"It's absolutely amazing!" Jack exclaimed, his eyes bright with excitement. "You'd swear you were in a real place; the sights, the sounds, the smells - everything!"
"It sounds like fun," Harvey said as he poured himself another glass of wine. "What do you say, Grace? Should we come along next time and try it too?"
"All right, but I must insist that you behave in a law-abiding manner, Harvey!" Grace gave Jack a severe stare, punctuating her words with emphatic shakes of her forefinger. "Not like your friend over here, whose first idea is to start robbing banks!"
Jack grinned unrepentantly. "It's just a game, Grace. That idea's just too much fun to be wasted - wait till you see what I'll do next time!"
Harvey smiled at his wife. "Don't worry Grace, I'll be perfectly respectable. In fact, maybe I'll try for a place as district attorney; that way I'll be able to prosecute Jack every time he commits a crime."
"Is Pamela coming, Jack?" enquired Grace.
"I called her yesterday - she thinks it sounds wonderful, and that Jervis should try marketing it. She wants to try being a criminal too, so at least I'll have some company."
* * * * * * "All right now!" Jervis was scintillating with pleasure at the chance to show off the technology he had set up. "Before we can go in, everybody needs an avatar. Who wants to go first?"
"Please?" Pamela begged. Staring at the hazel eyes and black hair reflected in the screen in front of her, she considered for a minute and then began to make changes. First her crop of black hair lengthened to just past her shoulders, and turned a vivid shade of orangey-red. Staring at it critically, Pamela added a slight wave to it. Then she shortened her height slightly, and turned her eyes a vibrant green. She finished her image off by giving herself a very expensive-looking red evening gown.
"Eh, Pam?" Jack tapped her on the shoulder. "Are you planning on crashing a dinner party?
"There's no point in going around dressed in rags," she retorted. "As some seemed inclined to do."
"What are you calling rags? Lilac is always in style!"
"My turn." Grace did little to her appearance, merely lightening her hair and eyes a shade and giving herself differently-styled clothes. Ignoring the mutters of "How boring," she moved aside for her husband to design his.
Harvey was also rather conservative in his appearance, darkening his hair and tanning his skin, but, as he pointed out, the appearances of the first four more than made up for the plainness of his and his wife's avatars.
It took a few minutes for Jervis to semi-explain the equipment to the new arrivals (semi because of numerous interruptions.)
"These link your brain to the computer - well, sort of… I think… anyway, it's not dangerous, don't worry-"
"Hurry up already, Jerv!"
"And these 'tell' your senses what's going on in the-"
"Fine! Just take it for granted that all the rest of these -" he waved his hand vaguely towards the mass of wires and gadgets, "-are completely necessary and needed and very very scientific."
Settling themselves comfortably on the padded tables, the friends closed their eyes (Jervis assured them that this helped their brains transition to the other reality), and opened them again in another world. They were standing in quite another part of the New York City replica, in front of a large building that bore the legend of 'Gotham Police Force' above the door. Jack took one look at it and went into a fit of chuckles. "Pam, you and I have come to the right place."
Pamela was staring at him with an odd expression. "Um, Jack, no offense, but as long as you look like that, don't let anyone know that you're my brother, all right?"
"I suggest that we split up for the day, and meet up again tonight. Tetch, didn't you mention something about the passage of time-?"
"Yes! It's really amazing. Until I came here myself, I wasn't sure if the equipment worked or not - all the rats and suchlike came back at exactly the same instant as when they left!"
Pamela and Jack looked at each other, the same idea entering their minds. "You mean," Pamela said slowly, "that we could even spend days in here and still wake up at the same moment that we went to sleep?"
Jervis nodded happily. "So everybody can have as much fun as they want without having to worry about a time limit!"
Pamela and Jack laughed in unison, then looked at each other.
"We sound too alike."
"Yeah, we need to develop distinct evil laughs."
They moved off in the direction of the police station, talking, and the others watched them go with slight misgiving before Harvey turned to Jervis. "Did the papers come through?"
He thrust a hand into the pocket and withdrew a sheaf. "Yes! Forged letters of recommendation, birth certificates, degrees and things like that…" He divided it into three small packs and gave two of them to Harvey and Jonathan. "These should secure us jobs. See you tonight!"
None of the group, strangers in a strange land, would usually have had much chance in Gotham, but Fortune still has a soft spot in her heart for those who rush into things without knowing their full scope.
* * * * *
"Hold on, Pam, I need to make a side trip."
In a few minutes, Laffco Toys and Practical Jokes had its merchandise raided; later that hour, a chemical lab lost a number of plant toxins and their whole supply of nitrous oxide. In another half hour…
"I'm the Joker! Didn't my bank-robbing get enough press that you recognize me?" Jack glared angrily at the young guard behind the police desk.
"We get a dozen wackos a day in Gotham," said the young man wearily. "And they don't just turn themselves in for publicity. Now you'd better go home and take off that face paint before-"
He was hit with a faceful of laughing gas. "Well, this should get attention," muttered Jack as the guard began chuckling. He dug a playing card out of his pocket; he had raided two dozen packs from the toy store and had removed the colored Jokers. Now he deposited one neatly on the hooting guard and strolled out, his hands in his pockets.
Pamela was waiting when he got outside, leaning against a lamppost. "Think of any villain gimmicks yet?" he asked.
"Oh boy yeah. If I can't convince the real world, at least I can convince this little virtual realm that Liberals are evil."
* * * * * *
In Gotham time, two months later…
The red-haired woman fixed Jervis with an intimidating glare as he sat down, implying with that one look that he was a convicted criminal, he had been caught red-handed in one of the most dreadful crimes of the century, and that she was the judge of the case, whose great pleasure it would be to announce that he would be beheaded instantly.
"First witness," Jervis couldn't help muttering under his breath.
"What did you say?" she snapped at him.
"N-nothing, nothing at all." I wonder if I can fix the personality generator on this thing…
"Mr. Jervis Tetch, your records are impressive-" Her voice expressed slight suspicion, and Jervis wondered whether the recommendations from royalty had been going a little overboard.
"And we need a scientist to fill in Mr. Pan's place, but I warn you, if you do not satisfy me it's your head, understand?"
"Y-yes your ma- I mean yes ma'am."
* * * * *
Sara Evans shuffled her feet. She had arrived early for Psychology at GU, but apparently the brand-new teacher was starting off by being late.
The moment he arrived, however, when the class was getting impatient, they were corrected. "Aren't we starting a bit late, sir?" called a boy from across the aisle as the new teacher walked up to the blackboard.
"Whenever I am here is when we start. I am never late, everyone else is simply early." He set his briefcase down and turned to face the class, scanning them with an odd, almost amused, expression. He was tall and very thin, with pale skin and bright orange hair, and Sara saw when he turned to the blackboard that his ears were pointed as well. Weird.
"The rest of this year we will be concentrating on fear and phobias." He wrote it down on the blackboard. "Who suffers from a phobia?"
Sara and a few others raised their hands tentivately, wondering where this would lead. He pointed to Sara. "You. What are you afraid of?"
"Um, well… mice." She said the last in a whisper, but he evidently had good ears; he wrote it down on the blackboard.
"The fear of mice is one commonly suffered by females, the male, if he is at all afraid of creatures similar to them, will usually rather fear rats. Can any of you think where the fear of mice might stem from?"
Brian Goodall raised his hand. "Maybe it's because people know subconsciously that they can spread disease and stuff?"
"And stuff? Please, no obscure generalizations in my classroom. Do they have anything to really provoke fear other than your aforementioned fact?" Jonathan was really getting into it. After enduring five years leading up to and one year in college of his mother giving dire warnings of psychologists that had ended up in insane asylums he had gone with his second choice of acting to make her happy (also he was rather nervous about it after all the horror stories he had heard about the profession) but he still loved psychology. And it didn't matter what he did to the students, because they were virtual!
"Uh… I… dunno." Brian sunk in his seat.
"I see you don't." The professor's voice was scathing. "You will have plenty of time to think it over. Your assignment for this class will be to explain possible roots of at least five phobias, and you will work on it until it is to my satisfaction. Next time, do not answer unless you have something truly worthwhile to say."
Brian's ears turned red as the professor addressed the rest of the class.
"Were you informed of my name?"
There was a general murmer of dissent. The professor opened his briefcase and pulled out a pistol. He calmly fired off two shots at the ceiling as several of the more delicate students fainted. "I asked, were you informed of my name?"
He received a uniform "NO, SIR!" from the remaining conscious but trembling students. "Very well." He laid the gun down on the desk, within reach. "I am Professor Crane. You are to address me as such, or 'sir.' I will not tolerate disrespect in my class. Now, who would like to volunteer…"
Sara almost groaned. It was going to be a looong year.
* * * * *
"Lovely little place you got here," the grinning Joker said to the tied-up security guard. It had taken him only two days to find a couple henchmen and a target; the Laugh House of an amusment park where the payroll was kept. "Hilarious idea, keeping the money in such a funny place! HAHAHAHAHA!"
The guard cringed. Jack had perfected his evil laugh to a bone-chilling cackle mixed with shrieks and spurts of hearty laughter, and even though he was not well known, it struck terror.
The henchmen looked at each other nervously. They weren't exactly used to the working-for-the-crazy-villain-game, and the Joker was unnerving them.
Jack was having more fun than he had ever had. There was a wonderful appeal in simply letting yourself go and acting crazy, and it was good to know that there were no consequences; he wouldn't really do anything bad to real people. He had nothing against people in general; liked them, in fact. But these people didn't exist.
"Hurry up with finding the money Rock, or you'll be laughing!" he shrieked, giggling, in the high-pitched voice that was second nature to him now.
* * * * *
Pamela lowered the small red rose plant into a flowerpot next to her as she watched the men below her in the field. Harvey was one; the former D. A had just been caught in a embezzlement scandal (convenient programming, she guessed) when he started running, and he had been elected almost immediately; now he was carrying out one of the promises of his campaign platforms.
Probably inspired by Jack, Pamela thought, grinning, as she watched the mayor speaking while Harvey, a rich guy named Bruce he had befriended that had sponsored his project and a small crowd stood by.
"…the dream of one man. And he's with us here today…" drifted up to her, then the wind shifted again. A minute later, Harvey and Bruce stepped forward and both lifted ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt. As the cameras flashed, Harvey glanced up at her and they exchanged a wink.
* * * * *
It had been four months, and it had been covertly decided that they should go back for a little while.
"We can't get too absorbed in this. After all, it's just a game, a fantasyland," said Pamela to Jack over the phone.
"Jervis would cite that as a reason to get involved. But you're right… ah well, we can always return."
"We're going to meet at the museum to open the exit. Tomorrow - well, day after, one a.m. See you there."
* * * * *
Jervis leant against the brick wall. He had been the first one to arrive at the museum, and was starting to get bored. He began murmuring to himself.
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe,
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe."
"Hello, Tetch," Jervis started, then remembered that it was Jonathan, just looking different, and nodded to the thin man that strolled up to him.
"How've you been?"
"It's delightful to have a roomful of people who are required to be there that you can do anything you want to to because they don't really exist."
"You're starting to sound like Jack. Well, I've found this a semi-productive environment to work in; there's a truly terrifying woman running my department, though. I'm going to see what I can do to change this world from the outside when we get out."
"Hello, boys." Pamela sauntered out of the shadows, wearing what looked like a green bathing suit with boots and gloves.
"Nice costume, Pam,"said Jonathan dryly as Jervis made a small strangled sound at her rather improper mode of dress.
"Please, call me Poison Ivy," she said in the same strange, smooth voice, then snapped out of it and started speaking faster. "So how was it? I haven't started my criminal career yet, but I'm working up my persona. I'm an evil Liberal!"
"That would account for the body exposure?" inquired Jervis in a strained voice, not looking directly at her.
"Please, Jervis, for one minute pretend that you aren't from the 1860's. I'll add some tights or something if it will make you happy."