port, but when he heard this he spit the whole mouthful. Diana flinched, and the spray missed her by inches. Steve saw this but was still on the call.

"Okay. Yes. Yes. I see. I'll be careful, sir. Yes. As soon as I'm done. Goodnight." Steve hung up the phone and walked to his host. "Have something to share, Dr. Pemberly?"

"No, no, sorry."

Steve stood over the doctor with his arms folded. "Nothing about my call surprised you?"

"I couldn't help but overhear. I nearly imagined you said something about, well, the Batman."

Steve crossed his arms. "That name came up. Does it mean something to you?"

Dr. Pemberly was incredulous. "Mean something to me? How much time have you spent in Gotham City?"

"Not long. I've been through a few times. Why?"

His host's disposition turned gloomy and foreboding. Doctor Pemberly stared at the floor. "Whatever they want you to do, son, don't go."

"Now hold on, Doctor. You're a dutiful man, I'm sure you know how it is. I have important business. If you've heard of this Batman fella, I want the news and I want it now." Diana had no idea what business Steve was talking about, but they supported each other. She moved to sit on the couch beside Dr. Pemberly and looked at him encouragingly. "Please, I'm sure we'll understand."

Dr. Pemberly held up his hands in defeat, no longer sounding like an Oxford don. "Fine. The Batman is sort of, uh, a legend here."

Steve frowned. "Tick-tock, Doc. I need more than that." Diana looked sharply at him and spoke softly, "What kind of legend?"

Dr. Pemberly turned to her. "He hurts people. Bad people. Maybe other people too. At least that's what they say. I heard he can slip through walls and has skin like a rhinoceros. Everyone with a cudgel and a grudge has been chasing him for years, but he's never been caught."

Steve raised an eyebrow. "You make him sound supernatural."

"Captain, I'm an educated man, we both know it's unbelievable, but yes, he is often styled as some sort of rageful demigod."

Diana's muscles stiffened. "I see." The remark slipped out a degree too coldly. Her family had a bone to pick with demigods.

Steve tugged on his coat and retrieved his hat from the hook. "I'm sure it's a moot point anyway. Let's go Diana, I have an errand to run. We'll be in touch, Doctor." He opened the front door.

Diana stood and shook Doctor Pemberly's hand with an apologetic smile. "Thank you so much for your time."

"My dear, I implore you, make sure he isn't about to do something stupid."

---​

Back in the car, Steve was putting the key in the ignition when Diana grabbed his wrist. "Steven, what's going on?"

His mouth was a serious line. "Got a call from the General. There's an informant here in the city, Bert-something. Bertinolly. Bertinelli. Bertini. Anyway, his family was threatened tonight by a local anarchist who calls himself the Bat Man. I have to go pick Bert up." He turned the ignition. "And the General said to rush."

"Did he say anything else?"

"Not much. He did say this Bat character has had run-ins with the Army before. The meathead's dangerous."

She raised her eyebrows at him. He grinned with the infinite self-assurance God grants fighter pilots. "It's fine. I'm more dangerous."

"Is there a reason the police can't assist?"

"Don't know. Didn't ask."

"Well, alright. We'll do this quickly then."

"We? Sorry, no can do, Angel. The hotel's almost on the way. I'll detour to drop you off."

She considered this for a long moment. "Hm. That sounds convenient. Where is this informant you need to rescue?"

"He said to find the tallest building on Twelfth Street. In fact, can you reach that map under your seat? I'm not sure the best way there. The roads in this city make no sense."

She did as requested, taking a long look at it first. "Steve, this anarchist sounds like someone you should avoid. Drop me off here and you can arrive sooner."

"And leave you stranded in the middle of Gotham?"

"This is a safe-looking neighborhood. I'll flag a taxi. You know how quickly they stop for me."

"True."

"Come on, Captain Trevor. Go. You have a mission!"

He couldn't help but smile. "Got that right. Okay, Nurse Prince, I'll let you off here." He slowed and edged to the curb. "Take care of yourself."

"You too."

The car pulled away. She waved after him. Then she looked around. There was no one in either direction, only more quiet suburbia. A cluster of pines edged someone's front lawn nearby. She walked briskly and stood in their shadows.

Diana Prince held her arms out to her sides, made a quarter-turn as if winding to throw a discus, then began to spin. She turned like a top, faster and faster. Her hair slipped out of its bun and flapped around with her. On her third turn, there was a flash of groovy technicolor light and in Diana's place stood Wonder Woman.

---​

Arturo Bertinelli stumbled out of his car, coughing and cursing as he tried in vain to wipe the last of the powder wafting off his shirt. He was triple-parked in front of a five-story apartment building called the Twelfth Street Arms.

Arturo burst through the entrance in his night clothes, covered in dust and sweat and carrying a revolver. The receptionist jumped but said nothing. The young man's reaction was completely expected. Arturo Bertinelli knew he could arrive in a bloody prison jumpsuit and none of the building's staff would blink. Not only did the Bertinellis own the Twelfth Street Arms, the Bertinellis owned Twelfth Street. Arturo's eyes darted across the quiet lobby. The minute hand ticked around the dial of the grandfather clock. A fly buzzed near a wall sconce. He continued pulling ragged breaths as he studied the scene.

The receptionist smiled with worried eyes. "Can I help you this evening, Mr. Bertinelli?"

Arturo rubbed his face and blinked like he just remembered why he came. "Yeah, if a, uh, a cop or a sailor or something comes through here talking about me, someone in a uniform or carrying a badge, you show them my room, got it? You point them my way."

"You got it, Mr. Bertinelli. I'll be on the lookout. Here's your key."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good kid." Arturo slapped him absentmindedly on the cheek and tipped a twenty-dollar bill. The receptionist took the bill and nodded in shock, not wanting to jinx the moment. He was holding a week's wages.

Arturo turned and stared at him intently. Then he bent away and stomped towards the waiting elevator, tracking white dust on the red carpet. He stopped halfway, muttered, then changed course for the staircase. The receptionist leaned forward and peered discreetly after him, then he shared a shrug with the elevator attendant. He had been at the job four years. The boss never took the stairs.

Arturo felt edgy like only a hunted man could. He shuffled up the stairs in the flickering dim, hugging the wall and spinning at every landing to aim up the next flight. He was on a hair-trigger. He decided that if anything moved, he would blow it away. Intruders, neighbors, pets - he didn't even care. Fortunately for the other residents, no one passed him. He made it out of the stairwell into an empty hallway and paced cautiously to the door of his apartment. While keeping as much of his body to the side as possible, Arturo gingerly unlocked it, turned the knob, and pushed. As the oak door swung open, he hopped back and lifted his revolver.

Nothing jumped out at him. He checked the hallway one last time and entered. Arturo flicked the light switch. It was a sparse room: a little bed, two chairs, a rug on the cheap wooden floor, a naked bulb on the ceiling, and an end table with a telephone on top (the phone and power lines made the only holes in the brick wall). He closed the door, then he reached up and let his weight drag the sliding steel barrier down behind him. It was heavy. Most people would need a few tries, but he had practice. The latches clicked into place.

He closed his eyes for what felt like the first time in an hour and tried to steady his breathing. He was safe for now. Arturo collapsed into a chair and dropped the revolver on the end table. After a minute of simply resting, he opened the table's single drawer. There were a few provisions inside, crackers and canned meat and the like. He pulled out a bottle of wine. He needed it. He picked up a corkscrew and, after a moment, a glass. His addled mind had briefly considered drinking straight from the bottle. But no, he wasn't a barbarian.

He sipped the wine. It was liquid mercy. He began to relax, feeling a measure of control again.

Then the light went out.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-23 08:13pm

Given that The Dangers of Being Cold focused almost entirely on the 'no powers' brigade, Wonder Woman will be an interesting change of pace.

The setup for Diana to be hostile to Batman is quite entertaining... and I find it PROFOUNDLY entertaining that you went for the Lynda Carter transformation complete with 'groovy' in 1941. :D
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-23 08:25pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Given that The Dangers of Being Cold focused almost entirely on the 'no powers' brigade, Wonder Woman will be an interesting change of pace.

The setup for Diana to be hostile to Batman is quite entertaining... and I find it PROFOUNDLY entertaining that you went for the Lynda Carter transformation complete with 'groovy' in 1941. :D


Glad you're entertained. I'm not quite as strict on language used in the narration, but groovy does barely squeak through the era test.

groovy (adj.)
1850, "pertaining to a groove," from groove (n.) + -y (2). Slang sense of "first-rate, excellent" is 1937, American English, from jazz slang phrase in the groove (1932) "performing well (without grandstanding)." As teen slang for "wonderful," it dates from c. 1941; popularized 1960s, out of currency by 1980. Earlier colloquial figurative sense was "having a tendency to routine, inclined to a specialized and narrow way of life or thought" (1882). Related: Grooviness. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=groovy



The real crazy thing is that Operation Underworld actually happened.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-23 08:52pm

I'm not actually surprised by that; linking up with the Mafia was a logical wartime expedient under the circumstances in some ways. I'm sure Amanda Waller would have approved.

Though there were a lot of good reasons NOT to do it.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-09-23 10:49pm

The Jazz Age had a strong influence on American slang. The two slang words from that era which persist to this day are "cool"(and its various derivations, such as chill)and (to a lesser extent) "hot."

As in "The Big, Bad Wolf, he learned the Rule: You gotta get real hot to play real cool."
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-09-23 11:36pm

Amusingly, in the First Season (WWII) she didn't have the flash of light at first, and she held onto her clothing.

BONUS: WonderGirl Spinning!


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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby FaxModem1 » 2016-09-24 03:49am

I know this is a Batman story, but I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed in not getting to finish the discussion on what the diplomatic options are with Themyscira and the United States.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-24 03:50am

That may be established later, perhaps.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-24 08:22am

U.P. Cinnabar wrote:The Jazz Age had a strong influence on American slang. The two slang words from that era which persist to this day are "cool"(and its various derivations, such as chill)and (to a lesser extent) "hot."


Cool.

LadyTevar wrote:Amusingly, in the First Season (WWII) she didn't have the flash of light at first, and she held onto her clothing.


Didn't know that. I've never actually seen a full episode of the show.

FaxModem1 wrote:I know this is a Batman story, but I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed in not getting to finish the discussion on what the diplomatic options are with Themyscira and the United States.

Simon_Jester wrote:That may be established later, perhaps.


It's not really mentioned again until Chapter 8, and not explored until chapter 11, and then it's a sort of deconstruction.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-24 08:27am

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 3: Caught​


Arturo Bertinelli was a compact gentleman on the graying side of forty with a dark Italian complexion and a well-trimmed mustache, but this was hard to see through the blood on his face. He awoke in bleary confusion to the feeling of a swelled lip and a great pain in his right hand. He glanced down. When his vision condensed, he saw that two of his fingers were bent wrong. The image brought up a wave of shock and nausea. Like many who wake with blood on their face, Arturo wasn't sure where he was or how he got there. He was trying to form a thought when he was hefted into the air, spun, and confronted with a terrifying eyeless face so close that it monopolized his vision. He screamed. Worst of all was the smile, carved like a Jack-o'-lantern's grin and just as soulless. If his scream told the demon to put him down, his wish was granted. Arturo was tossed with the careless ease given an empty wrapper. The world spun. His knees hit first, then his shoulder, then his broken hand struck and everything turned red and disconnected.

When he found his senses, he happened to focus on an unfamiliar pile of metal near his nose. With a strain, he rolled upright onto an elbow. From here he recognized the pile for what it was: his revolver, now disassembled down to its thrity-some component parts, the pins, levers, screws, and springs all spread out like a do-it-yourself kit.

Arturo saw the revolver and remembered.

He had been relaxing in a chair with some wine. He felt safe. Then the light went out. Before he could begin to register panic, a furious noise erupted beside him. The air cavitated. He was pelted with dense debris. Then the light went on, revealing a massive dark figure looming over him. Drawing on a nerve and instinct that survived a hundred gangland fights, he lunged for his weapon, smoothly palmed the grip in his right hand, then twisted to take aim. But he was too slow. A huge glove caught his wrist like a vise. Another glove seized the revolver and tore it backwards out of his grasp with his middle and index fingers still caught in the trigger guard. He tried to stand. The stolen revolver was lifted high, and the last thing he saw was it speeding towards his face.

The memory made Arturo vividly aware of the long bruise beside his nose and the streaks of crusting blood that spread sideways over his cheek and ear. He knew violence. He knew the blood dried that way because he had been horizontal while the wound was fresh. By the texture, he guessed he had been horizontal about five minutes.

A voice spoke calmly with titanic force. "Sit."

Arturo looked up. The broken revolver was so bizarre that he had ignored the looming demon. It was obviously the Batman. They had never met, but all the myths agreed on a few traits: the cape, the pointed cowl, the white eyes, the symbol. And like they said, he was very tall. This was especially obvious from the floor. Arturo knew now why Batman lived in the shadows: standing under a bright bulb made him look more gaunt than fearsome - a tired man draped with a cloak. He wasn't grinning any longer. Now he was coldly serious. Arturo wasn't sure which was worse.

He realized there was a hole in the wall. If only he could buy a few seconds ...

"Now."

Arturo pushed to his feet, staying low and wary. He faced his chair, pretended to stumble, and caught himself on the end table. With the burning in his old joints, this didn't take much acting. He could sense Batman looming just a pace behind him. Staying hunched, Arturo stepped back. Then he turned with uncanny speed, holding the corkscrew hidden close to his body, and stabbed it under Batman's ribs. The corkscrew bounced off Batman's abdomen with a metallic plink. They eyed each other. Batman blocked the next urgent stab then ended the exercise with a beautiful chokeslam.

---​

The Dark Knight's oldest and most extensive equipment project was his suit. The latest prototype added a set of metal plates to the padding and resembled, appropriately enough, a late medieval knight. Unlike a knight, Batman used aircraft-grade aluminum and bonded fiberglass. The suit was all but invincible to common blunt or bladed trauma, a fact proven superbly on its few field tests. The reason it remained a prototype was the weight. Being able to shrug off a crowbar to the liver was rarely worth the extra twenty-five pounds. If anything, the armor was more durable than he needed, but designing a trimmed variant would take time. Until then it stayed on the rack. He made an exception tonight because taking chances with the Four Families was suicide. He wasn't expecting trouble, but he was dressed for war all the same.

There was another reason for the armor. Tonight would be his first tangible milestone towards a dream he had chased for years, and wearing his finest gear felt right. The spine of the Batman myth was that no one was beyond justice, but on any given day this simply wasn't true. There were powerful figures who committed their sins at such a distance that the strings would never be found and who eased through the legal system at a whim. It was why he had never seriously considered using his talents against warlords and other global monsters; there was no court for these men. The only way to hurt them was a line he would not cross. At least America was built on a foundation of the impersonal Law. On any given day some figures couldn't be touched, but in the long run? In the long run, the juror and the voter could bring down giants. They just needed a strong case and a reminder that they could.

This was what he told himself. It was the conviction that kept him going through every brutal night and every death and every setback. It kept him going, but it didn't bring him peace. Batman was a perfectionist with a fanatical sense of symbolism. He knew he wouldn't feel satisfied until he brought down the biggest giant of all. In Gotham, that meant the Families. Permanently convicting even a minor lieutenant was unthinkable. They guarded themselves on every front, and for years he couldn't find a weakness.

The problem wasn't just corruption. They couldn't buy or threaten every single judge, attorney, cop, agent, councilman, sheriff, and politician in the city, no matter how hard they tried. Gotham was too big. If the Four Families were as destructive as any other gang, the law would eventually bring them to justice. So they stayed safe. For starters, most of their income was now legitimate. When they did engage in crime, it was the quiet, victimless type - collusion, kickbacks, insider trading, and the like. The complicated schemes they specialized in were much harder to catch than small, obvious crimes. Anyone could rob a gas station, and prisons were full of robbers. But it took connections and expertise to skim the Sanitation Union's pension, and a good union scam was a prosecutor's nightmare.

That wasn't to say the Families didn't still profit from old-fashioned street felonies. They did, handsomely. They just had someone else do the dirty work. The actual perpetrators (say, a store selling untaxed cigarettes in the back) gave a cut of the loot to someone supporting them (say, a tobacco wholesaler) who gave a cut to an organization that owned or regulated the supporters (say, a bank or customs office) which was itself part-owned in some complicated way by a Family associate. All these steps were obstacles to an investigator, and most of the transactions were legal. By the time the loot reached the top, it had washed through so many jurisdictions and balance sheets that the stink was utterly gone. It was said the Families kept two accountants and five lawyers for every made man. They didn't invent Gotham's criminal feudal system, but they did master it. In a way, conspiracy and laundering was their real vocation.

Comparing their gift with this vocation between the Four, the Maronis and Nobilios were respectably average, usually working a racket at least two steps removed. The Maronis were larger and more creative, but both paled next to the Falcones. The Falcones were the first among equals in their pact, and here they played on another level entirely. Falcone money could change hands seven times before it reached their accounts, often crossing borders in the process. To lead an empire so discreetly yet with such firm control required nothing short of genius. The more one studied the clan, the easier it was to suspect that they had the most sophisticated management team in America.

The Bertinellis were the opposite. They had always possessed less territory, less muscle, and frankly less brains than their peers, and this fueled a deep insecurity to prove they were peers. It wasn't an inferiority complex. If you weren't a big shot, sooner or later you were food. They had eaten enough rivals themselves to know that. The Bertinellis were well aware that if they hoped to match the money and respect the other families made, they had to take more risks, even if this made them crude and hasty by comparison. They entered businesses the others wouldn't touch, they set up rackets with only a single middleman, and once in a blue moon the most desperate members even pulled street crimes themselves.

Learning this last tiny detail helped Batman solve the puzzle more than all his years of plotting combined.

A predator hunting large herd animals faced a difficult proposition. Herds were content to stay together and were invincible as long as they did. The predator's only hope was to find a straggler: prey too old or injured to keep up, too headstrong to stay close, or simply shunned by herd politics. Against sufficiently careful herds that looked after their stragglers, a predator's only chance to eat was the last option, the outcast. But if the prey was human, sometimes the predator didn't need to wait for an outcast. Sometimes an outcast could be made.

---​

Arturo spent a few minutes on the floor. Someone had used his spine for kettle drums. People in the corridor were knocking now and trying to talk though the door, their voices muted by the metal. Arturo didn't bother calling out. The barrier made them useless, and besides, if seeking nearby help was an option, he wouldn't be here. Batman seemed indifferent to the noise. Arturo strained to his feet with the help of the wall, then he fell into the chair with as much dignity as he could manage.

Batman watched him. No one tried harder than a felon to act tough, and the Dark Knight was in a rare position to test them. He learned, for instance, that some of the biggest punks were cardboard. One flyweight jab to the snout and they were off like the Kentucky Derby. But most men and women who stole and cheated for a living could suffer a few lumps, especially those born into a family business and those born without family to speak of. And then there were the rare few carved from wood. The hard cases who didn't know the meaning of quit. It fascinated Batman that, for all his experience, he couldn't pick one out of a lineup. Anyone might be brass to the core. They came in every size, shape, color, and walk of life.

But there were still trends. One of the steadiest groups, stone cold men of honor who didn't rat for nobody, was the old guard Sicilians, the ones who ran the streets before the streets had cars. Any still in the game now went beyond tough; they were rawhide. Batman didn't expect Arturo to crack anytime soon.

To his credit, the man finally accepted the situation. Lesser crooks made a show even after they were beat, acting defiant or sullen, but Arturo just stared coolly as he sucked in air. That was one advantage of dealing with old pros. No doubt Arturo had done this before, as the interrogator or the captive and likely both. He knew the rules. This practicality could help or challenge Batman's goal. The Dark Knight had planned his pitch very carefully.

He began to pace around the chair. Arturo didn't turn to watch him, possibly from neck pain.

"In June, eighteen Ukrainian university students escaped the German invasion by sailing to Istanbul. They traveled across Turkey by rail and continued south through Iraq to the Persian Gulf. The students boarded a freighter to Cape Town, then another to Gotham City. But here their journey's incredible luck failed. Immigration officials detained them when they stepped off the ship. They had no papers. They didn't know anyone. It's likely none spoke English. The refugee process was backlogged for months, and until then they were trapped in limbo. But someone saved them that evening. The authorities were given false passports and visas so they could enter the country."

Batman paused to check Arturo's reaction. He had none.

"I don't know where the students spent their first two nights on American soil, but on the third they were seen with you near a tenement you own in South Piedmont. Two men arrived before dawn on a bus. They paid you stacks of bills hidden in a grocery bag, and you led the students onto the bus. They disappeared."

Arturo looked bored.

"These eighteen foreign nationals surfaced a week later at Swenson Corrugated's tin factory in Bludhaven, all clearly victims of abuse. Many were bruised. One young woman wore a foot cast. They were forced to work twelve hour days and slept in a locked basement, all so Swenson Corrugated could shave nine cents from a can of soup. You knew this. In fact, you received weekly compensation delivered by courier to your office in Bayside. I assume the money was to purchase your continued silence, but maybe it was a down payment on future labor.

"The students didn't stay long. After the tin factory, they were sold to a copper mine in New Mexico. They didn't spend much time at the mine either, but their trail after New Mexico is cold. I can't find where they are now, but I found plenty of evidence at both slave camps of where they had been. The District Attorney's office and the Justice Department are gathering confessions and building a case as we speak."

Arturo's cool showed a crack. He squinted at the wall and frowned testily. The noises outside the door seemed to fade to a buzz in his ears.

"I'm not shocked by what you did. The only surprise was how easy it was to find. The Bertinellis aren't especially bright," Arturo snorted. "But they cover their tracks. They scrub evidence. They buy witnesses or make them disappear. This sort of cleanup is too much work for one man, of course, but you could've brought in a crew any time you wanted. You didn't. The rest of the Bertinellis didn't help you because they don't know."

A bead of sweat ran down Arturo's forehead, across the long scab, and off his chin.

"You were desperate, so you found an ugly job even other thugs wouldn't touch. It solved all your problems."

Arturo had been desperate. His hardware store was closed for water damage, work was slow at the fish processing plant, and he had bungled a huge deal that spring selling dry cleaners to an outfit from Central City. His bookkeepers said he had just enough cash to either pay his men or pay the Family's cut. He couldn't afford both. Missing either would ruin him. His boys would jump ship if they didn't get their compensation, and cousin Franco would take away his best gigs or bench him altogether if he didn't add his share to the pot.

"But you were sloppy. You left the prosecutors plenty of proof, not that they need it. A slaver is the darkest sort of villain. This isn't just a crime, it's an outrage. The warrants will come soon, and the jury will burn you at the stake. You're going to spend the rest of your life behind bars."

"If I was guilty of something, ya lunatic, which I ain't, I have a few friends with-"

"If you had any real respect in your organization or any favors to trade, you wouldn't be here. And it wouldn't matter if you did. This isn't a con you can fix with bribes or blackmail. Anyone who comes to your defense will be in the spotlight of the inquisition. Your acquittal would cause riots in the streets. The judge would be lynched. The Slavic community would burn down City Hall."

The Families looked after their own. No one wanted to lose respect by sharing matters that should be handled privately, but if a member faced a real problem, then there was no hesitation or debate. The Family fell into lockstep until the problem was erased. This was their blood oath. But the oath wasn't absolute. No one felt obliged to save a fool whose mistakes made them all look bad. Loyalty wasn't stupid. The Bertinellis might have been the crudest of the Families, but you could fill a graveyard with the rivals who underestimated them over the years. They wouldn't have earned a place among the Four if they weren't vastly more ruthless and pragmatic than the typical pack of jackals.

"That kind of notoriety is bad business. Your own cousin won't lift a finger at your trial. I wouldn't be surprised if he punishes you himself for keeping secrets. You're a pariah, Arty, and you know it. That's why you're here alone and your wife and children are in hiding - not the behavior of a man who trusts his benefactors."

Arturo eventually responded in a low voice just short of a snarl. "Why are you here? What do you want?"

"I want to give you one last choice. Tell me where the students are. Where were they taken after New Mexico?"

"Where's the choice? Tell you or I eat some teeth? That the choice? Or maybe I get a big nap in a ditch somewhere, but I heard you don't bump off nobody. Besides, why would I know?"

Batman stopped his pacing in front of Arturo's chair.

"The managers at the tin factory and the mine had no idea where the workers went. You didn't just deliver the captives, you're their agent. You know where they went because you rented them out. Every day those refugees remain in bondage is another scar on your reputation, and their current employer might decide their lives are a liability once news of the case leaks out. Maybe a day with a police interrogator will get you to share, but I don't have time. So this is your choice: tell me where they are now or don't. I won't hurt you either way."

"Pff. Sure."

"But I will give you some advice. Tell me where they are now, and you might dodge eighteen charges of accessory to homicide, and your proceedings can begin. If the case starts soon, the DA will try you first; their prosecution is nearly ready. That means a Gotham judge, someone you know. You'll probably end up in Blackgate. They have decent visitation rights. Marie and the kids might appreciate that."

"And if I don't?"

"Then the investigation drags on. The case happens whether or not the abductees are found, but by then the Justice Department will have priority. That means a hostile courtroom and most likely a sentence to Golgotha Federal Penitentiary upstate. You may have heard of it. You may know, for instance, that among the many notorious inmates are seven members of the OUN, a Ukrainian nationalist group, all serving fifty-year terms for trying to attack the Soviet consulate. They hold a dim view of anyone who oppresses their countrymen. I'm told they have quite a following with the other convicts."

Arturo's eyes unfocused.

"You were right when you said I've never taken a life, but your cellmate may not be such a pacifist."

"You're bluffing. Whatever you think I did, you got no proof."

For a moment, a shadow of Batman's grin returned. "No, I do. Let me convince you."

---​

Three minutes earlier.

Wonder Woman landed deftly on the hood of a fancy Lincoln triple-parked in front of the Twelfth Street Arms with her face puckered at the stench. The air in Gotham was acrid and damp, like the entire city was downwind of a tannery. Wonder Woman could understand pollution easily enough in theory, but she was still getting used to it in practice. At least the air was better on the ground, and it would be better still indoors. That is, unless people were smoking. Burnt tobacco and phlegm were also difficult to tolerate. But she would continue forth regardless, for she had a job to do.

The receptionist in the lobby was busy smiling at his new twenty-dollar bill when Wonder Woman burst through the entrance in her short blue culottes, red and white boots, red breastplate gilded with an eagle, golden tiara, long silver bracelets, and golden belt carrying a shining cord on her hip. She jogged to the reception desk and leaned forward and planted her hands on it. "Sir, I need your help!"

The receptionist blinked at her mutely, glanced down at his money, and decided he was going back to church this week.
Author: Batman 1939
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Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-24 09:57am

Golgotha Federal Penitentiary in place of Sing Sing. I like. :D

Also, Wonder Woman is so entertainingly out of place in Gotham.
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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-09-24 06:31pm

Wonder Woman burst through the entrance in her short blue culottes, red and white boots, red breastplate gilded with an eagle, golden tiara, long silver bracelets, and golden belt carrying a shining cord on her hip.

Culottes are knee-length women's trousers, cut to look like a knee-length skirt. Is that the image you were going for here?
Image

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-24 08:20pm

LadyTevar wrote:Culottes are knee-length women's trousers, cut to look like a knee-length skirt. Is that the image you were going for here?


Yes, I meant culottes. That's the original look. Just following tradition.

Image

Here's how Wondie burst onto the scene back in All-Star #8 and Sensation Comics #1. Please note that these are CULOTTES. Supposedly Mrs. Marston vetoed a skirt for Our Girl, since the skirt would obviously be up around her shoulders if she got into any action at all. (No skirts for action heroes!) (Hear me roar!)

http://www.carolastrickland.com/comics/ ... cost1.html

Wonder Woman's original costume featured flaring culottes,a white belt and red boots with a white stripe as seen here in Sensation Comics #1.

http://dccomicsartists.com/goldage/WonderWoman.htm
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-24 08:33pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 4: Rising Action​


A flock of neighbors clustered around Arturo Bertinelli's apartment door. Some were drawn by the the thump of heavy objects hitting the floor. Most were drawn by the screaming. They had arrived in various kinds of nightly dress (or undress) and carried rolling pins, canes, shoes, and other domestic weapons. An octogenarian named Gretchen, the boldest of the flock, knocked on the door, but there was no answer. A few neighbors tried to yell inside, but no one responded. Soon they heard a low, unfamiliar voice in the room, speaking to another occupant. The voice spoke for minutes, but it was too soft and deep for anyone to understand.

The neighbors faced a dilemma. There knew exactly who owned the room (no one else had a brick facade), and they knew that whatever was happening inside was bad. But was it the kind of bad that needed the police? Or was it the kind of bad that definitely should not involve the police? That was the problem with living around wise guys: they had plenty of expectations, but they weren't big on communication. No one published a civilian handbook for this sort of grey area. The mob didn't offer a yearly seminar.

While the neighbors debated, the stairwell door was kicked open and Wonder Woman leaped out. Shocking a Gothamite was next to impossible, but she came close. The flock watched her as she approached at a brisk jog. Wonder Woman stopped in front of them, arms akimbo, and proclaimed, "Don't worry, I'm here to assist."

They stared at her mutely. Someone coughed. After a moment, Gretchen hobbled forward and squinted at her. "Who're you s'posed to be?"

"I'm sorry, this is Mr. Bertinelli's room, yes?"

The flock shared suspicious glances. Gretchen answered, "Maybe."

There was a ripping noise and heavy footsteps inside the apartment. Then a pained moan.

Wonder Woman gave her a look. Gretchen shrugged. "Yeah."

Wonder Woman went to the door and tried to open it. A young man informed her unhelpfully that it was locked. She set her arm and tried again. After a moment of struggle, the latch broke through the strikeplate, and the door swung open. Her audience raised a collective eyebrow. Behind the door she found a barrier of overlapped steel slats. Wonder Woman turned and pointed at it. "Is this normal?" The neighbors shook their heads. Wonder Woman turned back, crouched, and slid her fingers under the edge of a slat. She took a deep breath.

---​

Forty seconds ago.

"Your fingerprints match this set on the foreman's satchel. You've also touched this paper I found inside your bookkeeper's trash can, dated the same day the foreman's messenger stopped by your office. It lists a sum of bill denominations. You deposited that same sum three days later at the Manfred Savings and Loan on Union Street. It says so on this bank receipt."

"That- that was in a locked box in my study! You were in my house!"

"Prove it."

"You, you- but you're no cop. Yeah, big guy, none of that will be admissible in court! That's tamperin'. How about that, huh?"

Batman gently shook his head. Arturo would have called the gesture pitying if his fingers weren't bent sideways. "The court will find that due process was followed to the letter, with all evidence the product of routine police work. We both know these matters can be arranged." That evil grin appeared again. "After all, I don't exist."

Arturo looked furiously at the incriminating papers laid on the end table. He launched out of his chair and grabbed the pile with his good hand. Then he used his mouth to rip them in half. Then in half again. Then he crumpled the shreds into a ball, dropped it, and stepped on them as hard as he could. Batman watched this effort quietly until Arturo stopped to pant.

"Those were copies."

Arturo fell to his knees and moaned, his head bent down in exhaustion.

Batman gave him a moment to reflect. "Convinced yet?"

"Si animale sporco. You can't threaten me, ya lunatic. You don't- You're nobody. You're just nobody."

"Think it over. I have all night."

Batman heard a sharp creak of bent metal and splintered wood outside. Someone had opened the locked door to the hallway. Forcing a latch through an old interior door frame was simple as far as strongman tricks went. Fortunately for doors, very few people were strongmen. Unfortunately for him, one had apparently joined the bystanders. He mentally shrugged; it was a slight bump in his plan, but ultimately a moot point. The outer door didn't matter. Batman made a note to check if any neighbors were weightlifters next time.

As he committed this to memory, he heard a much louder noise - a long agonized shriek of straining metal.

Batman turned this time. The latches that locked the barrier to the floor were quivering. He watched slack-jawed.

That wasn't possible.

The two tempered steel latches were drilled deep into the room's brick foundation. He could hardly fathom the effort it would take to pull them out – at least a thousand pounds of vertical force, maybe two thousand. A car jack might do it eventually, but there was no gap under the barrier to position one. No, something had simply gripped the steel wall and lifted - a feat that would challenge a silver-back gorilla. It rose an inch, then two, then three, then four, then six, then nine. A pair of red boots appeared.

Batman's mind raced, but his thoughts kept crashing into dead ends. Physics was one of Batman's weakest academic disciplines. He had mastered enough for practical uses like chemistry and ballistics, but the more esoteric branches, those strange new ideas about cosmic rays or the nature of time never seemed worthwhile. He regretted that now. Obscure insights on relativity or multiple universes might be helpful here, because his little Newtonian brain said that what he saw was impossible. He had heard rumors of impossible things in the far corners of the world, but he had always been a skeptic. No one could do this. Nothing could do this. Nothing could do this. Logic failed. He broke into a cold sweat.

Arturo Bertinelli had already crawled to the far corner and hid behind the bed. It was probably his first wise decision that night. The last guy who broke into his safe room with their bare hands hadn't been friendly. Arturo watched the barrier shake. He saw Batman stare at the door with the static intensity of a starving wolf defending a kill (something he had seen once on a hunting trip - the animal had been horrifying). If the rumors were right, Batman was about to do something devastating and unexpected. Arturo held his breath, waiting with morbid anticipation.

The Dark Knight turned and sprinted away through the hole in the wall.

That was unexpected.

---​

Wonder Woman's body trembled from her shoulders to her knees as she lifted the latches out of their foundation. All the weight was on her fingertips, and she was genuinely concerned that all the lifting would push her feet through the floor. Fortunately, she happened to be standing on the edge of the bricks that fortified the bottom of the apartment. After raising the barrier to her shins, the deep rods securing the latches ripped out, and the rest slid up like a feather.

She found a small room with a large hole in the wall. A disheveled older man was trying to hide behind a bed. The neighbors peered around her in silence. Wonder Woman stepped in. With a cold anger, she saw that his face and clothes were stained with blood, and he was favoring an injured hand. She took a knee beside him.

"Mr. Bertinelli?"

Despite his obvious shock, the man's eyes were sharp. He scrutinized her. "Who wants'ta know?"

She respected that. The government was lucky to have such a careful and loyal asset. "Don't worry, I'm with the military." Mindful of the crowd, she leaned in and whispered, "Was the Bat Man here?"

He grimaced. "Just ran off when you broke my door."

"Well, I'm to bring you to safety, let's-"

"Na, na, no. Listen honey, you look set for a brawl. Go after him."

"Sir, I'm-"

"The guy's a public menace. He did this to me laughing," Arturo held up his injured hand, "And he said he was gonna do worse all over town!"

She nodded seriously and stood. "Help is coming. Stay safe."

"Run quick, toots."

Wonder Woman ran. The room beyond the hole was much the same as the last, only there were dozens of bricks stacked in front of its door, and the window was open. She stuck her head out into the dark and smell of the night. The window was above an alley. The roof across was ten feet away and ten feet down. She stepped onto the windowsill and peered around. There was some decorative stonework to her left. Wonder Woman noticed a thin rope tied to a loop in the decoration. She followed it with her eyes. It was difficult to see in the dark, but the rope stretched loosely across the alley to a chimney on the roof below.

Wonder Woman leaped, heedless of the frightening drop. She landed nimbly on the the other roof. Where now?

Cities were a terribly alien environment, Gotham in particular. She had spent months in Washington DC, but the nation's capital was a sleepy village compared to this hive. Half the inhabitants seemed either a wretch or a villain, and everything was covered in scum. But Wonder Woman was a huntress, Artemis-blessed, and no mere brute would best her tonight. She squatted and examined the gravel roof. If he used the rope to get across, this Bat Man must have landed very close to the chimney that anchored it. The gravel here was soft and thick. Indeed, Wonder Woman quickly spied a pair of foot-sized depressions, with shallower copies moving ahead. The gait was long: he was either sprinting or eight feet tall. Given when the good doctor had said, either seemed plausible. She followed the tracks at a brisk speed herself, stopping to check the path in brief pauses. Between this roof and the next was another alley so narrow even a regular man could jump over, and the tracks didn't slow near the edge. She picked up the trail on the other side without delay. As Wonder Woman grew more confident of the direction the steps were headed, she sped up until she was covering the distance at an uncanny speed.

But then the roof ended, and the next building had sloped shingles instead of gravel. She rushed up them and looked around. There were no more roofs to reach from here, and shingles didn't leave a trail. He could have climbed down in any direction. She leaped to the top of a nearby radio mast. Her Bat Man had a minute's head-start, surely he wasn't too far away. Wonder Woman was now quite a distance from residential Twelfth Street. This new area was clearly industry and closed for the night. It was more spacious here. The architecture was long and bland. Parking lots were plentiful, unlike most of the city. She knew by the light of the full moon that the roads were wide and empty of pedestrians; only a few trucks passed though.

There seemed to be too much open ground here for anyone to hide. A crowded street with a thousand warrens to duck inside would have made pursuit impossible, and the city had an endless supply of them, yet he came this way. Perhaps he feared crowds as much as he feared her. Perhaps he really was an animal. Wonder Woman forced herself to relax and focus her senses. This radio mast was the highest point in the vicinity with many clear lines of sight. She soaked in the scenery, priming her eyes to notice any movement.

There! Two hundred yards away, a side door of an unfinished building opened. Wonder Woman stepped off the radio mast, grabbed a drainpipe, slid to the ground, and crossed the distance in seventeen seconds.

---​

Batman's normal mental state was beyond what most people could experience. He possessed a crystalline clarity that could hardly be shaken or overwhelmed. Most minds worked like a rowboat in a gale. He ordered his thoughts like a set of bookshelves in a quiet room. That was the norm. Batman's current mental state was more like someone stuck in an elevator with a bee hive. He had taken precautions against every possible interference tonight, so of course the interference tonight was impossible. This was the first time that he needed to sweat in his new armor. It made the joints very uncomfortable. Batman cursed the pile of scrap. Not for the discomfort, that meant nothing, but for the burden. He valued agility over every other physical trait, and now he would struggle to place at a high school track meet.

He was so distracted that he momentarily forgot what he was doing. This husk of a building would eventually be a GothCorp frozen food plant. It was in the middle stages of construction, and its disposal room had two industrial-size pipes descending to a low level of the sewers but not yet connected to the machines. The Gotham City underground was easily the deepest and most diverse in the hemisphere. To paraphrase Victor Hugo, Gotham had another Gotham under herself; a city of sewers; which had its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation. The old city had been digging basements, tunnels, mines, drains, bunkers, cisterns, and catacombs for hundreds of years. A traveler could move everywhere if they knew how but wouldn't be going anywhere if they didn't. He wasn't sure what the being at the apartment was capable of - he didn't even know if he was being chased - but if there was one place where he could lose pursuit no matter how strong or fast his pursuer, it was the underground, and these pipes would lead him to the biggest hub in the district.

Batman slid over the stacked conveyor belts and crawled through half-finished walls. In little time he made it to the disposal room. The openings of the two pipes were in the floor, covered with a stack of heavy crates. He pushed, moving the crates at an agonizing pace. Before he could finish, he heard a noise from outside. He disappeared.

---​

Wonder Woman rammed through the door shoulder-first. It took six steps to slow down. She found herself in some sort of manufactory, pitch dark save for the occasional hole in the roof. She found a switch that turned on a scattering of nearby lights, but these didn't help much. The building had two tall stories and was segmented by many walls, but most of the walls and floor were skeletal, showing the building's viscera in the strange frames of Man's architecture. She could glimpse nearly the length of the interior if it was bright enough to see. Wonder Woman walked ahead, confident that none could slip by her keen senses this close.

---​

Batman hung from the ceiling in a dark corner like bat. Also like his namesake, he listened intently to his surroundings. Light footsteps were walking randomly. The gait sounded like a woman. Batman remembered the red boots, and his breath caught in his throat. After several minutes, the footsteps neared his hiding place. A humanoid shape entered the room, each slow footstep a drumbeat in the silence. The shape stepped out of the dark into a patch of moonlight, and he furrowed his brow in disbelief. Watching above and upside-down, he could see simulacra of arteries on its neck. Its chest region rose and fall as if it breathed. But it couldn't possibly be organic life. It's nasal-form twitched when it passed through dust, and the pupils of its eye-analogues contracted when it stepped into the light. But it couldn't possibly be human. The being glanced around the room. His nerves sparked like firecrackers. Then its eyes crossed over him. An eternity passed. But the being didn't react. It continued around a corner.

Batman waited forty-eight seconds before he dared to draw a breath. Since he first saw the steel barrier rise, Batman's imagination had run wild. He recalled beings from fiction and myth as he fled. If his pursuer had one unnatural power, it might have any of them. All the rules were gone. It might fly. Read minds. Stop his heart with a thought. But now solid lines were returning to the world. He could trust for the moment that it couldn't sense his presence in any extraordinary way. It couldn't see in the dark. It couldn't or wouldn't tear down the building to force him out. It was bound by the same gravity. He could work with this. Fiction and myth also said that even the supernatural could be slain. He dropped to the floor.

It was a twelve foot fall. He shifted to make a noiseless three-point landing, a hand and both feet, but he hadn't practiced acrobatics in the armor. His left leg buckled and the metal kneepad struck the cement with an awkward klunk.

The footsteps in the far room stopped. Then they started again, fast, loud, and coming his way. He jumped atop a tall spool of wire then wall-kicked to a beam on the ceiling where he could swing up to the second floor. Then he scaled a pillar to the roof. Batman sprinted across the flat roof as a voice behind him yelled, "Stop!" He ignored this and was nearly at the edge when he sensed motion above him. He rolled to the side. The being leaped overhead in a somersault and landed ten feet in front of him. He rose to a low crouch. It turned, placing it's hand-assemblies on its hip-zone.

"Stop."

So it spoke. Batman let his cape drape over his arms and stood in silence.

It continued, "The Bat Man, I presume. You're a public menace, and I'm here to take you to justice."

It had a woman's voice: confident, not hostile, but certainly not happy with him. Whatever lab or dimension it came from made mistakes with the language: it's English had a strong and unfamiliar accent. Batman looked at it for a moment, then he turned and headed towards another edge of the roof.

It took a step forward. "I don't want to hurt you."

He kept walking away. "Then don't."

It fumed and began to jog towards him. Before it could take a third step, Batman turned and, in the time it took the cape to shift aside, threw two batarangs. The being stood its ground. In a blur, both missiles ricocheted off the shiny bracers on its arms. Neither party moved as weapons bounced harmlessly on the metal roof.

It made a small smile. "You can't touch me."

With a flick, Batman produced six more batarangs. The being lifted an eyebrow and raised its arms for a fight. The Dark Knight dashed forward. He threw the three in his left hand then the three in his right. The being blocked the first three with the same uncanny reflexes. The next three blades missed its body entirely. As the being finished deflecting the first set, it realized the batarangs that missed were boomeranging back along different arcs. The thing pivoted just in time to intercept the projectiles. Then it turned to face him again, but Batman had already closed the distance. His flying knee drove straight into its breastplate.

Batman discovered that, at the very least, the being had the same mass as a real woman. His alloy knee connected squarely with its chest and knocked it flat. Inertia was a beautiful thing. He landed but tripped on his first step. Even lying prone, the being had reached up like a snake and caught his ankle. It stood, still holding his ankle in a solid grip, forcing him to hop to stay upright. Batman couldn't shake the hold, so he sprung up and used his other foot to kick it in the side of the head.

Its head turned an inch at the blow, and it didn't let go of him. Instead of landing, Batman cocked his free leg and pistoned his heel at its inner thigh just above its knee. This was a surefire way to snap a normal knee, but he was quickly realizing that he couldn't win this gently, and with an ember of enthusiasm, that he didn't have to.

The being's knee stayed intact, but it winced and let go of him. Batman fell on his back. He rolled to his feet and nearly walked into a punch. The volley came fast, as fast as any pugilist he'd faced before, maybe faster. Its height gave it ample reach, and it clearly wasn't an amateur. In short, there was no simple opening from the attack, no gap in its armor. Fortunately, there weren't many gaps in his own armor. He dodged masterfully, but the few strikes that brushed his arms hit like the blunt end of a tire iron. When he could, he returned a few strikes of his own, but his metal fists and boots did next to nothing.

At last the being feinted and Batman took the bait. He put his weight on the wrong foot, and it launched a quick side-kick into his gut. The blow sent him airborne. He landed hard and tumbled across the roof, bouncing twice before sliding to a stop. Batman might as well have been hit by a car. Happily, the armor took the blow. He had, in fact, tested hitting it with a car. He stood, shaken but with all his parts still working. The being hadn't waited to admire its handiwork. It was already running after him, leaping into a high kick. The kick lightly clipped his mouth. That glancing blow flayed a line of skin from the corner of his lip to his ear. Batman stepped back and raised his arms again, but the being slipped under and tackled him, landing on top.

For all its speed and strength, this was a mistake. Maybe it underestimated him; he didn't care. Its formidable psudeo-muscles had nothing to push against without leverage. On the ground, he could choose just how much leverage to give it. Batman seized one of its arms, shrimped out from under it, and bucked up into a triangle choke, tightening his leg around the back of its throat. The being seemed to have veins and arteries to carry blood; he could fix that. They rolled as it struggled to pry him off. It tried a technical escape, shucking his leg open and posturing up, but he pivoted his hips and reapplied the choke from a new angle, finishing a moment too quickly for it to escape.

It struck him repeatedly with its free arm, but it couldn't reach his face, so he held on through the pain, tightening the brutal choke. Through extreme effort, it managed to get to its feet and stood, lifting him bodily into the air, then slammed him down against the roof. He held on. It lifted and slammed him again, then again, then again. Batman let go on the fourth impact. It stepped hard on his chest. The armor took the blow, but it still shook him like a wave. He flipped up and tried an uppercut. It caught his wrist in that marble grip. He threw a cross with his other fist, but that wrist was caught too. He leaned back and, with remarkable flexibility, brought a leg up and kicked the being in the chin three times. With a bark of frustration, it forced him to his knees, then swung him by the wrists into the brick wall of a roof stairwell entrance. It held him tight, pinning his arms up against the wall.

"Yield!"

Batman panted and didn't resist. A membrane of blood covered his teeth from his cut lip and his body was a blanket of bruises. The being's own flawless features had been marred. Its neck was tinged red from the choke, there were tiny gashes on its face and limbs, and its hair was dusty and askew. Overall, vastly less damage then he would expect from a person. As close as they stood, he could feel it breathing faster than before. It seemed to gather its composure.

"You will come peaceably, scofflaw. Do you understand?"

The being held his gauntlets firmly against the wall, but that didn't mean it held his hands. The wrists of the heavy gloves were lined with steel bands that kept their shape under pressure - grasping them wouldn't constrict the cuff openings. The Dark Knight had a well-honed gift for legerdemain; he held his palms rigid and smoothly slipped his hands out. It was another simple slight of hand to drive his thumbs into his captor's eyes.

Whatever it was made of, that still hurt. It roared and thrashed. He grimaced through a blow to his shoulder that cracked the armor plate. Leaning forward, he kept his arms tucked and gouged in further, using the eye sockets as purchase to grip the face with his other fingers. Its wild blows were coming harder and closer; he couldn't hold on much longer. Instead, he turned and threw its head into the brick wall. The head bounced off in a mist of powdered clay, and he volleyed it back with a punishing elbow strike to the temple.

In the pause between breaths, he marveled that its skin, her skin, felt like any woman's: same weight, same warmth, same follicles, pulse, and texture. He saw that she bled from a new cut on her forehead where his sharp elbow had raked her. And it was certainly blood. He knew blood. Maybe some paranormal magic could fake a voice and a mind, but blood? That smell and that heat couldn't be faked. He didn't care how irrational that sounded, he refused to believe it. He couldn't say if she was human, but she was, by any sane taxonomy, a person.

With inhuman speed, she caught her balance and twisted with a perfectly proficient back fist that would have taken off his jaw if he hadn't anticipated it from the start. He leaned just outside her swing and thrust up a batarang -this one long and thin, more a stiletto than a throwing star. Her momentum sunk the blade into her fist. Incredibly, she kept swinging, ignoring the steel point in her flesh which fell out at its zenith. She threw a left hook, but he was already counterpunching to that arm, stabbing another batarang at her inner elbow, hitting the soft curve under her bicep. This one he twisted, then hastily pulled out to block her right jab. His timing was off, and the weapon fell out of his grasp against her shiny bracer.

The jab staggered him, but he could sense this fierce counter-assault was running out of steam. Incredibly, her eyes seemed unharmed, except that they had turned badly bloodshot and seemed unfocused. She was favoring her left arm close to her body, flinching from the mild elbow wound. Her next kick was off-center. He let it glance off his ribs as he stepped up to bat. She blocked her eyes with an arm, but that wasn't his target. He reached up and slapped her ears sharply, then drew a hand back, turned his shoulder, and smashed the heel of his palm across the side of her nose.

As she spun from the blow, briefly exposing her back, Batman crouched low. In a single motion, he produced another thin batarang from his belt and slammed the point into the soft tendon behind her knee like he was burying a tent stake. Again, her skin felt human, but the flesh underneath was inhumanly tough. Even at that fragile spot, her tendons had the durability of mixed cement: smooth and supple as a muscle but so paradoxically dense that only the most forceful strike with a sharp tool could hope to nick it. The Dark Knight never lacked for strength. His own mortal tendons strained as he sunk the blade half an inch deep and pulled it sideways through the joint. For any human and most large mammals this would instantly collapse the leg, but Batman took no chances. He left the blade and seized her foot and ankle with both hands then rolled to his back, keeping her off balance, a mirror of his earlier predicament. He wrapped his arm around her heel, then with all his strength he torqued the foot around like the handle of a socket wrench.

She made a noise through gritted teeth. He dropped the sprained ankle, hugged her just above the hips, heaved, and arced backwards into a German Suplex. Her shoulders smacked the roof, but he didn't bother looking. Winded, he struggled to stand and hustled for the edge of the roof. Just yards away, his upper body was yanked backwards like a dog on a leash. He landed on his back, legs splayed the air. When his vision cleared, Batman looked down at himself and saw a shimmering golden cord around his chest, over one shoulder and under the other armpit. He rose to a knee and tried to slip it off, but it only seemed to cinch with the effort. Another harsh tug from behind pulled him down again.

He saw the woman approach, slow and angry. Her foot was a bit crooked, but she hardly limped. The woman held the golden cord that had been looped at her side. Batman squinted at this puzzle. Even ignoring her recovery, how had she snared him? Tossing a rope that far with only a moment to aim was an incredible feat, but to arc over a moving target? The trajectories didn't exist. He crawled backwards on one arm until his shoulder hit the low barrier around the edge of the roof. By then she stood over him. They eyed each other coldly.

"Why did you attack Arturo Bertinelli?"

It sounded as much a command as a question. Batman tried to respond with something shrewd and deceptive, but he felt a sudden itch in his face and throat. Horrified, Batman realized some foreign presence was soothing his mind and sapping his focus. His lips quivered. Before he knew it, he was speaking.

"Arturo Bertinelli is a dangerous kidnapper. I was trying to coerce him into revealing where he had taken his victims."

Whatever the lady with the lasso was expecting, that wasn't it. Her mouth fell half-open, and she watched him strangely. Batman couldn't have cared less. He was still processing the shock of his outburst. Was he suffering a seizure? Had he been hypnotized?

She decided something and spoke again. "What is your name?"

The itch in his face returned, and he felt his hostility being gently smothered. He clenched his jaw, but before he knew it sound slipped out. "I'm Batman."

She rolled her eyes. "What is your given name? What were you called at birth?"

Batman tried to keep it in. His face turned red and his cheeks puffed and his head shook. A vein twitched in his neck. "... Bbbb ... Bbbbbbbrrrrr ..."

"Yes?"

He raised a trembling hand skyward, as if pleading. "Bbbbrrrrrrrrrr ..."

"What is it?"

He turned the hand and struck himself in the throat. His voice collapsed to a choking gargle.

The woman stared in astonishment. She pulled tight on the cord. "No! Speak!"

He grinned as he choked, showing the blood on his teeth. She could have sworn he was trying to laugh. The woman lifted him up by his metal collar. He spit in her eye then frog-kicked off her body, sailing over the edge of the roof.
Author: Batman 1939
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SpottedKitty
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby SpottedKitty » 2016-09-24 10:30pm

Nice work, you just blew my socks off. This could be even better than the first story. :wink:
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-09-25 12:19am

Close call there. I like it.
"When you send a man out with a gun, you create a policymaker. When his ass is on the line, he will do whatever he needs to do.

And, if the implications of that bother you, the time to do something about it is before you send him out."
—David Drake


"Oh, but you did! You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! But, since that's a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around, then, you've got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne, and that's a fact."

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Darth Nostril » 2016-09-25 12:25am

Oh sodding awesome.
So I stare wistfully at the Lightning for a couple of minutes. Two missiles, sharply raked razor-thin wings, a huge, pregnant belly full of fuel, and the two screamingly powerful engines that once rammed it from a cold start to a thousand miles per hour in under a minute. Life would be so much easier if our adverseries could be dealt with by supersonic death on wings - but alas, Human resources aren't so easily defeated.

Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-25 07:51am

That was impressive. Hope both parties recover from their wounds. Both the knee and throat injuries sound ferocious.

Wonder Woman is being very Wonder Woman, Batman is being very Batman.

I honestly have no idea what happens now, come to think of it.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-25 12:16pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 5: Wrath​


Wonder Woman planted her foot on the roof barrier and leaned way back. She felt a brutal tug that nearly ripped the golden lasso out of her hands. After the weight steadied, she exhaled and tried to wipe the bloody spit out of her eye with her elbow. The cord stretched taut over the edge of the roof and shifted ever so slightly as its load swung unseen yards below. She didn't worry that the lasso might fray against the roof edge. She doubted it could fray. She did worry that it had just crushed the blackguard's torso when his weight cinched the loop tight. Wonder Woman had an innate control of her tool and could change its tautness with a thought. No one went free if she didn't permit them, and her zeal to secure the Batman had barely wavered when her chest had been used as a diving board and she had been spit in the eye. She had willed the knot as tight as possible.

But now she sensed that the loop was cinched nearly closed. Had the cord torn him in half? Wonder Woman steadied herself, checking her grip, and leaned forward enough to peer over the roof. A story below, Batman hung from the golden cord by his hand, outside the loop entirely. Through the twilight of the moon, she swore he was looking up at her, his eerie white eyes faintly glowing. He let go.

Wonder Woman wouldn't discover this fact for a long time, but when Batman kicked off her and entered free fall, he had slipped the lasso over his head and grabbed above the knot - expecting to tear the weapon from her hands and suffer the two story drop.

Batman wouldn't discover this fact for a long time, but the only reason he was able to slip the lasso, even weightless, was because she had been distracted at just that moment when she lost sight of him. If she had focused on him in the least, the lasso would have tightened instantly to whatever circumference it took to secure him.

Wonder Woman watched him stumble into an clumsy roll, but he quickly pushed to a knee and glanced around. This district was flat and empty: parking lots, abandoned yards, and quiet roads. Though she had a limp now (an insult soon to be avenged), Wonder Woman was sure she could catch him quickly whichever way he went. There was nowhere to elude her this time. Regardless, Batman must have felt there were better prospects in the other direction; he took off along the wall, soon rounding the corner beyond her sight. She finishing looping her lasso while she paced towards the next edge to see in which direction he chose to make his futile retreat. She didn't rush. Better to track him clearly from above. She could recover the lost time in a single leap. Wonder Woman peered keenly into the night, her eyes still glazed and throbbing. Now where was he? Surely she could spot a fleeing brigand in an empty field of cement. He had left her sight for four seconds; it was inconceivable that he had reached the distant buildings already.

As Wonder Woman searched in bafflement and growing anger, she heard a faint noise under her feet. She glanced down. No. There's no way. She slid over the barrier and dropped the ground, landing in a much neater roll. The noise came again from inside. She explored the wall and found a hole for a future window cut into the cinderblocks. He had returned inside! This Madman of Gotham had a death wish. He had flown back into a cage. Wonder Woman eased inside. By her reckoning, the building's interior was half an acre. A scattering of lights were still on, weakly illuminating perhaps one room in four. She moved as quietly as she could, not to protect her own obscurity but to better listen if he made to leave through another exit. That was the only reason she could imagine for reentering this structure. Had he hoped she hadn't noticed his return? Could he wish to engage her again? Surely not. He had to recognize her superiority by now. He had to realize how patient and gentle she had been.

There was a footstep somewhere in the dark. Wonder Woman spoke out loudly. "You are cornered. By tonight's end you will submit to me from either bondage or the grave; I care not which. But choose now or I will choose for you."

Silence. At the end of a long hall, two lit bulbs went dark.

She frowned and crept further in, staying as best she could to the rare patches of moonlight. She was a seasoned hunter. If he was taking out the lights, that meant a prelude to an ambush. Time was on her side; she wouldn't rush out and make it easy for him. Elsewhere, another bulb broke, the glass scattering on the floor. She thought she heard a footstep to her left, but a wall blocked her view. She continued, moving gently as she tried to stare into the void. The ceiling of the next room was a work-in-progress, the room lit faintly by a bulb gleaming high on the second floor through the plentiful gaps above her.

Something sped through the air. With a soft shatter, the room went dark.

He was near. Wonder Woman jumped to the second floor and rammed through a door that she heard swinging shut. Blackness. But there were hasty footsteps ahead. She raced forward, crashing blindly through drywall and hanging tarps. A floorboard creaked and she swung a fist behind her, hitting nothing but air. Another squeak a few paces to her right and she dived at the noise, losing a foot through a hole in the floor. She pulled the leg out, scraping a thin white line on her shin against a lead pipe. Something shifted further on. She strained to glimpse anything in the inky shadows dancing around her from a light below.

A locomotive hit her from the side. Low arms clutched her ribs with enough force to lift her airborne. Then airborne for a little longer. Then airborne still. In an instant of shock, Wonder Woman realized she had been tackled over another gap and clean off the second floor. They fell together through darkness.

She struck the cement floor shoulder-first with the weight of two bodies. Her head smacked a moment after. Her vision would have swam if there was anything she could see. Her assailant shifted above her. With a bolt of fear, she had enough wits to cover her head with her arms, but Batman wasn't seeking her throat. She felt him stand, then felt a heel stomp her injured foot as he began to hobble off.

In a burning rage, Wonder Woman punched the floor, leaving a dent, then pushed to her feet. After steadying her balance, she took a step forward and fell over. Unhurt but confused, she reached down and felt a ring of angular metal around her ankle. She felt it connected to a small chain, then two rings of metal overlapped somehow, then another chain, then another ring. Wonder Woman unwrapped a short length of her lasso and willed it to life. It gave a pure, golden glow, enough to see as far as her arm could reach.

Her ankles had been cuffed together, the job accomplished with two handcuffs connected to form a long chain. Wonder Woman gave a moderate effort, and the links in the chain bent and snapped.

She stood again, re-wrapped her lasso, and marched stiffly after him.

"Your fists and knives will not wound me!"

A ten foot length of steel rebar slapped her in the back.

One of the greatest marvels Princess Diana found in coming to America was the diversity of metal that girded Man's civilization. These materials boasted strength, lightness, flexibility, ductility, sheen, and keenness in measures and combinations she had never dreamed possible. Even their waste cans were a miracle next to the product of an Amazonian forge. Although iron and its alloys were known in her homeland, most everything was bronze. This was fine for their utopia: bronze was all they needed. Wonder Woman was quickly learning just how much Man's World was not a utopia; it's constant strife catalyzed more inventions in the past century than the Amazons had made in a millennium. Her people did possess sacred gifts from Hephaestus that would outshine Man's artifice, but these treasures would hardly fill a broom cupboard, and even a princess had few opportunities to bring one out of its shrine.

Put briefly, the kinetic potential of an inch-thick rod of high-carbon Gotham steel was something she hadn't adjusted to.

---​

Batman pivoted and swung again. This time he missed. He slid around and sliced from the left. This connected with what he assumed was a shin. He flicked the bar upward and it ricocheted off something, probably her breastplate. He pulled it back in case she tried to grab it, paused a moment to listen, then smacked the shin once more.

Some people assumed Batman had bat traits. They were generally wrong. He didn't fly. He didn't have claws. He didn't live in a colony. He wasn't truly nocturnal (not for lack of trying). He wasn't covered in fur. And he had only eaten insects in emergencies. The one trait he shared with the winged mammals was a fantastic ability to track prey in the dark by sound. Batman lived and breathed this skill. He was perhaps the best in the world, but unlike the bat his prowess was limited to the living, moving things. Inanimate objects didn't make enough noise. He had to move cautiously in the dark, lest he knock over a flower pot whenever he entered a window.

This was a burden on his methods, so he found exceptions. Batman learned early on how vital it was to establish safe hideaways. GothCorp had quietly paused construction here a year ago as part of an accounting scheme; its crews worked two days a month. Anything worth looting was long gone, so the company didn't bother with security. The area was too remote for squatters. It had a direct route to a sewer hub, and best of all, it was the sort of crowded, irregular environment where his tactics thrived. Familiarity was the exception. Batman could elude half a dozen pursuers for an hour in a place like this. Once he had committed the layout to memory - another mastered art - he could jog blind without breaking a cobweb.

Batman heard the woman charge across his path. She was close, dogging his movements almost step for step. He speared again and scraped her collarbone. It seemed the leg trauma was finally wearing her down. He certainly wasn't at his best. The new armor dispersed force wonderfully, but that just meant her pummeling shook all of him equally. Every joint and ligament had rattled, and his neck and shoulder were badly strained. He could hardly turn his head. The analytical corner of his mind was starting to compensate. When he had escaped the safe room, Batman was lost in primal terror. It was the terror of a child, of a victim. Any reason that had returned in their first confrontation had crumbled again at the edge of the roof when she had invaded his mind. But here in the dark he was home. The fear was quickly freezing to anger. She had wrecked his plan, she had wrecked his reality, she had wrecked his body, and she had wrecked his mind. That would not stand.

Batman had always known deep down that it might not be healthy to spend one's life dreaming how to ambush and maim, but there were more important things than health, and dreaming had its advantages.

The woman hunted like a fiend, crashing through walls and knocking over machinery, but Batman knew the rooms too well. He waited with endless patience, keeping away until he could approach her rear, until she misstepped and gave him an angle. Polearms were not a major chapter in Batman's training as a martial artist, but he knew enough. He added more and more muscle behind each blow, and by the fifth attempt he was giving the nearest impression a ten foot steel bar could to a home run swing. Most missed or struck armor - but whenever one landed he could hear her stagger. After an especially punishing blow she dropped limp to the floor. Batman retreated a room, waiting for the reprisal.

None came. The lady must have been struck senseless. An old part of him wanted to check on her, but after a minute he decided that just this once he would leave a victim to chance. She could leap off a building with a sprained ankle; he doubted she was in mortal danger. Plus, he was eager to get as far away as possible. Batman crept as quickly as he dared to the disposal room. The crates over his escape route had to move another yard to let him slip through. Batman set his shoulder and leaned in. Tendons burned along his flank. He shuddered and stopped. With a moment to breathe, there was nothing to distract him from how profoundly tired he was. The sweat-soaked fabric of his suit pinched under the armor at every joint. The metal plates seemed fifty pounds heavier than when he put them on. He had to rally his efforts just to turn around. He squared his upper back against the wood and forced his feet into the floor. His legs twitched, but at last the crates started to squeak and shift. He took small steps backwards, struggling to keep the momentum.

His fatigue and this noise deafened Batman to her footsteps. It was only by luck that he faced her way when the woman arrived. This disposal room had no ceiling or second floor. Turquoise moonlight bathed them both in a dusty arena of masonry and latticework. He spied a new cut on her right earlobe. She stood in the doorway, watching him with flat hatred. Her stance had devolved from dignified to predatory. He crouched and set the rebar ahead like a spear. It wavered slightly - he didn't have the strength to keep its twenty-seven pounds steady anymore. She noticed, and he knew it.

She took two swift steps and leapt, soaring the twenty feet between them.

---​

Wonder Woman's vision pulsed and blurred - her right eye was mostly blind. Batman narrowly avoided her dropkick. She demolished the boxes behind him then was slapped in the back for her efforts. Her legs screamed as vinegar shot through her joints with every step. Wonder Woman deftly batted away another two short swings before a feint and a jab left a welt on her hand. She huffed in unregal frustration. His steely rod was really starting to vex her.

The fates mocked her this night. Attacked by a staff, and she had left her own weapons at home. Amazons were masters in all arts of war, but their training paid far more attention to the sword, spear, and most of all the bow than to mere brawling. A lesson on how not to lose your weapon in the field had more practicality then five lessons on fighting on regardless. Any adversary fierce enough to disarm you would, almost by definition, be nigh-insurmountable after your disarmament. Only a mandrake-addled fool knowingly entered the field of battle empty-handed (which raised more questions about this Batman).

At least he seemed to have as great a deficit carrying proper arms as she did unaided: his spear-work was mediocre at best. Equipped with a stave of her own, she could doubtless subdue him in seconds. But none were in view, so the long weapon gave him a formidable advantage however lax his technique.

Lacking options but determined to conquer him, Wonder Woman rushed again and again only to be battered aside, kept at bay until she finally gleaned his rhythm. It was complicated: he transitioned through foreign stances and paces with admirable ease, but he was weary and his movements grew repetitive. At last, she divined his next intention, hopped over a low swing, caught it between her calves, turned, and dropped to a knee, trapping the weapon to the floor. Wonder Woman blew some matted hair out of her eyes and grinned. She tried to grab the rod, but he had stepped on it himself and was readying another throwing knife. She crossed her silvery bracers and intercepted the missile. It popped and engulfed her in a cloud of smoke.

Maybe it wasn't a knife. Wonder Woman coughed and ran until she found clean air. When her vision cleared as much as it could, Batman was nowhere in sight. She spun to find him, but it was too late. A brutal palm reached over her shoulder to wrench her chin up. She elbowed backwards twitch-quick, hitting a helmet, but he punched her in the ear twice and hooked her eye with his middle finger. She grabbed that wrist and wrenched his middle finger backwards, but this finally allowed a heavy arm to snake around her throat and flex shut. She was pulled against a man's body, his ragged breath warmed her neck. He smelled of sweat. He was primal. Feral. She fought desperately to pry herself loose, letting just enough blood pass to keep her faint awareness. Her thoughts swam. He pressed his forehead against her and leaned far back, lifting her just off her feet, using her own weight to help hang her. Sound began to fade. But inch by trembling inch, Wonder Woman pulled the arm away. His hold was so secure and his leverage so dominant that it took the deepest reserves of her prodigious strength, but in the end it was no contest. He strained with equally absolute determination, but he was just a man.

Once the arm was clear of her neck, Wonder Woman touched the ground and pivoted, striking him across the face. He collapsed, coughing out blood and eventually two teeth. Though the blood around his mouth, she could see half his face was a nasty bruise. To his credit, he tried to stand and face her. She grabbed his wrist and drove her knee into his forehead. Its armored cover took the blow, but the force was enough to snap his head back. She jabbed it again and kicked him in the side. He was launched off his feet and landed ten feet away, knocking over a shelf of tools.

Wonder Woman rushed him as he swayed half-bent, struggling to his knees. She reached eagerly for the slit over his gorget, the armored collar around his neck. But before she reached him, he plugged something into the wall and stabbed it at her. The end of the thing had a long spike cut like a screw. She intercepted, grabbing the spike with both hands.

Then he pressed something, the machine squealed to life, and she felt a cutting on her hands. He tried to push the now-spinning spike at her, but she kept her grip and held it at bay. The stinging grew until she was able to shove the tool sideways and kick the offending arm. The power drill hit the floor.

Wonder Woman forced Batman to his knees and finally seized his throat. He flinched but she held fast, adjusting her grip to surround the contours of his esophagus. Then her fingers gently closed. Batman's mouth burst open with a pained cough until he could grit his teeth shut. The veins on his oaken neck, already swelled from a marathon of effort, twitched with a new rush of blood. He grabbed at her wrist but to no avail. She added a feather of force. He hissed a long trail of air through his nose like a deflating balloon. His bloodied lips bent in a silent snarl. She stared coldly back and waited a long moment - she wasn't sure why, perhaps indulgence - then squeezed further.

In that instant she felt an urgent and agonizing pain dig through her hip. The world beyond went featureless and gray at the all-encompassing sensation.

Batman's right hand had disappeared. Wonder Woman glanced down and realized it was pressing something under the lower edge of her breastplate - straight through her soft culottes and into her flesh - something that glowed. Her mouth opened in quiet surprise. Acrid smoke fumed around them and sparks danced down her leg. The pain was so perfectly intense that she didn't even recognize it as heat. She had the hazy notion to push Batman away, but her limbs were lost across a chasm of shock, her body clenched in a seizure. Before she could act, he pulled back from her hip and the lifted a halo of magnificent light to her arm with its hand around his throat. The brilliant flame touched her arm. Stars erupted in her mind. It brushed along her bicep and up to her shoulder. The arc left a line of blackened skin in its wake. Then the blinding halo rose off her shoulder and swept across her neck, pushing sharply into her chin.

Wonder Woman's face burned like she had dipped it in the fiery hell-river Phelgethon. Her voice broke out unbidden in a scream and a plea and a threat. Time collapsed. She lived a epoch of pain between each heartbeat.

When her senses returned, Wonder Woman lay in the dust, facing up at the sky. Her tiara had fallen off. Heedless of a hundred wounds, she struggled up and saw the edge of a cape fall through a hole in the floor.

---​

Batman slid fifteen feet down a chute steep and wide enough to dispose of five thousand rotted pickles a minute. Gotham City's fondness for oversized civic structures didn't stop at their sewers; the city was consistent like that. The food industries - canneries, meatpacking plants, and the like - built especially spacious plumbing since they had more organic waste than anyone. Batman didn't even lower his head to fit in the dank tunnel at the bottom. It sloped down into the earth with many grates and unfinished branches along the way. If GothCorp ever bothered to finish the place, it would be half-filled with a thick vegetable slurry that would make Walt Whitman puke. Until then the only moisture was some slime on the curved brick walls.

The faltering deductive engine of his mind spent a few cycles chewing on the memory of her scream. He heard it again and again - every throaty syllable and note. It was a puzzle. She spoke English earlier, albeit with an accent. But that scream sounded kind of like Greek and kind of like Turkish and kind of like Russian. Normally the World's Greatest Detective wouldn't tolerate feeble observations that used the term "kind of like", but he was ashamed to admit he didn't know Greek. A few words, sure, but next to nothing. Ironically, it was one of the very few academic subjects he hadn't studied. That was ironic because his dimmest peers at prep school had. Classics was compulsory at every institution of learning he had ever attended, and he habitually skipped every one. He thought it would never come in handy, and it hadn't ... until now. That was going to bother him.

He eased his blistering finger joint back into alignment. After a blind minute of walking, he reached a cupola in the tunnel with a ladder above. Batman had performed tens of thousands of pull-ups in his life, but he nearly fainted in his exertion to reach the ladder. He didn't need to see the ring of bruises around his neck to know they were blue and indigo and deep. He would be eating through a straw for a long time. And he didn't need to see the blisters across his hand to know what misery it was to touch anything.

Contrary to myth, Batman couldn't prepare for every surprise. But he had survived several lifetimes' worth of rough scrapes already, so there was very little that still surprised him. And the more dire the threat, the better he learned. For example, there was one instance in the recent past - though he detested to think about it - when someone he was responsible for was trapped behind a steel door and freezing to death. He improvised a solution but vowed afterward that he would never face that particular crisis again.

He found the solution in a welding journal, a simple powder, a recipe for thermite that could melt through any material the authors had tested. Batman was no stranger to pyrotechnics, but it was so potent that even he was reluctant to experiment with the stuff. After several trials, he built a cigar-sized applicator and added a hilt above the grip just thick enough to stop the backwash of heat before it became uncomfortable. Naturally, this safety measure was tested while he was wearing gloves. He never expected to hold it with his bare hands, but he never expected to hold it against a person either. After doing both, he was surprised how little he minded. His burnt hand stung and throbbed as he stiffly climbed, and he remembered seeing the anguish and surprise in her face, and a perverse corner of him was proud that his tool could still put a hole in anything.

Batman heard motion far behind him. Someone had entered the tunnel. Batman climbed over the ladder like an old man and leaned against the wall. His mind was tired. It floated thin strings of useless ideas, ashes of the honed brilliance he took for granted. He paused to muster his thoughts. His options were all bad, and he barely cared. She was breathing when he left. She might well be invincible. Maybe she could follow him through the tunnels. They were practically made to echo, and he wouldn't run again tonight. He had spent his speed and mindfulness and strength. His arsenal was useless. He had no more fear to give. All he had left was spite, an anger deep in his marrow that drank in every bruise and blister and congealed those rich sensations into those nightmares that horrified him most, the nightmares when he was the beast. He realized he was sad. Whatever came next, he had already lost.

---​

A minute earlier.

Men were beasts. The Amazons held this lesson dear to their hearts in every theater drama and bedtime story. It was the cause of their civilization. They were refugees in a sense, though all the better for it in hindsight. The globe was surely ravaged and laid fallow long ago by the dominion of Man. They had seen the bleak signs even on the eve of their exodus. The bravest spearmaidens would shudder to imagine the wasteland Man's world must be today. Surely across the sea was some great desert, a stagnant, miserable dystopia where the wails of the anguished echoed from dim Hibernia on one end of the world to lavish Persia on the other. The Amazons were its last survivors.

And so it would be till the heavens fell. In a hundred generations, not one son of Man could be trusted. The Amazons would always live apart. It was common knowledge that men were generally dense and added little to culture individually, chasing their crudest hungers when they weren't held back by sloth, but this made them no less a threat. In large groups Man's natural habits toward tyranny and cowardice occasionally organized him above the state of an animal, if not by much, and groups of men were a different beast altogether. If they couldn't enslave their women through force, they would ensnare them with guile and lies. Men were to be loathed, not pitied. They were strong of arm and clever in all dangerous crafts. The Amazons would never forget just how far a man would go to seize power when it suited him, and it always did.

That said, ice cream was pretty fantastic.

So was the jitterbug. And aircraft. And basketball. And street cars. And cameras. And Antarctica. And dinosaur bones. And saxophones. And Billie Holiday. And the Nineteenth Amendment. And microscopes. And coffee. And potatoes. And strawberries. And cheese! Great Hera, the Amazons had cheese, but Man's terrible regime had so many more cheeses, and most of them were delicious. And they would melt it on so many things. And mustard! Myths spoke of the mustard plant, but it didn't grow in her homeland. Wonder Woman was the first of her people to taste mustard in millennia, and she had every kind of cheese to do it with.

Wonder Woman's complicated feelings towards Man - in essence, towards men - could fill a bookshelf. She was the emissary of her people, their champion in every sense of the word. But her people had prepared her to expect demons, and she found, well, people. She arrived with hate and suspicion in her heart, but the men of the world were practically human. They didn't spend all their time sparring and exercising for battle; they weren't the host of Hercules. In fact most were weak by Amazon standards, and many smelled better. Quite a few men were chivalrous - a concept so backwards that she had a hard time wrapping her head around it. Women weren't peers here, it was true, but they were undeniably citizens. Occasionally they were even in charge. The spectrum of Man had its sinners and criminals (or bad eggs and crooks, as she was learning to say), but most ne'er-do-wells were a lesser breed of evil. They didn't have ambitions of glory and supremacy. The lion's share of social harm came from those who were selfish and ignorant, not exactly disciples of Ares. Brutish nations did exist in far-off lands, but good men were striving to cast them down.

In the quiet corners of her soul, Wonder Woman had begun to wonder if her culture's core conviction might simply be wrong.

Then she came to Gotham.

As she wiped the dust and blood from her brow, there was no doubt in her mind that the race of Man was still part-demon. They were as fierce and cruel as the legends said. They had brawn and martial skill. They had armor of granite, and they hefted insidious weapons the likes of which the Amazons knew not. If those monstrous hordes no longer roamed the Earth en masse, it seemed they willed all their malevolence into one ultimate descendent as a final curse. It was Batman! Batman. Batman. Batman. An atavistic fiend. A plague to the bonds of compassion and love that knitted humankind. She had faced a few terrible men here in Man's World, adventures found through her new friends and compatriots, but so far these foes all turned out to be an angrier, more vicious breed of the same weak men that she passed on the street. This horror, this Bat was something darker entirely. He was inhuman, stepping through the night like it was lit with a torch. He bludgeoned the valiant sentinels of Lady America's armies with impunity. And his words had twisted and confounded her treasure, her inheritance, her conduit of Truth; only a most heinous mystic could spin a fable so innocent under divine coercion.

And now he had struck her a nigh-vorpal blow. Wonder Woman had never suffered such grievous harm. She shifted her garb aside and looked down: the burn on her hip was revolting to behold. It's only redemption was that the strange fire cauterized as it left, leaving no blood. She felt no sensation around its vile epicenter. A milder burn line marred her arm. She feared what travesty the wound on her neck and chin might resemble.

But Wonder Woman would not be bested. Disdaining every cut, she picked up her tiara and rose to her feet. Down the chute she found another realm of darkness. Typical. This city was so stale and artificial, but at least on the surface she was at liberty to move and could breath fresh air, and a few living things grew. But this passage was hardly different from a crypt. No wonder he seemed so familiar with the place. It was where a ghoul belonged.

She heard faint movement ahead. No duty in her life had ever seemed so necessary and clear as removing this blight did now. The virtuous people of the world needed her. Wonder Woman slowly cracked her knuckles. If he wouldn't face justice under civic law, if he insisted on the ways of the dark, then she wouldn't hesitate to send him into the Plutonian night.

---​

By far the most unshakable regulatory office in Gotham City was the Meatpacking Supervisory Board. It was said that there were only three groups in the city who could never be bent by money or politics: the Franciscans, the Salvation Army, and the pork inspectors. Contrary to observers, Gothamites did have a sense of self-preservation, and it had been obvious since the city's founding that any illness from tainted food would be disastrous on top of their always questionable hygiene and sanitation. The slaughterhouses took extraordinary steps to protect the food and separate what remained. The nature of the city's density and building codes offered this challenge with a unique twist. The meat plants worked all hours to satisfy their huge demand, but this production routinely outpaced the logistical means to remove it: cargo space on trucks and trains was a hot commodity in the area. If a slaughterhouse could only transport one of its outputs, it would obviously send the day's meat to the stores and keep the waste for later. But no one could keep thousands of pounds of offal and other, even nastier butchery byproducts inside the factory.

The solution for one infamous ring of meatpacking plants near the uncompleted GothCorp site was to dump all this waste into what they called the Meat Pool. The backs of the eight buildings surrounded a round cement pit, thirty feet across and forty feet deep. Truck paths and conveyor belts led to the edge, and at least one was emptying animal remains into the pit at almost any given hour of the day year-round. Eventually, one of the slaughterhouse shipping schedules would have an opening and a portion of the Meat Pool's contents - now long decayed and fermented - would be hauled back up. To facilitate this, a network of screw pumps, pulleys, tubes, and, most disturbing of all, ladders also lined the pit's walls. Just as it was impossible to know how long a certain raindrop stayed in the ocean, no one could say how long an average bucketful of innards waited in the Meat Pool. Some employees guessed a week, some said a month. It was ultimately a philosophical question. Everyone knew the Meat Pool was the worst-smelling place a person could be.

It was one of Batman favorite places.

The muck wasn't technically harmful to spend time in. Smells were simple sensory signals. If you could overcome those, you were fine. And he did. It took a few sessions. He deemed it time well spent. At the core of Batman's philosophy was the belief that an individual could prevail against a crowd by having the will to take extraordinary measures that no one else would follow. In this case, he meant it literally. He could slap the mayor in front of city hall and flee every officer in the GCPD, and not one of them would follow him into the pit.

He opened a grate under a storm drain next to one of the smaller slaughterhouses. It took several seconds to lift himself onto solid ground. His burned hand cried. he felt that if he turned his head more than a few degrees, then it would fall off. Taking an old man's steps, he paced along the building until he reached the edge of the Meat Pool. Only three of the plants were operating tonight, but one on the far side was dumping indistinct clumps off a conveyor belt. He could see a general silhouette of things despite the hour. All the buildings in use had lamps around their rear loading doors and there were a few permanent lights installed halfway down the pit itself – someone in management seemed to think that any poor soul forced to do maintenance here at night shouldn't need to fumble with a flashlight. Likewise, the short chain-link fence around much of the edge was one of the sturdiest safety precautions in the city.

Batman leaned against the fence and paused to catch his breath. A shape sped towards him in the dark. As he turned, Wonder Woman rammed him against the fence and reached again for his throat. This time he tucked his shoulder and blocked the opening in his collar. She held him against the fence with a palm and struck viciously at his face. He took a few blows to his helmet, so much weaker than her first. She growled and seized him around the chest in a bear hug.

Batman was dazed but had enough to sense to be confused. A static move like this didn't seem her style. Then he was reminded that she could rip a steel door out of the floor. He instantly felt the back of his armor start to buckle. A new wedge of metal was touching his spine and feeling larger every second. She pushed her matted hair into his face to get as close as possible. There was a muted squeaking as their chestplates scratched together. A tightness increased in his ribs as the armor deformed. His shaking hands finally found purchase to brush against the severe burn on her hip. She twitched but didn't let go. That was fine. Most of his body was immobile, but his neck, for all its trauma, wasn't constricted. Sucking down the pain, he bent slightly forward, tilted his head sideways, and bit her throat.

---​

Wonder Woman felt his mouth fasten across her burn-weakened jugular. She redoubled her efforts to finally wreck that accursed armor, but even now his hold was better than hers. The jaw was a formidable muscle, and his teeth cut and crushed the damaged flesh as it struggled to shut. Continuing her assault meant offering her throat defenseless, and as she felt his fangs close towards her lifeblood, she was finally shocked by an icy drop of terror. Wonder Woman let go and struggled backwards. He didn't let her go easily and bit off some skin on the way. Being held by the throat left her overcompensating her balance, and before she had backpedaled two steps, Batman chucked a small pellet at the ground. It set off with a loud crack and a bright flash. As she blinked away the spots, Batman unscrewed the cap to a clear vial and flicked it at her from the hip, aiming for the open skin on her thigh. She tried to move, but the spray was too wide and many droplets touched her. They immediately started to hiss and bubble, and she recoiled from the fierce, caustic sensation.

These efforts seemed to wind him, but as Wonder Woman angrily recovered, he was already straddling the fence. A dangling chain hung from a pulley several feet in front of him. Batman leaned forward into empty air, hopped, and caught it. Then he descended out of sight. It was then that she gave any attention to her surroundings. She gagged. Wonder Woman was engulfed in a furious stench wafting up from this abyss that made her eyes water. She realized her fury must have been heroic indeed if she missed that during her struggle. Wonder Woman was tutored to the loftiest heights of poetry and rhetoric, but words failed her now. It was almost physical, a dank sheet against her skin, moist and hideous. Her nerves needing time to restart again inside the veil of this sensory abomination. She paused, breathing only through her mouth. Then her righteous anger steeled her, and she leaped to catch the same chain into the pit.

She landed in the arena. He stood there, ghoulish, with his cape pulled around his body, casting half a dozen faint shadows from the multiple lights above. But she didn't see him at first. The air as she descended had turned from noxious to foul to belligerent. Each new layer was a new and terrifying odor dimension. She let go of the chain halfway down and crashed facefirst. And here at the bottom she finally knew what it all came from. The cesspit of an abattoir. A mass grave. The moment she spent submerged was the worst in her life. Even when she rose, the filth was all over her, sticking to her skin and clothes, infecting her through stench alone. A million flies appeared from nowhere and began to orbit her. That repellant city above seemed like paradise now. This was beyond even the horror she imagined could be found in Man's World. It rose to her waist, wet and warm, like all the dirtiest animals in the world ate garbage until they burst and died and their kin ate their remains until they also died and they all baked in the sun in a bog for a century. Her guts turned inside-out. It took an Olympian effort to hold down bile. Whatever spots of vision she once possessed were burned away by the power of the place. The smell had blinded her.

When a frayed shred of Wonder Woman finally found the fortitude to function in the Meat Pool, she saw Batman watching her, not bothered and not moving. Somehow this annoyed her further still. She approached him wearing a look of undiluted hatred and dripping undiluted gore. At four paces, Wonder Woman brought out her golden lasso and spun it beside her in rapid circle, then let go and launched it towards him. He lifted an arm as if to shield himself. She snared it and pulled taut. Batman crouched and stepped forward, keeping his balance. When she finished pulling and there was no slack between them, he grasped the cord in both hands and fell backwards.

Wonder Woman wouldn't ever be sure if she had made the right decision then, keeping hold of her priceless gift and being pulled into the muck for it. She wouldn't remember what it felt like to be submerged. All she was knew was that at some point she surfaced and looked around. The end of her lasso was loose, and Batman was nowhere to be found. She looked around for least half a minute, mindless, undone by the smell, then Batman burst out of the pool of waste like a shark, grabbed her, and pulled her under.

Eventually he must have let go and she managed to stand. All she remembered was that after a few seconds he did it again.

This time when she rose, he was nowhere to be found.

---

Wonder Woman would never learn that there was another way out of the Meat Pool. Its rancid contents were wet and soft but largely solid. Any liquid drained through filters in the bottom of the pit into a basin below. This pool in the basin was deep enough to cushion a fall. She would also never learn that these filters tended to clog, so they were built with a hinge for easy opening from above.
Author: Batman 1939
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Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-25 12:45pm

Huh. I'm not sure that "not technically harmful" observation about the Meat Pool applies for people with open wounds and cuts and bloody bruises...
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U.P. Cinnabar
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-09-25 05:44pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Huh. I'm not sure that "not technically harmful" observation about the Meat Pool applies for people with open wounds and cuts and bloody bruises...


I would gather that's the technicality.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Tribble » 2016-09-25 06:24pm

I hope they wash their hands before eating anything.

Great job!
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-09-25 08:19pm

Stewart M wrote:
LadyTevar wrote:Culottes are knee-length women's trousers, cut to look like a knee-length skirt. Is that the image you were going for here?


Yes, I meant culottes. That's the original look. Just following tradition.
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