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


Terry McGinnis held a plasma acetylene torch in his right hand, guiding its bright green point over the front right fin of the Bat-mobile. "I can't believe I begged the old man to do this," the twenty-one-year-old muttered to himself behind the faceplate of his helmet.

Terry moved the torch away from the Bat-mobile's new armor, straightened his back and raised the faceplate.

McGinnis carefully studied the job he'd done of replacing the armor plating. So far his work appeared seamless, but he wouldn't be able to really tell until he ran a spectral scan. Terry lowered his faceplate and re-ignited the torch and set back to his task.

When I asked the old man if I could handle more behind the scene stuff I was thinking gadget making, not this. Bruce smiles and says, 'Sure you can', and what do I do, like anything good ever came after that smile? I grin like an idiot and ask, 'Great! When do I get started?'

Now look where I am: stuck doing menial maintenance work because I don't have a loyal manservant around to do it for me. Or even a little twip of a sidekick... not that I need one, no sir, 'cause this Bat works alone!

Terry winced behind the tinted faceplate. That train of thought led him to a place he'd rather not dwell… Max.

Maxine Gibson and Terry both attended Gotham University. Max had twice Terry's course load and she still breezed through all her classes, which left her lots of free time to bug Terry about visiting the Cave again. Max was a good friend and sometimes ally—Terry lost count of how many times she'd covered for him with his Mom and Dana—but the Job was too dangerous.

Terry shook his head and refocused his attention on the hot point of the torch.

Max'll keep. She thinks she can wear me down—hopefully it'll take a couple more years before she realizes she can't…

"Terry," Bruce Wayne's gruff, I-gargled-with-shards-of-glass-this-morning, voice called out to him. Terry released the button on the torch and turned away from the Bat-mobile. Wayne was standing at the bottom of the long stairway.

Bruce Wayne hadn't aged much in appearance since Terry first met him five years before. Wayne's hair was snowier, but Wayne's cool blue eyes yet shone with keen intelligence, and no new lines etched their way into that distinguished face, which remained square and strong. And though he needed a walking cane to get around, the man who once held the mantle of Batman still possessed a deep strength age could not diminish entirely.

The old man was dressed for the day ahead, a black suit and tie. Wayne was reinstated as the CEO of his family's corporation three years ago and hadn't stopped moving forward since, surprising everyone but Terry with his vigor.

"What's up?" Terry asked as he raised his faceplate.

"Turn on the Net," the old man said.

Terry cut off the gas to the torch and set it down next to the Bat-Mobile. He also removed his helmet, the heat resistant smock and gloves, and set it all down with the inert torch in a pile. Terry hurried to the Bat-Computer.

A computer-generated woman with non-descript feminine features and stiffly styled hair appeared on the computer's largest monitor. Her synthesized voice sounding a little too cheery, the CG sprite was already deep into the news report. "…The GCPD has cordoned off the area in the hopes that the violent altercation between the warring factions will be limited. However, Commissioner Dern has made it clear that he will not allow the Splicer and the Enhancer street war to continue unchecked…"

"Bullwhip," Terry said.


Nineteen Karate students surrounded the large blue mat. They were dressed in identical grab: loose, lightweight uniforms commonly referred to as gi, that came in one of two non-colors, either black or white. Every student present had black belts tied around their waists.

Matthew McGinnis, wearing a solid black gi, stepped forward and joined his opponent and the referee on the mat. Matthew bowed first to the referee, then to the girl in a gi who stood to challenge him. Her name was Jillain Holliwell.

Holliwell was three inches taller than Matt's height of five-foot and three inches, but they weighed the same. She was also older than Matt by three years. A third degree black belt, Jillain Holliwell was training at the Shinjukei Dojo two years before Matt joined the school a year ago.

Holliwell didn't believe Matt deserved to be standing in front of her.

The referee stated the rules. This was a grappling match, but the rules were similar to those in a competition: no hitting below the belt—sweeping excluded—no eye gouging and no biting. Best three out of five clean hits would decide the winner.

Matt nodded, acknowledging he understood of the rules then he moved into a Shizen-tai stance. Holliwell also took a Shizen-tai stance. She looked entirely removed to Matt. Her pale face, usually strumming with tension, was utterly blank. Matt imagined his own expression mirrored the one he saw on hers.

The second the referee signaled the start of the match, Matt stepped aside as his opponent launched a front snap kick with her left leg at his mid-section. It wasn't that Matt saw the kick coming and was fast enough to avoid it, but that he knew her fighting style so well. Holliwell was primarily an offensive fighter, though not a careless one. The lunge kick was quick and would have been devastating had it connected, but it didn't cost her anything if she missed. Matt had to be on the defensive for the first few minutes of this match.

Holliwell, un-perturbed by her failed strike, kept her leg up and simply redirected the momentum of her initial kick. Transforming it into a crescent kick directed at Matt's head. Holliwell's right leg remained straight and balanced, as she displayed her extraordinary muscle control.

Matt ducked the second kick and brought his forearms over his head. He heard Holliwell let out a surprised grunt when the back of her ankle struck his arms. He effectively blocked the heel she intended to bring down on top of his skull after cutting off the crescent kick in the middle of its arch. Bending at the knees, Matt sprang upwards with all his strength to throw Holliwell off balance.

He wasn't at all amazed when she used that force to somersault away from him instead of falling to the mat. But away from him is where he wanted her to be. Her last attack left the muscles in his forearms throbbing and partially numb. Matt needed time to recover. Time he'd get; Holliwell would be more cautious now.

Matt had ten seconds to recover before she came at him again. He didn't even try to avoid Holliwell as her fists struck out at him with dizzying speed and accuracy… but no real strength. Why would there be? Holliwell's fighting strength was her legs. Matt blocked each punch with little effort; disappointed she would think he would fall for her ploy.

Her right leg came straight up between their bodies. Matt tilted his head to the side at the last second, and felt a whoosh of air cut against the left side of his face and ruffle his hair. Matt grabbed her leg, crooking his arm just below her knee then lightly punched her in the center of her chest.

"Point!"

Matt released Holliwell's leg. And Holliwell, with another display of superb muscle control, slowly took her leg away from Matt's shoulder and brought it down to the mat. She and Matt held eye contact throughout.


The match ended with Matt scoring three consecutive hits on Holliwell. Matt took the amazed stares of the other students in stride as he stepped off the mats. No one expected him to win, never mind decisively.

Holliwell was a good fighter, so their spar hadn't been a complete waste of time, but she was amateurish and sheltered. She'd never fought outside a Dojo, or the carefully structured environment of a martial arts competition where there were rules to keep her relatively safe. Matt wanted to go up against opponents who were far more calculating than the seventeen-year-old he just faced. People who didn't follow the rules in the worst way; people who wanted to kill him.

Matt sat in the plastic-folding chairs rowed against a wall where he'd left his navy blue duffel. Matt pulled out the clean white towel his mother always made sure to pack for him, and dried his face with it. After wiping down, Matt dried his hair then hooked the towel around his neck. Digging further inside the bag, he found a sports bottle filled with water. As Matt sipped from the bottle, another pair of students took to the mat and began to spar.

Brushing damp bangs away from his forehead, Matt watched the neophytes with cool interest. Ignoring how his gi clung uncomfortably to his skin. Holliwell came and sat in the chair next to him.

"Good match," she offered in the way of a greeting.

Matt turned to the older girl and saw she was staring at the students on the mat. Matt returned his own scrutiny to the match. "Yeah."

"You're better than when you first came here."

"That's the point, isn't it?"

Matt could feel her staring at him now, not quite glaring, but close to it.

"You know what I mean. No one gets that good in one year!"

Matt looked at the older girl again, his features fixed in flesh colored stone… emotionless. He understood where she was going with the conversation. She wasn't far from the truth, but Matt still resented Holliwell's accusations.

Holliwell's expression hardened in response, and so did her voice.

"You had training before you came here, didn't you?"

"And that would explain why you had your head handed to you, right?"

Holliwell stared at Matthew murderously then stood and stalked away.

Matt sighed. "And that, Matthew, is why everyone's always so ticked off at you."