A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters, plus something at the bottom of this one.
Alex guessed, “6’3”, 230, drop-dead gorgeous, and a chin you could hammer granite with.”
Willow pouted over the phone. “Oh poo. Sometimes you are no fun.”
Alex pointed out, “If he’s like Selina’s Batman, he’ll have a history. And a cover. Maybe several covers. He’ll probably come off like someone who couldn’t possibly be a superhero. And he’ll have help. Someone in his company who pulls hardware for him, or builds hardware for him. Stuff like that.”
Willow said, “Okay, I’ll set up some search parameters and send mal and rules some notes. Then I’ll try to get some sleep. And if Jack’s sending the Cessna for you, remember he’s got a tablet and a uniform and snacks and stuff for you.”
Alex told her, “I may show up in uniform anyway. Annie hasn’t seen the whole production yet.”
Willow said, “Well it is a pretty ginormous change from you.”
“That reminds me. I want to get my hair cut a little shorter before school registration and pictures. Maybe I’ll make it half a shade darker, too.”
Willow thought out loud, “I was thinking about making my hair a little richer red. You think someone we know would like it?”
Alex grinned, “He’d like it no matter what color it is. I bet he liked Psylocke’s purple hair.”
Willow admitted, “I think once he got a look at the bodysuit, he never even noticed what color the wig was.”
After Willow hung up, Annie asked, “Selina’s Batman? And hair color? And Psylocke?”
Alex explained, “Yeah, in that other universe, he used the codename Batman. In a world full of really powerful superheroes and supervillains who make me look like nothing, he’s considered one of the top heroes in the game. And he has no powers at all. And I’ve been coloring my hair so Alex Mack is a brunette while Terawatt is a blonde. I was going to make Terawatt’s hair more blonde over time, but that isn’t going to work, since everyone has pictures of her now. But I can still make Alex Mack look more brunette. Oh, and Psylocke? I have got to show you the pictures of Willow at San Diego Comic Con.”
Annie asked, “If you go to New York after this Batman guy, can I go too? It’s really pretty boring without you around if dad’s got his own research projects going in the garage so I can’t work there.”
Alex sighed, “I’m sorry, but no way. We’re talking Department of Homeland Security. Private military transport. Dealing with special ops teams. Possible massive danger that no one expected.” Annie pouted. So Alex added, “But when we get home, I’ll show you my Terawatt costume.”
The first thing Alex did when they got home was show Annie all the video and stills of Willow in her Comic Con costumes. Okay, really the first thing they did was get stuff out of the car, and go pee, and put stuff away, and tell their mom and dad they were home, and all that junk. But Annie was totally wowed that those pictures were Willow.
Then Alex showed Annie the silvery quick-change into Terawatt. She hovered a couple inches above the floor with her hands on her hips, so she looked even taller.
“Holy…” Annie peeked to see if either of their parents were in the hallway. She whispered, “Holy… crap
. That’s… amazing. I mean, there’s no way anyone meeting Terawatt is going to say ‘Alex Mack’. Now I can see why Danielle Atron looked right at you and didn’t twig.”
Alex smiled wickedly, “Mainly she looked right at my fist. I don’t really like hitting people, but I really, really got a lot out of punching her in the face.”
Annie wondered, “Did you get to punch Lars in the face too? Because he’s really a creep.”
Alex smiled naughtily, “No, but you should definitely talk to mom and dad about that part. Mom beat the pee out of him.”
The next morning, Alex was surprised she got to eat breakfast and chat with Ray before Jack called on the tPhone.
Jack said, “Hey Tera, think you can tear yourself away from big sis long enough to come play superhero in Gotham tonight?”
“Tonight?” Alex checked.
Jack reiterated, “Tonight. Batguy doesn’t do his schtick in broad daylight. And Bruce Paine’s supposed to be at a ritzy shindig starting at eight tonight at some museum having a big opening of a new wing, with contributions from the Paine Foundation.”
Alex asked, “Cessna or Blackbird?”
Jack replied, “Roswell’s Cessna. I can’t justify the SR-71 for this op, because there’s no time crunch. Be at Camp Atron at noon, so you’ll be here at six our time. A gymbag will be waiting for you on the jet, so don’t bother hauling stuff, unless it’s a nice, big lunch. And we’ll brief you on the flight in. And if it’s a big lunch, maybe you could bring me a brownie or something?”
Alex made an effort not to giggle. “Okay, that sounds doable. Except for the brownie. But what if Batman doesn’t show up tonight?”
Jack said, “Then we’re going to camp out in Gotham for two days afterward. If Batboy hasn’t made a move in three nights, we call it quits and let Marshal McCowpie try to deal with it until it becomes an official SRI case.”
“That doesn’t sound so good.”
Jack agreed, “I know, but if Batdork doesn’t want to come out and play, we have no evidence anything’s going on.”
Alex told him, “I think maybe you shouldn’t call him that when we talk to him.”
Jack went into a funny voice. “We? What you mean ‘we’, paleface?” He dropped back to his normal tones. “You. I’m figuring you need to make first contact. If a famous superheroine drops in on him, he knows what’s up. If a mysterious black ops group targets him, that’s completely different.”
Oh yeah. She’d been totally suspicious when Riley and Graham showed up and ‘wanted to chat’. Batman would be way more suspicious than that. Selina said he was suspicious of everyone and everything and everywhere, until proved otherwise, and in their universe he needed to be just that paranoid. She said, “I think that’s a really good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea!” Jack said in a deep, booming voice.
She managed not to giggle. Much.
She chatted with Robyn and Nicole while she did her morning workout and Annie tried to keep up. Which wasn’t really fair, because Alex had been in way better shape to start with, and Alex had been working out really hard for months. But still, she helped Annie do her sit-ups right, and the leg lifts, and she made Annie stop before she’d have sore stomach muscles all day. And Annie just sat and watched open-mouthed while Alex went though all her martial arts practice.
Then Alex chatted with Hanna and Grover and found out they were both going along on Jack’s little ‘bat hunt’. Alex really hoped Jack didn’t say stuff like that in New York City and make Batman hate them. And Hanna said Janet Fraiser wanted Alex to come in for a ‘complete physical’ too, since Alex probably needed stuff like that for her senior year and then starting college. Alex said sure, because she really wanted to get to talk to Janet for once. Other-Sam and other-Hermione really liked Janet – well, other-Janet.
Alex ate a big early lunch, grabbed her tPhone, went silvery, and took off to Camp Atron. She got there early enough to fly down to the security gate and give the password while she stayed silvery. Then she only had to wait about a minute before the Cessna came zooming in and taxied over to a refueling truck that was out on the tarmac waiting.
Alex stayed silvery and waited until someone inside popped the jet’s door, and then she flew in. Once she spotted her new gymbag, she dove into it, changed clothes, and flew out to go normal as Terawatt. She pulled out the tablet and checked that it was all set up for her. Wow, Willow was so amazing.
Once the Cessna took off, Alex just used the tablet and worked on her C programming course, with a couple breaks for an energy bar, until the sat phone rang for her. “Terawatt here.”
“O’Neill, with Finn, Scott, Walters, Action Girl, and Klar.”
“Acid Burn here.”
“Miller here, with Lupo, Marshall, Bailey, and Carlson.”
“Tang and Winkelman and Christiansen here.” Alex knew from Willow that Jeremy Winkelman was captainmal and Franklin Tang was jackryanrules, but she didn’t know the Christiansen guy. Or gal. Or whoever.
“McCloud here, with Sergeant Broadhurst.”
Jack started off, “Great. I’m glad we could get everyone on the call so we can do the briefing once and once only. We got a tip from Marshal McCloud that there may be some sort of bat-guy-thing scaring the crap out of criminals at night in the Big Apple. But we have intel from Terawatt about an analogue in another universe, and that other Batman is a highly-trained man, 6’2” or 6’3”, 220 to 240, built like a pro wrestler, lantern jaw, with no superpowers and a high-tech combat suit and cool gadgets.”
“And a utility belt,” Alex added.
“Right. More importantly, Terawatt saw the other Batman use a really sophisticated grappling system he fired from a pistol-sized launcher, then used to swing through the air on a long, unusually thin cable. That means some real high tech for the launch system, the aiming system, the grapple system, and the tensile strength on the cable. So our IT people checked DoD components, and most of those pieces are in a system that’s part of a DoD research grant. From New York City-based Paine Enterprises, majority owner Bruce Paine. Burn?”
Willow jumped in, “Right. Bruce Paine. Adopted son of Thomas Paine and Martha Paine, with Thomas being a direct descendant of Revolutionary War-time Thomas Paine. When he was like nine or ten, his parents were shot and killed right in front of him in a nighttime robbery only a block or two from a downtown theater they had left a little early. It was a huge deal at the time, and lots of ‘law and order’ types used it as a big symbol of the crime and depravity of the big city. A couple guys used the ‘law and order’ deal to get elected as mayor or state senator and then do the rampant corruption thing, so on the whole New York City just got worse since then. Bruce was pretty much raised by the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who just happens to have connections to the SIS and may – I repeat, may, or maybe may not – have been one of the early members of the Double Oh ranks. So Bruce could have gotten a lot of training early on in stuff like martial arts and intelligence gathering and building a cover story. Bruce finished high school early, finished college early with a major in business administration but if you peek at his college records where you’re not supposed to be able to look you see a lot of side classes in criminal justice and chemistry and forensics. He had a big rep as a playboy and wild party guy back then, but still managed good grades. And then he went overseas, supposedly to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera to be a rich playboy, but his paper trail and credit card receipts say no. He vanished for nine years, then just reappeared, and as far as I can tell from INS records, he just showed up on a flight from Hong Kong to New York City, with nothing about where he’d been before that or how he got to Hong Kong. He came back here, went right back to the heavy-drinking womanizer image, but still somehow managed to pull off some fancy business maneuvers and boot out the guy running Paine Enterprises, and put Lucius Fox in as the current CEO and Senior Vice President of Finance. Bruce is the Chairman of the Board. He has a 51% majority ownership of the common stock, as the controlling stockholder, and a quick scan of the share ownership suggests that maybe another 10 to 20 percent is in the hands of his close allies, like Mister Fox.”
Jack thought out loud, “So… not so much the useless playboy, and more the ruthless business shark who’s really good at pretend.”
Willow agreed, “Yup. And Paine Enterprises is pretty darn huge. It’s one of the Fortune 500, and one of the big multinational corps. So it would be of the good not to have them mad at little old us. There’s Paine Foods, and Paine Shipping, and Paine Yards, which has a ton of U.S. Navy business, and Paine Steel, and PaineTech and Paine Electronics and Paine Industries, which all their DoD research grants are in, plus Paine Mining and Paine Medical and Paine Biotech and Paine Entertainment. Then there’s the Paine Foundation, which has two main charities, the Thomas Paine Foundation and the Martha Paine Foundation, plus some others. The first one is a huge charity for medicine and medical research and medical help, and it pays for pretty much every free clinic in New York City. The second one is one of the city’s biggest patrons and supporters of the arts, along with a ton of charities for families and education and tolerance. Most of the city orphanages and women’s shelters and family support and stuff like them get major Paine moolah.”
Jack said, “So he’s also a huge philanthropist. And he’s only, what? Thirty-three?”
Willow chirped, “Just turned thirty-one. Almost the same birthday as me!”
Jack insisted, “We cannot accuse him without really, REALLY solid evidence. Catching him as Batman and chatting with him then would do it. Otherwise, we’ll have to find where he keeps his suit and his gadgets and his transportation. And bear in mind that if it’s around stately Paine manor, the kindly old butler may double-tap you if you cross him.”
Eww. Alex asked, “So you think the butler’s in on it with him?”
Jack smirked, “Yep, the butler did it.” Alex had a feeling that Jack had probably been waiting ages to get to say that. “The butler, maybe one of Paine’s bimbos who’s not really as bimbo-esque as she looks, probably at least two people at Paine Enterprises – one to actually pull the gadgets off the storage room shelves and put them together, and one in admin or accounting to hide the thefts – and maybe someone in the police department who’s keeping a lid on this.”
“McCloud here. I’m not exactly on Chief Clifford’s barbeque invite list, but I can’t see him putting up with that. He’s not even happy when I don’t stick to the letter of the law.”
Jack said, “Good point. But Clifford’s only your Chief of Detectives. There could easily be someone a lot higher up who could be talked around with an invitation to some really swanky shindig he’s been dying to get invited to.”
“No one says ‘swanky’ or ‘shindig’ anymore,” Willow pointed out.
Jack complained, “My son won’t let me say ‘par-TAY’ anymore.” He just went on, “Thanks to a crime profile from McCloud and Broadhurst, we have some results. IT force, you’re up.”
Jackryanrules said, “We came up with a list of possibles based on Marshal McCloud’s crime intervention profile, or mentions of anything like a bat or a man in the shadows breaking up a crime, or criminals ending up unconscious or beaten up before the police apprehended them, or criminals being brought in already secured in something other than police handcuffs. So we’ve got what look like geographical patterns we’d expect to see more from Terawatt than from, say, Action Girl. So we think he’s really using that grapple-and-cable system, maybe two of them simultaneously, and swinging around from building to building in big arcs, looking for crimes happening below him. That’s also the best explanation for him picking off a couple criminals on rooftops or the like, in the middle of crimes. Jer?”
Captainmal sort of stammered, “Okay. Umm, the, uhh, injury patterns on our Batman-tagged perps are pretty indicative, too. Some really hard martial arts, mostly strikes from the fists, elbows and knees, feet, and the sides of the hands. Probably reinforced gloves too. We asked Major Finn to look over the medical reports…”
Riley spoke up, “I’m not a real expert, but I’d say that our Batman has not had training in, say, MCMAP, but more classical hard martial arts. And a mixture of mostly Asian styles, too. Probably Wing Chun, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai, plus jujutsu or hapkido. If he has weapons, he hasn’t needed to use them yet, which probably means he’s good enough to hold black belts in more than one style. But I’d prefer that you got a true expert to look over things and come up with a better evaluation.”
Jack said, “Thanks major, that’s expert enough for our purposes now. So Bruce has maybe eight or ten years of training with the butler, then vanishes into Europe or Asia for nearly another decade until he can snatch the pebble from someone’s hand, and he comes back here via Hong Kong. We have to assume he’s up near Finn levels of martial arts skills, so don’t treat him like a pushover.”
Hanna snapped, “Yes sir.” So Alex guessed Jack was staring at her when he said that.
Jack continued, “Once Terawatt lands, we’ll pick her up and feed her. Remember people: always feed her because she’s like Audrey II.”
“Jack!” Alex was pretty sure Willow complained too.
Jack blithely went on, “We know where Bruce is supposed to be at eight, and we’ll assume he’ll show up apparently drunk and with at least one bimbo on his arm, which seems to be his style. He’ll open the new wing of the museum, drink a lot, gladhand, and leave with a hottie. According to the Society pages, which I did not know Klar’s mom reads until a couple hours ago, Bruce may even leave with a hottie other than the one he brought. That’s when we start tailing him, which will mostly be Klar and Terawatt. Finn and Action Girl will be overhead doing overwatch in one of our helicopters, although they’ll have basejumping parachutes so that they can get down to the street in a hurry if need be. Sergeant Scott will be in a vehicle at a rear post, so he can move in and pick up Klar, but only if needed. If Bruce follows the pattern we expect, he’ll sweep around troublespots and ‘patrol’ his city, then retire after several hours. Ideally, we’d like to catch him in his downtown penthouse or his manor just outside the city, taking off his costume, so there’s no chance of misidentification. And we want Terawatt making the first moves here. She’s demonstrated she’s better at this than me or Finn. And other supers are obviously going to be a lot more willing to listen to Terawatt than some suspect military types.”
Once Jack wrapped up the phone meeting, Alex went back to her online course. C maybe had plenty of useful features, but it had plenty of un-useful features, too. How was she supposed to make this program work if she didn’t know ahead of time how long the array was supposed to be? Because nobody could know that! Oh crud, if she couldn’t work it out, she’d read in the next chapter about that stuff. Or she’d ask Willow. Or she’d just give up and make it a gazillion bytes long so it would be big enough no matter what.
Bruce let Alfred stop in front of the museum’s front steps, and then he escorted Julie out of the limo. He was just using her, but then she was just using him. Thanks to Alfred, Bruce already had three very solid cover identities, including ‘Malone’. Malone was taking a payoff from a retiring high-end callgirl who was letting Julie ‘buy out’ her operation, and Malone had promised to help Julie ease into the business by aiming her at a couple really easy dates. Bruce still had to figure out how he was going to help Julie once the Batman brought down the entire callgirl ring.
But Julie was lovely, and young, and well-educated. Bruce had found out the details, even if Julie wanted to keep that part of her out of their arrangement. Julie’s parents had put her through a very fancy private school, and had even started a substantial college fund, before her father, Harold Alvers Chandler, lost everything in the dot-com bubble and committed suicide, leaving Julie and her mother penniless and helpless. Her school ‘friends’ had turned their backs on her once she had no money. The only person who had leant Julie a helping hand had been her father’s ‘girlfriend’, who had turned out not to be a girlfriend at all, but one of the high-end prostitutes that a town like this always had. This particular callgirl just happened to be part of a high-end ring which was backed by the local mob, and Bruce wanted to cut that connection between the crimelords and the wealthy men who controlled the cleaner side of the city.
Each time Bruce took Julie out, he took her back to his penthouse in the Paine Foundation Building, put a little something in her drink, and let her pass out. Then Batman went out and patrolled for hours. Julie woke up in the morning in bed with Bruce, with a mild headache and convinced she had done her job as Bruce’s escort.
Bruce had also given Julie the opportunity to ‘walk off’ with some diamond earrings, and then with a thumbdrive purportedly full of Paine Foundation data that would be worth a fair amount of money to the right buyer. She hadn’t taken anything. He was going to have to work out a reasonable way of helping her.
Julie also had the wardrobe, so Bruce wasn’t buying her dresses. No, this was a slinky pink satin dress that looked like it could be real couture. Granted, if you knew your way around the New York fashion houses, there were often ways to get impressive discounts, or even get a young designer to design for you if you were going to be wearing it where the city’s wealthiest women could see how it looked on you. He had looked into the matter, and Julie was getting the gowns from Roberto Carelli, an up-and-coming twenty-something designer who was probably strongly attracted to her even though he was reputed to be gay. Maybe it was just that she made his dresses look remarkable. On the other hand, ‘Roberto’ could be bi, or he could be faking the ‘gay designer’ persona so no one found out he was really Bob Kramer from Camden, New Jersey.
Bruce walked up the stairs with her, and into the museum. He led her straight to the first waitress he could spot, and he picked up a flute of champagne for her before he took one for himself.
She gently tapped her flute against his and said, “Here’s to a successful opening.”
He took a sip. Not too sweet, and not too dry. A hint of pear, and perhaps melon in the aftertaste. He was fairly sure he knew the winery it came from, and it was not a genuine French champagne. That meant someone was skimming funds and buying a cheaper sparkling wine instead of the real champagne that was supposed to be poured tonight. He’d have to let Lucius know, so Lucius could have someone in the Paine Foundation look into it. Given that the guilty party had to have a broad knowledge of sparkling wines, had to have the ability to choose a really good sparkling wine to replace the champagne that was supposed to be poured, but didn’t quite have a good enough nose to select a wine that could fool Bruce Paine, that cut down the suspect list to just two people already.
Bruce escorted Julie around the room, chatting with museum patrons and society matrons. He had to admit it: squiring a suspected hooker around definitely made the society matrons think twice – more than twice – about pushing their little darlings at him. A couple of the ‘little darlings’ didn’t care. One of them had flat-out told him the other day that she was more interested in Julie than in him.
The museum’s new wing was a South American exhibit focusing on rare plants and animals from some places that were seldom seen by man, along with some quite rare gemstones and rocks mined in the area. One entire section of the exhibit was made up of plants and animals that were essentially unique: they had been discovered on the top of one tepui while Paine Mining geologists were looking for some particular geologies that might have more rare earths in the right strata. The exhibit also had some interesting cultural material from the Pemon tribes who lived in the area, and a few interesting fossils, since a number of the tepui were partially composed of Precambrian quartz arenite.
He wasn’t looking forward to giving the opening speech, but it was a prerequisite, and it didn’t have to be long. Also, he could make several blatant mistakes about the exhibit that would emphasize his role as a rich idiot who drank too much.
He patted Julie on the arm and stepped toward the small podium where he would give his speech and then do the ribbon-cutting for the press.
He got within twenty feet of the podium when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He turned and looked. The plants in the exhibit – the thick-vined lianas that were supposed to be part of the tepui display on the east wall – were writhing and crawling along the hall, toward the large room he was in.
And striding along amid the vines was a woman. A woman with long, vibrant red hair. A woman with a green cast to her skin. A woman who was apparently wearing nothing but a maillot of leaves and boots of leaves.
The woman strode out of the exhibit hall. A thick vine lashed out and severed the ribbon so the woman didn’t have to move it. Another thick vine wrapped up the security guard who rushed over to deal with her. As the guard fell to the floor, another plant crawled over to his face. A pod on the plant burst open, and a yellow spray jetted into his face. The guard stopped struggling and passed out.
Everyone who saw that hastily moved away from the exhibit hall.
The woman stepped up onto the podium and announced, “Nobody move, or my little green friends will have to hurt you. I am here because you think you can rape and pillage the uncharted greenery of places like the Guiana Highlands, after you have already destroyed so much of your own ecosystems. If you cannot treat Mother Earth with respect, she will have no choice but to return the favor!”
A reporter and a photographer pushed past the stunned crowd. The photographer took picture after picture, while the reporter called out, “What’s your name? What group do you represent?”
The woman smiled widely. “I suppose you could say ‘I speak for the trees’ if you don’t mind me ripping off Dr. Seuss. I am not a part of any cult or group or organization. I simply need to help my green friends. And you may call me… Poison Ivy.”
While the entire room focused on Poison Ivy, or else on not fainting, Bruce slid back through the crowd. Once he was behind the waiters, he ducked into the service halls and cut through to the loading dock behind the kitchen. He’d known that memorizing the floorplans for the entire museum might pay off some day. He just didn’t think it would happen this soon.
Alfred was parked in the limo at the back of the parking lot, so Bruce had no trouble slipping inside and starting to put on his uniform.
Alfred asked, “Sir, has something come up?”
“Yes. Call 911 and report a disturbance at the museum, and a potentially dangerous supervillain who can control plants.” He finished strapping on the body armor and moved to the boots and gloves.
Alfred flipped on a voice modulator and mimicked a Texas accent as he called it in. Bruce tugged on the cowl, secured it, and adjusted the utility belt. He fastened the cape and made sure he had a couple of the newest gadgets from Lucius: bat-shaped boomerangs with a wickedly sharp cutting edge.
He sprinted from the limo and used his grapple to haul himself up to the museum roof, and then he used a key to open one of the security doors onto the roof. One of the advantages of being on the museum’s board was easy access to everything while the museum’s security was upgraded.
He swung down from the upper balcony and landed gracefully, facing the potential threats. He went with a deep, gravel-voiced threat, “You. Surrender peacefully, because this is my city, and I won’t tolerate crime here.”
She smiled smugly, and her vines writhed toward him. “Ahh, the batlike figure that has so frightened the criminals of New York. I was told you might show up.”
And suddenly he was hit by a freight train. At least, it felt like one. His body armor only protected him from a fraction of the impact. He was knocked through the air.
He managed to land in a parkour move that he turned into an aikido forward roll, followed by a quick front handspring. That saved his life, because a statue smashed onto the floor where he had been a fraction of a second ago.
He sprang to his feet to face a masked Mexican wrestler. Assuming masked wrestlers were seven feet tall, built like Arnold Schwarzenegger only wished he could look, and covered in unnatural veins that throbbed and pulsed menacingly. The man had just picked up a four hundred pound statue and used it to try and swat him like a fly.
The man growled, “I am… Bane. And I was brought here to make sure this is your last night on Earth.”
A/N: Yes, Poison Ivy and Bane are also from the DCU, which I do not own, as I stated way back at the start. But, just as there is a Selina Kyle analogue in Alex’s world, and a Batman analogue, so there can be an analogue to someone who got his or her superpowers through biochemistry (okay, Bane’s ability can be more than just biochemistry, depending on the writer).
A/N2: My comments about the tepui of the Guiana Highlands are correct, except for the bit about the mining company. Another bit of recondite knowledge from The House Of Diane: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” was based on the reporting in England of the discovery of South American tepui.