This one is dedicated to everyone who tried out for Who Wants to Be a Superhero? and claimed that they got their powers from a freak accident. Apparently, there were up to seventy freak accidents in the St. Louis area alone last year. (Hey, don't look at me. I got my powers from a genetic mutation...)
Some cities are known for their excellent cuisine. Some are known as the home of a certain ball team, or a famous site in history, or maybe even just a place to have a rockin' good time.
Gotham was informally known as the Home of Freak Accidents. Now, to be fair, Gotham did house hundreds of scientific institutions, and accidents happened to everyone. There was not a scientist in the world that hadn't done something stupid with chemicals. Generally, though, the farther up the chain you went, the more deadly the accidents became.
Except, as has already been said, in Gotham. Accidents that should have killed people didn't. If you were careless in the lab, you were virtually expected to have a horrible mutative incident and put on a costume. It's just how life went.
Imagine a dark alleyway, if you will. It's about three in the morning, so the only ones out and about are the night people. The alley is small and narrow. Steam is rising from a sewer grate. Garbage cans jostle for position against the tall, dirty walls.
A car screeches to a halt at the mouth of the alleyway. It's a fairly normal car in an odd shade of brown. Where the streetlights hit it, the colors ripple angrily across the rooftop.
Not a normal car, then. And judging by the trio of men shoving a fourth out onto the pavement, not ordinary passengers, either. The car growls off into the night.
Allow yourself to picture the consistency of wet pink sand. Imagine picking up a handful of that gritty almost-liquid and allowing it to spill through your fingers onto a sidewalk. Now imagine that the sand is in a mass weighing approximately four hundred pounds and you're very close to imagining the splatted mess of a being that had just met the sidewalk in a very personal way.
The sand rippled and rolled on the sidewalk. A trembling pseudopod glopped out of the sand and grasped a fire escape. In an almost eerie silence, the sand oozed upward until it was a roughly human-shaped mound. A nearby alley cat, tail fluffed with suspicion, fought the urge to run until it could make absolutely certain that the weird thing wasn't going to give it food.
The damp mound of sand bent downward, as if examining the wide, flat base that supported it. Two vast legs slowly appeared, with intense effort, and the sand being crept forward. This was okay. It could do this.
Something had happened to it - it wasn' t sure quite what - but it would find out. It hadn't always been sand. It had a very clear mental image of feet that did not resemble shoddy sand castles. A shock of something that wasn't quite pain and wasn't quite an itch scraped across its side. The bulbous, gritty head peered nearsightedly down at the newspaper stand jammed into its left leg. It shook it free with a disgusted grunt and plodded into the street, where there was room to move.
Cars squealed to a halt and hit reverse as it stalked toward them. A sandy mouth appeared in a grin. Now this was more like it! It trod the streets and waved menacing tentacles at a frightened prostitute clutching a lamppost. It reached for her and she screamed...
All in all, things might have gone better for the sand creature if the next vehicle to turn the corner had not been a street cleaner. There was a thud, followed by a whooshing noise, and the gravelly suction of sand rattling up an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner.
And then, with no idea of what lurked in his truck, the street sweeper continued on to his next stop: the paved trails of the dog park.
The first day on the job is always intense. There's so much to pay attention to, and so much to remember, and if something goes wrong you're certain to get in trouble for it. As time passes, though, and as people grow more accustomed to their jobs, that intensity drifts away in favor of a kind of casualness. If it's business as usual, and if that business has been drilled into someone's head until they could perform it in their sleep, it tends to turn into mere busywork as they discuss matters of importance with their colleagues.
This also held true for crimefighters - particularly when their foes were small, soft, and unsure of how to use their particular physical attributes to their greatest advantage.
"Does it seem like there's been too many of these recently?" Robin panted as he vaulted over a weird half-human-half-squid.
"Of these?" Batman growled, punching a similar-looking tentacled horror directly in the squishy bit that normally would have housed a face. The thing chirruped like a startled finch and smacked into the sidewalk.
"Not just these," Robin said, stomping hard on a stray tentacle. "All these...I dunno...mutants?" he suggested as the last one rolled a huge, desperate eye at him. Batman whipped a bola around it, tying the tentacles into one big chunk of flailing tissue. A fountain of ink sprayed wildly into the air, splattering heavily down on Robin. "Why do they always hit me?" he groused, wringing out his cape.
Sirens wailed at the end of the street. A flotilla of cop cars screeched to a halt at the edge of the black-splattered sidewalk full of groaning cephalopoids. Commissioner Gordon, the one dark spot in a flood of yellow Haz-Mat suits, squinted into the darkness, hoping to catch one last glimpse of the vigilantes before they disappeared.
At that point, though, they were already twenty stories up and accelerating. Robin dripped onto the roof and shook his head, spattering ink all over the clean cement of the garden rooftop. Batman had a tiny palmtop computer in one hand, typing a query with the corner of his armored knuckle. "You're right," he said without preamble. "That was the third new mutation this month."
Robin raked inky hair back with his gloves, scowling as the green kevlar disappeared under the slimy squid secretions. "So where to now?"
The palmtop closed invisibly with a tiny click. "Dawn's in two hours. It'll have to wait until tomorrow," Batman said, readying his grapnel.
"Why? What else do we have to do tonight?"
"One of them told me where their boss is."
Given that the average henchman was just about as willing to divulge the location of the hidden lair as a schoolboy was willing to attend Advanced Calculus 401, Robin had a feeling that the hapless squid had been...persuaded to tell with the judicious application of a fist or two. As he followed Batman off of the rooftop, the news penetrated the bit of his brain that was all too aware of what he'd already been through that night.
A boss. That means...a big squid. And a big squid means about a pondful of ink.
Quietly, with the wind whipping his dripping cape wildly behind him, Robin wished once again that he'd remembered his waterproof underwear.
(to be continued)