Cordelia ran over the rooftops of Sunnydale. It was the first time since finding herself in this new timeline that she’d gone out in her Catwoman guise. Part of her exhilarated in the freedom she felt as she leapt from ledge to ledge, using her whip to make up the difference in those places where she couldn’t reach from muscle alone.
In her home timeline, she’d traveled all over the world, hunting the young psychopath Alexander Harris with the help of that world’s Rupert Giles. They’d tangled more than a few times, one of which left the young teenager blinded in one eye, leading Alexander to become Deathstroke, an assassin renowned for both efficiency and ruthlessness. They’d come down to a brawl, right back here in a nightmarish version of Sunnydale, when she’d suddenly found herself in a world not her own.
Coiling her whip around her wrist, she took a moment to exult in the feelings of her body. She was back in the shape she remembered. Better, even, as this body hadn’t collected so many injuries at a young age. Stepping off the roof and slinging her way down a fire escape, she hit street level and dashed through the alleyways, knowing them like the back of her own hand. The nights in Sunnydale had become much safer ever since the Hellmouth moved under LA, but that didn’t mean the vampires had all left. It simply meant they were attracted to elsewhere.
And Cordelia found the stragglers to be good exercise.
There were three in the alley up ahead, following a short brunette girl further along. As one, the three turned from the alley and quickened their pace, moving with determination toward the girl. The would-be victim was apparently oblivious, humming softly to herself as she walked down the street. Catwoman quickened her own pace, uncoiling her whip with one hand, a stake in the other. She could almost see the vampires’ grins in her mind’s eye. Since the Revelation, ordinary people tended to stay indoors, letting the police and army handle patrols after dark. Prey had gotten scarce, and those who still went out after nightfall in spite of curfews tended to be protected by weaponry.
Catwoman snapped out her whip as the three approached the girl, the cord wrapping around the vampire’s neck. With a powerful pull, she yanked him off his feet, the hapless bloodsucker letting out a strangled yelp. Before he could get his bearings, the stake went into his heart and he dissolved into dust. As the other two turned to confront the grey-clad Catwoman, she leapt to the side and sprung off the wall, turning it into a powerful kick that slammed the second vampire to the ground.
Before Catwoman could follow up and finish him off, though, the third slammed into her with the force of a linebacker, spilling her to the hard sidewalk. Catwoman rolled aside as a foot came down where her chest had been a moment before. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the second vampire getting to his feet, rage on his features. This was not good. It wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle, though. With a sweeping motion of her legs, the nearest vampire fell to the ground with a cry of rage. The other raised his fist, only to be interrupted by a hand wrapping around his wrist.
“Excuse me.” A pleasant voice broke in. “It’s just not nice to hit girls.” The vampire towering over Catwoman was hit with a powerful kick to the back of his knee, bone audibly cracking and a scream echoing from the vampire’s mouth. “Girls hitting back, on the other hand...”
Catwoman took the opportunity to slam her stake into the stunned vampire’s chest, dust replacing him an instant later.
The last vampire looked between the two girls, fear in his eyes. As he turned to run, the brunette clucked her tongue. “Just when you think a girl has the attention of someone she likes, they have to go and run away.” Drawing a stake from her jacket, the brunette chased the fleeing vampire down before he made it more than twenty feet, and after a quick tussle there was nothing but dust.
The girl turned, and Catwoman gaped.
A warm smile crossed the brunette’s face. “Hey Kitten. Been a while. Glad to see you. So what the hell’s going on?” Buffy said, gently rubbing the small scar across her lip in irritation.
“Quit your fidgeting.” Karen chided as she straightened Xander’s collar for him. Her red dress was long and shimmering, and it certainly revealed a generous amount of her cleavage. If Xander didn’t get the hints, she’d have to be even more direct. That fun could wait til later, however. “It won’t be that bad, just an hour at dinner, and a few more for socializing. Besides, I’m coming along. Anybody tries shooting you, I’ll catch the bullet and turn the guy into a pretzel.”
Xander let out a chuckle, shaking his head. “It’s not bullets that frighten me.” He sighed, gently taking and squeezing her hand. “I know, I know. The more I present myself as a feckless layabout with too much money and not enough sense, the less likely anyone can connect the dots. Still, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Karen nodded at that. Though she was stranded here from her own timeline, she knew all too well about putting on a show to misdirect. Countless days spent hiding her abilities from her friends, being afraid to go to the Prom because of Lana Lang and her million-times damned Kryptonite necklace. It took a long time before circumstances permitted her to come out to her friends. Friends that she no longer had. They were Clark’s friends. Her own were gone, along with the rest of her world.
It was fairly ironic, then, that she would be helping to teach the young man she was interested in to fit into a dual role of his own. Still, he’d chosen it before they’d even met.‘Still, at least he’ll be my own friend, instead of Clark’s, trying to make room for me. A girl’s gotta have something of her own, after all.’
Gesturing to the doors ahead, she spoke with a grin. “Ready to go?” Chuckling at his nervous expression, she shook her head. “Relax. They won’t tear you apart.”
Xander nodded. “Yeah. But I know how to deal with things that want to kill me. Socialites? Not so much.” Squeezing her hand again, the pair stepped through the oak doors, all smiles as they entered the Empire Hotel’s luxurious dining hall, along with the top tier of Harris Enterprises’ workforce.
Putting on a winning smile, Xander stepped forward with Karen on his arm, doing his best to look like the casual rich womanizer. Applause filled the room, and he gave a friendly wave. “Please, everybody. This is for you as much as me.” As the noise in the dining hall died down with friendly chuckles, he smoothly took a glass of wine from a passing waiter.
Forcing his voice to clear, and only with Karen feeling the somewhat nervous pulse of his heart through his skin, Xander spoke. “Everyone, thank you. Today it’s been one year since Harris Enterprises was launched. In that time, we’ve expanded our holdings three-fold, and made Los Angeles a very great base to launch from. This party is for everybody here, for all your hard work. I may have started this off, but it’s you guys who deserve the praise here.”
A round of polite applause rose. As it quieted, Xander said with as charming a smile as he could manage. “Now, where’s Lucius?” At that, the Lucius stepped to the front of the crowd, a slightly embarrassed smile on his face. With a casual shrug, Xander indicated the older man. “Here he is. Good guy, Lucius. I came up with the seed money, but here’s the man who made it work. I’m not the most talented guy around, but I do know when to bow out and let someone who knows what he’s doing to do his job.”
“Thank you, Mister Harris.” Lucius said dryly.
Xander clucked his tongue chidingly. “Not so great at following orders, though. How many times do I have to tell you to call me Xander?”
With a smile, Lucius said. “At least one more.”
With an exaggerated sigh as chuckles rippled around the room, Xander shrugged again. “Well, there you go. Anyway folks, this party’s for you. Relax, enjoy the evening, and please...” He put on an exaggeratedly pained expression. “Don’t bankrupt the company by drinking up all the booze in LA, please? The hotel bar should be well-stocked, I think.”
Karen smiled as Xander became more and more confident with every passing moment. He may not like these events much, but he knew how to handle himself at least. Taking a slow look around, she enjoyed the sights of Harris Enterprises’ employees in their best wear. There wasn’t any harm in looking, after all.
Walsh whistled to herself as she read over the reports. So far, Arkham Asylum had become home to quite a number of the unnatural creatures of Los Angeles. In the civilian wing, there were the mostly harmless creatures, and of course humans who’d gotten into things a bit too deeply and turned themselves in. With the data being brought in from there, they were becoming better-armed and knowledgeable about the more dangerous creatures the STU and Army captured.
The second wing of Arkham was the medical. Medical had much higher security than the civilian wing. It was also much more crowded. The finest minds in the country, attracted by the lure of an entirely new branch of science, congregated in medical to figure out just how things worked. Under what was known about human biology, human-demon hybrids should have been impossible. At best, they should have gotten something akin to a mule, a person with traits of both but could not breed.
At yet, lore and testing were both showing that a significant fraction of people were descended from various demon types. The implications, scientific and sociological, were immense. Depending on how far back the mixing occurred, the person could look anywhere from a monstrous fiend to perfectly normal.
After privately testing herself, she was pleased to find that she lacked any demonic traits. If a demon had been one of her ancestors, enough time and chance had occurred to weed out all of its DNA. That made her sleep easier at night. If nothing else, she was a pure human. That made her work easier. The creatures she was vivisecting on a daily basis weren’t human, and thus their pleas for mercy could be ignored.
The final wing of Arkham was deep underground. Maximum security. Construction crews spent six months digging out the complex, ensuring that in the maximum security cells, there would be no chance of escape. There were only two ways to access the surface from there. The first was through a long and heavily automated security shaft, gently sloping downwards and equipped with many chokepoints for the military stationed at Arkham to fence in any possible escaping demons or superhuman inmates.
The other was the incinerator. Constantly burning detritus at nearly three thousand degrees, it was the best way to dispose of the demonic corpses that were coming through Arkham’s depths. One couldn’t leave acidic or constantly regenerating tissue lying around, after all. Of course, not every inmate who came to Arkham would be destined to pass through that raging inferno, simply those that could not be trained or reeducated.
Humming softly to herself as she flipped through her security monitors, she took a nice close look at Subject 112. Amy Madison. The plant-human hybrid was currently wrapped in a straightjacket, her cell bathed in complete darkness. The IR cameras showed her huddling in a corner. No doubt dreading the next time Walsh would return for a few more samples.
The plants harvested from 112's skin were extraordinary, to say the least. Once separated from their host and planted in the dusty sand outside, they began to grow astonishingly quickly and aggressively. There was an entire section walled off from the rest of Arkham, just for the unnatural plant life growing from 112's samples. They took what little moisture there was, and the abundant sunlight of course, and grew extraordinarily quick and strongly. There were good applications Walsh could think of, if they managed to splice the appropriate factors. Feeding the world would be excellent PR.
Of course, there was a downside. Nearly half of the types spawned were carnivorous and aggressive. She’d lost two workers to a specific tree, which was producing very sweet-smelling fruit. Unfortunately, anyone who bit into said fruit would be paralyzed, and the tree’s vines would slowly and inexorably dig into the victim with its thorns.
Certainly, nobody was allowed into that area without full hazmat gear and a flamethrower, just in case.
Flicking her way through the files, she brought up the one she wanted. Subject 182. It consisted of one blurry photograph, a number of drawings, and a lot of speculation. A dark figure with glowing white eyes, pointed ears emerging from the head, surrounded by mist. The Batman.
He was a low-priority target, of course. Many of the vampires captured by the Army and brought to Arkham were afraid of him, and as long as he was out there making a dent in the population of monsters, Walsh was forced to admit it would be best to leave him, or it, to work.
But if Batman was ever brought in, she would definitely enjoy figuring out just what gifts the creature had. Already she had plans, and the first was in motion.
The cup of coffee was achingly hot in Buffy’s hands. She took a moment to savor the feel of the warmth on her fingers. The last thing she remembered before waking up in Wolfram and Hart’s basement was clenching her hand around Anyanka’s necklace. She hadn’t expected to experience anything after that, but it was certainly better than allowing Acathla to suck the world into Hell. One of them, anyway.
Her voice rasped a bit as she spoke, thick with emotion. “It was him, but it also wasn’t. I killed Angelus, broke the pendant. Next thing I know, I’m in a little box with Angel standing outside of it. His face was...” She swallowed hard as the image came up in her mind, blinking back the tears. “He was maimed, Cordy. I don’t know what happened to him, but it was bad.”
Cordelia nodded slowly. “Things are very different here. My mom and dad...” Visibly shoring herself up, Cordelia’s voice steadied. “They’re okay here. My parents are here. That’s been pretty hard to get used to.”
Buffy whistled softly at that. “I’ll bet. Okay, your folks are here. I just need to contact my mom and...” She paused as Cordelia’s face fell. “What?”
Cordelia shook her head, wincing at what she was about to say. “I’m sorry, Buffy. When I found myself here, I did some research. A lot of research, actually. Here, in this Bizarro-world, you and your mom were killed.”
It took a moment for that to sink in. Then she jumped to her feet. “What? When? Where, how, who!? You’re telling me my mom is dead?! Just like that?!”
Cordelia shook her head. “My guess? Deathstroke. Only he’s not Deathstroke, here. Publicly anyway.” She gently pulled Buffy over to her computer, opening the appropriate files before the Slayer’s eyes. “Last year he was like anybody else around Sunnydale. Now he’s an up and coming company owner, one of LA’s newest tycoons.”
Buffy’s lip twitched. “You think he’s dirty?”
Cordelia laughed without humor. “I think he’s a demon who just happened to be born human, but yeah. I’ve done some checking into his background since he appeared like this. Everything seems legit, but I certainly don’t remember him having any Australian relatives back on our little world.”
Buffy nodded at that. “Okay.” She sighed slowly. “Where do we start?”
Lucius squinted at the page before him. “Hmmm.” He muttered softly. “SWAT equipment, huh?”
Xander nodded from beside him. “Considering the supernatural troubles the STU is coming up against of late? They’re going to need equipment that’s better suited for handling the critters out there. Against humans, all you need is something to stop knives and bullets, typically, and against a lot of monsters that’s fine. Right up until you get those that breathe fire or acid. Then there’s problems. I’ll want to see if we can get them some good stuff.”
“Makes sense.” Lucius nodded at that. “I had a design at Lexcorp, nobody picked it up though. Fire-resistant, knife and bullet-proof. Full-body protection, though it was fairly heavy.”
Xander tilted his head. “Why didn’t anybody make it?”
Lucius let out a bitter noise. “Bean counters didn’t think a soldier’s life was worth three hundred grand. Cutting corners got it down to one hundred each, but it wasn’t so great against fire or bullets. They still wouldn’t accept it.” A smile slowly rose on his face. “But they also never patented the design. So if you’re willing...”
Xander grinned in return. “Sounds good. One other thing, some friends and I are going skydiving in a couple of weeks. Do you have any lightweight fabrics?”
Lucius blinked with worry. “I hope you’re not taking me along. I’m not fond of heights.”
Xander laughed at that. “No worries there. Just me, my girlfriend, and a few others. They like the experience and want to bring me along. I decided to try it out for once.”
Lucius took a moment to think about it, and slowly smiled. “Another idea Lexcorp didn’t go for. Too expensive for the army. In some places, a parachute drop is a bad idea, as the jumper has some control but not a whole lot as they come down. You can steer, but if you try to slow your drop in forward momentum, you stall and fall. I had a design that was a bit more body-hugging, so the jumper could better control their pitch as they came down. It would increase their speed, but better retain control.” Rifling through his files for a moment, Lucius handed the page he needed to Xander.
The young man rose an eyebrow at the design. “What are these wires in it?”
“It’s called Memory Cloth. The wires are normally quite flexible, neatly blending into the fabric. But if you run a current through it, the molecules realign, and it becomes rigid.”
Xander’s grin widened. “Nice. What kinds of shapes can you make?”
“Alright gentlemen, and I use that term loosely. We’ve all noticed that things have become quite a bit more dangerous around here of late.” Rupert Thorne spoke seriously, absently rubbing his hand over his paunch.
Surrounding him in the nightclub’s kitchen were members of both sides of Los Angeles’ underworld. On the left was the human mob, a few businessmen, and gang leaders who served as muscle in exchange for information and protection. On the right side of the room were the more bloodthirsty types, the vampires and various relatively organized demons.
His counterpart on the opposite end was a vampire, cleanly dressed and well-organized. Russell Winters was rich, powerful, and had quite a bit of clout considering his undead status. He was one of the few who had enough control over his base urges to be more than a mindless animal, enslaved by the thirst for blood and mayhem. Of them, he was the best suited to be spokesman of the supernatural side of things.
Russell nodded. “Every vampire the world over knows they’re in deep shit. Feeding from people has dropped by a lot, in exchange for animal blood and blood banks. The problem is the STU here in LA are managing to track us, even with most of our population managing to stay below radar. In the last week, fifteen vampire nests have been cleared out and half their members moved to Arkham. The rest were slain. We’re looking at a new Inquisition here, if things keep going on this path.”
Thorne nodded in return, picking up where the vampire left off. “While I’m not too fond of bloodsuckers overall,” The vampires in the room bristled, some of them assuming their demonic faces. Thorne ignored them as he went on. “We do have businesses that certainly move much easier with supernatural help. How is the succubi trafficking?”
Winters grinned. “That’s one part that’s actually doing fairly well. The STU haven’t managed to break into that yet. Now and again we get an undercover moron trying to get inside, and all they end up as is a shriveled corpse in an alley somewhere. The girls have been pretty helpful at keeping us out of harm’s way, but that can’t last forever.”
Thorne smiled at that. “Alright. Trouble is, on both sides of our operations are getting shut down, and they’re being targeted in a very efficient way. Gordon ignores bribes, and information’s getting to him without going through his cops. Our guys usually get less than five minutes warning before things go to shit. That’s enough for our men to get away, but we end up losing millions in supplies.”
A dark-skinned vampire scowled. “It’s the Batman. That damned pig keeps getting info from him.”
“Don’t worry about him.” A new voice spoke. Heads turned and universally winced at the sight of Angelus, CEO of the local Wolfram & Hart. The maimed vampire scowled. “We’ve got something set for the Bat. He’s like us. Expose him to daylight, let everyone know who he is, and he’ll be powerless.”
Thorne crooked an eyebrow. “You’ve got a plan?”
A small smirk rose on the intact side of Two-Face’s features. “Batman’s effective, I’ll give him that. But he’s still one being with limited resources. I have an associate who’ll trap Batman in a little playground.” Looking to Winters for a moment, he spoke. “Send the word out to the nests. If the STU shows up at their door, don’t resist. Let Arkham get filled to the brim. They’ll be out soon enough.”
Winters nodded dubiously. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Angelus.”
Two-Face shrugged. “We can take the Batman. He’s only human. Trap the bat in a belfry and then call the exterminators. The biggest worry is if he calls down one of the heavy hitters. We can slip under the radar of the police if we need to, business is always coming in. But if Superman or Power Girl or Wonder Woman descend on Los Angeles, they’ll rip open every crack they can find to get at us.”
The smirk widened. “We just need an equalizer. And luckily, gentlemen, I happen to have one.” He made a gesture, and Lindsey entered the kitchen, pushing out a sedated and nude man in a wheelchair.
Thorne looked on dubiously. “I’m not sure this fellow could take on Superman. He looks like he’d have some trouble taking on a mouse right now.”
Small chuckles went around the room. Angelus smiled slightly. “True. But appearances aren’t everything. Lindsey, if you’d please?”
With some hesitation, the lawyer withdrew a bracelet from in his jacket and slapped it around the man’s wrist. He backed off as quickly as he could, and for good reason.
The man writhed in the chair, letting out a scream of agony as his features twisted and rippled. An instant later, there was a very attractive and naked woman in the chair. She rose to her feet, an expression of indignant annoyance coming to her features.
“What? You haven’t seen a goddess before?” Glory looked down. “Ah. Admiring my perfection, I see. Well then.” She pointed to a random vampire. “You. Get me a dress. A nice one.”
As the vampire looked helplessly and with confusion between Winters, Thorne and Angelus.
Glory huffed, snapped her fingers and pointed. “Can’t get any good help these days.” A searing stream of red and black lighting arced out from her hand, wrapping around the hapless vampire. Screams filled the room as the unnatural lightning boiled away undead flesh, the vampire quickly bursting into flames and dissolving into ash.
The goddess smiled, looking over the bracelet on her wrist. “Well, that’s a handy little thing. Almost forgot I was supposed to be limited here.” Her annoyance rising once more, she spoke. “Now that I have everyone’s attention... get me a dress!”
Amy hummed to herself in the darkness of her cell. It was the only noise she’d heard for days. At least, with her ears. The human and demonic life in the facility flickered about quickly, too quickly for her to get a handle on. But her plants, oh her plants. She felt them in their own little garden. Crying out in pain as Walsh experimented on them, harvesting from them. But still, they grew stronger with every passing moment, their roots digging deeper into the earth, their progress only slightly hindered by the dry, dead ground around Arkham.
There was plenty of water trapped beneath the surface, water they fed upon and used, every drop conserved. Though Amy herself was trapped underground, she wouldn’t be forever.
Her babies would get to her. She allowed herself a vicious smile.
Then Walsh would pay.
Batman cursed under his breath. The old wine cellar had been evacuated not two days before. All that was left was a taunting note.Better luck next time, Bats.
Pressing two fingers to his covered ear, he spoke lowly. “Oracle, there’s nothing here. Joker’s been gone for a while.”
“Damn it.” Willow’s voice came over the secured line. “I was sure he’d be down there. Alright.” The light clicking of fingers on a keyboard reached him as he looked around the room, an involuntary shudder coursing down his body at the sight of the pictures of him on the wall. “Okay Batman, I think that’s it for tonight. I’ll be chasing down more leads tomorrow, I just can’t trace him like this. I thought for sure he’d be there, considering the pattern of Joker sightings.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Oracle. We’ll make do, he’ll slip up sooner or later.” I hope.
Cutting the connection, Batman left the old building and made his way back out to the street, sliding into the seat of his heavily armored vehicle. The Tumbler was Lucius’ design, sold to the US Army and manufactured for three million each. And of course, one prototype ‘donated’ to the Justice League. So far there were only a dozen being used around the country, but they were quite good at getting into places at high speeds. It was highly mobile, built like a tank yet far more agile. It was relatively lightweight as well, though that certainly cut into the armor’s effectiveness. Bullets wouldn’t damage it, but grenades and rockets would be much more hazardous.
Thankfully, those were difficult to pick up, even for the mafia.
Roaring his way through the streets of Los Angeles, Batman steered the massive car into one of the drainage ditches, steering right toward the ocean. Just before reaching it, he turned into the largest sewer pipe on the right, flicking a switch almost absently. A concrete wall ahead lifted away, closing behind the Tumbler as it roared inside.
He reminded himself to thank Karen for helping him install that trick wall.
Driving through the deep tunnels beneath LA, excavated by a helpful Power Girl, he finally parked the car beneath Harris Enterprises’ headquarters, the former Lexcorp LA division. His was just one company of many using the office building, but at the moment, his was the most prominent. If Lucius kept doing such a good job of things, his little company would be punching well above its weight.
Parking the Tumbler, Batman stepped out and stretched, beginning to unfasten his mask as the lights came on, bathing his newest Batcave in florescent lighting. Seeing Willow smile at him from the far side of the room, nearly hidden by a wall of monitors and keyboards, he pulled off his mask and smiled back as he strode over.
“That’s four places we’ve checked.” Xander spoke. “I’ll feel a lot better if we can catch him soon. This run-around is getting on my nerves.”
Willow nodded. “Me too. He came after me first, after all.” She huffed with annoyance. “If I can just find out who he is, I might have a better shot at predicting his movements.” Opening a window on the screen in front of her, Willow brought up the map of Los Angeles.
Then the screen flickered, windows popping up one after another. Your computr is not protracted! Your computr is searching for an approppriate antiviral software now. Please type in your credit card number here.
“Hey!” She shrieked. Quickly typing in commands, she managed to stop the virus’ spread through the million-dollar system, growling in frustration as she started the arduous process of cleaning it from the machine. “What the hell? This comp is the most secure I could get! To get a virus after two months....”
The answer hit both of them at the same moment, and as one, Xander and Willow sighed. Picking up his cellphone, Xander memory-dialed, and waited a moment for it to pick up.“Hello?”
A sleepy voice answered.
“Dawn, how many times do I have to tell you to not use the Bat-computer to hack into porn sites?” He managed to say as calmly as he could, keeping his anger in check.
Silence for a moment, and then she answered. “I didn’t! I swear, I wouldn’t use it for that!”
“There’s about fifty viruses on screen here that says otherwise, sis.”“Oh crap.”