I do not own Batman Beyond, I don't even own stock in Warner Brothers, or I guess The Cartoon Network now.


ROAD TO A DARKER KNIGHT


Matthew McGinnis tended to tune out doorbells. It was never anybody for him anyway. So he ignored the chime that night and kept watching the Vid.

A few moments later his Dad rushed out of his bedroom, which doubled as an office, and scooped Matt up off the floor.

Matt thought they were playing a game when his Dad hurried him into the closet in Terry's room. Telling the boy to be very, very quiet just like that big bald-headed guy in those old cartoons, Matt laughed and promised he wouldn't make a sound.


Warren McGinnis turned off the JLU cartoon Matt had been watching and switched to the web-news before he answered the door. He didn't want Mr. Fixx to know his youngest son was in the apartment. Terry ran out earlier after another pointless argument that probably shouldn't have happened, but Warren was grateful his oldest was gone. Terry was such a hot head; he'd try to fight the man behind their front door. Warren hoped surrendering the disk would give him a way out of this situation without that kind of trouble.

Warren opened the door and found the huge Asian man waiting in the hallway in front of the apartment. An automatic chill went through Warren as he looked up into Mr. Fixx's eyes. There had always been the threat of impending violence radiating from Power's right hand man, and his eyes expressed this the most.

But as Mr. Fixx stood there, Warren sensed no more danger from him than usual. Relaxing slightly, McGinnis invited the man inside as amicably as he could. "Please come in. What do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Warren asked closing the front door after Fixx walked deeper into the living room.

"Oh, I think you know why I'm here, Mr. McGinnis," Fixx imputed, his voice deep and accented, his back to the other. "The disk, of course."

That admission gave Warren pause; he was surprised the man came out and revealed what he wanted so immediately.

"Please don't deny that it is in your possession."

Fixx faced Warren, his expression unchanged. As he turned, the long dark brown leather over coat he wore came apart in front; flashing a small canister of something strapped to his waist. For a moment, Warren was afraid the canister contained a sample of the DNA mutigen, and that Fixx would infect him with it. But the nerve gas was highly contagious, even momentary exposure to the biological weapon could be fatal. Fixx would have to be suicidal to use it in close quarters.

"I--" Warren began, but was silenced Fixx's fist slammed into the side of his face. His wire framed glasses shattered under the blow, along with his nose and several of his teeth. Warren hit to the floor without being aware of falling.

Warren McGinnis was an intellectual, always has been. Even growing up, Warren was never involved in a serious fight. He could recall all two fights he'd ever been in, both occurring when he was Matt's age, and they were minor skirmishes at best. He's never felt the pain a solid punch could inflict. And Mr. Fixx knew how to maximize the damage of a good punch.

Warren started to plead with the hulking man standing over him. To tell him where the disk was, but Warren's face wasn't working, paralyzed with pain and swelling. Warren couldn't even feel the enormous amount of blood oozing from his split lips and bloated nose.

"It doesn't matter if you tell me or not. We know you have seen what's on the disk. A definite no, no."

Warren tried to move away from Fixx as bits of teeth drooled out of his mouth with blood and spittle. Fix calmly followed his labored retreat. When Warren's back hit the front door Mr. Fixx was on him, he grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him to his feet.

Another punch caught McGinnis in the gut and he doubled over.

Fixx picked Warren up and tossed him over his very broad shoulder, Warren was too weak to struggle against Fixx's grasp and dangled there limply, trying to breathe. Fixx carried him into the bathroom and threw him into the bathtub. Warren's vision went hazy when the back of his skull struck the cold hard marble and he lost consciousness, he didn't know for how long, seconds maybe. When he woke up, he saw Fixx stuff his hands into the side pockets of his coat. When his hands emerged, they were fists and wrapped around the fists were a pair of Electro- Knuckles.


Matthew McGinnis squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears. He didn't understand what was happening. The nine-year- old couldn't bear hearing the wet, cracking sounds. Or the agonized screams that followed. Why was the big man hurting his Daddy?

He'd left the closet; he promised he wouldn't, but Matt had to help his dad. Matt watched the big man hit his dad for several horrific moments before he turned away and pressed his back against the wall beside the bathroom's doorframe. Images of his father's blood flying through the air, splashing against the walls, and onto the big man's cinnamon brown skin, were seared into his memory.

He pressed his hands harder against his ears, but he couldn't stop the sound of gurgling from penetrating. It was scarier than his dad's cries of pain, because it sounded like his dad was just gargling mouthwash. But that wasn't what was happening—mouthwash wasn't what filled his daddy's mouth.

Soon, all Matt heard was the big man's punching, and wet crunches. Warren McGinnis made no further sounds. Matt took his hands away from his ears, filled with the irrational hope that the big man had left his daddy alone and okay.

Matt peeked around the edge of the open doorway and saw the big man straighten up and pull off the blood drenched Electro-Knuckles from his equally bloody hands. Matt watched the big man turn away from the tub and nonchalantly trek over to the bathroom sink. He placed both Electro-Knuckles under the automatic sensor and a hissing spray of water flowed from the faucet, sluicing off all traces of the sanguine fluid from them.

Matt tore his gaze from the big man to look at his father. He couldn't see his daddy; all he saw was blood. He searched harder, his eyes trying to find his father in the tub. Where was he?

Then all at once the boy saw his daddy. He saw him all along, but his mind refused to acknowledge the ruined details his eyes perceived. Gore was all that was left of his father's skull.

Matt turned away from the hideous scene as his mind began to decipher the scene behind him. His daddy's scalp had been scraped from the top of his cranium, matting under his head like a fleshy halo. His daddy's eyes, nose, lips and cheeks were reduced to a mess of gelatinous goo. The ridges of his eye sockets and cheekbones were visible. White bone glistened under the lights in the bathroom.

And once the reality was seen, Matt could not un-see it, and not a single detail was omitted.

Five hours later the police would find Matt huddled in his brother's bedroom closet right where his father told him to stay earlier that night, biting his right kneecap until it bled. He wouldn't tell the police his name.

Even after his mother was called in, Matt was unresponsive to any questions put to him. The boy barely flinched when Mary McGinnis pulled him into her arms and hugged him fiercely. And Matt was long gone by the time his brother Terry made his way back home to find the police swarming in and around their apartment building.

The police suggested to Mary McGinnis that she take her youngest son to the hospital.

And in the hospital, Matthew McGinnis remained.


ONE YEAR LATER
Terry McGinnis drove to Gotham Memorial in solemn silence. Usually he listened to the CD player when he drove Mr. Wayne's black stretch, but not today. Today he was going to bring his little brother home.

He couldn't have concentrated on much else. He didn't want to.

Matt's homecoming was both a happy and somber occasion for Terry. A year ago no one knew if Matt was ever going to emerge from the autistic state he'd descended into the night Warren McGinnis was murdered. For a year, Terry felt as though he not only lost his father, but his younger brother as well.

Terry visited Matthew in the Children's Psychiatric Ward twice a week ever since the doctors allowed Matt to have visitors, come hell or high water. He sat beside Matt's hospital bed reading to him, talking about his day at school and how Mom was doing, and all the while Matt would just lie there and stare blankly up at the ceiling. His dark eyes dull and vacant, lacking the spark of personality and unruliness that sometimes made him a pain in Terry's ass.

Then a month ago Matt started to come out of it. The changes were small at first; as simple as his eyes following Terry and Mary around the room when they visited. Then a month after that, Matt spoke his first words to his family in a year. Terry never thought he could be so happy just to hear his brother say in a dry, rattle of a voice that he was thirsty.

What made the events of the last month a maudlin one was that Matt's voice, even as it grew stronger over the next few days that followed, was devoid of emotion.

And Matt didn't smile anymore.