The Cheetah
Chapter 1 - Enter The Cheetah!

by: J.F.

I wrote this story a little over a year ago. It stars the Cheetah, the version who appeared in the Justice League episode, Injustice For All and not, strictly speaking, Wonder Woman's comic book foe.

Injustice For All had not aired in Canada yet, and the idea grew out of the few materials posted on the web at the time, and provides my version of the character's backstory. As it turned out, I guessed a few plot points correctly, others were way off the mark; making it an story of sorts.

By way of rating or warning, the story is generally PG-13, for the usual comic book violence, ie., fisticuffs, etcetera. A strong friendship exists between the two main characters; potential f/f slash might be infered, but there is nothing explicit.

She had everything.

And in her pride, she through it all away.

Her motives had been honourable, she convinced herself. Working for the betterment of all mankind, to discover the universal panacea, the cure for the common cold, for cancer, and any number of diseases that had plagued humanity throughout the ages.

Very convincing, she repeated to herself, as she caught sight of her reflection for the umpteenth time in that broken shard of glass that hung in the frame. A piece of glass that stubbornly refused to let go and join its fellows on the floor of the run–down building that she called home. No, not home. A refuge perhaps, but never a home. That door was closed to her.

Dr Crawford, I was just on my way up to see you when I received your message. I feel that I'm on the verge of a major breakthrough and... Barbara Ann Minerva uttered excitedly as she was admitted into the facility director's office.

Yes, Barbara, that's wonderful, Dr Crawford interrupted with a tight smile. Please, sit down.Yes, thank you, she replied, noticing her chief's uneasiness for the first time since entering his office. Dr Crawford, is something wrong? he began hesitantly. He determined that he'd tell her as much as he could. She was a respected colleague, and a brilliant researcher. She deserved that much, at least. Barbara, I'm afraid that your project has been cancelled.

The words struck her like a fist. Dr Crawford, Michael. You can't be serious...I'm sorry Barbara. The word came down this morning. Dr Crawford picks up a flimsy from his desk and reads; All work related to project Felicity' is to desist, and assets are to be reassigned...Haven't they seen my reports? Barbara asked. Don't they see how important this is, the potential ramifications my research could have for medical applications?Barbara, you don't have to convince me. I'm fully cognizant of what you're trying to accomplish. And for what it's worth, I support you in this. But the Board feels the time isn't right to pursue this avenue of exploration.What shall I do now? Barbara said levelly.

For now, why not call it a day? And take the day off tomorrow. He added, encouragingly, It will take at least that long for the new assignments to be posted.I suppose you're right, Doctor.Things will look cheerier on Monday. Crawford said, coming out from behind his desk to see her to the door. Barbara. Again, I am sorry.So am I.

During the walk back to her office, anger and frustration warred within her. Myopic cretinous fools, she muttered to herself, as she burst through the door to her lab, startling her assistant.

What's up, Doc? the girl said.

Barbara couldn't help but smile at the reference, her dark mood washed away as if by a spring rain. Jaime Walsh was an inveterate cartoon junkie, and her habit of offering up quotes and asides had a salutary effect.

Wrap up what you're doing and head home, Jamie, Barbara said with a calm that surprised her. The project's been pink–slipped.Geez, doc, you can't be serious.'Fraid so. I'll be in my office.

Jamie knocked as she opened the door to Barbara's office. I'm all done out here, she said.

Thanks Jaime.So. What happens now?Standard procedure in these instances, I expect. Barbara put down her pen and looked up at her friend. Jaime was that and more. Many times her intuitiveness had been invaluable to the project. When her graduate studies were completed, she would make a first rate researcher in her own right. All this will go into storage, then we'll start working on something else.Yah, right, Jaime said as she turned to leave. Hey Doc, I was thinking of seeing a movie at the multiplex. Why don't you come along?I've some things to finish up here. You go have fun.Make sure you follow your own advice, Doc. Impulsively, she crossed the distance between them and gave Barbara a hug. Hey Barb, she said earnestly, I worry about you. It's going to be okay.Such wisdom from the mouth of babes, Barbara replied.

Ha! You're not that old yourself, Wunderkind. Jamie broke the embrace and gave Barbara a quick peck on the cheek. Take care of yourself Doc. I don't want to wind up working for some guy in his dotage. I like having a sexy young boss.

With that, Jaime turned and breezed out of the office, leaving a stunned Barbara to puzzle out what had just happened.

Barbara Ann closed her notebook in frustration. She had been so close, was it obvious just to her? She felt the need to get some air; brooding in her office was accomplishing nothing. Getting up to get her coat, she added the notebook to the neatly boxed documents that encapsulated her life's work of the past two years.

At the door, she stops, her hands playing over the light switches. Impulsively, she crosses back to her desk and retrieves the notebook from the packing case and thrusts it into her coat pocket. She locks the door to her office and crosses over to the refrigerator, removing a vial of serum that joins the notebook in her pocket. A hypodermic from the supply cabinet completes her shopping list. Barbara takes a moment to collect herself before locking the lab behind her and taking the elevator to the lobby.

Inside her apartment, Barbara sets her treasures on her coffee table as she sinks to her knees, contemplating what she's done. Barbara Ann Minerva, master criminal, she thinks to herself with a chuckle. What could have possessed her to remove company property from the lab, she who'd never had so much as a speeding ticket in her life?

Again Barbara scans through her notes. She had to be right. And there was only one way to prove it now. Steeling her courage, Barbara draws a measured dose of the serum into the hypodermic. A tourniquet around her arm causes a vein to stand out. She pierces the vein with the needle, biting back a cry of pain as the sharp instrument slides under her skin. Before she can allow herself to reconsider, she injects the serum into her bloodstream and withdraws the needle.

Replacing the hypodermic on the coffee table, Barbara picks up a pencil and her notebook. A proper student of the scientific method, she readies herself to record any observations she might have; any sensations she might experience. The minutes tick away.

Nothing. The clock on the mantle quietly chimes the half hour. Still nothing.

The notebook is put aside. Barbara crosses her living room, and goes out onto her balcony. The rain is cool against her skin, and the air feels crisp and fresh, a welcome change from the day's heat. I wonder what I was expecting, she thought out loud. Some sweeping physiological change? Could I have been in error, exploring the wrong path? It wouldn't be the first time hubris had a blinding effect.

That night she dreamed of running. Nothing like her usual urban constitutionals, but wild, unfettered, and delightfully free.

6:00am typically came very early. But this morning found Barbara dressed and ready for her jog around Bedford Park before her alarm had had its chance to do its work. She reacted to its sound like a thoroughbred at the starting gate, and bolted out of her apartment.

Her route took her past the reservoir by way of the botanical gardens, then down along Astor Commons. Feeling particularly energized, she took the path leading to Southgate Mews, before winding her way along the promenade and back to her building.

After her shower, Barbara begins to lay out her usual workday attire, then remembered she didn't have to go down to STAR today. Time for a leisurely breakfast, then. With juice poured and toast on the way, Barbara pulls out a map and traces her morning itinerary. Her loop past Southgate had added three extra miles to her route, and she hardly felt the difference. In fact, she felt great.

The toast forgotten, Barbara ran to the full–length mirror in her bedroom to get a good look at herself. Dropping her robe to the floor, she eyed the woman in the mirror with a critical detachment. Never one to obsess over exercise, she tried to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as her workday permitted. The woman looking back at her had the muscle tone of a gymnast. She hadn't looked this well turned out since she'd been eighteen. Even her auburn hair had an unusually brilliant sheen. She giggled like a schoolgirl, and the other woman reflected her amusement.

The serum, she thought. It had to be. A tremendous sense of validation came over her. She had been correct. This would prove to those bureaucrats at STAR the error of their ways. She only needed a way to explain how she obtained the test data. And she knew the perfect person to give her story the right spin.

I'm really glad you could join me for lunch, Jaime, Barbara smiled as she welcomed her friend.

Are you kidding? Jaime replies with a laugh. Even if you weren't buying, the reaction I'm getting is definitely worth it. I don't much fit in with the lunch crowd in this place.

Jaime's laughter proved infectious, and Barbara found herself sharing the joke. Outside the lab, Jaime enjoyed the club scene, and she enjoyed dressing the part. Her taste in clothes frequently caused heads to turn at work, and the effect was no less here.

Actually Doc, I was kinda worried about you yesterday, Jaime continued soberly. I've seen how you get about your work. I was sure you'd be all mopey. But look at you. You're glowing!

Barbara was grinning from ear to ear as she poured Jaime a glass of wine. Jaime, it works.What works? What are you talking about, Doc?The project. The serum. Jaime, I've tried it, it works!Barb, you didn't...

Barbara enjoyed another small victory. It took a lot to shock Jaime, and it seemed she had grabbed the brass ring with this one.

There was so much Jaime wanted to say, wanted to ask. She was struggling finding a starting point when the waiter showed up to take their orders.

Barbara, how could you? The serum was untested, we have no way of knowing what effect it will have.This is the test, Jaime. It would have come to this eventually. I just proceeded to the next step.But we were supposed to run simulations. Computer modeling to predict cellular interaction, Jamie countered. Y'know, for someone smart enough to have studied at John Hopkins, you can be really clueless sometimes.Oh pooh, you're no fun, Barbara pouted. Besides, I feel fine. Just great, in fact! I haven't felt this good in years. D'you know I ran five miles this morning and didn't even feel tired?Look, I'm happy for you, but I think you're missing my point.But I haven't changed, she says, digging voraciously into her huge order of ribs the waiter sets in front of her. Well, okay. I've a bit more endurance, but that's all, really.And table manners that'd make Miz Etiquette cringe, muttered Jaime, somewhat put off her own lunch, watching her friend. Barbara, how can you eat all that? You could barely finish the house salad at Zorba's before.I know. Isn't it strange? I'm feeling ravenous, and I've been eating all morning, too.Barb, we need to get this under control.That's exactly what I'd hope you'd say...

She woke, startled. Again the dream. It was strange. In her dream she felt strong, powerful. Like she was running free, with the wind rushing by, caressing her body. Intoxicated by the sounds, the smells, and the myriad sensations of wide, open territory.

Realizing she was in the familiar setting of her bedroom, Barbara began to relax. Padding to her bathroom she switched on the lights, wincing at the sudden brightness, and fumbled about blindly for a few moments until her hands found the taps.

The splash of water on her face had a restorative effect. I needed that, Barbara said to herself with a smile, as she brushed aside a loose strand of red hair.

Red hair?

She looked up in the mirror and noticed the strange face staring at her from the glass. There was a moment of shocked silence before a long, keening wail rose from her changed lips. She forced herself to look again. There was no doubt she had changed. Her analytical mind began cataloging the changes, in an effort to ward off the madness she was certain would come.

Barbara's hair colour had changed to a vibrant red–orange. Her eyes were still blue, but the pupils had narrowed to slits. Her nose, that very patrician nose, which had characterized the profile of generations of Minervas, had both flattened and widened giving her face a leonine appearance. Her new nostrils quivered, cat–like, as a single tear welled in her eye and slowly ran down her cheek to the black outline of her new lips.

Barbara remembered what Jaime had said. Control groups, computer analysis. Barbara knew also that the key to her mutation was buried amidst all the project data at STAR. She needed to regain access if she was going to find her way back.

Breaking and Entering. All her years of schooling, and this is the best idea she could come up with. There was little choice. She could hardly walk in the front door, looking as she did now. Besides, there was no reason for Barbara Ann Minerva, Doctor of Molecular Biology, to be on the premises during the weekend, especially as news of her project's cancellation would likely have been CC'ed to all departments by now.

At least STAR's Gotham facility was housed in an older building, the stone facing allowed the claws on her hands and feet some purchase as she scaled the wall.

In minutes she had reached the floor on which her office was located. She worked her way to her office window, unconcerned that a narrow ledge was all that kept her from falling to the street nine floors below. The windows on this floor hadn't locked properly in years, so it was a simple enough matter to force a claw between the sill and the window frame. A brief application of force, and the window slid open, granting access to the darkened rooms within.

Nice of them not to have locked anything up yet, Barbara thought. The cases containing the project documentation were exactly where she'd left them earlier. She could help herself to a few items, and no one would be the wiser. She flipped quickly through the binders, silently thankful that her newfound visual acuity didn't require her to bother with the lights, avoiding an additional risk of being detected. Unclasping her backpack, she removed the foam inserts that would protect the vials she needed and bagged her selection.

Moving into the lab, Barbara makes her way to the refrigerator where the samples were kept. She'd already decided which vials would be of use, and removed each vial from the fridge as she checked it off from the list in her mind. All versions of the serum, for a start. The base elements, the binding agent...

Late to be working, isn't it? a gravelly voice said from a dark corner of the room.

Barbara slammed the refrigerator shut, and quickly danced out of the way, her prize temporarily forgotten as the Batman emerged from the shadow to apprehend her.

Wonderful, that's just what I need, Barbara thought. She'd heard the stories, of course. His reputation was legend. Leave me be, she whispered fiercely. This doesn't concern you. Breaking and Entering' and Grand Theft' are still felonies in this town. I'm bringing you in.I don't think so, she replied, with a conviction that surprised her.

During this time the Batman had assessed the situation and had moved to block her only avenue of escape. Realizing this, Barbara growled in defiance. She'd have to match her earlier bravado with action if she harboured any hope of getting away.

She'd lose a prolonged confrontation; this much was evident. Whatever course Barbara decided upon would have to be quick and decisive. She leapt straight for the shadowy figure, raking him with her claws as she passed. The great Batman was taken aback seeing his adversary clearly for the first time, and lost the advantage. It was only his finely honed reflexes that enabled him to quickly sidestep Barbara's desperate lunge, avoiding a wound that could've cut to the bone.

Barbara vaulted over the workbench, and pushed off against its far edge to propel her into the office. She wasted no time going out the window she'd entered not fifteen minutes ago, slid down the storm drain to the ground, and ran for blocks before realizing she was not being pursued. What will I do now? she thought, stealing a moments respite in the shadows cast by buildings lining the street. I've been seen. I can't go back to STAR anymore.

Batman had remained behind in the dark offices, making a note of the materials the thief had tried to take, before returning everything to their place. He drew a small sample from one vial for analysis on his return to the Batcave, knowing for a certainty that he would face this mysterious person again. And this time he would be ready.

Jaime knocked again on her friend's door. No answer. Getting the spare key from its hiding place, Jaime let herself into the apartment. Barbara, are you here? You didn't come into the office today, I wanted to see if you were alright. Jaime finds the light switch and flicks it on and off. Barbara, your lights don't work. She hears a quiet rustling in the corner. Focusing on the sound, she continues, Barbara, why is it so hot in here? It must be ninety, or something.I was cold, was the simple reply.

Jaime gasped as the voice's owner came out of the shadow and into the pool of light coming in through the balcony door.

You were right, Jaime. There were a few side–effects.

Barbara's appearance reminded Jaime of the Egyptian cat–goddess she'd seen statues of while studying Art History as an elective in college. Her facial features were feline, even her ears were cat–like, and perched atop her head. The late afternoon light cast a golden sheen on Barbara's naked body; she actually resembled those statues.

Oh god, I itch all over. Make the itching go away, Barbara pleaded, as she raked sharp claws over her skin, seeking a reprieve from the intense irritation.

Barbara stop, Jaime cried, rushing forward and grasping Barbara's arm. You'll only hurt yourself. Jaime noticed several other claw marks, ugly red sores blemishing otherwise smooth skin.

Barbara looked directly at her friend for the first time. At this distance, Jaime couldn't help but be drawn into Barbara's blue eyes. The vertical slits of the irises had opened to ovals in the diminishing light. She was afraid for Barbara. Afraid for herself. But for all her fear, she couldn't help but feel a certain fascination for the vision before her.

The exotic face drew nearer. Cat–like nostrils flared briefly, tasting the air between them. I have the scent of you. The black lips quirked in an almost smile.

Barbara's next words caught in her throat as she doubled over, her body spasming violently. Hurts... so... much... Help me... please... she croaked, and passed out.

Jaime caught Barbara as she fell, preventing her from crashing to the floor from her full height. She tried to lift the unconscious woman, wanting to carry her to the bed, but couldn't manage it. Instead she lowered her gently to the floor. I'll make sure she's comfortable, At least.

Running to the bedroom, Jaime strips the double bed and carries the bedding into the living room. She gently places the pillow under Barbara's head and fashions a makeshift nest out of the linen, finally the blanket is draped over the shivering woman.

But it wasn't shivering. Barbara spasmed again several times. A moan escaped her lips that somehow articulated the pain she was experiencing. Then things took a turn for the worst.

Violent convulsions shook the woman's body. Jaime heard joints popping. She wanted to hold her friend, to comfort her. Wasn't restraining seizure patients more dangerous, she thought? Perhaps just making sure she didn't hurt herself would be enough... Barbara's legs thrashed reflexively, the claws on her feet reducing the blanket to ribbons. Jaime could see the changes occurring just below the skin. New muscles flexed, hinting at the power they contained. The feet themselves stretched into paws.

There was a crunching noise as her vertebrae shifted and changed shape, each protruding slightly along her back, and ending in a tail that extended from the base of her spine.

When fur appeared, covering Barbara's skin, Jaime was well past surprise. Downy white fur soon covered her breasts and ran down her slim tummy, emphasizing her narrow waist and rounded hips before tapering to a point that obscured her sex. While that growing on her head, back, arms, and legs acquired an orange–brown coloration, complete with irregularly placed spots.

And just as suddenly it was over. Barbara's breathing quieted; she inhaled and exhaled at regular intervals.

Jaime got up from her knees and went looking for the linen closet. She returned a few minutes later and dumped her armload on the couch. She unfolded a blanket and placed it over the sleeping woman. Well, Stanley, here's another fine mess you've gotten us into, she whispered, absent–mindedly caressing Barbara's cheek. A smile bloomed on Barbara's face as her tail swished contentedly.

The end of a perfect day, Jaime muttered, as she walked over to the couch. She fluffed a pillow, taking comfort in the normalcy of the gesture, and propped it in the corner, so she'd see if Barbara roused and needed anything. She pulled a blanket over herself and settled down to her vigil.

Jaime awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee percolating in the kitchen. Comfortable, homey. Then she remembered whose couch she was on, and the reason she was here.

Someone was sitting at the dining room table, though perched on a chair would be a more apt description. Cat ears pricked up hearing movement in the next room, and the figure turned toward her guest.

In a fluid motion, Barbara had jumped down from the chair, and, on all fours quickly covered the distance to the couch. She stood, and tentatively sat next to Jaime, who reflexively pulled her legs up to her chin, without ever breaking eye contact. Jaime asked, wondering how much of her friend might still be a part of the cat–woman seated beside her. Barbara, are you okay?I suppose, all things considered. Barbara looked down at her clawed hands, at the fur covering her body and said softly, I think I'm finished changing.The serum?It seems I didn't get the formula quite right, Barbara laughed. But the laughter sounded forced, brittle. I went for a run this morning, Jaime. Early. It was still dark outside, but I could see everything so clearly. And running in the park felt wonderful, electric...Some of these improvements' were intentional, Barbara said, her voice wavering, her mind flirting on the verge of hysteria. I wanted the increased strength and endurance... Too much genetic material was encoded in the serum... It remade me...

That was apparent enough.

Jaime tried very hard not to stare, to act nonchalant about everything, but was losing the battle. Barbara had always been an attractive woman, and somehow the changes she'd undergone only served to emphasize this, making her appearance truly exotic. Sensual.

Barbara sniffed. She savoured the air charged with her friend's discomfiture. Why Jaime, I never realized you were so kinky, she said teasingly, the trill of laughter in her voice.

Jaime blushed a brilliant scarlet. I think the coffees ready, she said quickly, eager to change the subject, and made a dash for the kitchen. She prattled about with the cups and saucers, but knew that this was only delaying the inevitable. Huh, Barb, you still like coffee, don't you?I'm still me inside, Barbara said from the kitchen door. Yes I do like coffee. With milk, please. They drank in silence a few minutes, neither willing to admit to the incongruity of the moment.

So what happens now?I've left some papers for you. Later this morning my lawyer will receive some documents granting you power of attorney, on my behalf. He'll call you to finalize this. I hope you'll hold down the fort for me.You're leaving? Jaime was aghast. Barb, you can't leave. We can work this out, find a cure...Jaime, I don't exactly fit in anymore. I need to work things through. On my own.But... Barbara...I told you I'd been out running. But I wasn't planning on coming back. I came back because of you. I couldn't leave without saying goodbye.

Barbara brushed Jaime's cheek with her hand, echoing the woman's gesture from the night before. I remember everything that happened. Thank you for being here for me. You're a true friend.

With that, Barbara stepped out onto the balcony and vaulted the railing, dropping to the ground three floors below. Jaime rushed out to see her stop near a footpath that wound its way between two adjacent shrubberies, turn back and blow her a kiss before disappearing into the park.

Here ends Chapter One...