Do No Harm
Chapter 6: MKULTRA
Qualitative Analysis of the Team-up by Tim Drake p. 3
The schism therefore exists not between the costumed heroes themselves but in philosophical differences among those relating their exploits. Consider the long-standing partnership between the "World's Finest Heroes" outside their respective Justice League appearances. Low-brow sensationalist media appear to draw their accounts from the maxim "Batman frowns, Superman smiles, therefore they must be enemies at heart," (Baxter, p.95) and report all World's Finest developments "with an attitude of snide cynicism implying the two are destined to destroy each other." (ibid.) The coverage by legitimate journalists reveals a far different picture, a picture of heroes "committed to a common purpose who recognize there is more that unites them than divides them." (Kent, p.143) It is telling that these positive portrayals originate, in the one city, with the two reporters known to have the closest contact with Superman and, presumably, the surest first-hand knowledge of his core beliefs and attitudes; in the other city, by Selina Kyle, who, if the claims of the previously cited Cat-Tales theatrical production is to be credited, has had more opportunities to observe Batman informally than any representative of the fourth estate…
..:: Metro Desk, Clark Kent speaking. ::..
There was an infinitesimal pause during which Clark could hear the slight relaxing of vocal cords as the planned Bat-gravel gave way to a foppish lilt.
"Clark, how have you been? It's Bruce Wayne, from Gotham." This was followed by a cough and a whisper audible only to Kryptonian ears: "Is there a reason you're answering your cell like the DP landline?"
..:: Why yes, I'd be very interested in hearing more about that. And I can assure you your anonymity is quite safe. ::..
"I see, I can talk and you can't," Bruce graveled.
..:: Yes indeed, we take the protection of our sources very seriously here at the Daily Planet. I'll be happy to meet you.::..
Instead of a hangup, Bruce heard Clark call out to Perry that he was going out to meet a source. Such announcements were often followed by Superman flying into the cave a minute later, but in this case, the conversation resumed scant seconds later over the same telephone.
..:: Sorry, Bruce. The line is secure, everything is fine. Lois and Perry are having a big fight about cell phones and pagers. I'm trying to stay out of it by not using mine in the office. If she hears me answer 'Metro Desk, Kent', she thinks it's the landline and I don't get roped into taking sides. ::..
After the requisite grunt, Bruce explained that he had new information on an old Scarecrow matter which led to the University of Metropolis. Since the student newspaper didn't have the resources to scan their backissues into a digital database, it had to be searched in person.
"I need to check it out, so I figured I'd touch base with you and—"
..:: And ask me to check it out for you. I'd be happy to. ::..
"Actually I was just going to fill you in that I was coming to town."
..:: Nonsense, I can hop right over on my lunch hour. It'll be like old times, going through a newspaper morgue. All those old articles on microfiche, indexed in those thick 3-ring binders… ::…
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
Saturday, December 22nd
Famed LA Doctor confesses to 22 year old murder
By Vic Sage
…Dr. Gray had indeed received multiple threats on his life, most notably from a fanatical terrorist organization called El Kazar who took issue with the fact that Gray had performed a radical facial reconstruction on a man they claimed was an enemy of Allah, allowing him to escape their wrath. During the last year of his life, Gray did limit his exposure; his only real public appearances during that year were a result of his relationship with a young and talented actress named Savannah Summer…
Clark closed the Planet's cross-syndicate database and looked at a hardcopy of the same article sitting in a manila folder labeled CASE FILE: #43-21WFMS9910I. Only Bruce… only Bruce would solve a murder as a Christmas gift. The first case they had worked on together. If there was ever a better example of what Pa said that one year when Clark was seven. It was almost Mother's Day, and Clark had taken the conventional wisdom to heart: the most precious gifts are the ones you make yourself. He was going to make his Ma a diamond as big as a baseball. Pa found his dumping ground of failed attempts in the back of the barn: stones that were dark and cloudy from impurities in the source material and weren't getting any shinier for all his attempts to buff them. "Clark, a gift's value doesn't come from what it is," Pa told him. "What matters is that it comes from you. You make a gift and you share a little piece of yourself. That's what tells the person you're giving it to how you feel about them."
Bruce had never closed the first case they worked on together. He'd put a tracer on the money Savannah Summer inherited, and even though Batman and Superman both had a thousand other matters claiming their attention in the years that followed, Bruce still checked in periodically on that one hopelessly cold case.
Lesson: Never say hopeless.
That wasn't the only reason Clark went into the New Year feeling buoyantly optimistic, either. Since that extraordinary scene revealing their identities to the core members of the Justice League, the team had come together as never before. It was almost as if the protocols never happened. Almost. Because they had happened, and somehow... somehow the team was stronger for having come through the ordeal.
The one thing Clark regretted after the unmasking was that he got all the credit. Wally, Kyle, Eel, even Arthur assumed that Superman set the whole thing in motion, when really it was all Bruce's idea. Bruce got the bill for the damage, and Clark got the credit for the fix. It just didn't seem fair. Clark couldn't help but feel a little guilty, but Bruce seemed to prefer it that way.
Still, the end result was the same: the trust that had been eroding away under the foundations of the Justice League was renewed and fortified; it was stronger than ever… and then came Hell Month. Bruce withdrew from the human race, as always, leaving a snarling, seething Nightmare Bat in his place. Clark avoided him like everyone else did in January, which in retrospect was the wrong call. If he had notified Bruce about that minion running messages to Talia Head at LexCorp, he would have been spared that shouting match on the roof of the Daily Planet… But now that that episode was over, Clark saw no reason things couldn't pick up where they left off for the World's Finest partnership.
The imposing figure of Bruce Wayne stood before the etched glass doors of the Wayne Tower, his arms crossed and a contented smile on his face. Selina studied the image intently. She had already greeted his three secretaries and discussed their plans for the weekend, they admired her shoes and she admired theirs. There wasn't much else to do until Bruce's business with Lucius was finished, so she scrutinized the new portrait hung with such prominence in the reception area of the executive suite.
"That's awfully good," she said when Bruce came out to greet her. "It's new, isn't it?"
"Yes, a Christmas gift from a colleague," he said lightly. "D'Annunzio's tonight? Or would you rather try the new Japanese in TriBeCa?"
"Rayner," she read from the bottom corner. "I don't recognize the name. Frankly, he's a little too good for me not to have heard of him."
"Oil isn't his regular medium," Bruce said uncomfortably, ushering her to the elevator. "Portraits aren't really his thing either, I believe."
"Well maybe they should be. Two years at the Sorbonne talking here: that artist has an eye."
"Actually, I think he has two," Bruce said, fopping out completely as the elevator doors closed.
*** YEARS LATER ***
…irrational and absurd to assume what little is glimpsed in the public eye is the extent of the personality or the relationship." (Hawkingsworth, p. 293) Those of us without the Shaffer compartmentalization of duel identities still assume different roles with different people and in different situations. No one uses the same 'voice' with their father as they do with their proctologist. With a boss, with a friend, with a movie usher, or with a policeman who has pulled one over for speeding, there is a language and manner appropriate to the social situation. It is indeed 'irrational and absurd' to assume Batman or Superman, perhaps even the villains they fight, do not engage in this same variance of manner in relation to the social context of the interaction. Allowing them this most fundamental facet of the human experience, is it not perfectly reasonable to assume the same after-hours dynamics among superheroes as would occur between coworkers in more conventional professions?
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
Batman didn't know what to make of it. The Libra threat had been dispensed with, the Chronos Helix was safely returned to the Crown Nebula, and all responsible parties were turned over to the appropriate jailers on Earth and Onryka Ten. It was over; they were done… but Superman wasn't flying off. He seemed to be, for lack of a better word, "hanging around".
"What's on your mind?" Batman asked, ever direct.
"Oh, well, nothing much," came the reply that was anything but. "It's just that things have been going pretty well since the big revelation, everyone coming together as a team, just what was needed, I'd say."
"Uh…" Clark's mind raced, searching for inspiration. What else, what else, what else… He hadn't really seen Batman since— Selina! Of course! Selina Kyle had been kidnapped by Ra's al Ghul, and that's what led to the whole shouting match on the DP roof about the courier minion running messages out of Metropolis. "How's Selina Kyle doing after that whole Ra's al Ghul kidnapping?" Clark asked (with bizarre enthusiasm given the nature of the question).
Batman assumed what Clark could only call the "Scowl of Death" in response to this peasant curiosity.
"She finds him to be an overrated 'hairdo'," he said coldly.
Assuming that now, certainly, they were done, Batman turned to leave. He hadn't made it to the edge of the roof when he realized Clark was pacing him.
"I'm sorry, is there more?" he spat. "You're not finished checking up on me and my 'criminal consort', is that it? I thought we'd covered this already..."
"What's 'checking up', I asked how she is! You ask about Lois every time I see you."
Clark suddenly realized that the expression he had always thought of as the Scowl of Death could, in retrospect, be no more than a grimace of mild indigestion. THIS was a Scowl of Death.
"That came out wrong," he said simply.
"Yes, it did," Bruce declared—and before Clark could respond, he found he was standing alone on the rooftop.
Of all the things Clark could have asked about.
"Two years at the Sorbonne talking," she had said. Two years at the Sorbonne while she trained with that Sean character from MI-6 and cut her teeth as a burglar with his crew of thieves and grifters. He still couldn't believe she had told him. In the turmoil of Hell Month, he couldn't come to grips with it, but now…
It had been a gut punch when he realized how completely he trusted her. It was something beyond even that when he realized… was realizing… was still trying to wrap his brain around the notion that she trusted him. Paris, Italy, Switzerland… her parents, her sensei, her…
He'd pay one last visit to the bridge before compiling his notes—but not tonight. He was picking her up in a few hours, and he didn't want any remnant of the work to taint his behavior with her. With the discipline honed in years of maintaining a secret identity, he simply removed the investigation from his thinking. She would never know that folder existed. There was nothing to be gained in telling her. And no hangover from either Hell Month or this grim episode would intrude on their special evening.
Whiskers escorted Bat-Bruce from the door into the living room, and after the two-foot sat, Whiskers tried his best to rub the scent of his approval into his pant leg: Bat-Bruce coming in through the door—GOOD. Descending from the skies as Two-Foot-in-Boots—BAD. It shouldn't be so hard for them to catch on. Two-foots were not stupid, but they were very stubborn. Bat-Bruce especially seemed to always have his ears trained on a specific mouse and would not give up the hunt no matter what squeaky ball or catnip toy rolled across his path. Whiskers enjoyed a good hunt as much as the next mouser, but there was a limit. If you didn't stop to smell the catnip, what was the point?
Selina-cat seemed to be downright giddy from her catnip. She was giggling at the magazine again.
"I'll just be two more minutes. Entertain yourself," she said, disappearing into the bedroom.
"Glitz?" Bruce asked, picking up the obnoxiously glossy magazine.
"Glitzy LIFE, page 15," Selina called out from the other room. "I did a little searching on that artist who did your portrait, Kyle Rayner. He's a cartoonist, that's one of his strips. It's absolutely wonderful! He hates the Post. I mean hates it! If Cat-Tales was still running I'd comp him front row center and take him out to Orso after."
Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head. Rayner. Taking his press personally again, it figured Selina would like that. He changed his costume and the Post declared him a global threat, possessing god-like powers that could remake the universe with a wave of his hand. It was the kind of nonsense they were always dreaming up about superpowers, it hardly warranted—
"I was thinking, maybe you could give him a grant or something—or maybe a commission. Doesn't that food shindig Alfred's involved in need artwork for the posters and programs?"
Bruce looked down at the cartoon in question:
The first panel showed two men in front of a large, ornate house. One in a suit held a clipboard, one in a jumpsuit and hard hat stood by a van labeled "PEST BE GONE".
The second panel showed a close-up of the clipboard. The page was titled "BUILDING INSPECTION" with a list of pests below: Rats, Roaches, Termites, Snakes, Ticks, Lice… and a large red "FAILED" stamped over the words.
The third panel had a close-up of the exterminator grinning smugly.
The fourth panel showed a blur of vermin racing past the building inspector in a stampede running away from the house.
The fifth panel had the exterminator returning from behind the house, tossing a newspaper to the inspector. The word balloon over him read "Works every time."
The last panel was split, the top diagonal showed the building inspector alone, holding the paper and reading it with a quizzical look on his face. "The Gotham Post? I don't get it. What so bad abou…" The lower diagonal had him running off to the right, his cheeks puffed out and his hand over his mouth.
"That man's a hero!" Selina declared, emerging from the bedroom in her evening dress. "You should figure out some way to support him."
"Later," Bruce said, so softly that Selina could barely hear him.
"Nothing," he whispered. "Enjoy the opera."
It was February, and neither one of them wanted to spend too long on the opera house roof. But it was a part of his Christmas gift: those deplorable seats in the back corner of the second balcony, so near the fire escape that they could unobtrusively slip away for a few minutes during each performance—which tonight was the Benjamin Britten adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream—and relive a few minutes of their first date on the opera house roof… A few minutes in which, tonight, Bruce saw an unmistakable fluttering of red in the distance. It couldn't be an emergency or Clark would have buzzed him on the com. So whatever it was that had him hovering on the horizon that way, it could wait.
"Is it my imagination," Selina tittered, "or does Tytania's part get twice as hard to sing after the love juice?"
"It's not your imagination," Bruce graveled. "Britten was a cynic." Or a realist, Psychobat added.
"It's still a nice choice for Valentine's Day," Selina cooed. "Been more than enough tragedy this season for my taste."
"More than enough frost for mine," Bruce said. "Let's get back inside."
"Meow," Selina agreed, stealing a final kiss before opening the door. "Don't want to miss the best part: Queen of the Night is head-over-heels in love with a jackass."
*** YEARS LATER ***
The division of labor for task expediency is, of course, a practical dynamic and not a behavioral one. In a team-up between a vigilante archer and a world-class thief, it is clearly the thief who would dismantle alarms and penetrate a secure facility to retrieve pertinent materials while the vigilante conducted interrogations and surveillance (c.f. Catwoman/Huntress account covered below.) The social mechanisms come into play only when no meta abilities or specialized skills dictate which partner is best-suited to a given task (e.g. a friend may simply volunteer to help out a friend because he can). Similarly, when the rudimentary social conventions are not observed (e.g. if a gesture is met with marked ingratitude [again, see Catwoman/Huntress account below]), one partner may decline to assist the other on future occasions. As Hasker and Cordell noted, "there seems overwhelming evidence that the masked persona is not a determining cohesive. In the absence of immediate life-or-death exigency, the fundamental interaction imperatives apply. The Morton Hypothesis that for 'Capes' as for anyone else, like attracts like would appear to be supported by the facts: presentation of a pleasant, congenial nature elicits a pleased, congenial response, while the presentation of hostile anti-social behavior begets the same." (Hasker and Cordel, p. 29)
Wednesday, December 10
Wild, Adam Peter; nickname "Popeye"; resident Prescott Hall,
University of Metropolis; son Steven and Margaret Wild, Thatcham,
Berkshire, UK; brother Ida Forest (nee Wild), Thatcham, Berkshire,
UK; Dead at age 20 of cardiac arrest.
"Thank you," Batman graveled, double-checking the OCR before adding the scanned clipping to the K3M-W4R-CR4N3 directory.
Clark raised an eyebrow. A 'thank you' from Bruce was a rare thing. Of course, his needing a favor from Clark Kent was a rare thing too.
"It did take me back," he said with a nostalgic grin. "Those little scrolls of microfiche. I always felt bad for the students who have to wrestle with those machines. My way's a lot faster. Besides the obituary, you'll see there are a couple letters to the editor that mention the death."
"So I see," Bruce answered, skimming. A reflexively indignant pre-med student decrying a campus cover-up because a healthy twenty year old shouldn't drop dead from heart failure… A reflexively indignant English major citing Alexander Pope 'a little learning' etc. calling the first letter writer an ill-informed drama queen and noting that Popeye was a well-known campus connection whose heart failure undoubtedly resulted from sampling his own product… The final letter was from a professional student who apparently hadn't declared a major in seven years, suggesting that Popeye was 'popped' by a rival dealer. "The OpEd echo chamber was probably onto something. In all likelihood, Wild was Jonathan Crane's first victim. I'll notify Metropolis PD, it's up to them to exhume the body. I'll make sure the coroner knows what to look for."
"So this is what it's like to help a friend wrap up an old murder case," Clark said cheerily. "Looks like it's your turn again."
Bruce's lip twitched.
"Looks like. That why you flew this in in person?"
"As a matter of fact, no. Lois wanted me to look you in the eye and get an unofficial, off-the-record, completely between us—but your word of honor, right here in the middle of the Batcave—denial about something."
"That sounds serious."
"The situation is serious at every newspaper in the country, Bruce. People are scared, no fear toxins required. Lois wants to know if you're going to sell The Daily Planet."
"What? Of course not, where would she get an idea like that?"
"She was interviewing this guy who's sort of a 'Wall Street psychic'. He didn't divulge all of his tricks, but he showed her one of them: start typing the company name into Google and see what it 'suggests' based on what's searched most frequently. He searched The Daily Planet for her to demonstrate the technique, and the first option after the name alone was 'The Daily Planet for sale'."
"I'm familiar with that technique. As part of a more complex algorithm, it can illuminate hopes and fears in the public consciousness, although not of investors specifically. On its own, it's nothing but a party game."
"Still, she's concerned. We both remember that you only bought the paper as a precaution when Luthor was elected. You never wanted the attention of owning a media outlet, and now that he's safely out of office…"
"Clark, I give you my word, the Daily Planet is not for sale. I'm not selling it, nor would I consider selling it. It's true that in a perfect world, I would not be on a list of media owners, but that damage is done. Selling would only draw more attention, and if keeping it gives you and Lois some added peace of mind, so much the better."
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
"Skyclad and Maccoltrah," Batman repeated, typing ferociously into the Batcomputer. "You say they're magical?"
He had put Selina in a cab after the opera and went straight to the satellite cave under Wayne Tower. Superman was waiting there, as expected, but now that Bruce knew what it was about, he had to wonder why Clark had bothered coming to Gotham in person. It was the sort of research that could have been done over the com from the Fortress or the Watchtower.
Clark shook his head.
"Skyclad claimed to be a witch, but I'm skeptical. It seemed like Maccoltrah was the real source of what was happening, not her. She was waving her arms and putting on a show, but I didn't detect any signs of mental or physical effort on her part. Plus, I've been caught up in magic-induced illusions before and this felt different. I had this strange taste in my mouth right before it started, something that… after Red Kryptonite exposure, I've had a taste like that."
"Electro-chemical," Batman said flatly. "An unexplained taste, usually sour or metallic, is a symptom of something affecting the electro-chemical signals in the brain. Maccoltrah, I wonder… Would you say this 'illusion' you experienced was more like a vision or could it be more accurately described as a hallucination."
"A hallucination," Superman said the last words along with Batman. "That's why I came to you instead of going straight to STAR Labs. They understand my Kryptonian biology better, but this… Given what I saw, I couldn't help thinking of your Scarecrow. I'm not saying he is necessarily involved, I've no reason to think his toxins work on me. I was just thinking this could be a similar…"
"Yes," Batman said gravely. "It could. Clark, you said she called him 'Maccoltrah'. Could she have been saying MKULTRA?"
"Maybe," Superman nodded. "Who is it?"
"Not a who, a what. In the early 1950s, the CIA had reports that the Soviets were experimenting with mind control. They developed their own counter program, MKULTRA. It encompassed a hundred and fifty subprograms over the next twenty years, most involving drugs, chemicals, and 'psychopharmaceuticals'. There's one recorded death resulting from an LSD 'mishap', but little else is known for certain because all the documents were destroyed in 1973. There are… stories, however, an inter-agency myth that there was a more serious mishap. An experimental subject with chemically engineered abilities who became unstable, an uncontrollable threat, and was placed in cryogenic suspension after he turned his abilities against the scientists running the program."
"Does this 'myth' mention his abilities?" Clark asked, aghast.
"Allegedly, he could psychically project the effects of a drug into another mind. Inject him with truth serum, point him at a third party, it's as if they're injected."
"That's monstrous," Clark gaped.
"You'll get no argument from me. If this 'Skyclad' thawed him out, she's essentially found a way to make you vulnerable to all the drugs and chemicals that effect human brain chemistry. She can't poison you or shut down any vital functions in your brain without killing this MKULTRA too, but she could subject you to a myriad of unpleasant experiences."
Superman felt a hot nausea that required no Cold-War-experiment-gone-wrong explanation.
"You still have the ring," he said quietly. "Just in case?"
It wasn't really a question, and Batman didn't bother with an answer beyond tensing certain muscles above the eyelid that subliminally suggested a nod.
"Keep it handy for the next few days," Clark said unnecessarily.
The nausea intensified. He felt like a hypocrite. Neither man had mentioned the protocols, but neither one had to. This was the reason for them, right here. Every day of his life, Clark lived with the knowledge that he could kill every person around him. He could never touch a human without that awareness and restraint. And he knew he absolutely could not live with himself if he ever lost control and hurt Lois—or Jimmy, or Perry, or any of the four billion vulnerable souls who were born on this planet where he had made himself a home uninvited. How could he live with himself if something happened that he should have foreseen and he didn't take any steps to prevent it? So, there was the ring. Rather than destroy Luthor's kryptonite ring when he got his hands on it, Clark entrusted it to a man with the resourcefulness and reverence for life to… Another wave of hot nausea washed over him, and Clark felt that, if he didn't change the subject fast, he might be ill right there on the Batcave floor.
"Hey, what were you doing on that rooftop as Bruce Wayne, anyway?" he asked, grabbing at the first subject that came into his head.
"Selina's Christmas present. Season tickets to the opera, we sneak up to the roof for an aria or two, it's… sort of a private joke."
"Ah." There was no death glare this time. The tone was eerily casual, almost foppish. Clark guessed that Bruce could sense his embarrassment bringing up the ring with all its protocol overtones, so he was going along with the whole 'friendly conversation' thing this time, just to help his friend move on from an awkward subject. "What did she get you?" Clark asked, with an equally casual lightness that, in him, came off folksy rather than foppish. "Another inside joke?"
"No, not at all." Bruce met his eye—and although it was through the eye-slits of the Batcowl, those were Bruce's eyes and not Batman's—and the eerily casual tone had been replaced by one that was eerily… charged. "She gave me… she gave me the most extraordinary demonstration that 'not hurting me' was her top priority. It was really… she is really an exceptional woman."
She must be, Clark thought. He knew how long he had waited to tell Lois his secret, and Bruce was ten times as cautious and a thousand times slower to trust. Add in that Selina Kyle wasn't an innocent damsel Bruce knew in his civilian life who only knew Batman as an occasional rescuer. She was Catwoman, in…
"Rao's name," Clark breathed.
"What?! What is it?" Batman asked sternly.
"Nothing," Clark said, preparing to leave… then he reconsidered. If he was asking Batman to watch his back during a potential mind-control episode, it was not the time to be flying off after mysterious utterances. "I was just remembering when she came to Metropolis to steal the X27 plans from LexCorp, that's all. I had just proposed to Lois, she accepted, and I hadn't told her who I was yet. Alfred gave me quite the rap on the knuckles about that."
"Oh yeah. Remember how you were in town for some 'business deal' with Luthor that we all knew was going nowhere. Catwoman showed up to steal those plans, and naturally 'Bruce Wayne' made a quick exit. After Catwoman escaped, as soon as Luthor saw that Wayne was still nowhere to be seen, he tried to poach Alfred."
"Oh yes, I did hear about that," Bruce chuckled. "Offered to double his salary, Alfred said."
"Well, I doubt Alfred told you the exact words of his refusal. Bruce, your butler stood toe to toe with Lex Luthor and said that if he was ever looking for new employment, he'd rather work for Catwoman. She doesn't hide who she is. Luthor stormed off chewing nails, and I smiled and said something complimentary. It's not every day someone cuts Luthor down that way, not to his face. And Alfred turned to me with this look I couldn't describe if my life depended on it, and he said I wasn't any better. And then he said I should 'Tell her. Soon.'"
There was an odd twitchy movement at the corner of Bruce's lip as he said "Sounds like him, on both counts."
Again their eyes met.
"Should I be planning to tell her, Bruce?"
"You told Lois your identity the day we brought her to the Batcave and told her about the ring. With Luthor in the White House, she had to know what became of that ring for her own peace of mind. But she didn't have to know you were Bruce Wayne. That was your call, Bruce. Do you remember what you said?"
"I said once she knew you'd entrusted the ring to Batman, I thought it was important she know what kind of man Batman is. And if the situation was reversed, I don't think I'd feel too comfortable with the kind of man who would accept that ring and everything it implied while hiding his face behind a... Alfred really said that about Selina?"
"He said it about Catwoman long before any of us heard the name Selina Kyle. Look, I have to get back to Metropolis before Skyclad and MKULTRA can regroup, but I want you to think about this. It was trusting the others in the League enough to take off that mask that brought them around to trusting you again. You knew it would when you proposed it. This thing with you and Selina... I'm not about to make any assumptions about what it is or where it's going, but Bruce, it's obvious that you trust her implicitly, and there is no other person on this planet whose judgment I believe in more than yours."
Clark placed his hand on Bruce's shoulder. "You trusted Lois so she would know she could trust you. If… if it's time for Selina Kyle to feel she can trust Superman that way, you let me know."
Seeing no criminal below, nor any signs of criminal activity, Batman fired a line, snaring a gargoyle on the face of the Sterling Trust Building. Checking tension with a reflexive tug, he swung effortlessly into the abyss, his mass cutting the air like a blade. Muscle memory and unthinking reflexes shifted his knees, tipped his head back and pulled his legs into position for optimum speed. His body slashed through the wind, perfectly balanced, perfectly controlled, until an effortless shake freed the line from the gargoyle as he dropped to the ledge of the Knickerbocker, overlooking the alley behind… Glare! Whatthe—
His first thought was the Batsignal, but the signal should never be that bright. The moon should never be that bright. He couldn't make out the figures in the alley below for the glare. Batman looked up to identify the culprit, and as he did, the starry sky split open like a curtain into a blinding glare of white.
"Good morning, sir. I trust you slept well."
Bruce rolled onto his side with a grimace, fleeing the demon brightness, until an accusatory throat-clearing from Alfred compelled him to turn back. He pushed himself back on the bed until his back was up against the headboard, and Alfred gently positioned a legged breakfast tray across his lap. Bruce stifled a final yawn and let the smell of the warm food lure him back to the land of the living. There was an assortment of toast and muffins with various spreads, several strips of bacon, a soft-boiled egg on a Limoges china stand, two glasses of orange juice, and a silver pot of coffee.
"Anything pressing?" he asked, glancing at the letters and papers in the bin on the side of the tray, behind his morning Times.
"No, sir, merely a few matters which should be addressed before they become pressing. The Festival Français de Vin is almost upon us and—"
"Oh, right, the food thing. Can't we get out of it, Alfred?" He picked up the first glass of juice and drank it down in a series of urgent gulps.
"I regret, sir, that 'we' cannot. Given the admirable standard you have always set with respect to taking responsibility for your actions, I am forced to remind you that I am under considerable obligation to Monsieur Anatole for salvaging Master Dick's dinner with Miss Barbara. And as I was forced to beg the assistance of that odious little man due to your own actions, sir—"
"It's not like I robbed a bank, Alfred. It was a glass bowl on the kitchen counter. I thought it was sugar—"
"—As I was saying, sir, we are obligated to host the event. As it will bring strangers into the manor, I have completed a thorough inventory of the cave, so we may proceed with the customary lockdown and freezing of purchases and deliveries."
"DefCon 4, yes, fine. Anything else?"
"Yes, sir, I contacted Mr. Bastion at Cartier. Unfortunately, he in Antwerp until next week. I felt sure that you would prefer that Master Dick wait to have a personal consultation, so I said I would call back at that time to arrange an appointment."
"That's fine, that's fine," Bruce said as he took a bite out of a strip of bacon. "Whatever you have to do there. This is the first and probably the last time I'll ever say this, but this is one thing I want to be all Bruce Wayne and absolutely no Batman. No discretion, no concern about the public persona or strangers in the house. I want this wedding to be the social event of the season. Dick is my son, and I haven't always shown him how much that means. It's time to make up for it."
"I shall endeavor to make the event all you would wish, sir, and all the young people would wish… which does introduce another matter. It occurs to me that Miss Selina has broken several deadlocks with respect to the wedding plans, voting down some truly deplorable suggestions from that unfortunate Mr. Cory. Returning briefly to the subject of Cartier, it might not be amiss to have Mr. Bastion bring a selection of more 'casual' items for you to view when he comes to consult with Master Dick about the engagement ring."
"Alfred, I'm as relieved as you are that there isn't going to be a calypso band at the reception, but Selina does not require a thank you. She's only voting against Dick. No matter what side he takes in the voting, she goes the other way. It's… I'm not really sure what the underlying issue is, but Catwoman was always predictable that way. Once the claws come ou… Uh oh." On the nightstand, Bruce's cell phone vibrated in its charger, a specific vibration: one short, one long, two short. "That's the League communicator," Bruce graveled. "I was afraid of this. It's why I cut patrol short last night, to be rested this morning, just in case."
*** YEARS LATER ***
… imposing a fictional model on the heroes that dates back to King Arthur and Lancelot, or even Robin Hood and Little John, where the future allies must fight the first time they meet (Thunmonkerly, p. 14). While Superheroes can certainly participate in the L-dynamic where life imitates art when the original art reflected truth about the human condition, it is far more likely a conflict will come later when a partnership is well established, and will arise not from artificial and superficial constructs but from the necessity of circumstance…
*** YEARS EARLIER***
Whiskers escorted Bat-Bruce to the door with a happy trot, and then returned to Selina-Cat's feet to rub the scent of his approval into her shoe. Bat-Bruce coming in through the door: GOOD. Descending from the skies as Two-Foot-in—where was she going?
Ah, of course. She was putting on the soft purple from under the bed. Then it would be out onto the balcony, coming back the same way before dawn. But she had no cape and never messed up the jungle leaves.
"Something is definitely wrong, guys. Did you see how he kept tensing up his right hand? It was like that all night, even at the restaurant. If we learned one thing from that whole 'Hell Month' episode it's that Bruce making a fist all night is not a good thing."
Whiskers tried to explain very nicely that he didn't care what Bat-Bruce did with his fist as long as he kept the cape off the jungle plant! With that typical two-foot stubborn that ignores whatever they don't want to talk about, Selina-cat just squatted down to scratch between his ears and said "Don't wait up, Handsome. Kitty gotta prowl."
The historical museum wasn't Catwoman's kind of place. She only broke in the first time to make a point after that Hell Month fight with Bruce… Hell Month. She was upset that night and figured she should go back. She should do it right. Explore all the nooks and crannies, all the details of the alarms and motion sensors, nail down if the guards were consistent with their patrolling or if she just lucked out that night. It made a fun hobby for a few weeks, but she'd had her fill. It was time for a new toy… She thought of the Gotham Racquet Club.
Bruce obviously had some pain in his fingers handling the menu at d'Annunzio's. Giovanni asked about it, and Bruce said he'd banged up his hand playing racquet ball. Selina thought nothing of it at the time, but as Bruce went on rubbing his knuckles throughout the evening, she couldn't help but remember all that unconscious fist-making during Hell Month. It seemed like he was back to normal, but it's not like you could ever be sure with him. And given the way he reacted the last time she brought up a Hell Month subject, she certainly wasn't going to ask. Anyway, the Gotham Racquet Club was a good a place as any to have some fun with a new set of locks and… What… the… Hell…
She was crossing Times Square, and right there on the news crawl it said Batman and Superman had come to blows in Metropolis that afternoon? What the Hell! What the…
The Batsignal… Great. Perfect end to a perfect day. He should have just cancelled the dinner with Selina, stayed in Metropolis, gotten a room at the Four Seasons, and spent the evening with his knuckles cooling in a bowl of ice. If it was anywhere but Metropolis—the last thing he was going to risk was another run-in with Talia. He had been as clear as it was possible to be: They were nothing to each other. They were not going to be anything to each other. He had been as clear as any man could be. As Selina herself put it, a dog can understand 'no'. Ra's al Ghul's daughter, on the other hand, simply couldn't wrap her mind around the concept. She would read anger as passion, pity as tenderness, exasperation as lust—and his being back in Metropolis as proof that he couldn't keep away from her.
So he'd come home. He'd bluffed his way through dinner with Selina, and now Catwoman was draped over the…
Catwoman was draped over the Batsignal like a lounge singer on a grand piano.
She slid off it, silently…
Walked up to him…
With considerably less slink in her hips than usual for that maneuver…
And looked wordlessly into his eyes for what seemed like a full minute…
"This game of 'racquetball' when you banged up your hand, that wouldn't have Superman's serve you were trying to break four hundred feet over Metropolis?"
"Something like that," he graveled.
"You might have mentioned it," Catwoman said coldly.
Batman glared. Nobody challenged him this way. Nobody. If he chose to tell you something, fine. If he didn't, that's the way it was. If he… if…
"It was a long, difficult day. I just didn't want to go through it all again. I didn't want to talk about it."
She gave a wry smile.
"Fair enough," she said finally, although her tone said the opposite. "I mean everybody's entitled to shut down after a bad day, right? But c'mon, you get into a fist fight with Superman, word's gonna get out, and… surprises like that make a girl feel… pretty out of the loop."
He glowered. She was right, and he hated that she was right. Psychobat roared that she wasn't entitled to an accounting of his movements—but even Psychobat had to admit it wasn't unreasonable for the woman he had dinner with—who he was also having sex with—to know as much as any random stranger who had been sitting at home watching the news while they were sitting down at d'Annunzio's.
"Look, next time, if you don't want to talk about it, at least let me know there's something to not talk about, okay?"
It wasn't unreasonable. It wasn't even feline logic. It was just… fair.
And she purred.
"Out of curiosity, Stud, how do you manage to hit him without flat out breaking your hand?"
"It's a knack," he said.
"I take it whatever big-bad red-kryptonite black-magic green-alien other-dimensional-leprechaun set off the 'roid rage Superman is now dispensed with? Or is there liable to be a sequel next week in the middle of Alfred's food and wine shindig?"
Batman's lip twitch.
"It's dispensed with."
"Okay then," she smiled. "I hope that big blue nitwit appreciates it."
He paid one final visit to the bridge—one final, final visit—before compiling his notes. It was all he could think to do. He'd combed the police report, the hospital records, insurance claims and estate settlements. He'd been to the bridge twice, examined the weather reports from the night of the accident and all the city records on the maintenance and safety inspections of the bridge. Everything checked out. He even traced the path that the ambulance would have taken to the hospital, despite the certainty that the Kyles would have perished within minutes of hitting that icy water. Everything was as it seemed at the time: a tragic accident, nothing more. That's when he made that third trip to the bridge… A tragedy that had stripped the protective cocoon from her just as savagely as it had from him, leaving her alone and defenseless in a frightening world. There was nothing he could do about that, but at least he ensured there were no sleeping serpents in that sad tale. No dark surprises that could come back to hurt her. It was all he could think to do in repayment for what she'd done for him.
He'd placed all the files and photographs together with his handwritten notes in a fresh folder, affixed a preprinted label, and took it solemnly to the hologram safe. Opening that safe wasn't something Bruce ever did lightly, but opening it to add something new brought a particular gravitas to the occasion. First, out came the box with the kryptonite ring. Out came his mother's jewelry box, where he kept the personal effects that were returned to him after the… He didn't open it. He just laid it reverently on the side as he lifted the stack of folders and paperwork and slid the new addition on the very bottom. He replaced the jewelry box and the ring box, and as he closed the door, he mentally shut it away in a similar vault in his mind. She would never know he'd conducted that investigation…
Then, today, when he got back from Metropolis, he opened the safe again to put back the ring. He had such an odd feeling opening the door again so soon, such an odd feeling remembering there was something new in there… and why.
"I hope that big blue nitwit appreciates it."
Maybe she did have a right to know. She wasn't his wife, Lois was Clark's wife, but…
"I hope that big blue nitwit appreciates it."
When Clark first drew that comparison, it seemed absurd. "You always ask about Lois." Selina was not Lois Lane, but… but… He investigated the accident that killed her parents because he couldn't stand the thought of some ghastly new information surfacing in the future, something that would tear open that old wound, something that would hurt her.
"I hope that big blue nitwit appreciates it."
She didn't want to see him hurt, that's what that empty box at Christmas said. She didn't want to see him hurt. The same feelings he had for her that led to investigating… that's what she felt for him. She cared about him as much as he cared for her.
"You get into a fist fight with Superman, word's gonna get out."
Maybe she did have a right to know…
ºº Death prowls the jungle. Woe to my prey, once the Jungle Cat of Death has chosen, none can escape. Keen are the eyes of the Jungle Cat, sharp are his claws, and powerful is his jaw. Silent, he crouches. Silent and invisible, he lies in wait. Nothing can approach without his notice, nothing can— CAPE! ºº
Whiskers hunched low behind the planter and hissed at a rhythmic disturbance of the moonlight above, a disturbance that was becoming all too familiar. First came the fluttery break in the shafts of moonlight, then there was a rustling sound and the boot—NO! WHAT?! NO!!!
The moonlight flickered a second time, and the rustle was different. Not one but TWO sets of boots landing and—ACK! No sooner did the first cape sweep over the jungle plant, a second cape brushed the top of Whiskers's own tail!
Batman and Superman stood in Selina's living room, the former glancing around to confirm all the curtains were drawn, the latter looking photogenic but tongue tied.
"I think you two know each other," Batman prompted.
"It's been a while," Selina said lightly. She had just returned from her prowl and had only removed her gloves and mask when the visitors arrived. Bruce alone, she would have purred and offered coffee. The pair of them dropping in together and unannounced, they didn't get coffee. They got felinity. "That was some interesting footage on CNN, Spitcurl. Looked like you threw a helicopter at my boyfriend."
Superman glanced at Batman, who merely strolled over to the pullcord for the floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds that covered the glass doors and panels leading to the balcony.
"Don't worry, I don't hold those things against anyone," Selina laughed brightly. "I know better than anyone that if it's in the press, it's probably wrong. And newspapers or video doesn't make much difference."
"But she is aware the fight yesterday was real," Batman noted, then turning to Selina he added, "You saw my hand."
"Y-yes," she nodded. "Look fellas, I like a game of cat and mouse as much as the next kitty, but it's late. My work day is over, which you can tell by the fact that I'm home and my mask is sitting on the coffee table, so could we move this along?"
"She has a point," Batman said, removing his cowl and placing it on the table next to her mask. Then he turned to Superman.
"Just like that?" Superman asked.
Bruce nodded and turned to Selina. "You might want to sit down," he advised, sitting himself.
Before she could do so or respond, she found she was looking at Clark Kent standing where Superman had been.
"For the record," he said in a nasal, whiney voice, "some of us in the media consider our job to be a, a sacred trust, necessary for a working democracy. Without a free press acting honorably, reporting the truth of what happens as objectively as we can and making sure all sides get a fair hearing, you don't have an informed public. Without that…" he nervously adjusted his glasses at the bridge support over the nose, "without that, voters can't make an informed decision…" Finding the adjustment unsatisfactory, he adjusted his glasses again on the side. "So you see, the very foundation of democracy is this idea that the majority will make the right decision if they have all the information, and you can't achieve that without an active and honorable press."
By this time, Selina had sunk slowly and silently onto the sofa behind her.
"Uh, yeah, okay," she said now that the introduction to Professor Kent's Journalism 101 lecture seemed to be paused.
"Oh, sorry," he said in an embarrassed absent-minded way, "Clark Kent, Daily Planet."
He extended his hand and Selina shook it, looked at Bruce, then back at Clark, and then back at Bruce again.
"Another blithering airhead, what is it with you guys?"
Neither man responded, but Clark sat clumsily in a deep chair, as if the seat was an inch lower than he expected. Then he sat up a little straighter and continued in his natural voice.
"As everyone knows, I came to Earth when my home planet of Krypton was on the brink of destruction. I was an infant at the time. The ship landed in Smallville, Kansas. A farm family, the Kents, found me and raised me as their son."
"Why tell me?" Selina asked in wonder.
"Because I threw a helicopter at your boyfriend," Clark said seriously. "I wish I could say it won't happen again, but we all know it could. It's only right that you know what Bruce risks his life for."
"Fair enough. And… well, thank you for telling me. "
Superman smiled warmly and Selina raised an eyebrow.
"Wait. Kent, Planet. You're married to Lois Lane?"
Clark absently fiddled with his wedding ring. "Yes."
"Well, that explains a lot. So, what kind of name is 'Skyclad' anyway? Doesn't it mean naked?"
"Not in her case. Her costume seems to take the phrase literally," Clark answered. "Kind of a bodystocking/video screen. It goes from photorealistic white clouds on a blue background to an equally photorealistic night sky covered in stars."
Selina puckered her lips like she tasted something sour.
"That is tragic. So, other than this revelation that every week you cash a paycheck from a newspaper that's practically Superman's press secretary, is there anything else we have to discuss tonight?"
The two heroes looked at each other and shrugged.
"No, that's about it," Clark said, standing as if he was just released from the dentist's chair.
"I'll call you tomorrow," Bruce said, kissing Selina's cheek before taking his cowl from the table.
ºº The Jungle Cat will be avenged,ºº Whiskers vowed. ººCaped fiends, beware! When you least expect it, vengeance will be mine. ºº
*** YEARS LATER ***
…and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and relationships while remaining true to themselves, their histories, and their ideals. (Cavendah, p. 34) In essence, according to Donnel, the whole can be more than the sum of their parts only when both individuals are complete and self-actualized persons to begin with, and when the overriding socio-dynamic is
Tim erased the last sentence, the last paragraph, and the last page. Then he scrolled back to page one and read his intro up to the statement of his thesis. Then he held his middle finger up to the screen.
"I was going to ask how it's going," Clark said brightly. "Maybe this isn't the best time for that?"
Tim turned and greeted his surprise visitor, who explained that he'd just come from the manor and that Bruce, Selina, and Alfred all mentioned his project. Tim admitted it wasn't going to well.
"That's why I dropped in," Clark said with a wink. "I have some experience writing about 'what I do'. Maybe I can give you some pointers."
"Whoa, could you!" Tim exclaimed. "I didn't think of that… wow you… you do do that, don't you!"
"Let's see what you've got," Clark laughed, glancing at a page of notes next to the printer. "Oh Tim, 'opportunities to observe Batman informally'?"
© 2009, Chris Dee
Long-standing mystery of Scarecrow Toxin SOLVED.
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