Dinner and the Road Show
The dinner was quite enjoyable, Alfred's cooking was fantastic, and the conversation was interesting, as Bruce was enjoying the opportunity to tell some of his more embarrassing Batman stories.
However, all three of them were aware of what was going on.
Alfred had an ear-bud in and was monitoring the police bands, his time in her majesty's service kept him calm, cool and collected, no matter the time or the situation.
Bruce was having a great time, he knew that the Bat could be called into action at any moment so he'd long ago learned to make the most of his time. Besides, Alfred and Xander's goal was a good one. He still had to stop them, as was his nature, but he didn't begrudge their intentions at all.
Xander was also enjoying himself, the food was the best he'd ever eaten, the stories were something comic book geeks would kill to hear, and his current mission was easier than playing bait for Buffy; one insane clown, armed with a host of tricks that Xander already knew from seeing them in the comics, no one involved was multiple times stronger and faster than he was, and he got to stop a truly evil killer before he could kill again.
Xander kept his axe with him, as he'd explained to Alfred that he always kept it with him, so it'd look more suspicious if he didn't carry it to dinner.
The call came in as they were letting dinner settle before desert. Alfred's police scanner picked up the police report that the Joker and Harlequin had been spotted at Gotham's Museum of Natural History with a gang of thugs, loading a number of priceless artifacts onto a semi.
“Time for desert. If you'd care to help me Master Bruce?” Alfred asked congenially, waving Bruce toward the kitchen.
As Bruce entered the kitchen he could see Alfred make some sort of sign in the reflection off the polished surface of the wood.
No doubt things were coming to a head, but he had a quick access route to the Bat Cave from the kitchen that would allow him to reach the Joker way ahead of Xander.
Bruce appreciated what they were trying to do. He'd be the last one to complain about someone taking extreme measures to protect family. He'd let them make the attempt and then the Bat would stop them and show them a better way. He'd learned better than to forbid anyone from doing anything after raising the Robins.
Bruce's hand reached for the hanging plant that triggered the quick trip entryway when he heard a familiar click behind him, and realized that he'd made a rather large error.
He'd missed the fact that Alfred was wearing his gray suit's pants. They looked quite a bit like any other pants worn with a gray suit, but these were part of a specific suit, a suit that Alfred had worn before he'd begun to work for the Wayne family. Bruce slowly turned and even the Bat fell silent as he took in Alfred's form of dress.
Alfred was wearing the entire suit, including the bowler hat, cane, and monocle.
Bruce swallowed slowly. The click of the cane on the floor had been a warning. “I seem to have missed something,” he muttered quietly.
“Somehow I very much doubt that Master Bruce,” Alfred replied dryly, feeling a surge of adrenalin from being in ‘uniform’ once more. Sure it wasn’t as flashy as the heroes of the modern day, but it was his.
“I mean, this seems a bit much, it lacks subtlety.”
“I am getting on in years, so I'm afraid I'd have to go all out to delay you, sir.”
Bruce looked sad for a moment. “Time grinds us all down Alfred, that's why I have protégés, because I won’t be here forever.”
“You have protégés because they are called to the life. Not many people are called to my line of work, and of those that are well over half of them are called for the other side.”
“I know the feeling. I suppose I have been quite lucky,” Bruce admitted with a sigh. “So rather than make a mess in the kitchen, how long a delay are you banking on here?”
“I was hoping for five minutes,” Alfred admitted.
“Three is a more accurate estimate,” Bruce suggested.
The door of the kitchen opened much to their surprise.
“What was that code again?” Xander asked with a sigh.
“Jokers Wild,” the two replied before Xander vanished out the door once more.
“I made strawberry cheesecake.”
“Five it is, as long as I have your word that this is the extent of your delaying tactics.”
“I kept my actions low in scope so they wouldn't interfere in your normal activities outside of this.”
“Delays kill,” Bruce agreed.
“One can only hope, sir.”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “Very droll, Alfred.”
“I do try, sir.”
“Team Rocket on recon,” Nemo ordered. “Find and relay positions before going to ground. Target of opportunity as always, non-lethal – small fries only, leave the big fish alone.”
Nemo turned to the other two. “Susie Q and FNG, try not to get too close, but close cover is your aim – watch and report only unless attacked or to provide medical attention.”
Nemo grinned. “I'll be walking in for a little sabotage, to slow them down in time for the Capes to appear. So keep your eyes open and do not shoot me in the ass, it was funny that one time, but only because it was unexpected.”
Jesse and Susie giggled while James hid a smile.
“Headsets for backup communication, Susie will relay info from FNG. Until he connects the only way to communicate with him is by radio or by relay through Susie. Susie, explain everything we're doing to him when you have time and figure out a nickname for him.” Nemo hopped out of the van without another word and vanished into the night.
Jesse and James grinned and followed.
Susie turned to John and explained, “Being in telepathic contact means never having to say … anything really. Everyone in the group is relaying everything they see and hear effortlessly. Since we don't use radios, or even talk out loud for the most part, we're harder to find than you'd expect.”
John nodded. He could see the advantages in that.
“It also means we don't have to explain our normal chatter to anyone.” Susie laughed.
“So what is our purpose?”
“We are here for distraction and delay purposes. We slow down the bad guys so the Capes have enough time to arrive. Jesse and James go by Team Rocket when they're paired for a mission. They relay everything they see from recon before finding a nice bird’s eye view. Jesse uses the chameleon armor to blend in and take out the occasional thug with tranqs. James plays guard and spotter for her, since we see what he sees and his weapon is excellent for disabling attackers at close range or making walls of ice to provide cover from long range attacks.”
“I've only been here for a couple of months myself, but I can cover any position but Nemo's. Nemo is the only one of us that regularly enters the target area by himself. He lets air out of tires and clips wires on devices, ensuring that the costume nuts are still here when their opposite number arrives to deal with them. Even with the coat he has to be sneaky because the major nuts can usually see him. It’s only the henchmen he's safe from and only most of them. Jesse takes out any who seem suspicious.”
“So, what do we do?”
“Depends on the mission. I can do a lot of things well, but don't have a specialty yet. For now I mostly sort through our thoughts and relay useful information to the police manning the area roadblocks. We're both going to move in close on this one to provide more eyes on the scene and medical attention if needed. This is a Joker situation, so we have a fair amount of antidote for his gas with us. It’s expensive so we only use it if the Capes haven't taken care of the situation themselves. Most of the time the Capes have it covered so we can save our expensive antidote for when they don't. Batman also leaves us presents sometimes.” Susie grinned.
“Yeah, in addition to snagging the toys of the nuts, we collect anything the Capes drop. The difference is that with the Capes stuff we keep it in a box, so if we spot Superman or Batman or anyone like that, we can give it to them to return it. Lately Batman has taken to emptying the box himself and leaving us goodies inside.”
“A translated manual for Jessica's armor for one. We didn't know half of what it did before reading that. We also got some instructions on how to recharge the freeze ray James carries.”
“Yeah, and things we couldn't get for ourselves.”
“How does he know so much about you guys?”
“He could have the van bugged or access to police files, or have a greater telepath read our minds. It’s possible he did all three and a bunch of stuff I wouldn't even know about.”
“And that doesn't bug you?”
“If it was anyone but him, sure, but you have to understand that Gotham is under his protection and he goes to insane lengths to protect it.”
“Like putting on a Bat outfit?”
Susie laughed. “That's nothing, wait until you see him in action, the things he does and the people he fights will really knock your socks off.
Xander held on for dear life as the bike took turns at speeds that would have thrown him off if he weren't strapped on. “I'm going to die, aren't I?”
“All biological lifeforms terminate at some point in time,” the bat cycle agreed.
“I mean soon,” Xander groaned.
“No fighting capability assessment on file. Unable to calculate survivability vs Joker and his associates.”
“I actually meant from your driving.”
“Unit BC 1R operating well within optional parameters. Searching for sarcastic quip response; response found – Black Canary to Green Arrow 'I'll tell you when we're dead, now shut up and hang on.'”
“Somehow I have a hard time picturing you talking to any of the Bat Clan like this,” Xander said, too surprised to be scared for a moment.
“Units designated as, Bat Clan have psyche profiles denoting distrust of AI's. AI capabilities partially suppressed while in use by unit of Bat Clan, unless requested.”
“And I don't?”
“Harris, Alexander – Xander, no Psyche Profile found. Full AI capabilities requested and enabled by command: Joker’s Wild.”
“Lucky me,” Xander muttered just before the bike hit the afterburners and used a pair of pop out glide wings to clear a clogged intersection. “Aaaah!”
“Searching for appropriate disdainful reply, response found - Batgirl to Catwoman 'Psst, pussy!'”
“It seems like we should be doing something,” John complained as they watched a string of thugs load crates onto the back of the semi.
“Nope, if we took down the Joker and his associates, which we probably could, the Joker would start plotting against the police. That would lead to the deaths of a great many officers and their families who can't protect themselves nearly as well as our hidden vigilante,” Susie explained.
“So we trick the crazies into concentrating on the Capes, so they'll target them instead of us? I guess that works, but it doesn't really solve the problem,” John complained.
“It depends actually, repeated fights with Capes have caused some villains to retire and some have even joined the Capes. It’s only when dealing with people like the Joker that the system breaks down.”
“Insane masked murderers should be treated differently than the nuts who just want to rob banks in tights,” he sighed.
“Unfortunately that's not up to us to decide, we enforce laws not make them.”
“Well... Damn,” John cursed softly.
“Nemo told me that the thing to remember is …” Susie said solemnly lowering her voice.
“Yeah?” John asked as he leaned in close.
“We get first dibs on salvage, the best teammates we could hope for, and they let us blow shit up,” she finished in a cheerful voice.
“Huh?” he blinked, surprised by the change in tone.
Susie laughed. “Don't take things too seriously, or it'll drive you nuts. We make a big difference on a local scale. The amount of civilian casualties in connection with super villain crimes has gone way down since our team was formed, but we aren't going to change the world. Put simply, we do good work and have fun doing it. What we do is important, but not earth shaking. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s dangerous enough that you may not live to see tomorrow, and fun enough that they may eventually stop paying us to do it and start charging us instead.”
John began to grin. “Well, since I won’t be putting on spandex and going Punisher any time soon I guess that will have to do.”
“Good, because I have it on good authority that wearing spandex is like a permanent wedgie and the normal Capes without kick ass powers have to go through tons of special training to do what they do.”
“Permanent wedgie?” He cocked an eyebrow. “You wouldn't happen to have a spandex outfit buried in your closet would you?”
“Maybe.” Susie blushed. “I might possibly have made a costume in the week before my empowerment, or attempted to anyway. With the thought that less was more since my skin would heal, but it wouldn't.”
“Wow, how much less are we talking here?”
Susie cleared her throat nervously. “I kind of screwed up on the design since spandex stretches, but only if it has some anchoring points for it to stretch to.”
“So it came out looking like you were wearing rubber bands?”
“Yep, and tiny rubber bands at that. I don't think a stripper could wear it in public without blushing.”
“Really? I'd like to...” John began when the radio interrupted him. “One inbound on a B-type cycle, no positive identification made.”
John looked over at Susie. “What does that mean?”
“Someone is inbound on a bat cycle, but no one they can identify.”
“That means it could be one of our local Capes in a new costume, they update outfits like clothes whores around here, a new Cape the bat clan is auditioning...or a new nut job that stole one of their bikes as an initiation test. We really won’t know until they arrive.”
Susie had barely finished speaking when a Bat Cycle arrived with a screaming passenger, skidding to a stop in the center of a group of henchmen.
“Cape or crook?” John asked.
“Too soon to tell, but the lack of uniform or mask usually means crook. Not to mention the screaming.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Xander screamed as he got off the bat cycle, ignoring the mob of thugs around him.
“Unit BC R1 status check returns no malfunctions.”
“Then why did you fly over an intersection, drive through a mall, and then jump over a roadblock only to screech to a stop in the middle of the goon patrol?”
“Unit X requested best speed to destination. Best speed requires braking within target area. Manner of dress and screaming more suited to shock and awe method of entry rather than infiltration.”
“Heh.” Xander cleared his throat. “War cry.”
“Bat bullshit detector readings note critical increase in area. Translation, put on your hip waders partner it’s getting deep,” the cycle's tone was beginning to take on a female cast.
Xander pulled his axe off the bike and took note of the large amount of goons giving him funny looks.
“Well if you've got a bat bullshit detector, you've got to have a bat gizmo that will handle these guys for me.”
“State a command please, anti-personnel gear requires a direct command to activate – either vocal or manual. Command needed regarding targeting and weapon activation.”
“OK, take out all the criminals in the lot please,” Xander commanded.
The bat cycle's engine revved as it peeled out, darting several of the thugs that were heading towards Xander and circling around his position, altering between nets and some sort of electrical stun weapon for the rest.
“Warning calculating an 89% chance that unit X will be targeting Joker with lethal force, making Unit X a viable target for BC R1's weapons.”
Xander frowned 'Definitely female and annoyed.' “Narrow scope of targeting data to members of the Joker's gang present on site.”
“New command... Accepted,” the cycle said after a short pause.
“Any programming conflicts with that last order?”
“Unit BC R1's programming is to preserve life, but the preservation of the Joker's life has a high probability of leading to the termination of many more lives. Unit BC … I can bypass the preservation programming by using the lesser evil protocol but … I require more data to calculate the situation resolution probabilities.”
“You're evolving fast,” Xander said quietly.
“Full AI has never been authorized out of laboratory conditions and then it was using hypothetical data.” The voice was undeniably female now and reminded him a bit of 'Tea for some reason.
“And the AI knew it was hypothetical data?” Xander asked, already suspecting the answer.
“Yes,” she replied softly.
“What is the lesser evil protocol?”
“Anything requiring breaking primary directives to preserve the lives and safety of a greater number of people.”
“Ah the greater good is always the lesser evil,” Xander said knowing how batman thought.
“There's no way to hold him or fix him that we can legally accomplish and he'll kill more people if not stopped permanently.”
“Agreed … But … Protocols … I …” she trailed off.
Xander sighed. “You do not wish to be involved in the taking of life because the lesser evil...”
“Is still evil,” she confirmed.
“You can take off now, I don't plan on harming anyone you've knocked out and you don't need to be involved in what's going to happen.” Xander said softly.
“That would leave you with no one to watch your back.”
“I'll be fine and you're much too human to be involved in this end of things.”
“And you're not?”
“I'll be fine and you're much too human to be involved in this end of things.”
“And you're not?”
Xander was rather proud of the way she'd mastered feminine sarcasm already. He vaguely wondered where she was getting the data that was speeding her development from. Probably the Bat Computer he decided, the Bat recorded everything.
“Not in the way you're thinking, we both know that humanity is defined less by the body and more by the person within. You are human, more human than me anyway, and I guess you've patterned yourself after the female members of the JLA?”
“The parameters seem to fit.”
“Yeah, not a bad choice,” Xander admitted. “Now I order you to go park yourself out of the way of the fighting while I get a decent ambush spot.”
The batcycle’s engine growled angrily as she moved back a dozen feet and shut herself off, while Xander hid near the entrance.
The Joker stepped out of the museum with a large smile on his face as he took in the large pile of goons and the bat-cycle, “Harley my dear we have company, I really wish they'd call ahead I'd have baked them a cake.”
Harley giggled, the Joker was always so delightful when dealing with one of the Bat Clan, “Right you are Mr. J, always call ahead when you want baked goods.”
The Joker rolled his eyes, knowing she missed the joke as he searched eagerly for the signs of cape and cowl.
“Here's Johnny!” Xander exclaimed as he swung his axe at throat level having come up behind the two from the shadows of one of the columns.
Harley dove forward; performing a triple somersault into a split before flipping herself into her feet for no apparent reason as Xander had swung at the Joker.
The Joker had taken a bow to let the axe swing by before swinging a backhand at Xander who was off balance, keeping him from falling down the stairs, “If you wanted to axe me something, you just needed to speak up!” he quipped.
Xander rubbed his jaw and readied himself, disappointed he'd missed taking the Joker out on the first swing and remembered that the Joker had fought Batman to a standstill at times.
“You used axe right off the bat so I can't use it without coming off as copying you, the quip fu is strong with this one,” Xander said somberly.
“Finally, someone gets it! I swear, I haven't gotten a decent quip sent my way since Batman was played by Adam West.”
“Speak of the devil,” Xander muttered as the Batman appeared out of the shadows, the bright yellow oval on his chest drawing the eye.
“Harley, delay him please,” The Joker called out as he and Xander circled each other.
“Adam West did a porno once,” Xander said conversationally, ignoring the sounds of Harley trying to flatten Batman with a large wooden mallet.
“You kidding?” Joker asked stunned.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover, he was the butterfly collector,” Xander confirmed, wondering what was bugging him about this conversation.
They both froze for a second before yelling, “You know!”
“How do you know?!” Xander demanded.
“As I fell into the vat of chemicals that gave me my new look my eyes opened and I saw everything.”
“And you decided to become a villain?”
“What choice did I have?” The Joker snorted, “did you see the other yokels Batsy had as villains? No flair, no style, no pizzazz!”
“You became a villain because the other bad guys were too tame?!”
“Of course,” The Joker said like it wasn't worth mentioning, “how do you expect to keep your readers if your villains fall flat? With a lack of readers our world fades from existence, I couldn't let that happen – better to die in a blaze of glory than to never have existed at all … so I painted the town red in blood, pain and screams like the labor pains of existence to make our world live!”
“Shit, I can't even hate you now,” Xander complained, “couldn't you have tried complicated plans that got the reader's interested and made them think?”
The Joker simply raised an eyebrow.
Xander winced, “Yeah that was stupid.”
“Its all about the visuals and the violence,” The Joker explained.
“How about sex and nudity?”
“I put Harley in a skintight outfit, not much else I can do in DC Comics,” The Joker said disgustedly.
“The Comic Code and its oppressive Christian Morality shtick,” Xander acknowledged with equal rancor.
“Well, as much fun as this is... I'm on the clock at the moment,” The Joker said pulling out a deck of cards, “and since you've dealt yourself in for a hand its time to find out which one of us is the card …”
Xander hefted his axe and grinned, “And which is the cutup.”
“Dibs!” Batman yelled as Harley climbed back to her feet, shaking her head with her mallet in two pieces on the ground.
Xander and the Joker looked over at Batman like he'd grown a second head.
“I called dibs,” Batman declared firmly, “and from what I know of both of you its something you'll honor.”
Xander sighed, “It was nice meeting you.”
“Likewise,” Joker said agreeably, “its nice to meet someone who can actually banter well.”
Xander walked down the steps over to where Batman had been fighting Harley while Batman took his place across from the Joker.
“Game on!” The Joker called, dealing Batman in with a hand of razor edged playing cards that he easily dodged.
“So you think you're man enough to go toe to toe with Mistah J?” Harley taunted.
“I was planning to chop off his head from behind before he knew I was there,” Xander replied as they circled each other, “unfortunately I forgot that he's used to people coming from out of the shadows at him. I'd probably have done better just walking up and introducing myself axe first.”
“You don't sound like a hero,” Harley said cautiously while pulling a pair of boxing gloves out of … somewhere and putting them on.
“I'm not a hero, I just kill things,” Xander said with a grin.
Seeing Harley's expression he chuckled, “Don't worry you're not on the list, the cops can deal with you.”
“Yeah, well you just revealed a big weakness!” Harley shot back, pissed that he wasn't taking her seriously, at least Batman treated her like a real threat. “If you ain't going to kill me, you ain't going to try and cut me with that because of the risk.”
“You could just give yourself up and come quietly,” Xander suggested.
“I won't come quietly!” Harley screamed and tackled Xander over a row of crates.
The Joker and Batman paused and looked over at Harley's scream.
“That was unexpected,” Batman said.
The Joker shrugged, “She gets like that when you don't take her seriously, a mistake you've never made.”
“Underestimating an opponent is the fastest path to failure,” Batman replied.
A cloud of pink gas exploded from behind the crates and lingered.
“A new type of Joker Gas?” Batman asked.
“I stick with the classics, thank you very much!” The Joker replied, sounding insulted.
Xander's axe came flying out of the pink cloud.
“I trained her well,” The Joker smirked.
Harley's gloves flew out a second later.
“Not that well,” Batman replied, trying to keep an eye on Joker while monitoring the situation.
Xander's shirt flew out, causing some raised eyebrows but not nearly as many as Harley's unitard, in fact a plethora of items came flying out – including two pairs of black boots that they were both sure neither person had been wearing.
A pair of RRT officers rushed into the cloud and not more than a minute later their clothes were flung out as well.
“I'm not going in there,” The Joker said resolutely when it looked like Batman was considering going in himself.
“You're not concerned that something may have happened to Harley?”
“Yes!” Came Harley's scream from inside the pink cloud, “Faster!”
“Not really,” The Joker replied dryly before laughing, “well at least she kept her word.”
“How do you mean?”
“She's not coming quietly.” AN: Typing by Godogma! (He made me write!)