Batman and the associated characters are owned by DC and the Matrix and its characters are owned by Larry and Andy Wachowski. This is set before the original Matrix film. All reviews welcome.

Chapter Twenty-One – Hostile Takeover

Bruce had settled in with difficulty to life in Zion. All his life he had been a doer; an achiever, and hiding this from the general population had added an extra layer to his life. Finding out that his whole life had been a sham, a story, a make-believe to power machines made him even more morose and taciturn than he was normally.

In spite of all this he tried to fill in the days in Zion. His main job was looking after the prisoners in "The Stockade". Despite all Morpheus' proclamations of a new and just society founded in the bowels of the Earth, he found much that he did not like in life there. He spent his days improving the lot of the prisoners. All they had at the start was just a small cell carved in granite for each, no toilet facilities and precious little air. It was thought a waste to divert precious energy from their hydrothermal powered plant to them. Bruce campaigned to change this.

Tim had found a new home on one of the ships that regularly connected to the Matrix. They saw each other occasionally but he seemed to find his new life too exciting to want to connect back to his old.

Alfred had withdrawn into himself for the past couple of months. This was quite common, apparently, and Bruce was very worried about him for a while. Seeing Alfred with a beard and what little hair he had long and matted was quite unnatural for him. All his life Alfred had had a purpose and a vision of what the future would hold and it was suddenly taken away from him. Bruce spent many long evenings with the old man, talking to him sometimes, feeding him occasionally, but mainly just being there for him. Too be honest, helping Alfred get used to the new world helped him get used to it as well. He was the only person there who was the same in both worlds.

Bruce was sitting down patiently at the table as he had done for months. Alfred was sitting opposite pushing some food about the plate.

"One thing I do not get, sir."

Bruce interrupted him. "I told you don't call me sir. You are not my servant any more…"

Alfred carried on. "One thing I do not get, sir, is if this is the future why does all the food taste like congealed cold porridge."

"It could be my cooking," said Bruce with a wry smile. This was the most Alfred had said in a long time.

"With respect sir. This is not cooking this is poison. If this was my last meal I would be saying bring on the afterlife, it can not be worse than this."

Bruce waved his hands about the sparse dwelling they were in. "This might not be the afterlife but it is our life now. We have to do what we can with what we have."

Alfred poked his food a bit more with a fork. He was surprised the food was not putting up more a fight. He looked up. "Is this what the human race is reduced to eating now then?"

"Yes. What are you going to do about it?"

Alfred looked up and for the first time in a long time gave a small smile.

In some of his spare evenings Bruce helped develop the training programs that people used in the Matrix. He was a Master of many different types of martial arts and had trained with some of the best fighters in the world. Some of the masters were little more than scarred bullies, brawlers who developed a fearsome fighting reputation in the bars they frequented. Some were murderers, a lot were criminals but they all had something to teach the young Bruce about how to win a fight. Now that lifetime's knowledge was being digitised and input to the men and women who entered the matrix, giving them a fighting chance of survival there. There was a lot of talk of a new man called Neo, who was the promised one who would lead them all to safety. Bruce was a natural cynic; he would believe it when he saw it.

Alfred started getting less withdrawn and started to develop a social circle in Zion. Mainly to do with his culinary skills. He could cook food out of protein that had previously only been tasted in the matrix.

Bruce started to feel that his life's task was ended. Zion was relatively free of criminals. There being no money and few luxury items, crime was a thing of the past. Even in such a society there were a few psychopaths and these Bruce looked after. Including the Joker…

The huge steel door clanged shut behind him and he was in the melodramatically called kill zone. Guards with guns patrolled the wall next to the door. Anyone not in prison warden uniform they had orders to kill.

"Hello Duncan," he said to one of the guards. "Prisoners okay?"

"Yeah, they're not bad. They always get twitchy when your not here."

Bruce's face hardened. "What about the Joker?"

"Same as always. He's not giving us any trouble at the moment."

Bruce gave the other guard an affable smile and walked towards the prisoners. They scuttled away at his approach. Even outside the matrix he was known by reputation and that reputation was worth more to him than any number of punches he could adminster. He had no fear of these prisoners, but they had a fear of him.

The Joker had not settled into life well in Zion. From the relatively omnipotent powers he held in the Matrix to just being one face in a hundred in the stockade. And the place was pretty much escape-proof as well. Even if he could escape where could he go? Zion? There was nothing there, just a mish mash of caves and concrete dwellings. He would be rooted out and thrown back inside in a trice. There wasn't even any purple dye there. His face and hair that a chemical accident had created all those years ago in the matrix hadn't happened outside the matrix. He was just a thin middle-aged man with light brown hair and a receding hairline. A nothing. A nobody. People weren't even scared of him. They didn't know him to be scared of him.

"Hello Batsy," said the Joker, more from force of habit than anything.

"Joker," said Bruce and nodded his head curtly.

"No news on the idea I passed to the council then?"

"They've decided against a mandatory purple pants policy."

"Right, right. What about the other policy idea?"

"Well they agree in principal that everyone should have a smile on their face..." The Joker's face lit up at this. "But they feel your idea to chemically enhance this would not be popular. You know the number of fatalities thing and the fact this is the only outpost of free humans on earth they didn't want to give you any to experiment on."

"Right, right," said the Joker sadly and moped back to the cave wall where he was vainly trying to scratch a giant joker's face into the granite wall with another piece of granite. It looked like being a long job but the Joker had all the time in the world.

Bruce walked down the concrete path to the entrance of the stockade as he did everyday. This time there was somebody new there. She was a short dumpy girl with light brown hair and pretty features.

"Hey there," said Bruce. "Who are you?"

"Isabel Benson," she said putting her hand. "Just been given a tour of duty here. You?"

"Bruce Wayne." He smiled at her. Not his normal foppish smile, that character was gone, confined to the matrix as was Batman. He put his hand out to shake her hand. "You new here? I'll show you around."

His old life might be over but he still had a new life to enjoy.

THE END