Day Trips With A Dimension Jumping Thingymajig
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "New Universe" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 19 August 2009.
In one of the many anonymous alleyways of Gotham populated solely by dumpsters and the windblown detritus typical of any large city, the silence was disturbed by a sudden flash of light, the crack of discharging electricity and an unpleasant smell reminiscent of ozone and burning hair.
"Urgh… Puddin' I think I'm gonna hurl…"
"Suck it up, Harl. Or just make sure you steer well clear of my shoes."
The Joker strode towards the entrance of the alleyway, kicking aside a broken trash bag here and rusted dog food can there, then lent back with his hands on his hips and took in an exaggerated breath.
"Ahhh – just smell that unmistakable gloriously fetid Gotham air. There's nothing like it for clearing out the lungs."
Harley took a few faltering steps after the Joker's purple-clad figure, white greasepaint hiding a complexion she swore would have rivalled his hair. She stopped to clutch at her stomach with one hand while leaning against the grimy side of a dumpster with the other.
"I think I'll pass on the breathin' right now – that toasted Cheeto sandwich I had to breakfast is threatenin' to make a reappearance."
"You'd get motion sick just looking at a picture of a boat," Joker scoffed dismissively, peering at some particularly obscene graffiti that featured his favourite caped rodent and several members of the Gotham police department engaging in acts of mutual gratification. He chuckled and made a mental note to have the artwork printed on children's t-shirts to give away outside some local schools, before turning back to his queasy henchwench. "How you can spin around upside-down from a chandelier for half an hour and not bat an eyelid, but puke after a two-block bus journey never ceases to amaze me."
"I gotta delicate constitution!" she protested hotly. "And besides, bein' scrambled into a gazillion separate molecules aint exactly a bus journey! How'd ya know that thing wasn't really just an untested prototype? Half our atoms mighta ended up in Australia or on the moon or somethin'."
"Oh stop being suck a worry-wart. What's the point in stealing Lexy's latest ridiculously expensive handy-dandy pocket-sized dimension jumping thingymajig if we don't have some fun with it before starting the tedious extortion process?" Joker paused for a moment of thoughtful contemplation as he looked down at the gadget still in his hand. "When we get down to it remind me to help ol' Chrome Dome out with some marketing advice – this gizmo will never get off the ground with a boring name like that. He needs something snappy like 'the Turbo Dimension Jump 5000' or 'Universe-Splitter-O-Matic'."
"Or the Insta-Breakfast-Regurgitator?" Harley offered, standing a little more upright as the sidewalk and skyline slowed in their somersaulting.
"I dare say there could be a market for a gizmo that has that effect on the general population." Joker rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. "In fact I can think of several formal civic occasions that would be greatly improved by the addition of sudden well-synchronised mass vomiting. Add that to the list of things to remind me about, along with purchasing a notebook to begin said list in."
Harley muttered something that might have been phonetically similar to agreement, forcing herself into a trot after the Joker who had turned on his heel and marched briskly out of the alleyway and into the main street.
"We goin' anywhere specific now we're at wherever we are, boss?" she asked as she caught up to him, grateful that the sidewalk seemed to be behaving itself and was now fairly level.
"Of course! There's work to be done while we're making this flying visit to a different Gotham; a whole new Bat to torment, my brilliance to check up on, so forth and so fifth." As he walked through the mid-morning hustle and bustle of one of the smaller, less fashionable shopping districts few passers-by gave the Joker's purple suit, green hair and chalk-white complexion a second glance. In a lesson quickly learnt by Gothamites of all dimensions, those who noticed either wrote him off as a harmless eccentric to be safely ignored or the loopy kind of eccentric it was best not to make eye contact with.
"But how're we gonna do that?" Harley asked. "Blow some stuff up, kidnap someone important? Or maybe have a quiet lie down in a motel somewhere for a while and save the mayhem for tomorrow when we'll both be fresh and raring to go?" she added optimistically.
"No, no, no my delightfully dim-witted assistant. First we need to lay the groundwork, and that means research." Joker paused next to a newspaper stand and surveyed the dozens of titles with a satisfied grin. "Who needs all that new-fangled inter-whosits technology when you have freshly printed dead trees?"
"Red keeps tryin' to get me to sign up to some sorta online news thing to try to save on paper." Harley shrugged, idly running her fingers over the trashy gossip magazines and wondering whether the vendor would notice if she 'borrowed' one of the free tote bags that came with this month's Gotham Glamour. "I never seem to get the hang of all that tweetin' and chirpin' though."
"Pshaw," Joker said as he scooped up an armful of newspapers. "This way we get all the benefits of instant hardcopy news, plus I get the added bonus of knowing that out there, somewhere, ol' Pammy is getting her leaves in a twist at the sacrifice of more of her arboreal brethren. It's a win-win."
After paying for the newspapers ("How embarrassing would it be if I was busted by this universe's Dork Knight for a $10 crime? I'd have to kill him straight away to hide the truth and that'd take all the fun out it…") they retired to a small, down-at-heel coffee shop two doors down from one of the big coffee chains. This meant there was no one else inside except for a teenaged barrista who was simultaneously texting on their cell phone, plugged into an mp3 player and watching a rolling news channel on a portable TV. Through a not-inconsiderable amount of mime and pointing at objects on the counter, Harley made her drinks order understood and carried two large coffees with all nine of the syrups on offer (plus whipped cream on hers) across to the table where Joker had spread out all the newspapers.
"Ooh – Batsy's been a bad, bad boy," Joker gloated gleefully, brandishing the front page of the Gotham Times. "Look who's wanted for five counts of murder!" He clucked and shook his head. "I'd never have thought the Dork Knight had it in him."
"Batman? The proper actual Batman – killin' people?" Harley chewed on her lower lip in consternation, risking a fleeting glance at the skyline outside in case a murderous caped figure was lurking in wait behind a gargoyle or chimney stack. "That can't be right, can it Puddin'?"
"Of course not, dunderhead." Joker shook the newspaper out dismissively as he scanned beyond the headline for the juicy bits. "It's obviously some sort of scam this world's Bats has worked up to lure criminals of little brain, such as you and the majority of common or garden Gotham crooks, into giving themselves up."
Harley relaxed a little and put the drinks down on the only empty table surface she could find as Joker assumed a theatrically nervous and twitchy demeanour, knees knocking and teeth chattering. "Oh heavens to Betsy – whatever shall I do? I am but a simple crook, and don't want the Big Bad Bat to break all my fingers off one by one and choke me to death with them. I'll just have to go and hand myself (and all my stolen goods and narcotics, of course) in to the nearest police station, forthwith."
Harley giggled. "Are ya sure you wanna go straight, boss? But then I'll be out of a job too – and out on the streets! Oh woe, whatever will I do?!" With a melodramatic gasp she cast an arm across her face to hide from the horror, then paused. "Oh wait – I'd probably have to give myself up too, right? So I guess that's board and lodging sorted for the foreseeable future, but there's not too many employment opportunities at Arkham 'sides the laundry and gardening…"
"Do keep up, pumpkin," Joker interrupted, taking a large gulp of still scalding hot multi-flavoured coffee. "I got bored with that conversation right around the time I stopped talking. Now come along – I want all the good bits about Bats torn out; news, speculation, gossip. Even personal ads looking for hotpant-wearing jailbait sidekicks."
For a few minutes there was silent reading, broken only by the occasional slurp of coffee and the tinny leak from the barrista's headphones. Then Harley gave a sudden squeak of excitement. "Mistah J! Mistah J! There's somethin' about you!"
"Give me that," he snapped, snatching the page of the Evening Echo from her hands. "Yadda yadda horrific crimes, terrorising the city, blah blah charges dropped due to incapacity to stand trail, one-way ticket to Arkham. All pretty standard stuff for me, if I do say so myself. Oooh – but this is good!" Joker sat up a little straighter and quickly scanned through the paragraph that had caught his eye. "Apparently this me set up the gig that ended with Harv getting half-crispified, and got his girlfriend blown into itty-bitty pieces in the process."
"Wow – so you created this world's Two-Face outta boring old Harvey Dent!" Harley gave him a single-person round of applause. "Way to go Puddin'!"
"If he's anything like our Harv then I'm sure after the BBQ-ing process he's now a great improvement on the original. This rag claims he's dead but odds-on that's a coverup as well and he's shooting pool down at Arkham on the high-security ward." Joker shook his head with quiet admiration as he surveyed the list of deaths attributed to him "Y'know I think I like this me already – he seems very public spirited."
"Hey – they gotta picture here Puddin'," Harley said as she turned back to the second page she still held. "It's a still from a video so it's kinda blurry, but he's nowhere near as good lookin' as you."
The second page was snatched out of her hands as quickly as the first, leaving her with the classifieds and obituaries. This page received a much less appreciative response than the first.
"Good grief it looks like he was mugged then dragged through a briar patch backwards." Joker narrowed his eyes at the black and white print, moving the page back and forth as though it might turn out to be one of those magic eye drawings and improve from a different angle. "The scars are a nice touch, but someone get that man a comb and directions to the nearest laundrette."
"It said somethin' about him wearin' makeup," Harley offered, clutching at the only straw she could see in the vicinity. "Maybe he's just a wannabe like those gangs that like to try cashin' in on your image by dressin' as clowns?"
"Pft," he snorted dismissively. "No Batman would fall for that sort of third rate trick."
"But he doesn't look anything like you," Harley pointed out, sensing she was starting to lose track of the thread of this conversation and wondering whether another half-syrup, half-coffee beverage would help her brain cells keep up.
"Looks are not the point! I'm talking about the fundamentals here – there is a Batman, there is a Joker. That's the way it always is, that's the way it should always be. A bat flaps its wings in a cave somewhere different in Gotham, a whole different person could develop a fetish for capes and crime-fighting. A bat flaps its wings somewhere else, maybe someone invents a safer method of storing industrial quantities of acids." Joker scrunched up the newspaper and tossed it to one side. "A whole different series of events but always the same result – a Bat and a dashingly handsome homicidal clown, destined to keep on duking it out for the soul of Gotham."
Harley sniffled slightly, brushing away the hint of a tear. "Aww, ya make it all sound so poetic! D'ya think… maybe… there's always a me, too?"
Rolling his eyes, Joker lifted his long legs to rest his feet on the table amongst the remains of the newspapers. "Well, I don't know pumpkin. Without my charm, wit and – as I've mentioned – my dashing good looks, would you have fallen for me quite the way you did?"
"Of course I would!" she protested. "How could I ever not love you when you're so perfect in every way?"
Joker shrugged lightly. "Who knows. There are an infinite number of universes, after all. I'm sure that each has a Bat, and each has a me, but maybe there are one or two where you were just that little, teensy bit more focused on your career, or looking at shoes or whatever it was you filled your time with before me, and you somehow managed to resist my burning animal magnetism."
There was a long silence. "I can't believe I would ever be so heartless as to turn you down, Puddin'." Harley finally managed, her lower lip wobbling. "And to think – I'd just be stuck back on the other side of the desk at Arkham, fendin' off those anagramatical love letters from Eddie and over medicating all the droolers, and you might even be still locked up, alone and with no one to tell all your brilliant ideas to..."
With a cry she suddenly leapt across the table and wormed her way onto the Joker's lap before he even realised she'd moved, clinging tightly to his shirtfront.
"I'm sorry for all those other me's bein' mean to you Mistah J!" she sobbed, her tears mixing with greasepaint and threatening to completely ruin his silk tie. "I'll try to make it up to ya, I promise!"
Joker was content to allow her to carry on in this vein for ten minutes or so, but eventually it did get a bit tiresome when her tears were soaking through to his undershirt. "Fine, fine! Apologies accepted on behalf of all these other theoretical Harleys; I'll add them all to your tab," he conceded, resulting in further wailing about how amazingly forgiving he was, despite the lack of forgiveness the cruel world had shown to him. This was eventually silenced when he pushed her off his lap and onto the floor.
"Now if you're quite finished, I think it's time to go and show this Batsy how the city can be terrorised stylishly and with a little more pizzazz than can be achieved through mere high explosives." He stood and straightened his coat and tie. "Then later I might sign ol' Harv up to a dating agency – in two names of course – just to try to make sure there are no hard feelings over that whole crispy girlfriend issue and the other me."
"That's real thoughtful, Mistah J," Harley commented from her position sat on the floor, having mostly regained her composure.
"Y'know Harl, I think I could grown to like this town but it needs to lighten up a bit."
With a cackle that even drew the attention of the plugged-in barrista across the counter they swept out of the coffee shop, leaving behind a table full of crumpled newspapers and a hundred dollar bill as a tip that covered the detonator to what would be the first of many Joker-venom filled gas bombs.
Author's Note: Oh how I do enjoy writing random nonsense. At the batfic_comm this was described as both "Seinfeld'ish" and "like Mary Poppins from hell". I'll leave it to you to decide what you think...