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Singular Universe: Brave New World -- IC Thread


Harley nodded. She had had a bit of medical training, mostly first aid, when she first signed on at the old Asylum. Resetting shoulders was tops among that traning.

She grabbed, took a deep breath, and pulled with all her might.

Nothing.

One more time...

And there was the pop, and the scream. Harley's heart ached for this man. His brilliance was misunderstood, and he paid for it by being beat to a pulp by a nut dressed as a bat and his tween ***** in leggings.

The adrenaline was still running high, but the danger had passed. Harley took the opportunity to make a move of her own. She grabbed a handul of the Joker's crotch and leaned in close, her lips mere millimeters from his.

[BLACKOUT]"Would you like me to make this feel better too, Puddin'?"[/BLACKOUT]


"Oh my. I think you better come round to my place for a cup of coffee."

With that, The Joker and Harley Quinn retreated to one of The Joker's hideouts, and what happened next is between The Joker and Harley Quinn.
 
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"I am unsurprised to report that your target is gone. Lost in the wind."

Panic begins to overwhelm the onlookers standing just behind the now destroyed police barricade set up infront of the entrance to the Gotham Riverwalk, with most forced to dive out of the way in a frenzy as the Batman's infamous vehicle jettisons over the ramp of the docks and it's four steel tires collide with solid concrete in a brilliant flash of sparks. The afterburner blasts to life and in seconds, the heavily armored jet-black car hits speeds of over ninety miles an hour. Within a few seconds more, the Batmobile is nowhere to be seen, lost in a thick haze of black smoke left intentionally behind to mask it's trail - leaving the crowd in a state of shock as a whole. Firstly, to have even seen the mysterious vigilante and his young partner in action when they were both supposed to be urban myths, and secondly, to have witnessed the remnants of the latest massacre committed by the crazed clown known and feared by many as The Joker. As GCPD squad cars and EMTs rushed the scene, it became evident what the story on page one would be the following morning.

And yet to one nearby onlooker, having positioned themselves silently on a rooftop overlooking the scene, there was no sense of either - their intentions were an entirely different agenda at work. For weeks now, the individual had been performing this same routine. Following, tracking, and reporting what little intel that they could scavenge. And since the very moment that word of The Clown Prince of Crime's open attack on civilians had broken out across every news outlet in Gotham, the figure disguised in silhouette had prepared to come here and potentially intervene. But it was not out of a sense of duty to the people of Gotham, whom the person saw as nothing more than nameless insignificants until deemed otherwise. It wasn't even out of some intention to throw themself in harm's way to try and save the innocent people gunned down by a hapless lunatic.

In truth, the individual had desperately wanted to prevent further lives from being taken, and had even gone as far as assisting The Dynamic Duo from the shadows. Seeking to keep them alive, the shadowy figure clad in black had momentarily stunned a few of the Gotham City police officers who attempted to fire on The Boy Wonder during their brief altercation with little more than a blowdart. But it went against the agent's protocol to break cover and compromise their investigation any further than that. The real reason she was in Gotham at all was because of him. Who he really was, what his intentions were, and whether he could ultimately be trusted to do what was right.

"Care to elaborate on that one, Agent? There's nothing you can do to trace the vehicle?"

"That behemoth of machinery? Please,", she scoffed. "You would be wasting your manpower and my efforts all at once. He has obviously put an upwards of millions, if not billions into it's modifications. All very custom made, all very specific to his purposes. Wherever he nests, you will not follow him."

From what she had witnessed tonight, it seemed as though the answers to all three were becoming more clear. An intrigued glare framed behind her eyes, she reeled back the pair of binoculars she had used to monitor the scene and placed the remainder of her equipment into miniaturized compartments on her person. She had spent weeks intently studying his body language, his weight and height, his jawline - everything telling about a man that only the heavily trained could discern from simple observation. It was not only clear to her that the mysterious Batman was infact the same boy who had lost his parents to an armed mugger twenty years prior in these very alleyways, as her employer had long suspected, but that he was channeling the pain of that incident to fight for the good of Gotham.

What troubled her was that he wasn't fighting hard enough. Were she not under strict orders, she could have easily placed a bullet squarely between the eyes of both The Joker and his new associate from her vantage point, solving a long-standing problem in Gotham almost instantaneously. So the question that clouded her mind was a very simple one - why hadn't the man who seemed obsessed with nothing else than to solve all of the city's problems already done so?

"That's a shame. I was hoping to wrap this up quickly. Time is not on our side anymore,", the voice on the transceiver responded.

"Am I to take your estimation of the car's worth as confirmation that you've verified our intel on the target?"

"Quite so, Director Fury. There is no question.", the Agent of SHIELD and Avenger replied. "Bruce Wayne is indeed The Batman."

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"And that information is precisely what will motivate him to cooperate."

"Yeah I figured we might."

Robin knew he was most likely in for a lecture, and probably rightfully so. He really screwed the pooch, taking his eyes off that Quinn chick, and two cops had paid the price.

Still, he did have a little bit of good news to report. Maybe he could get his side in first and soften the blow a little.

"I got a name on the guy snatching up the young girls. Or, at least, an alias. Some psycho calling himself 'Dollmaker'. And, well, I think I might have a way to find him."

The Boy Wonder glanced at The Dark Knight out of the corner of his eye. Batman didn't try to jump right in, so Robin continued.

"I had a little help tonight roughing up a few of those biker weenies. Kind of a female version of you. Only curvier. Kinda cuter, but not much."

Batman cleared his throat. He was running out of time.

"Sorry. She, uh, well this girl, it turns out that she just so happens being the same girl who I went out on a date with tonight. Barbara Gordon."

He didn't know how Batman would react to the news, or the name Gordon. Only the slightest shifting of his eyes under the lenses.

"I was thinking, maybe, well, she was pretty good tonight. Lot of talent. Maybe, maybe if we bring her in, work together, give her a little bit of training, she's just about the right age, right fit, for the girls being targeted. We get her on the inside, track her to this guy's hideout or whatever, and then the three of us take him out for good."

In all honesty, Robin had just thought of the plan on the fly, but he had impressed himself. He really wanted a way to bring up bringing Barbara into the fold, and having an endgame, using it to do some good, well maybe the old softy occupying the seat beside him would be receptive.

"So--?"

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In life, there's often said to be a time and a place for everything. While I admire the boy's forthright admission of a few certain details that he clearly didn't want to divulge,I don't think Dick could have possibly chosen the worst time imaginable. Tonight has already been one of the worst I've ever had to face since this all started - between the likely cavernously deep stab wound still gushing out a river of blood at my side, rendering my condition worse by the moment, to being rendered unable to stop a man from being shot to death, to then having The Joker resurface after months of just to add even further bloodshed that I failed to prevent - and that's even avoiding the hallucination I suffered of the voice of my own father coming out of what should have been the corpse of Deacon Blackfire. After having gone through all of that, I can honestly say I'm not in the mood for much of anything further. Truth be told, I hoped to allow enough silence to set in before I even tried to speak to Dick about what happened back there.

But this news about Jim's daughter. It's almost too much for me to fully process. Primarily because while I still consider him one of my closest allies, Gordon and I haven't spoken in nearly eighteen months. The strain of what happened with Harvey was too much for either of us to cope with, let alone whatever alliance we shared. Now that he's Mayor of Gotham, I'd already remained more reluctant than ever to reach out to him to try and patch up any old wounds. But this almost certainly complicates it even further. How am I supposed to tell him that his own daughter is now, apparently, following in my footsteps? There's no possible way it wouldn't permanently fracture what's already broken about our relationship to begin with.

Secondly, Dick's feelings are a matter that I need to consider heavily. While he could have easily lied to me and covered for her, he didn't. He was quick to inform me without any discernible reason other than loyalty. I want to say that makes me proud of him, but I'd be avoiding the real issue. Not only does he want the Gordon girl on our side, he seems to be desperate for my approval to induct her into a mission that would endanger her life. And I can't possibly give that to him. No rational man would ever sign off on something like that. It was hard enough to accept the reality of what I'd done whenever I decided to train him. Adding a third element is out of the question.

"Dick,", I begin, after nearly fifteen minutes of silence on the drive back. "Consider what you're asking me for a moment. You're telling me that you want to bring a civilian... no, not even a civilian. You're telling me that you want to bring Barbara Gordon, the Mayor's daughter, into the fold on a highly dangerous investigation involving a psychopathic serial murderer who specifically targets victims matching her description."

He almost shrinks in his seat, and I don't blame him. But I don't nessecarily hold back my gaze, either, as he looks upon me with even the smallest fragment of hope that I'll make a decision entirely contrary to what I've just spelled out for him.

"And not only that, but you're also telling me she's taken up the crusade on her own, using my image. A crusade that nearly got us killed tonight, despite all of our training. What if she were to face someone like The Joker? Or the police? Or something worse? How would we train her to overcome something we can barely beat ourselves?"

Before he replies, I cut him off, focusing on the road ahead.

"I understand your feelings for this girl. Believe it or not, I've felt the same way. But I also know what it's like to let your feelings cloud your judgement. And Dick, this is not the best judgement you've ever had. What you're asking is reckless and irresponsible, even for what we do."

I hate to come down on him like this, but he can't possibly think I would have ever even considered to an agreement with this.

"The answer is no."
 
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I designed the Watchtower myself. Built it with Stark technology. Launched it into orbit personally, by hand. It's my baby, and the first step in the culmination of my goals. Making it self-sufficient was always part of the plan. Granted, linking it to the OMAC's is new, but no matter what the League says, the Brother Eye program is going online.

Ugh. I hate monitor duty. It feels like such a waste of time. Popular opinion says that Reed Richards is more intelligent than I am. That he's the smartest man in the world even. I disagree with that.

Reed's just a thinker. It's what makes him look smarter because he spends all his time formulating theories. I'm a doer. I spend my time actually doing things: inventing, designing, building, saving lives. Don't get me wrong, Mr. Fantastic has saved us all time and again, but he's an explorer first and foremost. He works to expand our understanding of the universe. My job is to protect people from the darker side of the universe. I'm good at my job, but I can't help but feel like my talent is squandered here in the monitor womb.

"Womb" is a good term for this room. It's dark and enclosed, and I've designed it to hook directly into my armor. It allows my A.I. to process all the information as it comes. We all have our methods here. Clark, Pietro, and Diana all use their superspeed to switch their view from screen to screen. J'onn gives himself a crapload of eyes and watches them all at once. Wanda does... something. Bruce is the only one who has to sit and watch everything, yet he always seems to be the one to catch problems the earliest.

Boss, take a look at this.

My HUD fills with live satellite footage of London in flames. Emergency services were trying to control the chaos while everyone else was trying to flee for their lives. Everyone else aside from one man. One very familiar-seeming man.

"Tina, find me an better view of this."

My display changes, this time showing me a news report. The man appeared to be firing blasts of energy at people, just randomly causing havoc. Definitely a job for a superhero. The display changes again. This time Tina shows me surveillance video, and a clear view of the man's face. My heart (figuratively) stops when I see it.

"Tina, disengage." I command, reeling from disbelief. "I've got to deal with this myself."

What about your monitor duty? Quicksilver can get there in less than a minute, and there may be other crises happening around the world.

"Tina, this is personal. If you're so concerned about monitor duty, you can stay behind. I'll have JARVIS meet me with the Mark VI over London."

I slide out of her, heading to the teleporters while making arrangements for my older armor to be waiting to receive me. As my atoms disassemble, I still can't believe it.

The Mandarin's alive.
 
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The Kree warrior approaches the building. No weapons. Which is weird. Kree aren't particularly powerful without them. A little stronger than humans, but not much. And definitely will be in for a surprise when he tries to tangle with me. Maybe he won't be violent though... maybe he's a diplomat. Sigh. Yeah, right. Keep dreaming Kara.

"Computer. Lockdown procedure Alpha Bravo."

"Need two tier verification."

"Mom, dad, quick!"

As my parents verified their presence to initiate the lockdown of STAR Labs building, they did so just a moment too late, as the Kree wedged his arm in the door, preventing the steel shutters from slamming shut. I can tell that it didn't feel good however, as I see the bones in that arm shatter and the cringe overtake the man's face. His left arm is useless now, so that's a plus.

I hear words come out of his mouth, a language I've never heard outside of news recordings. It takes a moment before the universal translator that he's wearing kicks in.

"...Have something that belongs to me.Give it back and I shall not kill you."

"I'd like to see you try. Go back to Hala, and leave this planet. It is protected."

"By who? You? You are not more than an adolescent girl." The way he says girl shows the contempt he has for my gender.

"I'm sure you'll find me a bit more than the average girl."

"Fool. You likely know not what you are guarding. Your arrogance will be the downfall of this planet. After I retrieve the Psyche-Magnitron, I will summon the Kree battle fleet and we will lay waste to your precious planet."

"Wouldn't be the first time my people have sent you imperialist jerks packing."

At that I can see a confused look on his face, and he looks me over.

"...A Kryptonian?! But how? Their planet was destroyed decades ago."

"Just call me lucky."

"No matter. I will reunite you with the rest of your backwater race soon enough."

So much for diplomacy.

With that, he runs at me. A tactic I wasn't expecting, and it hits me off guard. Wait. Not at. Past. Rao. He's headed for the machine. I spin as he sprints past me, and take a moment to process it, before launching myself after him. I tackle him as he reaches the machine, and can hear it whirring in response to whatever he just did.

"Fool. This is no mere weapon. This is the Psyche Magnitron. The most useful device in Kree history. Watch and learn you pitiful female."

He tosses me like I'm a sack of potatoes. I put a dent in the steel shutter as I collide with it at a couple hundred miles an hour. People know that me and my cousin are pretty much invulnerable, but what they don't realize is that just means that we feel pain a little differently than most people. Just because my back's not broken from that impact doesn't mean it felt good.

"You see one of the things the Psyche Magnitron does is bolsters it's user's strength, speed and reflexes. Sorry you had to die to find this out, girly."

"You thought that could kill me? You're a bit full of yourself, aren't you Mr. Meninist?"

I see a look of surprise on his face as I stand up unscathed. He'd be used to normal red sun Kryptonians. Not many would know what our physiology would do under a yellow sun like Sol.

"So you're tougher than you look. No matter. The other thing the Psyche Magnitron can do will help me to deal with you." I see particles manifesting around the machine, and watch them as they assemble into something in the Kree's hand. "And my name is Yon-Rogg. Not Men-Inist. You'll do well to learn it, as it will escape your mouth from a dying tongue."

He's holding what looks like a hammer. Once more I'm unprepared for what comes next, though, as the weapon unleashes a torrent of energy at me. I'm driven back into the crater I had made in the wall, and this time the metal gives as I fly through the jagged hole created by me and the blast. Remember what I said about pain feeling different? Not so much this time. This time hurt like I remember pain hurting. Ow.

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The hatch slide open and Robin hopped out of the Batmobile.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just a final resounding defeat to end a stellar night."

This was an especially hard one for Bruce. It didn't take a genius to figure it out.

Dick stripped down and threw his costume into a decontamination bin. The damp air was especially cold against his bare skin that night. Maybe he was just unnerved by the whole evening.

Still, he felt he had gotten off fairly easy. No lecture about losing his cool. No reprimand for letting Quinn off the hook halfway through the fight. After all, he was able to catch and calm himself down. And he was just following orders when he fled to the rooftop when the officers approached.

The warm water of the shower felt like heaven on his cold, banged up body.

And then, the lightbulb went on.

"That's it."

This kidnapping case, Bruce had assigned this to Dick as a test of his skills so far. His mission, his call. This had to be another test. Bruce was just waiting to see if Dick would step up, make the tough call himself. After all, he couldn't be the obediant side kick forever, waiting for every little order. He had got a taste of the tonight, saving that little kid.

That had to be it. Bruce wanted him to step up.

He winced as the decontamination began. It stung a little. A lot if it hit an open cut. It just made him want to finish up as quick as possible and get some shut eye. He needed to get a hold of Barbara as soon as he could in the morning.

"My time to shine."
 
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I'm outside, laying amid the splinters of what used to be an oak tree. I taste something I haven't tasted in years. The copper tang of my own blood, as I wipe my lip free of the blood that's dripping from my nose. He actually made me bleed. Fun unah.* Well he didn't know about the invulnerability, so chances are he doesn't know about this either. I blink and the purpose of my eyes changes. This is the one vision that makes it harder to see, everything looks like it's on fire, awash with blues, whites, reds and oranges. The heat vision lances from my eyes and hits Yon-Rogg square in the chest. I blink again and shut the heat off.

Yon-Rogg is laying on his back, having not expected another onslaught, and smoke is billowing from the hole my heat vision put in his chest armor. I can hear the machine still working, he took advantage of the moments I was out of the game to continue using it, and I can see that it's assembling something much bigger this time. I can't wait around and find out what it is. Once more I blink and my pupils turn red, this time aimed at... what did he call it? "The Psyche Magnitron" whatever in Rao's name that is.

As the beams hit the device, I can tell something is wrong. So can the Kree.

"NO YOU FOOL! YOU HAVE DOOMED US ALL!"

The buzzing has turned to a clicking, and a panicked look takes over the Kree's face as he stands up and runs for the hole in the wall that I was punched through. My parents and sister are still inside, and if this Kree is scared of what will happen, then I need to save them.

Against my own best interests, I fly in at near supersonic speed to move out my parents and sister from their hiding spaces. I takes all of ten seconds to get mom and dad safely situated far from the lab, and I'm back for Carol. That's two seconds longer than it needed to take. The clicking is more rapid, and I can see the subatomic particles collapsing into the machine. I don't have time to get Carol out of here. I'll just have to do my best to shield her.

"CAROL, GET SMALL!"

She instinctively curls into a fetal position at the command, and I can see the tears running down her face. She's terrified. So am I.

I cover her prone body with my own and use my cape to best shield both of us as the machine explodes.

*Kryptonian translation "Male offspring of a female dog"
 
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If I thought navigating Central City at rush hour was a challenge, then the jungle has shown me the error of my ways. Panama is making the Gem Cities look positively spacious in comparison. My perception of time has slowed to a crawl to allow me to find sure footing for every step -- or what passes for "sure footing," anyway. It's a task that requires so much of my concentration that I almost forget I'm supposed to be searching the area, not just surviving it. So far, I haven't caught wind of anything. Maybe Wally's--

"AUGH!"

I plant my heels and come to a stop. The scream was picked up by my right antenna, so I change direction and start heading that way. It takes me a moment or two of searching, but eventually I find the source of the outburst. It's a hiker -- a local, by the looks of him -- who appears to be alone. He's clutching his foot and muttering in Spanish. Unfortunately, my vocabulary lesson from the plane has already decayed, but I think I get the gist of what happened; looks like he turned his ankle on an unseen branch.

"Sir, can you stand?" I ask. He looks at me, and it's clear there's no recognition. I close my eyes and find a single word. "Ingles?" He only shakes his head. Ah well; it was worth a shot. It doesn't seem like he's going to be able to walk under his own power, so I bend down and put his arm around my shoulders. "I know you can't understand me, but I'm sorry in advance for this..."

A heartbeat later, we're standing outside the emergency room entrance at a hospital near the edge of the city. As I hand off the man to a confused orderly, he begins to dry heave. If he spoke English, I would've warned him about the disorientation that happens to my "passengers" who aren't tapped into the Speed Force. He'll regain his bearings in a moment or two.

Rounding a bend, I find my hypothesis is correct. There, in a cleared out hollow, slight smoke bellows out of a factory over the river. A seventies era cocaine manufacturing plant with modern laboratory structures grafted onto it, it is like a Frankenstein's Monster of gleaming metal and rust.

"Flash," I open a comm to my mentor, "I've found the factory. Meet me at these coordinates. I'll wait for you-*Oof*"

Something big slams into me, sending me bouncing off the muddy ground. I look up to see two of the monsters closing in on me. I get up and try to run the other way, but two more are right behind me. I put my hands up and smile, "Uhhh...take me to your leader?"

Wally's transmission cuts out, but luckily he was able to get the coordinates off in time. I nod to the hiker and the orderly before turning on my heels and vanishing from sight. From the sounds of it, Wally's in over his head -- again -- and there's no time to spare. I take the most direct route possible: a straight line through the jungle, phasing through the trees and plants that find themselves in my path. Eventually, the jungle gives way to a clearing, where I spot the factory in question. I take a step forward--

I'm grabbed from behind by gorilla-sized arms. Another one of these serum poppers. Great. I'm about to throw my head back at superspeed when a second beast appears and slaps a metal collar around my neck. The first creature drops me, and I land ungracefully in the dirt. I clap at the collar, but it doesn't budge. Closing my eyes, I concentrate on vibrating the molecules in my neck when I'm hit with a sudden shock.

"I wouldn't attempt that, if I were you."

I look up to see a man -- a scientist -- with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. In his hand, he carries a remote of some kind. And there, lumbering behind him, is another one of these mutated men carrying Wally by the shoulder. Around his neck, Kid Flash wears a collar matching my own. As the scientist sees the recognition on my face, he gives a smug smile.

"What do you think of our inhibitor collars?" he asks. "We developed them to tame the more... unruly test subjects, but today you've given us new use for them." To make his point, he presses a button on his remote, and I feel the surge of electricity through my body again. From the looks of it, Wally's getting a dose, too. "When the little one infiltrated our perimeter, I knew you wouldn't be far behind," the scientist continues. "Normally, we don't welcome visitors, but in your case, we'll make an exception."

The creature grabs me and forces me to my feet.

"Welcome to Project: Blockbuster."
 

[BLACKOUT]"Such a pretty outfit, too."[/BLACKOUT]



Harley sat on the edge of the lumpy, ratty, stained mattress, a thin, tattered bed sheet doing little to cover her bare body. She stared at the soiled, bloddied costume she had taken the night before.

Sure, she could probably clean it up, fix some of the holes. But it was always nice to have options, as well, and a girl had to accesorize. What fun would it be to wear the same thing everyday.

Harley turned to the gorgeous adonis beside her. God, last night--well, she was sure she was gonna have trouble walking straight.

She gently gave him a loving nudge.

[BLACKOUT]"Mistah J, I think I need to do a little clothes shoppin' today."[/BLACKOUT]
 

Dick swung his legs out over the edge of his bed. He took a second to shake the groginess out of his head, and stood up. Both knees made several audible cracks, and he had to balance himself on his nightstand. He winced as a sharp pain ran from his hand, up his arm and into his shoulder. He glanced down to see it slightly swollen and black and blue, courtesy of Harley Quinn's teeth.

"Holy trainwreck."

He glanced down at the clock. 1:07 p.m. This was one of his earlier weekend mornings. Working night were particularly hard when there was school the next day.

Dick picked up the cell phone on the night stand and opened the contacts. He hit the number he was looking for and paced around the room.

"Hi--yeah. Are you free this afternoon? Do you wanna grab something to eat?"

-

"You look like you just rolled out of bed."

Dick sat down at the sidewalk table of the small downtown deli, trying his best to mask his discomfort. Every joint in hsi body was beyond stiff.

"Eh, weekend. It's fun to sleep in sometimes."

"Mmmmm."

Dick took another second to settle in, then got a good look at Barbara. The usually bright and chipper redhead he knew wasn't there today. her expression definitely conveyed a sense of sorrow, maybe even annoyance.

"Everything ok?"

"Stupid girl stuff. Nothing you'd be interested in."

Dick pushed aside the menu he had just picked up.

"What are friends for? Or, more-than-friends, maybe?"

There was the slightest smile that cracked at the corner of her lips.

"Is that what it's called nowadays? I can go home and change my Facebook status to 'More-Than-Friends With Dick Grayson."

"Har-dee-har-har."

"You big strong men. Always so confident."

"Yeah, yeah. Let's pile on little old Grayson because he showed some concern for his lady friend."

"Calm down, stud muffin. I wouldn't have showed up today if I didn't want to me 'more than just friends.' Now, can we stop saying 'more than just friends'?"

Dick could feel his face getting warmer. He was certain he was blushing.

"So, did you have to do any fancy footwork with your dad to get outta the house?"

Barbara sighed.

"No, he wasn't even home. That's the problem. He left in the middle of the night again to go over to his freakin' girlfriend's place."

Barbara diverted her gaze. If she looked Dick in the eyes at that moment, she would certainly have started crying.

"That's all he cares about any more. Her and his job. In that order. He's never really even formally introduced us. Not that I'd want to get to know her anyway."

Dick reached out and put a reassuring hand on Barb's.

"Fathers, they can disappoint us sometimes."

Barb composed herself and turned back to her date.

"I'm not here to talk about that though. No sense dwelling on somebody who doesn't want to be around, when I have somebody who does right here."

Dick smiled. Sometimes it was nice to make a difference without wearing a cape and mask.

His heart started racing then as he searched for his next words. Maybe now wasn't the time to drop all of this on Barbara. Maybe Bruce was right.

"No, Dick. No second guessing. Second guessing gets you killed."

"So--how's your leg?"

"My leg?"

"Yeah, the gash on your leg. It feel ok?"

"It took a little bit last night to finally get it to stop bleeding, but--"

Barbara stopped mid sentence, eyes bulging from their sockets. She placed a trembling hand to her mouth, failing to stifle her gasp.

"If you think it will hold up, I could really use your help taking these numb nuts out for good."
 
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He worried. He is like any father in that way. He is also very proud of her, another trait common to fatherhood. She, like her father, is chronologically older than the humans they lived among, but she had the emotional maturity of one just past adolescence. Thus, she was enrolled in school, to learn beside children of a similar emotional level. She was the intellectual superior of most of her classmates and many of her teachers, but she was also, for all intents and purposes, a child.

And so, John Jones worries about his daughter.

He waits, as he often would, at a small cafe nearby the high school. He sips his coffee and checks his watch again. She's fifteen minutes late. He sips his coffee again. It's probably nothing to worry about. M'gann may be three centuries old, but Megan was a teenager, and teenagers tend to dawdle with their friends after school. Or so he was told. Still no reason to worry.

Right?

Ma’alefa’ak was back on Earth. John sensed it the moment his twin entered the planet's atmosphere, but only for that moment. Malefic (as he took to calling himself) being disconnected from his natural Martian telepathy had the side effect of shielding him from that same power in others. He could be anywhere. More to worry about for John.

"Hi, Dad!"

Megan comes running up to him, giving him a quick peck on his cheek and sliding into the chair opposite him. John smiles and orders a hot chocolate for her.

"Hi, sweetheart. How was school?"

"Boring."

"How so?"

"I don't know..." she says, "I'm just not learning anything. It's all stuff I either know already, or can figure out on my own."

John frowns. They had had this conversation before.

"You want to skip high school and enroll in college."

"Yeah," she says. "I'm smart enough to teach college, Dad. We both know that."

"But are you mature enough to socialize at the college level?" he asks. "I know how intelligent you are, I can see that plain as day. I am infinitely proud of that fact, but that is not the sort of education I want you to gain from school. You should be around kids your age, Megan."

"All the kids my age have been dead since the 1800's."

"You know what I meant." He sips his coffee again as they sit in silence for a few minutes. "I think we should...

"I miss Mom." Megan has tears in her eyes.

"I do as well." He reached out to grasp his daughter's hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

"Perhaps I can be of assistance," says the waitress, returning with Megan's drink, "and send you back to her right now!" Transforming into a dreadfully familiar form, the "waitress" tosses the mug at the pair, smashing it onto the table between them. Immediately, the cafe bursts into flames.

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HaHaHaHaHaHa!!!!
 
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I'm in freefall above London for about five minutes. Five exhilarating minutes. If you've never gone skydiving before, I recommend it highly. Of course, my parachute is much more expensive than most people's.

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Iron Man Mark IV Online.

"Thank you, JARVIS," I say, controlling my descent. "Scan for any alien technology in the vicinity."

Scanning...

I land as JARVIS's scan searches for my newly resurrected archnemesis. London looks... normal. People were milling about as if it were business as usual. At least, they were before Iron Man just suddenly landed in their midst. Now, they're all just staring at me with a mix of awe and disgust. I give a half-hearted wave.

It's weird, but one of Mandarin's rings is capable of projecting illusions into people's minds, and even though I've included mental defenses into my armors from Mark III onward, the crafty bastard keeps finding ways around them. I'm not trusting my eyes here. Technology is superior.

No extraterrestrial technology detected, sir.

O...kay? That's not good. Either the Mandarin has found a way to trick my A.I.'s with his illusions, or I've just been played.
 
Gotham Central
7:21 AM


Slam Bradley said, "Scotty Lees. Damn. I fought him once, you know? Years back."

Jim sat in his cubicle. He eyeballed crime scene pix. Crime scene techs shot photos of Scotty Lee's body in various angles. They shot photos of the broken window and the motel room where he took the plunge. Jim flipped through them. He tried for brain clicks. His brain clicked out. He tossed the photos on the desk and looked up at Slam.

His partner of five years. An ex-boxer turned cop. Slam loved to tell stories from the ring. He shadowboxed as he told them. Other cops ate it up and ate up the atmosphere. He loved the Life. He loved being a cop and solving murders. Jim used to. Jim used to be all about the Life. The Life turned on him. The Life chewed him up. It was still chewing him. Spitting him back out: TBA.

He asked Slam, "What was he like?"

"Scotty? He was a puncher. That's probably why his brain was all ****ed up. Scotty never had a defense. He always went for the big hits and didn't protect his face. That's why I won in a TKO. I worked a cut on his eyebrow. Kept tagging it until the ref called the fight in the sixth round. If you could go the distance with Scotty and avoid his punch, you could turn him into hamburger meat."

Jim scratched his neck. "He's hamburger meat now."

Jim checked his watch. He was supposed to take Barabra to school. He called Mrs. Roselli next door and told her the details. She agreed to get her up and ready and to school for twenty bucks. Another night and day without seeing her. He kept promising her he'd take time off. He had vacation time accrued. As soon as he went off nights he'd take a long vacation.

Slam sauntered off. He found other detectives to tell boxing stories to. He mimed taking a right punch. The cops laughed. Jim went back to the case file. Something gnawed. Scotty Lees, punchdrunk and a half-wit for sure. Suicidal? It didn't jive with cooperating with the DA on a major investigation. A sign flashed in his head: YOU MISSED SOMETHING.

A ringing phone snapped out his revery. His desk phone chirping.

"This is Gordon."

"Gordon. My office."

Jim hung up and hit the lieutenant's office. Lieutenant Eckhart sat behind his desk. Eckhart was rail thin. Chemo skinny. His third round. Cancer ate at his lungs going on five years. His clothing sagged off him. His hair fell out in clumps. He still smoked like a freight train. The **** was too nasty let cancer do him in.

Eckhart with no preamble. "You caught the jumper from last night, yeah?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's a suicide right?"

Eckhart lit a cigar. Jim bristled. Eckhart almost always gave them a long leash working murders. Now he was calling it a day. He was short shrifting it. Something did not play.

Jim said, "I want to wait on the medical examiner's official report on cause of death before I rule anything out. I'd also like to conduct an interview with the two officers and the remaining witness and find out what they have to say."

A voice behind him, deep and southern drawl. "Hell, I can get all that for you, Sergeant."

Two-Gun Jack Grogan strolled in. Jim knew him by reputation and rumor alone. He wore six-guns and spit tobacco. He killed six men in the line of duty. He ran bag for Mayor Hill and the DA. He did dirty work for Congressman Thorne. He shook down the mob for campaign contributions. He beat a drug dealer to death for spitting on his boots. He was beaucoup bad news.

Grogan flopped in the chair beside Gordon. He stretched out and put a new plug of tobacco in his cheek. He looked at Gordon and winked.

"I got a meeting with the DA in an hour. She is gonna tear me a new ***hole I'm gonna try and calm her down, but I can expect she'll be mighty pissed. This was supposed to be her stepping stone to the US Senate."

Eckhart blew cigar smoke and said, "Her case was dependent on a Mexican obsessed with barely legal trim and a feeb with a battered brain. That was a pretty damn shaky stepping stone."

Grogan slapped a knee. Son, you slay me.

Two-Gun Jack said, "Sergeant, I will talk to my men about setting up an interview with you sometime later today. Janice Porter's wrath is looming close at hand, so I'll worry about that at the moment."

Eckhart pointed at Jim. He said, "I want your preliminary report written up by noon today. If Captain Grogan can't get his men to talk to you, I still want a final summation no later than the day after tomorrow. Understood, Sergeant?"

Jim looked at Grogan. He grinned, flashing brown spit covered teeth. He spat tobacco juice in a paper cup and winked again.

Jim adjusted his glasses and said, "Understood."


*****​


District Attorney's Office
8:30 AM


"Do you know what you've ****ing cost me?"

District Attorney Janice Porter fumed at Flass. She sat at a desk orgy-sized. The entire wall behind her was glass. It looked out over the city. Three ADAs flanked her desk. They stonewalled Flass. They played indifferent. Grogan sat beside Flass. He held his hand up and called for peace.

Two-Gun Jack said, "Now, Janice, it ain't Arnold's fault he fell asleep. If you're looking for a scapegoat, blame me. I had him and Burke working a double shift before they relieved Harris and Simpson and took over the night watch on Lees and Garcia."

Porter pointed at Grogan. "Oh, I do blame you, Jack. I blame you and I blame him and if not for your ****ing clout with the mayor, I would have you both charged with dereliction of duty and have you run out the PD!"

Grogan sniffed and lowered his eyes. He went from agreeable to bored like that. "If. If I weren't so tight with the mayor. If I didn't help get contributions to his slush fund. If I didn't help contributions to your slush fund. If I didn't help your daughter get out of that jam with those Mexicans. If I didn't know all your dirty little screts. If you didn't need me, and if I didn't need Arnold. That's a lot of goddamn ifs, Janice."

Porter's face went red. She threatened to burst a blood vessel. An eyelid twitched. Grogan barely kept it together. Flass wanted to laugh out loud.

Porter said softly, "Go. Both of you get out of my sight. I'll be talking with Commissioner Loeb soon."

They breezed out. They hit Gorgan's car and hit the parkway. Two-Gun Jack drove. They both laughed out loud and made fun of Porter. Their laughter subsided. Conversation hit a lull.

Grogan said, "Did you talk to the homicide man who showed up at the scene this morning?"

"Yeah. Gordon was his name."

Grogan spat tobacco juice and said, "What do you know of him?"

"Nothing other than he smelled like booze."

"He wants to interview you, Burke, and Garcia about the events this morning. I said I would allow it. You caught a whiff of hooch? With good reason. James Gordon is a primo lush. They call him Whiskey Jim. He has a stick up his ass and grand illusions about his career. He wants to make rank, but he can't stay sober long enough to make a decent case. He used to be ruthless and ambitious, but he's been worn down by this city and the bottle. Those things can do that to weaker men, Arnold. Men like us, we are resilient. Despite his boozing, Whiskey Jim is still highly dangerous. If he sees us as a way to make rank, he will do everything possible to **** us over and send you to prison."

Flass popped his knuckles.

"He can ****ing try."


*****​


GCPD Western District Station
11:58 AM


Jim stretched. He fought leg cramps and back cramps. He sat in his car and took pulls off a flask of vodka. Jim knew he should be home sleeping. Night work futzed with his sleep cycle. He worked when the sun was down and slept when it was up. Insomnia seeped into the sleep cycle and blew it up all to hell. The booze helped with sleep, but it did not bring sleep on.

The case also contributed to no sleep. He banged out a quick first summation report to Eckhart. It said Scotty Lees was a probable jumper. A caveat at the end: He would not confirm that fact until the morgue cut loose its findings later tonight. Doubt ate at him. YOU MISSED SOMETHING flashed big time. YOU MISSED SOMETHING meant he got no sleep.

THIS helped to bring forth sleep. It calmed his nerves. It was a weekly routine. He was parked down the road from the Western station house. Cop cars cruised by. Jim sat low in his seat. They came and went. THERE: Prowl car 223. HER car. It swooped into the parking lot. SHE got out. Sarah Essen in uniform. Her blonde hair in a ponytail, sergeant stripes on her sleeves. Jim's pulse raced. She talked to a fellow uniformed officer. She did that brushback thing with her hair. She smiled. Jim swooned. He went gaga. Five years since their amicable exile and he still peeped her from afar. Her house, her job, anywhere Jim knew she'd be.

His phone rang. His ex-wife's lawyer. The shyster talked up threats. His ex-wife wanted time with Barbara. She wanted full custody. The gist was Jim was a horrible father. He neglected her. He worked nights and boozed it up while Barbara pined for a parent. The attorney said they would be filing suite soon. Jim said do it, ********er, and see what happens.

Jim hung up in a huff. He tossed his phone into the passenger seat. He looked across to the parking lot. Sarah was gone. She skedaddled during his convo with the lawyer. Jim sighed. He put his head on the steering wheel. He banged his forehead against the wheel again and again and--

THERE

He sat upright. Leg cramps and back cramps cramped him cripple. Brainwaves blew strooong. THAT'S IT flashed in his head. He dug through the backseat. Case files piled up. He found the Lees file. He flipped through it. He found IT. The excitement burned through the booze. He felt a hangover come on strong. A headache pounded. He felt jacked. To hell with sleep. He started his car and hauled ass across town.

The Gotham Arms. Crime scene tape still hung up on the sixth floor. Crime scene pix in his arms. Jim walked the room in grids. He rehashed original crime scene walkthrough. The THERE right in front of his face. An indent in the wall beside the window Scotty Lees fell out of. Jim looked at the picture, compared it with the real McCoy. Something made that dent. Something smashed against the wall. That something was Scotty Lees' head. Jim worked angles and heights. Scotty topped out at 6'2. The angle skewed tall. Someone grabbed Scotty's forehead and smashed it into the wall. Sergeant Arnold Flass came in at 6'5 easy. He was that someone.

Angles, brain clicks, thesis, and theory made a theorem.

Theorem: Arnold Flass smashed Scotty Lees into the wall. He made Scotty woozy and pushed him out the window. Arnold Flass made it look like a suicide. Arnold Flass killed a state witness.

Arnold Flass worked for Two-Gun Grogan. Grogan pulled strings. Grogan ran rackets. Grogan and Flass wanted the job ****canned. They were politically connected. They could help push Jim's stalled career forward. He saw a lieutenant's silver bar in his mind. His legs went wobbly. Sergeant James Gordon, Homicide dick, would look paltry in his pending custody battle for Barbara. Lieutenant James Gordon, Homicide COMMANDER, would turn heads.

Flass killed a man in cold blood. Jim pulled out his flask and slugged vodka while he figured out how to use that fact to his advantage.
 
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"Remind me why we didn't bring Thor or Banner again?" Hawkeye asked impatiently. They were about half way to their destination, and so far they had no incidents. Cap was beginning to worry Cobra hadn't had enough time to muster a response to moving Baroness. "Or at least the Flash. He'd be useful."

"Flash is running his own op with Kid Flash," Cap responded. Barry was possible the most heroic man on the planet, and Steve would have been lying if he said he didn't want him here. Barry had that something special. That heroism that was unflinching against all odds. He reminded Cap a lot of himself, if he was being honest. Steve wasn't as sold on him taking on an untrained teenager as a sidekick, but Barry was insistent. "And Hulk or Thor makes us look like an untouchable target. We want to be attacked, remember?"

"Yea but I like feeling untouchable," Hawkeye retorted.

"So that's why you're still single, Clint?" Natasha joked from the inside of the prisoner unit. Those two were always poking fun at one another. It brought levity to the team, and Cap liked it. The Avengers were slowly becoming more of a family than a normal combat unit.

"Very funny, Nat," Barton grumbled.

"Heh," Falcon's chuckling came over the comm. "Sorry man, but I laughed."

"I've been touched plenty, thank you very much," Hawkeye growled.

"Yea, but it doesn't count if it's by yourself," Cyborg burst in with a laugh.

"Oh come on!"

"Don't worry, son," Indy jumped in, "I'm sure that special gal will come along and sweep you off your feet."

"Etu, Indy?" Hawkeye responded with faux pain.

Even Rogers had to smile at the ribbing. But that faded away when Cyborg came back over the airwaves, "Cap, we've got two bogeys on us. Look like attack choppers."

"Understood," he acknowledged. "Avengers, it's time to go to work."

Within seconds, Cyborg's warning came true as two Venom Attack Aircraft came screaming towards their little convoy. The Venoms were worse than normal helicopters, as they used stolen repulsor tech for mobility. But what makes them even more deadly is they're usually equipped with two or three jetpack wearing paratroopers, much like the one Falcon was now wearing.

They opened fire on the truck and on Cap, driving him off the road. Dust sprayed up around him as the motorcycle tore over the dirt beside the highway and the blasts from one of the enemy aircraft exploded. Indy kept control of the truck well, but Steve knew he couldn't leave the truck undefended. He sent a command, "Can someone in the air draw some fire for me? I need to get to the truck."

"On it," Vic responded. The cybernetic hero swooped over Captain America and fired a few energy beams of his own at their opponent.

The Venom swerved, allowing Cap to head back to the truck. Once there, he leapt off the bike and onto the top of the prisoner unit. He watched as the bike tumbled end over end and eventually disappear in the horizon. He sighed, "I really liked that bike."

"Seriously?!" Hawkeye yelled. "That's where your head is!?"

The craft attacking the prisoner transport turned its attention to Cap, firing directly at him. He brought his shield up and easily deflected the fire away from the vehicle, and his enemy realized it was a fruitless endeavor. Instead, the aircraft buzzed over the truck, and dropped two men on top along with Cap.

He cracked his neck, and felt the first man come at him. He turned and threw up his shield, deflecting a flying punch. The enemy rolled back and laughed, [BLACKOUT]"I really should have known that was coming."[/BLACKOUT]

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"Crossbones," Cap sneered at Cobra's chief assassin and one of Cobra Commander's personal bodyguards. Cap could easily take most people in the world in a fight, but Brock Rumlow had given him fits over the years since he was unfrozen.

Rumlow popped off a few shots at Cap, who deflected them away and tossed his shield at the rifle he carried, snapping it in two. As Cap caught the projectile, the second man flew through the air and kicked Cap in the chest, sending him tumbling towards the edge of the top of the truck. Rogers looked up at another mercenary with a crap-eating grin on his face, "Bonjour, Capitaine."

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Batroc the Leaper was a thug for hire out of a war torn African nation that had once been under French rule. He specialized in infiltration and theft, but could fight with the best of them.

"Cap, you need help down there?" Falcon asked as he dodged fire from the other ship.

"Negative," Cap declined the help as he regained his footing, readying himself for the next wave of attacks. "We need you and Cyborg to get one of those airships out of the way."

"Copy," Sam understood.

Batroc and Crossbones wasted no time attempting to press their advantage. Batroc flew through the air with ease, even as the truck below them raced along the highway. He reached out to tackle Cap, but instead was tossed over the heroes head towards Rumlow. Crossbones moved out of the way, and Batroc landed deftly near the edge of the prisoner unit.

Without his gun, Rumlow was a brawler. Cap knew he could handle him one on one safely enough, but Batroc was a wild card. His fighting style was unpredictable, and in their current setting, one false move from Cap would me some serious road rash.

Batroc leapt at him again, but instead received Cap's shield to the gut. He slammed back down onto the prisoner unit. He was in pain, but he was smart enough to push the shield off the top of the truck. Cap watched it clang to the road below, "If anyone gets the chance, pick that up for me?"

"Oh sure!" Cyborg yelled over the sound of his jets and repulsor fire. "No problem!"

Crossbones stepped up to Cap now that he didn't have his shield. A right cross managed to catch Rogers on the chin. He stumbled back, but was ready for the next strike, blocking it with his right forearm. He slid the arm up and hooked it under Crossbones' before delivering a headbutt to the villain before slamming him down onto the metal below their feet.

But as Rumlow goes down he tosses a device into the air, where Batroc catches it. He proceeds to throw it down the gap between the trailer and the cab. It detonates, decoupling the two. The front of the trailer slammed into the pavement and skidded to a stop while the cab flipped onto its side.

"We're good in here Cap," Hawkeye said.

"Good, get out here and help me," Cap responded. "Indy get ready."

"Cap, the coupling blew the power in here," Widow said as the sound of fighting came over the airwaves. "I've got my hands full down here."

"Hold on!" he jumped off the back of the trailer, kicking open the doors. Inside, Widow kicked one of the prisoners attacking her directly into Cap, who slammed him against the open door. "One hell of a road trip, huh?"

"Yea, it's a blast!" she said as she took down another. Steve was relieved to see that Baroness was still shackled in her cell.

"Eyes front, Capitaine!" Batroc leapt down, but was struck with an arrow that exploded into a net, capturing him momentarily.

"Shut up, Batroc," Hawkeye growled as he joined the fray. Unfortunately, so did the Venom, which laid down covering fire. Rumlow jumped into the cab to start freeing Baroness while the Venom dropped a ladder into it.

"Indy, now," Cap said as he fought his way towards Crossbones and the Baroness.

Indiana Jones stepped out of the cab with a specialized rifle slung across his shoulder. He took aim at the aircraft and said, "You ready kid?"

"Oh man I wish we had a better way of doing this," Ant-Man said from inside a specialty bullet designed to get him aboard. "Superman's fast than a speeding bullet right? Well I guess at least I get to experience that before I die."

"You'll be fine," Jones grumbled as he fired. The bullet hit the bulkhead, and the special coating stuck. "You okay?"

"I microscopically vomited," Scott groaned. "But yea I'm fine."

"Then we're done here, Avengers!" Cap commanded. Just then, Cyborg appeared and tossed him the shield. Batroc managed to free himself, and hopped onto the ladder up to the aircraft, with Rumlow not far behind and Baroness beginning the climb too. "Thor, now!"

As Rumlow climbed into the craft, the mighty hammer Mjolnir emerged from the sky and slammed into the ladder, shattering it. Rumlow commanded the Venom to flee, not wanting to risk a fight with the Thunderer. Baroness was caught by the god as he swooped around, landing next to the rest of the Avengers.

"Greetings friends!" Thor laughed heartily. "Were we successful?"

"Yea, he's on there," Indy nodded as he joined the group.

"Now we wait," Cap nodded.

"No, now we get chewed out by Fury," Falcon groaned.
 
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"We pulled Parker's bank records. The kid's an A plus student, lives in a studio apartment in the city and helps support his aunt out in Queens, all while earning money as a freelance photographer for the Bugle. Keep all that in mind when you look at these bank statements and I'm sure you'll deduce, as I have, that he's hardly a flight risk."

"Mmm," the judge groans.

"I'd like you to release him under my supervision. Ms. Jones and Mr. Cage work for me. They'd be looking after him. They're bonafide superheroes, Your Honor."

"Yes, I know." Haig pauses, thinking for a moment. I made my case and I made it well. Bukowski knows this. His heart is practically jumping from his chest. "Okay. I'll allow it."

"Objection!"

"Your objection is dully noted, Mr. Bukowski. And overruled. Return to your benches."

I take a few steps and call out to Bukowski. "Buck?"

"Yeah?"

"You see what I did there?"

I'm so relieved coming out of the bail hearing that I feel I might literallyjump for joy. Okay, so being released on bail is a long way from an acquittal, true, but it's still a small victory at a time when I desperately needed it. It sure beats the alternative of spending the night -- or nights -- inside a jail cell. I've seen those horrible reality shows about prison; that's as close as I'd like to come to that lifestyle. I do have to commend Mr. Murdock for how he handled himself in the courtroom. He actually gave me hope that we might find a way out of this.

Not that I'm going to sit idly by and rely on the justice system -- which, by rights, should probably convict me, given the evidence at hand. Looks like I'm going on a manhunt... for myself.

When we finally exit the courthouse, I'm surprised at how late it's gotten. The sun is already dipping towards the horizon. Guess I lost track of time between the arrest, the interrogation, and everything else. I wonder how many people know what happened. Surely the story of me being dragged out of my apartment in handcuffs has circulated among the group by now. Flash is probably leading the brigade to have me locked up.

I hear the tapping of Mr. Murdock's cane as he comes up behind me. "I really don't know how to thank you for all this," I tell him. "I promise you, if you actually pull this thing off, I'll... I don't know... pick up your dry cleaning for a month! No, three months! Ah hell, just make it the full year."

He laughs. After a moment, he asks where Luke is.

"Oh, he's on the phone with my aunt," I explain.

As if on cue, Luke appears down the street, phone still pressed to his ear. He's visibly flustered. "Well, yes, ma'am, I do moonlight as a-- I wish it were that simp-- I understand completely. I-- Believe me, he's in good hands with Matty. He doesn't need-- Understood." As he hangs up the phone, he stares at it like it did something wrong. He thrusts it back to me eagerly, saying, "Dude, your aunt is scary."

"She can be... overprotective," I concede. As soon as I told Aunt May who I'd be staying with -- which was a battle all its own; she wanted me to come home -- she immediately asked why these "superheroes" weren't hitting the streets, looking to clear my name. I almost wanted to tell her not to worry, that Spider-Man would have my back. But considering her opinion on Spider-Man, that probably would've just made things worse.

After we say our goodbyes to Mr. Murdock, Luke takes me to my apartment to pick up a few things. Harry's out for the night, as has been his custom lately. Good. I'd rather not answer questions about what's going on. I make sure to grab my costume and webshooters before going back downstairs where Luke is waiting. I've encountered Luke Cage -- and his crimefighting partner, Iron Fist -- before, as Spider-Man. They were among the group that helped the Ninja Turtles take down their nemesis, Shredder. Jessica I'm less familiar with, but I gather she's put away the spandex in favor of private detective work. Either way, I can't let on that I know any of this, of course. He asks if we're good, and I nod.

"Well, this is our pad," Luke announces a little later when we walk into his home. He tosses his keys onto the coffee table and makes for the kitchen. The place is neatly furnished -- likely thanks to Jessica more than Luke -- with a giant plasma screen TV in the living room. I guess superhero work for hire does pay. Why didn't I ever think of doing that? Probably because no one would hire me with my rep. "Guest bedroom is down the hall. Help yourself to anything in the fridge," Luke continues as he walks back out, beer in hand. "Just do me a favor, and don't swipe any of our stuff."

"Huh? What, no, I would never--"

"Peter, I'm just f***ing with you," he laughs, giving me a friendly -- if powerful -- pat on the shoulder. "If Matt vouches for you, then I believe you're innocent. He'll have your name clear in no time."

I give it about twenty, thirty minutes before I tell Luke that I'm turning in for the night. I cite my hectic day as a reason to call it an early night, and the lie seems to go over smoothly enough. Five minutes after closing myself into the guest bedroom, I slip out the window in the ol' red-and-blues as I start my campaign to catch this doppleganger thief. Not that I have any ideas where to start, however. Luckily, I know someone who might...

"I was wondering if I should expect you," Captain George Stacy says as he emerges onto the roof of his precinct. "Your accomplice over at the Bugle has found himself in some hot water."

I'm glad the mask covers the look on my face. Sure, taking photographs of myself for money probably wasn't the best way to keep my identities separate, but almost no one has ever called me on it. Jonah suspects I have a connection to Spider-Man, I think, but he only cares about getting his pictures on time. But Captain Stacy is nothing if not a detective, so I shouldn't be surprised that he's connecting the dots. In fact, he's probably awaiting my response to gauge if his hunch is right.

"The xenovirus theft," I say as flatly as I can manage. "You know about it?"

"It's not just a big deal to the department. The boy's a classmate of my daughter," he explains. Is he basing that statement off my attendance at ESU, or has Gwen actually mentioned me to her father? And is now the time to be worried about that? "I wish I could say I was surprised, but I thought something like this might happen. Particularly with what went down at OsCorp last week."

"What do you mean?"

"You might've heard that OsCorp was a big bidder in the race to study this virus; unlike Curt Connors, however, they were interested in its potential military applications. For the past year, they've been working on an aerosol dispersal device which could have major ramifications for chemical warfare."

Yep, sounds like OsCorp, alright. When they're not actively trying to kill me, they're trying to help other people kill each other. "And let me guess: it was stolen?"

Stacy nods. "A security guard of fourteen years -- a man with a spotless record, mind you -- was caught on tape taking the device. Like your boy Parker, he disavows any involvement in the crime."

Well, I know how that feels. Still, if Captain Stacy is onto something here... then whoever stole the xenovirus also has access to a dispersal device. That's bad news. This just became much bigger than clearing my own name. Because of course. It just wouldn't be a day in my life if I wasn't fighting for my own freedom and the safety of the city. No pressure or anything, right?

"Look, I don't know what your connection to Parker is, but it's not important right now. We've got to track down the person responsible for this." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a card. "This is a club downtown. I've long suspected that it's also a front for a black market operation."

I take the card. It's jet black with two emerald, feline eyes above an address.

"What should I do?" I ask.

"See what you can find out," he answers cryptically. "Might be someone there knows something."

"Now, now, Captain. I know you're not suggesting anything by that."

Stacy smirks. "How could I? As always, this conversation never happened. Good night, Spider-Man."
 
The Black Panther
In
Inside Out
The Last Vibranium Mine
Wakanda, Africa, Earth, Sector 2814


In the savana, you can hardly see any green on the horizon. This is how it feels, walking through the valley in the shadow of death. My people have been attacked and slain like animals, our most valuable resource has been attacked in an act of economic terrorism, and my friend believes I have turned on him.

Viewing the last mine that was left alone, T'Challa dared not enter it. Any man under attack who'd walk inside of a tunnel without a secondary exit was deserving of the terrible death awaiting him. So instead, he stood sentinel a healthy distance away. This mine was free of corpses, as they'd been ordered away a long time ago.

Wakanda was a wealthy country, not like America who needed to constantly and exponentially increase frakking to maintain the image of steady oil profits. The residual profits of the last ten years would more than sustain them until the mines could be reopened. Rather than wait for an attack...

Swoosh, from on high he summoned his jet, which dove past him and opened fire on several key points of support for the tunnel, resulting in its abrupt collapse.

"No surprises this way." Anticipating his American opponents hiding in ambush, he made an announcement. "You have my full attention. Now is not the time to attack!"

Instead of the Suicide Squad, T'Challa saw a familiar glow hanging in the sky. A shadow was cast over T'Challa, a green cloud of light filtering the spectrum.

"Hello Simon, it's unexpected to see you here. Do you have news from Markovia?"

"Your agent is dead. The diplomat failed to assassinate the head of state. Y'know, this is really disappointing actually. I'd been hoping that you guys on the Outsiders would actually would end up doing something monumental. Instead, I'm just with a couple of warring monarchs prone to in-fighting and instigating. I'm sick of your hipocrisy. It ends now!" At that, his hand exploded in a burst of shimmering green power!

Indignated by the assertion he'd meant for any of this, he gave a low growl before ducking out of the way. Simon fired a cannonball of concentrated green light, meant to decapitate the Black Panther. Simon Williams, former business partner of Tony Stark who managed to transform his body into a depository for Green Lantern power. It would be foolish to believe I could fight him in single combat, or even outrun him in the light of day.

Fortunately, he didn't have to. Taking a sprint with his back to Simon, he pulled out his Kimoyo card and swiped his finger across its screen, quickly accessing Wakanda's national defense program and activating several satellites above the sky. Simon's shots became less and less accurate as the mighty African sun was steadily dimmed, it's light instead scattered around Wakanda. This maneuver was risky, it ran the possibility of killing the people it was meant to protect if it were allowed to go on very long. However, today it served its purpose of concealing the king from an alien threat dependant on seeing him.

Simon kicked up the brightness radiating off his own body, but struggled to find The Black Panther. He strained his eyes as he tried to search him out. "I've got you!" he fired a beam the size of a semi-truck at the silhouette of the king, obliterating the image beyond any hope of the body ever being salvaged before breathing out in satisfaction. One less hipocrite war-monger he'd see again.
 
Daredevil_Logo_2.png
“What do you see, Karen?”

I stand in the center of the room, resting my hands on the top of my cane, scanning the room with my ears and nose, cataloguing the smells and sounds to paint a clearer image of the crime scene while Karen acts as my eyes.

Peter’s hearing went well. We managed to get him released into our custody, which was wonderful. When all the evidence points to an innocent man, there’s only one reason for that: He’s being framed. With Luke babysitting him, at least Peter is safe from anyone who might view this afternoon’s court proceedings as a thorn in their side.

After making sure Peter was comfortable over at Cage’s “pimp palace” Karen and I came down to ESU to check out Connors’ lab for ourselves. Since the officer on duty outside lifted the police tape for us to duck under, Karen and I have been alone for the first time since this morning. She smells wonderful, radiant, not the over abundance of perfume women typically use to mask their natural scent, but, simply and purely, clean, with just a hint of citrus body wash.

Foggy, meanwhile, is having a late meeting with Assistant DA Bukowski, working out a plea deal in case this whole thing goes south.

“I don’t know,” Karen says. “Typical lab stuff—test tubes, beakers I guess they’re called, a chalkboard with something written on it.”

I smirk. “Can you define ‘something’ for me?”

Her voice comes back steady, but unsure, as if I put her on the spot. “Equations, some kind of formula. There’s a desk in the corner.”

“Take me to it, please.”

“Sure.”

Karen hooks her arm around mine, and I hear something I haven’t heard in quite some time. Years ago, I learned how to tune out my own heartbeat. Stick helped me to train my senses, to ignore what wasn’t important, a kind of built in filter to help discriminate and prevent sensory overload. But with Karen touching me, my heart erupts like thunder from my chest. But, then again, so does hers.

She escorts me to the desk and I drag my fingertips over it. “Something was written down here,” I announce.

“What do you mean?”

“This pad of paper,” I say, tapping a note pad. “Something was written on it on a top piece of paper. Then that piece of paper was removed. But, I can still feel the indentions of what was written. Here.” I take Karen’s hand in mine and extend her index finger. I use it to trace what was on the pad. “Feel that?”

“Yeah!” she says, slightly amazed. “It’s incredible how you can make up for the loss of your…I mean—“

“It’s okay.” I laugh. “You don’t have to sugar-coat it. I’m blind. I know it.” I can feel her breath on my lips. Her mouth must be right up against mine. I can feel warmth flooding into my groin and I force myself to think about something—anything—and settle on imagining how ludicrous I would look to her, standing here in the middle of a crime scene, hot and bothered, face flushed red, turning erect. It’s an urge and I must fight it. But I don’t want to fight it.

“Ahem.” A male voice, to my rear, exaggeratedly clearing his throat. Karen and I separate and turn in the direction of the intruder, who, judging by the odor of stale coffee, shirt starch and—is that a donut?—must be the police officer from outside.

“I said you could look around for a minute,” says the officer. “It’s been a minute.”

“Do you have to be so literal?” I ask. Now that there is something to distract me from Karen my senses become alive to everything in the room. But everything is dulled, sterilized even, as if—sniff, sniff—the room were cleaned very recently. I smell bleach, possibly ammonia too. Who the hell cleans a crime scene when it’s still being investigated?

“Oh, Matt,” Karen starts. She suddenly stops talking, as if she doesn’t want the officer to hear her. Her heart rate intensifies. Is she scared?

“Come on, you two,” the officer says. “I risked my neck enough letting you take a peek…as it were.”

As it were, I repeat to myself. He used the word “peek,” a word that relates to sight, and suddenly backtracked, embarrassed, certain he committed a faux pas.

“It’s okay,” Karen says. “He knows he’s blind.”

“We’re done here anyway.”

The officer escorts us back outside to the main quad in the heart of the ESU campus. As we walk away Karen leans in and speaks in a low voice. “It was so strange, Matt. The window was broken.”

“The police report noted that,” I say.

“Yeah, but why break a window when you have a key card? And, where was the broken glass?”

“It was cleaned up.”

“How do you know?”

“The whole office was cleaned top to bottom.”

“They’re really trying to frame this kid, aren’t they?”

“Sure seems that way.” We walk a few more steps and then I blurt out, “1636 Lexington.”

“1636 Lexington? What’s that mean.”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It is something. An address. Look it up on your phone.”

“Was that what was written on that notepad?”

“Yeah.”

I can literally hear the swipes and taps Karen’s fingers are making on the phone. “It’s a night club,” she says a few moments later. “Club Black Cat.”

“Hmmm…”

“It’s probably nothing, right? College kids looking for a place to cut loose on the weekends.”

“Probably.” Probably, but not certainly. Right now, it’s the only clue we’ve got. While I don’t relish the idea of straying so far from the Kitchen—especially with ninjas back in town—someone’s framing my client and I need to know why. And who. And this looks like a good a place as any to start.

“I’m not much of a nightclub girl,” Karen says.

“No?” I say, distracted but trying desperately to hide it. “What kind of girl are you?”

Karen laughs. “A walk-down-by-the-waterfront kind of girl. With an ice cream cone. And a gentleman companion to engage me in stimulating conversation.”

“That sounds nice.” But why frame Parker of all people? What’s so special about him? Or, was he just a patsy chosen at random, a kid caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone got his key card, but how? The skateboarder!

“In fact, why don’t we—“

“I can’t, Karen, something just came up.” Parker said a kid on a skateboard ran into him. Master pickpocket could absolutely lift the key in the commotion. Let’s just see if Club Black Cat is the kind of place where skateboarders hang out.

“I don’t under—“

“Why don’t you get a cab home? I’ve got something to take care of in this neighborhood.”

Karen’s mortified, poor girl. But what can I say? I’d love to go on a date with you, but you see, I’m really a vigilante who dresses up as a devil?

“Matt? Did I say something wrong?”

“No. Of course not.” I take her hand in mine. “Tomorrow night: You, me, ice cream. But not tonight.”

“Why not?”

Why not? I think to myself. Because tonight, the devil’s going clubbing.

******************
daredevil1.png

Later that night, I’m perched on the rooftop of a building adjacent to the club. There’s a deep, rhythmic pulsing of techno music coming from the club. That thumping noise gives me a sonar reading, and as the sound waves bounce of objects and people, I can “see” everything.

I can see the building itself. I can see a crowd of people standing in a line behind what I assume is a velvet rope as a bouncer—big enough to intimidate Luke Cage or even Superman for that matter—lets kids in in small groups. I look up and see something else. Far away between two buildings, a figure swings in my direction, reminding me of Tarzan going from vine to vine. Spider-Man. Gotta be. Great. He’s going to warn me to “stay off his turf” or something. Better not let him see me.

The thumping pulse paints the picture of a fire escape landing a few floors down. Below that, a dumpster. Since I can't look before I leap, I just leap. I can’t fear what I can’t see, and thus, I’m the man without fear. I land on the fire escape and bounce down to the dumpster.

I hop off the dumpster and find myself in the back alley behind the club.

A door opens somewhere and I flatten myself against the wall, using the dumpster as concealment. The pulsing is quieter here and this dims my abilities, but the sounds of glass bottles hitting glass bottles tells me what I need to know: The bartender came out to toss his trash in the dumpster. The sound of glass on glass briefly gives me an image of a door to the man’s rear. He goes back through it, the door closing behind him. I don’t detect a doorknob or handle. It’s not meant to be opened from the outside. So, I’ve only got one shot at this.

I unholster my billy club and toss it in the direction of the door, satisfied with myself as it wedges its way between the frame and the door itself, preventing the door from closing fully.

And with that, I have my way inside.

I “ninja” my way in, by going from hiding place to hiding place, dodging the people who work at the club. I find myself in a narrow hallway, which is just what I need. I leap straight up, as high as I can, and place my left foot against the wall to my left. Then, in that fraction of a second where I have footing—just before gravity would toss me back down to the floor—I push off the wall and place my right foot on the right wall. Leapfrogging between the two walls, I’m able to climb, silently, to the catwalks above.

I flip up onto the catwalks, where strobe lights, fog machines and other theatrics dangle some 30 feet above the floor of the club. But the lights mean nothing to me. The place could be in total darkness and I wouldn’t know any different. Now, I’m in my element. The pulsing of the music has my sonar and radar firing on all cylinders. Blind or not, I can see better than anyone in here. Now, let’s take a minute to drink it all in and see what I see…
 

[BLACKOUT]"Such a pretty outfit, too."[/BLACKOUT]



Harley sat on the edge of the lumpy, ratty, stained mattress, a thin, tattered bed sheet doing little to cover her bare body. She stared at the soiled, bloddied costume she had taken the night before.

Sure, she could probably clean it up, fix some of the holes. But it was always nice to have options, as well, and a girl had to accesorize. What fun would it be to wear the same thing everyday.

Harley turned to the gorgeous adonis beside her. God, last night--well, she was sure she was gonna have trouble walking straight.

She gently gave him a loving nudge.

[BLACKOUT]"Mistah J, I think I need to do a little clothes shoppin' today."[/BLACKOUT]

"What a marvelous idea, Harley! A whole new wardrobe for your whole new life. Our whole new life... together."

The grin fell from The Joker's mouth, and a troubled look danced across his face.

"It's just that..."

He made a show of shaking his head and waving his hand.

"No, it's nothing. Forget I said anything."
 

The mass of people swarming around locker room area of the Pan Global Games was almost suffocating. Tommy was able to use it to his advantage though, blending in as just another face in the crowd. Nobody gave him a second glance. On the flip side, it made finding one solitary petite brunette expontentially harder to find.

The distinct beeping of his wrist mounted communicator presented another problem. Nobody paid particular attention to the tone, but somebody would most certainly notice a man standing amongst the wave of people talking into a watch.

Squeezing through the rush, Tommy finally came upon an open janitor closet and slipped inside.

[BLACKOUT]"Go ahead, Zordon."[/BLACKOUT]

"Tommy, have you had any luck locating Kimberly?"

[BLACKOUT]"No Zordon, not yet."[/BLACKOUT]

"That is most unfortunate. Alpha has just detected a massive surge of alien energy in New York City. It has destroyed a small diner, and put countless people in danger."

[BLACKOUT]"Rita and Zedd?"[/BLACKOUT]

"I have not determined that yet, but we cannot take any chances. You must teleport to New York at once."

[BLACKOUT]"I'm on it."[/BLACKOUT]

-

"Perhaps I can be of assistance," says the waitress, returning with Megan's drink, "and send you back to her right now!" Transforming into a dreadfully familiar form, the "waitress" tosses the mug at the pair, smashing it onto the table between them. Immediately, the cafe bursts into flames.

ededa87c-80ae-4328-b65d-1986cc0fb4a6_zpsgckar2kv.jpg


HaHaHaHaHaHa!!!!

A bolt of white energy slammed into squarley into the gut of the jade attacker, knocking him several feet back into a pile of burning rubber.



[BLACKOUT]"Stand down, creep. Or my little friend and I will put you down."[/BLACKOUT]
 
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The three brothers trudged along through the sewers towards Donnie's beacons, complaining as they went. Contrary to the beliefs and rumors of the humans above, they hated going through the sewers. They weren't mindless monsters. They knew how bad it smelled, and how bad it made them smell. Leo cringed at how long he'd have to be in the shower later to get the stench off. It's why, for the most part, they used subway tunnels and the like for transportation.

But whatever this thing was, it was stalking the sewers, and they needed to find it.

"You guys are coming up on the first marker," Donnie said through their commlinks.

"Thank god," Mikey said through a pinched nose.

"I'm so very sad I'm not there with you guys," Don snorted.

"Yea well, I'm getting into your bed when I get back," Raph groaned. "I think we've discovered several new smells on the way here."

After a few dozen yards of trudging through the viscous sludge, Leo spotted the first beacon. He looked at the other two brothers with him, "Stick close. Whatever this thing is, it's big. I don't need it picking us off one by one."

"Excuse me now?" Mikey perked up. "Could that happen?"

"Yea, Mikey," Raph ribbed his brother. "It could be one of the mythical sewer dragons. They come out of people's toilets and eat them."

"Oh man..."

"Relax, Mike," Leo sighed before winking at Raph. "It only eats humans."

"What would it do to turtles?"

"Probably just play with them till they die," Raph shrugged. "Like a cat with a mouse."

Mike whimpered worriedly as they continued to explore the sewer tunnels. Leo stopped the group as he noticed something on the wall to their right. He walked over to it and ran his hands over four deep gashes in the solid rock, "Claw marks."

"Sewer dragon!"

"Donnie,"
Leo reported back, "four claw marks deep in the rock. Whatever this thing is, it's strong. Looks like three fingers and a thumb."

"Got it," Donnie confirmed. "Will check some records."

As the transmission ended a low, rumbling growl rolled through the sewer tunnel. Mikey yelped in fear, and Leo sighed, "Raph, that's enough. We don't have time to joke anymore."

"Uh, that wasn't me, fearless leader," his brother rolled his eyes.

"Then what was that?"


The three brothers turned around to face the source of the noise. From the shadows emerged a bipedal behemoth clad in green scales. It looked at the Turtles with rage in its eyes and let out a gutteral, primal scream.

2821002-leatherhead_tmnt_2012_ferocious_zpsoj1umjx1.jpg

 

"You're doing good, Barb. Nice and calm. Keep showing the picture around."



Dick had been surprised at how well Barbara had taken his little revelation earlier. Besides the speechlessness, the loss of color in her face, a mild case of hyperventilating, and finally speed walking away from the deli rambling about a lifetime grounding.

Still, he had been able to calm her down, and it wasn't long until she was on board.

Robin monitored her now from a nearby rooftop as she showed around a picture of one of the missing girls, playing the part of a concerned friend looking for her lost classmate.

Nothing so far. Most people claimed they'd never seen the girl. Some recognized her, but didn't know what had happened. Eventually, though, the right person was going to recognize the picture, and alert the right scumball.

The door of one of several back alley bars opened up, and Robin noticed two men step out. One was fairly short, very skinny, ratty clothes. He glanced nervously around as he pocket something, cash it seemed, from the other man. Very tall, muscular, slicked back, jet black hair, and biker gang leathers. Robin zoomed in on the insignia sewn on the vest.

"Midnight Sons."

The biker took another second, then slipped back inside. The weasly looking guy headed out of the alley and towards the main street. Maybe a drug dealer, maybe an informant.

"Barbara. Scruffy guy. Short. Tattered gray hoodie, jeans, walking real nervous. He's gonna be coming out of the alley behind you any second. Show him the picture."

Robin could see Barbara give the slightest nod and turn. She locked onto the man as soon as he came around the corner, and a moment later she had him stopped, showing him the picture. He saw him shake his head 'No', and heard him deny knowing the girl through the earpiece. Barbara thanked him and turned to leave.

"Stall for a minute. Show a few more people in the immediate area. I want you to stay close to this bar."

Robin watched. The weasel hesitated a minute, waited until Barbara wasn't facing him anymore, and headed back down into the alley. He turned the corner and walked back into the bar.

"May have something here."

It took less than a minute for the Midnight Son to exit the bar with his short friend. Robin touched a sensor on his utility belt, and the lenses in his mask switched to what he like to call "Detective Mode."

"Midnight Son coming at you. 9 mm tucked in the waistband at the small of his back. Switchblade in his boot."

Robin tensed up as the biker approached Barbara, ready to swoop in if things went sour. He placed his hand to his ear so he could hear the conversation perfectly.

"--hear you're looking for a friend of yours?"

"Yeah, she's been missing a few days. Her family and I are getting worried. She's been my best friend since elementary school."

"Damn, she's convincing."

Barb showed the leather bound thug the picture.

"Yeah, yeah. I've seen her. Gave her a ride to a soup kitchen a few days ago. Said she needed to get away."

"Liar."

"Oh my god! Can you tell me which one."

"I can do you one better, little lady. I can take you right to it."

"Oh, that would be fantastic. Thank you so much."

"Showtime, Barb. No matter what happens, just stay calm."

Robin hit another button, and a small HUD appeared in the lenses, a map of the city with a tiny red flashing dot. A tracer placed neatly in place of one of the diamond studs in Barbara's earrings.

"Trackers online and working good. I'll be close by."

-

Robin stopped the Redbird a block away from the warehouse complex along the northern Gotham River at the outskirts of the city. He watched as the van Barb had been forced into stopped at the gate and waited for another goon posing as a security guard to open the gate. Barbara had been bound and gagged as soon as the biker thug had gotten her to the van, and it had taken Robin all he could do not to scrap the mission at that moment and free her. But she had agreed to this willingly, and if he blew called it off then, they would be no closer.



He shut the bike off and fired a line to a lightpole across the street. From there, he rappelled up the the boom of a crane overlooking the warehouse district, and watched for the van to stop. It made its way around to a smaller, non-descript warehouse at the upper corner of the compound and parked inside. Robin tucked his grapnel back onto his belt, and throwing his cape open, glided down to the roof of the warehouse.

Several motorcycles, and a half dozen more vans, were parked inside. Two dozen or so Midnight Sons milled about below, and Robin watched as Barbara was retrieved from the back of the van and led off to door at the end of the building and into a side room. He opened one of the skylights and dropped to the rafter below. He scanned the door from his perch. He picked up several more heat signatures behind the door. Body temperatures elevated. Heart beats racing.

More kidnapped girls.

The man who had abducted Barbara returned to the main floor area, locking the steel door behind him. This was definitely where the girls were being taken, but where was this big boss?

As if the heavens above heard his thoughts, the large bay doors slid open, and two black, heavily armored SUVs entered, follwed closely behind by an indiscreet red sedan with tinted windows.

The doors to the sedan opened first. Two men in three piece business suits exited from the front. Robin had to stiffle a gasp as a lone figure exited the back.



"Good haul tonight, Dollmaker," one of the bikers called. "Ain't run into no trouble yet, but you get the reinforcements you promised us?"

The ghastly looking man walked in between the two SUVs towards the gathered bike gang.

"Are you doubting my word?"

The Dollmaker knocked on either front door of the armored cars. Several men in body armor jumoed out amd made their way around to the back, The hatches opened, and three large steel crates were removed from the back of each. It only took Robin a split second to realize what was inside.

Guns. Ammo. Lots of both.

The phrase "In over his head" came to mind very quickly.

"I think you'll find the contents of these cases to your liking, gents."

"That voice!"

Robin watched as a final figure stepped out of the first SUV, waddling around and making a show off himself. Always the center of attention.



"Now, shall we talk payment?"

"Finally. Finally, you sonuvab*tch."

 

"What a marvelous idea, Harley! A whole new wardrobe for your whole new life. Our whole new life... together."

The grin fell from The Joker's mouth, and a troubled look danced across his face.

"It's just that..."

He made a show of shaking his head and waving his hand.

"No, it's nothing. Forget I said anything."

Harley's heart sank. What could upset her puddin' so much?

She placed two gentle hands on his shoudlers.

[BLACKOUT]"What is it, snookie-poo? What's the matter?"[/BLACKOUT]
 
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Everything burns. Furniture, walls, people. Everything. Only his innate Martian speed kept J'onn J'onzz alive after the initial explosion. Surrounded by fire, the one thing that can truly kill a Martian, he can barely hold his form together as he crawls across the floor. He is desperately searching for his daughter. He has no idea if M'gann is even alive anymore, but he must find her.

Even if it's the last thing he does.


A bolt of white energy slammed into squarley into the gut of the jade attacker, knocking him several feet back into a pile of burning rubber.



[BLACKOUT]"Stand down, creep. Or my little friend and I will put you down."[/BLACKOUT]


"HaHaHaHeeHeeHooo..." Malefic laughed at the new arrival's threat while picking himself up off the ground. You're in my way, boy. That's not a smart place to put yourself."

His body shifts, expanding and stretching rapidly, forming long, thick tentacles that scoop up the still burning bodies of innocent people (a few of them still moaning) and toss them at the White Ranger.

"You want to be a hero, Dog of Zordon?" the mad Martian laughs as he unleashes his deadly Martian Vision, the beams streaking across the space between him and the hero. "Then you can die like one!"
 
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"HaHaHaHeeHeeHooo..." Malefic laughed at the new arrival's threat. You're in my way, boy. That's not a smart place to put yourself."

His body shifts, expanding and stretching rapidly, forming long, thick tentacles that scoop up the still burning bodies of innocent people (a few of them still moaning) and toss them at the White Ranger.

"You want to be a hero, Dog of Zordon?" the mad Martian laughs as he unleashes his deadly Martian Vision, the beams streaking across the space between him and the hero. "Then you can die like one!"

The White Ranger deftly dodged the onslaught of bodies, his heart sickened at the disrespect for the lost lives, and used Saba to help deflect the blasts of energy harmlessly away from the innocents. He rolled to his feet and aimed the head of the tiger at the alien in front of him. Saba fired a series of red lasers, striking each tentacle. The appendages recoiled and released their new prisoners. The White Ranger knew, heart-breakingly, that there was nothing he could do for some of them, and if he didn't subdue this foe quick, there may not be anything he could do for any of them.

[BLACKOUT]"Saba, is this a Martian?"[/BLACKOUT]

"Indeed it is, though I seem to be detecting an anomoly in its physiology. It does not seem to possess the inborn weakness to fire. I'm not sure what other mutations it may possess."

[BLACKOUT]"You work on that. As for me--"[/BLACKOUT]

The White Ranger charged, leaping into the air and slashing the blade of his loyal friend across the chest of the beast.
 
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The White Ranger deftly dodged the onslaught of bodies, his heart sickened at the disrespect for the lost lives, and used Saba to help deflect the blasts of energy harmlessly away from the innocents. He rolled to his feet and aimed the head of the tiger at the alien in front of him. Saba fired a series of red lasers, striking each tentacle. The appendages recoiled and released their new prisoners. The White Ranger knew, heart-breakingly, that there was nothing he could do for some of them, and if he didn't subdue this foe quick, there may not be anything he could do for any of them.

[BLACKOUT]"Saba, is this a Martian?"[/BLACKOUT]

"Indeed it is, though I seem to be detecting an anomoly in its physiology. It does not seem to possess the inborn weakness to fire. I'm not sure what other mutations it may possess."

[BLACKOUT]"You work on that. As for me--"[/BLACKOUT]

The White Ranger charged, leaping into the air and slashing the blade of his loyal friend across the chest of the beast.

Malefic was temporarily struck speechless by the depth of the wound created by the Ranger's blade. The sword actually hurt him, and he wasn't sure if he liked that or not. Either way, he knows he'll have fun peeling the white-clad man's skin off. Sprouting four extra arms, the Martian gives all fifty of his fingertips a razor-sharp edge.

"Let's see how you like being cut."

-----

Meanwhile, J'onn drags himself along the ground to where his daughter lies motionless. She is comatose, and due to the flames, reduced to a mostly fluid form. Straining against the pain, J'onn touches his daughter, connecting to her in body and mind, trying his hardest to be soothing to the girl. J'onn had entertained notions of forgiving his twin, restoring Ma'alefa'ak's telepathy, and forging forward with renewed life. Now, those hopes were dashed.

Silently invoking the name of H'ronmeer, Martian god of fire and death, J'onn swears to kill his brother for this.
 
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Standing outside of the entrance to the Children's Hospital with long and large gold ribbon in front of it were several of Metropolis well known citizens, Politicians, Hospital Board Members, and others. None of them though can even hold a candle to the man who helped fund the majority of the reconstruction and the donations of the new equipment; Alexander J. Luthor. Who stood off to the side already inside the building hidden from public view. He let it leak out that he might not make it to the opening, but that was only for dramatic effect. No way was he about to let a bunch of politicians and unworthy parasites steal his moment in the sun. This day was all about him!

Mayor Harlan Dixon is finishing a speech, and Lex is doing everything in his power to stay awake. From checking his watch to checking his L-Phone. Finally Dixon asked, "Does anyone have the scissors to cut the ribbon?" Lex rolled his eyes and said under his breath,"'Bout time!"

Lex strolled out of the front doors to a thunderous ovation and dozens of camera flashes as he said, "I think I can help out!" He handed Dixon an over-sized pair of scissors and shook his hand. Lex stepped to the podium and made several hand motions for the crowd to settle. he said, "Thank you all very much. I wanted to do one last walk through the building. I wanted to make sure that everything is in perfect working order. Nothing is too good to help these children lead healthy and happy lives. I pledge I will do whatever it takes to help in that fight!"

Applause erupted again and Lex motioned again for silence. He turned to Dixon and said, "If you would Mr. Mayor!" Dixon cut the ribbons and dozens of balloons were released into the air. Lex stepped aside as everyone stepped into the Hospital. Lex did the smile and the media mingling that had become his trademark.

After about an hour Lex made a very discreet exit. As he rode back to Lexcorp in the back of his Limo he made himself a drink. Lex watched as the media was all over him and his contribution to the city.

Lex smirked as he took a drink and said, "If they only knew..."
 

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