Dance With the Demons
Alfred watched Hecate scarf up the last joint of meat, which put the great cat inside of his holding cage. With a sigh of relief, he pushed the bars down and locked them in place with a lever. In the future, he hoped Mistress Selina would donate the panther to a zoo.
Batwoman and the Cat King were finishing with the binding and gagging of the Cobra Cult attack squad. One of the hoods had a tourniquet about his arm, where it had been cut by Karl Kyle's catarang. It was as good as Alfred could do under the circumstances. At any rate, the Cultists had invaded the Batcave and, in his opinion, deserved everything they had suffered for it.
Selina was back in her cot, to which Karl had carried her after she had loosed Hecate. The sensors hadn't yet been reconnected to her body. There was so much to do...
Wearily, the old butler looked at the scene. The Batcave and its equipment were largely intact, but twelve men can't make an invasion without causing some damage. If only Master Bruce wasn't out of the country.
If only he was there with his wife.
"I must make a few calls," he said. "Dr. Dundee must be summoned for the wounded miscreant, and to check on Mistress Selina. Also, these others must be attended to."
Karl Kyle looked at Alfred. "Like how? These guys have to know, now, that your Bruce Wayne is Batman."
Alfred said, "In such cases, we call upon the services of Green Lantern to erase the knowledge from their minds. He is very efficient. First, though, let me see to the mistress."
Selina Kyle shifted in her cot as Alfred approached. "I think I'm all right, Alfred. Just a little tired. That action took a lot out of me, I'm sorry to say."
The King of the Cats left the captives and walked quickly over to Selina's bedside. Alfred was already replacing a sensor sleeve about her right arm. "Selina," said Karl. "Words fail me. I know you're not my sister. But, my God, you look so much like her. You are so much like her. And you're alive."
"For the most part, at any rate," smiled Selina. Alfred was replacing some wire-connected pads on her abdomen. "Glad you and the Batwoman managed to make that cavalry charge, or we'd both be goners."
Batwoman was at her side. "Don't even talk like that, Selina. After so many of our friends have died on our Earth, I'm not eager for any of you on this world to pass on. Congratulations on your marriage, by the way."
Selina looked sad. "Yeah. Thanks."
"I have to admit that I was a bit devastated when our Bruce married our Selina, instead of me," Kathy admitted. "But, after all, they'd had a thing going for a lot longer than he'd known me. I'm happy with the man I've got now, anyway."
"You're married?" said Selina.
Batwoman nodded. "To Tony Gordon. The son of the late Commissioner."
"Oh," said Selina. She tried to put on a smile fast enough to cover her startled reaction. But Batwoman saw it. So did Karl.
The older woman in yellow and red broke the silence. "Tony must be dead over here. He is, isn't he?"
"Yes," said Selina. "God help me, this stuff stinks."
Karl nodded. "Whenever we cross over Earths, we're always visiting ghosts."
Alfred checked the readings. His eyes narrowed for an instant. Luckily, he had his back to the others. Turning, he said, "If the two of you will keep Mistress Selina and our prisoners company, I shall attend to things."
Batwoman smiled. "Go ahead, Alfred. It's good to see you back."
For a second, he looked into her eyes. He didn't have to ask the question. Her tone told him what he needed to know. The Alfred of her world had to be dead, as well.
King Faraday was anything but a wimp. He had been a secret agent since the Kennedy administration. He'd fought his way out of dozens of trouble spots, with fists, feet, weapons, and wits. In the service of his country, he had killed enemy agents. He was, by any objective estimation, a dangerous man.
But the Batman held him pinned to a cockpit wall like a human forklift, and he was barely able to move.
"Bats, what in the--what are you talking about?", sputtered Faraday. "Aren't we both on the same side, fa'chrissakes?"
"Not hardly," grated Batman. "How did they turn you, King? What did they do to you? And who did it?"
The Creeper shoved his face close to Batman's, looking concerned. "Bats, are you poundin' on all cylinders? What gives?"
"Faraday," said Batman, adjusting his grip. "He'd better give with all the info I want, and then some."
"Are you crazy?" snapped Faraday. "That Catwoman thing got your mask pulled too tight? Let up, and we can talk."
Looker was moving towards them, nervously, but Plastic Man snaked out an elongated arm and stopped her. "It's okay, honey," he said. "I'm wise. Batman's told me."
"Told you what?" asked Lia. "Batman, what are you--"
"Shut up," snapped the masked man. "You must have wanted me to find you out, down inside, King. You must really have wanted it."
Nobody said a word for a few seconds.
"Should I spell it out for you?" continued Batman. "Your cover story was tissue paper. Wet tissue paper. You said that a Cobra Cultist told you with his dying breath about a plot of Kobra's. Wrong. The Cultists are loyal. They die before divulging information willingly. Especially something as high-stakes as you were talking about."
Faraday said, with a trace of annoyance, "The guy was checkin' out, Bats. Kobra was threatening the whole world, and the guy wanted to make good."
"Kobra's been threatening the whole world for years, Faraday." There was no forgiveness in Batman's eyes. "Plastic Man's in the intelligence community, too. With my connections and his, we checked your story. Yes, there was an agent killed in Pakistan. You were one of the closest ops your agency had to investigate it. It was to sucker you in. But we contacted your superior. No reported death of a Cobra Cultist. You didn't call home base afterwards, or file a report. Standard operating procedure after such a mission. You know that. I know it, too."
Faraday didn't say anything. Batman's grip on his body was becoming painful.
"The timing," said Batman. "It was all too pat. Selina Kyle gets hit. We go after the assassin. We eliminate Ra's Al Ghul as a suspect--for now. We go after Kobra. You turn up with a story about Kobra. Too pat. Too coincidental. What did he do to you, King? How were you turned?"
"Get your damn hands off me!" yelled Faraday. "I tell you, we're on the same side, you idiot!"
Batman, without turning his head, said, "Looker."
The woman stepped closer. "Yes, Batman?"
"I want you to probe Mr. Faraday's mind. Be careful. He's a master hypnotist, and I don't want him turning you, as well."
King considered bringing his knee up, but decided against it. He also couldn't get to his gun, the way he was held. There was a chance he could head-butt Batman, but that'd give him away. If he could resist this broad with the blue eye makeup, maybe that'd convince Batman that he was on the straight.
At any rate, he couldn't afford to betray Kobra.
It was amazing, how his point of view had changed. Just a little dip in the Pit, and he'd come to appreciate the boss in a totally different way...
Looker stared into Faraday's face. He tried to turn his eyes away, tried to turn his head, but Batman grabbed his chin in one powerful hand. "Look at her," he said, "or I'll break your jaw."
Almost involuntarily, he glanced at her.
That was all it took.
Lia Briggs's psi-powers probed into King Faraday's mind. She did feel his resistance, and felt him trying to snare her mind with his own hypnotic talent. But Faraday's powers were only human. Hers were so much more.
The spy cried out in pain. It was as if someone had inserted a fist into the center of his brain.
"I'm getting something," she said. "He's under control. Not continuous, but his brain patterns have been altered."
"How?" said Batman.
Looker exerted more of her power. "Tell us, Mr. Faraday," she said.
Faraday's jaws locked. He began to thrash in Batman's grip. "Creeper, Plas," said Batman.
"Righto," said the Creeper, and moved to backstop Batman's hold, pinning Faraday's left hand and foot with his own slim, powerful body.
Plastic Man merely insinuated himself between Batman and the spy and wrapped himself about Faraday like a red-clad constrictor and held him firmly. The captive was starting to convulse. A slight bit of blood dripped from one of his nostrils.
"Be careful, Looker," said Batman. "Possible cerebral damage."
"Do you want me to stop?"
A few seconds later, King Faraday screamed and went unconscious. Looker slumped to her knees, in connected empathy. Plastic Man stretched out a limb to support her, under her arms. She drew a deep breath and let it out.
"I can handle him, Creeper," said Batman, holding the limp Faraday.
"If you say so, Bats," the Creeper replied, and stepped back, warily.
Plastic Man unwrapped himself quickly from Faraday and resumed his normal shape, helping Looker back to her feet. Geo-Force's voice came from the intercom: "Is everything being all right back there, friend Batman?"
"We're fine, Geo," he replied. "Looker. What did you get from him?"
Lia ran a hand through her hair. "I think...the pertinent images...were these. I saw him in a fight with some Cobra Cultists. He got taken, evidently. Then he saw Kobra, and some others. At least one woman, probably Eve, Kobra's mistress. Plus a bunch of Cultists. There was some seething liquid that he was lowered into. He fought to try and keep out of it, but he just couldn't."
"The Lazarus Pit," said Batman, quietly. "I suspected as much. It made him a mind-slave, just like Melissa McNeil. Kobra turned King into a Judas goat."
Looker said, "I saw some others King was with. The ones who were supposed to trap us."
She told him.
"I should have guessed," Batman replied. "I'm taking King to the brig. Once this is finished, he's going back to the States with us for treatment."
The Creeper thought about saying, "If any of us live long enough to get him back there."
But he didn't.
Element Girl had finally asked Halo about her origin. The blonde girl with the blue and red streak in her hair had brightened and said, "Well, gosh, Rainie, for the longest time I didn't even have an origin!"
Tatsu sighed. "She means she did not know about it. For a long time, Gabrielle was amnesiac."
Halo bit her lip. Rainie Blackwell turned to Katana and said, "I'm sure Gabby can tell me her story on her own. Go ahead, honey."
Gabrielle Doe smiled again. "Well, this body's name...I guess you could kind of say, my name...used to be Violet Harper. Violet used to live in Arlington, Missouri, and her parents were named Sam and Margaret. I'm pretty sure her parents were really good to her. But Violet was kinda...well, kinda mean. I mean, I think she was, because of what they told me she did."
"What did she do, Gabby?" asked El Girl.
Halo hugged herself, visibly uneasy. "She met this boy named Mark Dunninger. Violet wanted like poison to get out of Arlington, ‘cause she thought it was a ‘one-horse town'. Well, there weren't really any horses in it, but you know what I mean. So one night both of ‘em got on Mark's motorcycle and took off down Route 44. That's a highway, you know.
"What they...what they found, about an hour down the road, was this burning wrecked car. There was this guy trapped inside of it, too. Mark and Violet stopped the ‘cycle and looked at it. The guy told ‘em to help him. They...they didn't see why they should. I think maybe they could have, but the guy was too busted up to help himself." Gabrielle's fingernails were pressing into her palms. "Really, this body was pretty mean to do that. I mean, it really was.
"So the guy in the car told ‘em he could make it worth their while to help him, and he was talkin' really fast, y'know, cause, like, the fire in the engine was spreading. They asked how, and he said there was something in his briefcase that was worth a whole bunch of money. So they said, let's see the briefcase and we'll see if it's worth saving you for. So he handed it over. I mean, like, if he'd had more time, I'm sure he would'a bargained better. Maybe not just handed it over like that. But he had to get ‘em to help right then, or he was a goner."
Halo was silent for a moment. Urania said, "And did they help him?"
Exhaling, Gabrielle said, "No. No, they didn't. They took the briefcase and let him die. That was an evil, evil thing to do. Gosh, I hate this body sometimes for having done it."
"It was not the body that did it, Gabrielle," said Tatsu. "It was the mind which occupied the body that did that. The body is guiltless, and now you occupy it. Therefore there is no reason to hate it."
"Well, I know that, Tatsu, but just the same," said Halo. "The two of them knocked over a few places after that, a liquor store and a 7-11 or two, and they got enough money together to buy a couple of tickets to Paris. They didn't go right then, but they figured they'd be safer there than in the States. All the time, Mr. and Mrs. Harper were going crazy worrying about Violet. I ‘magine Margaret had to be sedated or something, and I bet this body didn't even care. That's how bad it was.
"But they needed money to live on. They'd taken a look in the briefcase and found what was in it. It was a formula for a really, really addictive drug. More addictive than heroin, but a better high. I mean, I don't know, I've never taken drugs. I think this body might have, but I never did.
"They'd heard about a group called the 100, which is a big crime syndicate kinda like the Mafia, only not so discriminatory. They take all kinds of people, not just Sicilians, and they're more into science and supercrime along with the street-level stuff. I guess if you have to be a criminal organization, it's better to do it like that. Even though it's still evil. So anyway, they found out how to get ahold of this guy, Tobias Whale, on the phone. Tobias was like this big, big guy in the 100, which was going to buy the drug formula from the guy who got burned up in the car. And Mark told him they had the formula and they'd sell it to Tobias. And Tobias said, ‘Give me back the formula and I won't kill you.'
"But Mark didn't believe him when he said that. Because he figured Tobias would just take the formula and kill them both. So he hung up and said, ‘Honey, we're going to Paris after all.' And they got back on the motorcycle, went to the nearest airport, and got away. Tobias just about caught them, but he was too late.
"So they were over there, with the Eiffel Tower and the Arch of Triumph and all that. And Paris looks really nice, I know, ‘cause I've been there, too. But their money was running out. Especially when they were spending some of it on drugs. So Violet goes, ‘Why should we spend money on drugs when we can get somebody to make this stuff from the formula and make money from drugs ourselves?' And she figures that two people don't have to be in on this. So she helped Mark shoot up one night, but she put a lot more of the stuff into the shot than Mark could handle. He's really strung out on the floor, and she just packs up her bag, takes the formula, and leaves. Like I said, this body was really, really bad.
"But Tobias had hired this woman, who was a killer named Syonide, to track both of them down, kill ‘em, and get his formula back. She found Mark, learned about what Violet had done, and saw him die. Then she went after Violet.
"She found Violet in Markovia. Yeah, that Markovia, the one Brion's a prince of. Synoide had a shoot-out with Violet, and Violet lost. And she died."
Element Girl said, "She died? I mean, you...your body is dead?"
Halo shrugged. "It used to be.
"But now I've got to tell you about me. I mean, the real me. I only found out about the real me a long time after I joined the Outsiders. See, I used to be an Aurikle. I know that sounds like, y'know, the Oracle of Delphi, but it's spelled different, A-U-R-I-K-L-E, not O-R-A-C-L-E. Aurikles are like, globes of energy, kind of on a light wavelength, and they're mostly imperceptible to material beings. They go around gathering knowledge, and when one of ‘em gets all the knowledge they can handle, it splits into two, like an amoeba. Then the two of ‘em go off to get some more knowledge, and that's how it goes.
"And me, I liked living things. The other Aurikles went around studying the stars and such, but I was hooked on animals and plants and such. Especially animals that are like humans. I mean, they have a social organization that's even more complex than ants or bees or amoebas. That's really, really interesting."
Element Girl said, "Amoebas? I never knew they had a social life."
"Have you ever been an amoeba?"
"Well, no, not to the best of my knowledge."
"Well, then. Here's what happened. All the planets in this solar system got in line. Just like a military drill instructor was tellin' ‘em, ‘Ten-Hut!' That made a flux of forces that most of you humans never even knew about. And at just that moment, Synoide killed Violet Harper. And I was hangin' around, and I saw it. I was thinking, ‘Gee, what an awful thing,' ‘cause, like, I didn't know about all the stuff she'd done just then. And I thought, ‘What if I could help her?'
"I must've wanted it so badly that the force-flux shot me out of where I was watching from, and right into her body, like a pea squirtin' out from a pod. I really did. I was in Violet's body. But it was going to kill me if I didn't do something really fast.
"So I managed to make the body pop out the bullet. That was really hard. Even harder was reconstructing the heart and all that, closing up the wound, making the blood liquid again, making the brain function and all. I mean, I'm sure they make jokes about me not making the brain function enough. But really, I did repair it. I even made this costume I'm wearing, which is colored sort of like an Aurikle. And by the time I was through, this body was a going concern again. But Violet's mind, or soul, or whatever, had passed beyond. I was the only proprietor now.
"The whole thing gave me amnesia, like. When I woke up, Synoide was gone. She'd left me for dead, which I was, for a while. And the first thing I saw was Batman. He was in Markovia, trying to save his friend. He scared me, with that creepy costume of his, and I was thinking, I guess, about Syonide, subconsciously. So I hit him with this halo-power of mine. The orange one. I was trying to drive him away, but I was too weak, and I fell, and he caught me. I asked him not to hurt me, and I'll never forget what he said to me. He said, ‘If I wanted to hurt you, we wouldn't be talking.' From him, that was very nice.
"I didn't know much about the halo-power. Batman and I learned about it together, and we teamed up with Tatsu and Rex and Brion and Lightning to fight Baron Bedlam and all that, and we won, and then Rex came up with the Outsiders name, and that was that. But the halo-power is, like, it comes from the union of me and this body. And there's a lot of different halo-powers."
"I know some of them," said Element Girl. "The orange one is your force-blast, the red one is heat, the green one's a stasis beam, and so on."
"Yeah, and the yellow's a blinding light beam, the blue one distorts your vision, the indigo one is a tractor beam...I mean, it pulls things like a real tractor, but it doesn't plow fields or anything..."
Rainie couldn't hold back her snickers.
Halo smiled. "All right, I know it doesn't come out right all the time when I say things. But you know what I mean. Then there's the violet one, which we haven't figured out all the way. The reason we haven't is that I didn't use it way-back-when, because, you know, this body's name used to be Violet. So subconsciously I was holding back, like. I didn't know who I was, or what I was, but I was an Outsider, and I had friends like Tatsu here--" Halo hugged Katana with one arm. "--And Brion, and Rex, and Lia, and even Batman. So I helped ‘em fight bad guys, which I thought was a good thing to do."
"Well, it is a good thing to do, Halo," said Element Girl. "How did you become Gabrielle Doe?"
"Well, at first they called me ‘Jane Doe', which is like ‘John Doe', and I suppose that's like ‘John Deere,' which is the guy who makes all those tractors. But he doesn't have a tractor beam. Anyway, I thought Doe was okay, like in that song, ‘Doe, a female deer', and all that. But I didn't like ‘Jane', so I searched thru a book of names that Bruce gave me, and I found Gabrielle and liked it. So I picked it, and that was that. I started rooming with Tatsu here, and we get along really well. Don't we, Tatsu?"
"Absolutely," said Katana, imperturbably.
"But Batman wanted to help me find out who I was. And he did. He tracked down who this body was, and I went back...to its parents. They were...they were really nice people, Rainie. And then, oh, God..." She put her face in her hands.
Tatsu and Rainie went to comfort her. My God, thought Element Girl, this happens so often during these stories. Maybe I'd be better off not asking for them in the first place.
"It's all right, Gabrielle," said Katana, holding her young friend. "You don't have to say anything more. It's all right."
"Syonide found me again," said Halo. "I'd gone back to live with Mr. and Mrs. Harper. And...she...killed them."
"It's okay, Gabby," said Urania, wrapping her two differently-colored arms about Halo and Katana. "Please, don't say any more. Just calm down."
"No," said Halo, sighing and sniflling. "No, I'll be all right. I...oh, God, I wish somebody didn't have to get killed every time one of us gets to be a hero. It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens too much.
"Anyway, I went back to the Outsiders, and Dr. Jace gave me a treatment, and I remembered how I'd been an Aurikle and all that. And the Aurikles tried to take me back, but Katana and the boys rescued me. So here I am. And I'm really, really glad that I'm with you all, instead of being some ball of light in space, or a body that killed somebody and let somebody else die."
Metamorpho said, "We're glad you're with us, too, Halo. And don't you ever forget it."
Nobody could think of anything else to say, so they said nothing. Then Black Lightning's voice was heard on the intercom.
"Listen up, people," said Jeff Pierce. "Just got a message from Batman. It seems Kobra has a little welcoming party for us."
Dr. Dundee had finished his examination of Selina Wayne. "You'll have to move her from the Batcave, you know," he said to Alfred, who was alone with him in the Wayne Manor library. "If they can pull a stunt like that, it's just not safe enough for her."
"I understand, Doctor," said Alfred, looking very tired. "But I will have to consult with the Master as to where he wants Mistress Selina taken."
"You've made arrangements about the others?"
"Yes. I've contacted the League. Green Lantern has promised to pick them up." He paused. "Doctor. I wish to hear of Mistress Selina's condition."
Dundee looked at him. "You mustn't tell anyone but Bruce. Not even Selina must know."
The butler said nothing.
"She's been making an apparent recovery," said Dundee. "But it's not going to be enough. If the antidote to this specific poison is not found within ten days, the tissue damage will be irreversible. Within two weeks, well..." He looked at the table, so as not to see Alfred's eyes.
"Tell me, Doctor," said Alfred.
"Within two weeks, without the antidote, Mrs. Wayne will be dead."