I hated this part.
Just because you'd been born with superpowers, or have been an infected by an exobyte, didn't mean you were invulnerable. Superman is the exception. Not the rule. Even under the fur I'd been 'gifted' by an exobyte, there was skin. Cut the skin, and I'd bleed. Bleed me enough, and I would die. Healing power did not go on forever.
I'd been hired by the Justice League in public relations. In this case, my job was to write obituaries for those who had died in the line of duties. Local papers, the Justice League newsletter, that kind of thing. At least it wasn't my job to tell the next of kin. Many of those didn't even know the fallen had taken up heroics.
I don't think I could have handled that.
"She was quick with a joke, quick to volunteer in case of an emergency alert..." I had to stop, wiping my eyes. There were a lot of members in the Justice League now. There were a lot of people I didn't know.
This one I did. I simply couldn't finish. She was one of the ones who had practiced with me in Diana's class. I rubbed my eyes, clearing the tears. I was interrupted by a beep on my communicator watch. (That still sounds weird to say, like I was part of CONTROL or something.)
I picked it up, trying to remember how to activate it. I took me a few seconds, but I managed it.
"Took long enough," came the voice on the other side.
"Batman," I said, biting my tongue. "I was working on an obituary. I apologize,"
"Ah," there was a moment of actual apologetic silence. "I need your help,"
I swallowed. I wasn't high on the priority list. Wait. What had he said. "You?" I asked, "Not the league?"
"Selena Kyle has contacted me. There's been an incident at the Gotham University Warehouse, and she's asked for help. I need it to be you."
"Me?" I asked. "Why?"
There was another pause. "I don't have time to explain," He said. There was the sound of footsteps in the background. "Trust me. Go." The communicator winked out. The address remained.
For the record, I do not really like Batman.
I saved the draft, then climbed down the stairs to my new car. I plugged the address into the GPS system Sheri had got me last Christmas, and began the drive to Gotham. It was late enough in the evening that traffic was light. I made it up the tollway in about twenty minutes, from there, another twenty into Gotham proper.
I parked in an all night parking tower, and began making my way to the warehouse.
For the record, I've been practicing with both a grappling hook and a whip. I've gotten good at the whip as a weapon, but using it as a mode of transportation was still beyond me. I jogged.
When I got to it, the door was locked. I could hear movement from inside. I could also smell smoke.
Smoke makes it a lot easier to justify breaking down the door. There a stairwell, completely blocked by fallen debris. I could hear someone calling at me from beyond. "Hey! Help!"
I swallowed. There was an odd feeling in the air, something was making my fur stand on end. I looked around. The walls had been weakened by the falling debris, and I began to make my way through it.
I dug through in an almost horseshoe like pattern, back into the main tunnel. There had to be more to it, this was almost too easy. I couldn't take time to figure that out, though. I was looking for the fire, and for the person that was calling for help.
Which meant the tiger completely blindsided me.
I say tiger, because that's what I thought it was. But the tiger was just as human as I was. It pounced at me, I could feel the claws digging into my skin. There was a lack of human intelligence in the eyes. It had knocked me on the back. Completely by instinct, I kicked up, throwing the cat-man into the opposite wall.
It snarled in pain, and bounded back toward me.
I was ready this time. I hadn't had three months of regular martial arts training with Diana for nothing. I met his charge with a punch to the face and, while he staggered, followed up with a knee to the upper chest.
This put the tiger thing on the ground, staring up at me. He had the wind knocked out of him, but wasn't unconscious. I corrected that with a blow to the chin.
I got the first one down just in time to see two more bearing down on me.
I had a moment to see them in a better light. They were, essentially, male versions of me. They were built along human lines, but featured a torso covered with tiger striped fur. The only real difference was the face, which was much more feline looking than my own.
I didn't like the two to one odds that were coming my way. So I sped one of them up. Remember how I said I'd been practicing with a whip? I wish I could say I expertly lassoed one of them and yanked them towards me. It'd be more accurate to say I managed to trip it and it stumbled towards me.
This left me plenty of opportunity to strike the first blow. I was much more attuned to my body than I had been. I could feel my adrenaline levels surging already, and if needed. I could push it even higher.
There was a savagery in their attacks that I was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to match. I didn't have to. These were clearly unthinking brutes, and I could out maneuver and out think them. I was light enough on my feet to make sure that they couldn't corner me. It took a few shots to put the first one down, but I could do that. Going one on one with the one that was left was relatively easy.
Still had to catch my breath afterward. My shoulder was bleeding. I don't remember how it happened. Probably some of their claws (another difference) caught flesh. I put my own hand on it and focused for a moment. I could feel the skin regrowing, knitting itself back together. It didn't reduce me to the point of exhaustion that it used to. Still was tiring.
As I moved forward, now wary for any other attackers, I could feel the strange aura fading. My fur settled down. I pushed my way forward into what seemed to be the main receiving area. I could see four large cat statues. One clearly was a lion, one a tiger, the other two were a little less distinct. Maybe panthers, or cougars.
They all were crafted from what appeared to be marble, and they looked incredibly lifelike. The one flaw was their eyes. They looked to have socket style holes where eyes, probably jewels, should have been.
In the middle of all this was Catwoman – Selena Kyle. She looked me up and down, then released a quiet snicker. "Ah, you're the one Batman sent?" She asked.
I nodded. Catwoman was a lithe acrobatic woman. I'd seen her on news reports a couple of times. She was wearing a black leather, skintight, catsuit. It looked insanely uncomfortable. Infrared goggles sat on her forehead as she studied me. "What happened here?" I asked.
"Some kind of mystic relics," she said, indicating the statues in front of her. "They've started turning all ordinary people into cats."
I blinked. "Why didn't it effect..." I scratched my initial thought. It couldn't effect me. I was already a cat. So that's why Batman chose me for the role.
Catwoman grinned at me.
"Why didn't you change?" I asked.
"Force of will, I think. I've gone through being a cat once," she cleared her throat. "And I think we're in kind of the eye of the mystical hurricane."
"Well, all right," I told her. "So how to we stop this?"
"There were some powerful creatures released by the statues. They took the diamond eyes and fled. I think if we put the eyes back in the statues, we'll seal the evil back in the can."
Either Catwoman had been through this too many times, or I'd played too many video games. It sounded altogether too logical. "Then let's go. I could use the help."
"I don't dare. If I'm out there too long, I think I'd change just like the rest of them. Then I'd be no use to try to put an end to it." Her voice was serious. She believed this. "I need a cats paw." At least she was honest about it. "Unless you want Gotham to become a wild kingdom..."
"I've got it. I've got it.. Open the door... and I'll get started."
In memory of Diabolic Peach