Dance With the Demons
Chief O'Hara hated to admit it, but he was glad to see the various Bat-vehicles pulling up.
The cops under his command had allowed the newcomers past the police barricades and onto the Gotham Narrows Bridge, right beside the foremost cop cars. There were a couple of Batmobiles, plus two cycles, both driven by women. One of the ladies was Batgirl, who was familiar enough to O'Hara. Somebody he couldn't see had her (or his) hands around Batgirl's stomach, so she was obviously carrying a rider. The other was ridden by a female whom he had never seen before, who had a purple eye-mask and a blue costume.
He gaped at the sight of the yellow-clad woman who got off the back of Batgirl's bike.
Altogether there were about six of them, including young Robin, an older man dressed in an outfit superficially resembling Robin's, a guy dressed up in a black catsuit, and a blonde in another yellow and red costume. O'Hara had seen the Outsiders in action, and knew these folks were not them.
Thankfully, Batgirl was the first one to meet him. "Morning, Chief," she said. "Any change in the situation?"
"Good to see you again," said O'Hara. "No, he's still just imitating a flagpole sitter. I've got sharpshooters standing by, but he hasn't threatened us yet. I tried talking to him through the bullhorn, got a negotiator up here, but no soap. If you can't get him down, we'll have to try it ourselves. What happened to Batman?"
Robin said, "He's working with the Outsiders. Chief, let me introduce you to our new Bat-Squad. The lady here is the Huntress, and the guy beside her is, well, we call him Old Robin. This chick over here--"
"Watch it, small fry," said Flamebird, good-naturedly.
"--is known as Flamebird, but she used to be the first Bat-Girl. The guy in black is the King of the Cats, and that's--"
"I know who she is," said O'Hara. "But Batman told us Batwoman was dead."
The lady in yellow and red stepped closer to O'Hara. "I'm carrying on for her," she said. "Call me Batwoman II."
He looked at her, then shrugged. "All I care about now is getting this freak off the bridge and into a holding cell before he gets a chance to do whatever he's planning on doing."
"Which is, Captain?" asked young Robin.
"I have no idea," admitted O'Hara.
"I do," said the Huntress. "He's supposed to keep us occupied here while Selina Kyle is in the hospital having a transfusion. Better step up the guards around her, Captain."
The cop winced. "Any more men around her, and I won't be able to direct traffic in this town. It's up to you."
The heroes and heroines looked up the bridge span at Dr. Phosphorus. He was just sitting there, doing nothing threatening. But he seemed to see them.
"Let's go," said old Robin.
Less than a dozen heroes faced an equal number of super-villains and a much greater number of Cobra Cultists. They were in the middle of Kobra's prime installation. They had been beaten and captured once already.
Altogether, the Outsiders reckoned it was even odds.
"Get out there, get into them, take the important ones down first," barked Batman. "The small fry we can handle. Nobody fights alone. Teams of two or more. We're fighting our way out, and we will accomplish this."
King Faraday marvelled at the man's air of command. He had barely raised his voice, but he had his troops galvanized as if he were General Patton. Then he grinned, slapped his pocket for smokes that were no longer there, and hefted the weapon of a fallen Cultist in his other hand. Yeah. Believe it.
The Fearsome Five and the Masters of Disaster were assembled in the large space beyond the corridor. Or they had been assembled there; most of them had been bowled off their feet by the battering ram of Metamorpho, as a calcium juggernaut. Psimon, perhaps the deadliest of the group, came up, his clear-shielded brain crackling with deadly energy.
Element Girl volplanned through the doorway as a copper spring, made one of her hands into an acid, and let him have it in the face. Psimon screamed in agony, clutching his burned features. A second later, a lightning bolt blitzed him into unconsciousness.
Shimmer snarled and shot forward, turning the air into noxious gas around the heroic complement. The metamorphic pair were barely fazed by the development, but Black Lightning was choking. Halo pulled him back with one hand on her shoulder. Her other hand was thrust forward, and a powerful orange bolt sprang forth from it and knocked Shimmer off her feet. The villainess smashed against the opposite wall, barely conscious.
"For Naga-Naga!" screamed one of the Cultists, brandishing a modified submachine gun as he ran forward. The shout brought the other Cobra crewmen to attention. The villains were rapidly crowded by the onrush of a couple score of orange-costumed soldiers, all making for the corridor. Their gunfire, the Masters and Five well knew, could prove deadly to both sides. They tended to shrink away from the new force.
Then the ground beneath their feet began to quake, as few of the combatants had ever experienced before.
No one can remain entirely terrorless when the very earth on which he stands shakes from side to side and begins to crack and part. The shouts of savagery were replaced by screams of fear. Power lines were broken by the quake, and the lights momentarily dimmed until emergency generators kicked in.
By that time, the Outsiders were already smashing through the walls on either side of the corridor. Geo-Force, whose mighty hands were clamped to the floor and orchestrating the quake, showed no signs of letting up.
"Get them! Get them!" hollered New-Wave, making herself into a miniature tsunami. But before she could proceed more than a few yards, Halo struck again, with a stasis aura. The impossible occurred, as New-Wave froze into a pillar of non-icy liquid.
Heatstroke barrelled forward, her twin hands firing scorching blasts. Coldsnap tried to throw waves of ice under their feet. Shakedown put his own hands to the ground, and sought to counter Geo-Force's power. For a few moments, the tremors lessened.
Then lava spit up from one of the cracks, frighteningly close to the green-suited villain, and all too close to several Cultists, who died.
The Markovian regretted it, but not all that much.
Talia looked on the scene with widened eyes. Seeing men die was no strange sight to her, but seeing this kind of power unleashed was beyond her ken. She had tried to keep close to Batman, but he shunted her away to King Faraday. For his part, Faraday intended to fire on anything that pointed a gun their way or came within twenty feet of them with bad intentions. Two Cultists tried just that, levelling what looked like Uzis; they were standing at different angles from the heroes.
Faraday hit the trigger of his weapon and brought both down before they could begin to fire. For an instant, his eyes narrowed. He hadn't had to kill on missions as much as, say, a James Bond would have, but he had done it when forced to. His eyes flicked to Talia's face.
She seemed composed, and nodded to him. "Good form," she said.
"Thanks," he replied.
Heatstroke was driving the heroes backward with her withering flamebursts. Batman held his flame-retardant cape before his face and fumbled in his utility belt for a foam pellet. But a red-gloved hand slapped itself on his shoulder.
"Don't bother, Bats," said the Creeper. "Leave ‘er to me!"
"Creeper!" yelled Batman, as the green-haired mountebank somersaulted up and used his shoulders as a leaping platform. The woman in yellow and red, hovering over the scene, saw him and targeted her firebursts at him.
Miraculously, the Creeper dodged. He wound himself into a ball, then sprang against the upper part of a wall as if it were the wall of a pool table. His yellowish body unfolded as he hurtled towards her. She tried another twin fireburst, one from each hand. He zigged and zagged in mid-air, as if his body were as flexible as that of Plastic Man himself.
And before he came down, his red fist shot out and nailed her squarely on the jaw. He had a chance to see her eyes roll up in unconsciousness before he landed on his toes and the tips of his fingers. The problem was that she came down too, right on his back. The Creeper grunted, winded a bit by the impact.
Mammoth stamped onto the scene, pushed the unconscious Heatstroke away, and grabbed the Creeper's head in one massive paw. The Creeper kicked him in the chest, without effect. Above, Coldsnap yelled, "Give me a shot at him! He hurt my girl."
"No," rumbled Mammoth. "I earn my money. I break the little man's head."
The hand of Mammoth tightened on the Creeper's cranium. The hero cried out in pain. Batman slammed a batarang off Mammoth's head. It had no effect. Desperately, the Creeper tried to strike at his tormentor's eyes, but Mammoth grabbed both of his hands in his other hand.
At about that time, a red snakelike thing wound itself over his mouth
Mammoth, who had been between breaths, gasped, but was unable to draw air in. The red thing, which had a yellow-and-black band around its middle, was wrapping itself about his throat as well, squeezing with incredible power.
The hulking villain let go of the Creeper and grabbed the red constrictor with both hands, tearing it away from his face. As he took in much-needed air, the crimson thing globbed out of his hands, hit the floor, bounced, and reformed into a human-shaped Plastic Man. All of that took place within three seconds. Within the next, Plas shot out one hand to grasp the Creeper and draw him back, and the other one, the unbandaged one, to expand in size and smack Mammoth on the jaw. It didn't stagger him, but it did knock him backward a bit.
Coldsnap darted in, hands throwing bursts of ice and cold. He realized that the lack of team coordination among them was hurting their cause. Even with the backup of Kobra's legions, they weren't making an offensive stand, just fighting separate brushwars. As it was, he was able to form a wall of ice and send it massing towards the defenders. That, he hoped, would give them time to regroup.
"Metamorpho! Element Girl!" Batman called. He pointed at the advancing barrier.
"Will do, Bats," said Rex, as he and the green-haired girl elongated their multicolored bodies towards the ice wall. The two of them changed to yellowish sulfur, melting the ice rapidly. The floor of the chamber became wet with the resultant water, but few paid it much heed.
"This has gone on long enough," Batman muttered. The others about him heard it, caught his eye, and knew they had fought defensively too long. The master himself was about to enter the battle. Katana smiled, and the light seemed to glint off her weapon a bit more brightly.
"Disable if you can, but we're going through," said Batman. He was already on the run.
It was a bit late for the villains, both powered and powerless, to brace for the assault.
Selina Kyle Wayne didn't like what had been done to her, but it was a bit late by now. At least, the procedure was just about over. There was very little pain. Probably part of that was due to the numbing effect, which was the only thing she could be thankful for about it. Finally, the green-smocked surgeons withdrew the damn catheters. She was glad she didn't have to look at the machines that had done it.
She was now full of someone else's blood. She wondered what would be done with her own.
Dr. Dundee, still in his surgeon's mask, turned to her. "Yes, Mrs. Wayne?"
"What're you going to do with the blood you took out of me?"
He paused. "Going to save some of it for testing. That poison is still a baffler to me. Even to the national center that handles such things. Actually, the baffler is that you've..."
"That I've lasted so long," said Selina.
Dundee exhaled. "Yes, Mrs. Wayne. Whatever faith you claim, I hope your prayers keep getting answered as efficiently as they have so far."
"Do you have a prognosis for me now, Doctor?" She looked up at him from the surgical bed, unflinching.
"Not yet, Mrs. Wayne. Not just yet. But I think we've improved your chances."
She lifted her head a bit. "Thanks for being honest, Doc. I don't think it helps a bit for patients to be lied to."
"Perhaps not, ma'am. But...sometimes it may help if I can keep some of the truth from them. Not in your case, though."
"Will I be able to go back to the mansion now?"
"Not yet. I want to keep you here for a night, to check your reaction to the procedure. If there's a problem, we can get it taken care of right here."
"Doctor?" She held up both hands in front of her face. "They're still pretty numb."
Dundee's jaw seemed to set more grimly, even through the surgical mask.
"Let's hope they get better," he said, and ordered the crew to prepare her for post-op.
The Batman was scaring just about everyone except for Katana. She was doing things even more frightful than he was.
Simply put, the Masked Manhunter was plowing through opponents as if wading through waist-deep water. He was here, then there, then another place, and everywhere he went he left Cobra Cultists unconscious. He could have easily left them dead. Not for the first time, the villains were grateful for his morality.
He roped a group of four Cobramen together, dusted their chins or chopped their necks, grasped a weapon from one's stunned hands and broke it over the head of another attacker while kicking another foe in the gut. He dodged a burst of projectiles from another attacker, put a senseless foe's body in the path of a hurled throwing star--it lodged in the man's shoulder, and Batman hope it was unpoisoned--then took out the men who had hurled them.
It was an uphill battle, true enough. But Batman was a determined Sisyphus, and the wheel of foes was rolling upward from him.
Katana had a quite different attack scheme. Mammoth, the Fearsome Five's strongman, was charging towards Black Lightning, Halo, Plastic Man, and the Creeper. She vaulted over Jeff Pierce's back, unslung the sword from the magnetized disk on the back of her shirt, and brought it before her with a quick and terrifying motion.
For an instant, sword held before her, her eyes met those of Mammoth.
Then the giant assailant turned tail and ran.
With a kiai yell, the she-samurai charged after him. Luckily, he ran fast. A group of Cobra Cultists interposed themselves between the two, figuring with their firepower they could take the woman down.
She smiled. That many more targets.
"Katana, NO!" called Looker.
Halo grabbed Lia's arm. "Stay back. Don't try and stop her. Not even Batman could, now."
Looker had to turn her head after half a second.
Even the conscious members of the Five and the Masters were aghast. True, the men who faced her had been armed with rapid-fire weapons, knives, and other objects of violence. But what Katana had done to their bodies, with a very few strokes and in a very few seconds, had left the Cultists unable even to gag in their own blood.
Those who faced her were able to see a terrible look in her eyes, the barely-controlled rage of a samurai in battle for her lord. In such conflicts, the samurai expected to die. The only question was taking enough foes with her to ensure that her death would be honorable.
Katana leapt towards more foes, and quickly ensured herself five more times.
Batman glanced at the fray, cursed, and considered telling Katana to stop. He wondered if she would, and doubted it. This was war, and she played by different rules than he did. He thanked God that his code was different from hers. Their foes were many and, like it or not, they had to be gotten through. Kobra's men were killers worse even than her, though, possibly, not so efficient.
Smashing at another enemy, Batman cried out, "Cultists! I cannot control her! Save your lives and flee--or stay, and Katana will kill you!"
The small army which faced them, those who heard his voice, considered the alternatives for a few instants. Some broke off and fled. Two of these were shot by their own men. The others considered what Kobra's vengeance might be, and decided to face up to their fate in the current battle.
As many of them as possible sought to evade Katana and attack the others. But that was difficult. At least it was easier to pile on Batman. A phalanx of them was doing just that, now, pressing the Gotham Guardian hard.
A tremendous crackle and shock went through their bodies. Black Lightning appeared, to finish off the job on Batman's attackers with his own flying fists.
"Thanks, Lightning," rapped Batman, in between punches of his own.
"Just get us out of here, Bats," grunted Jeff. "Intact."
Geo-Force and Shakedown had stopped trying to counter each other's quake-power and were closing in on each other in battle. At least, Shakedown had tried to do so. The problem was, when he got within five feet of the hero, he found himself levitating right off of the floor.
"Null-gravity," explained Brion Markov. Shakedown flew up to the ceiling, bonking his head on it. He shook it to recover, finding himself plastered against the tiled surface, and set his hands against it. The vibrations he generated began to shake the ceiling apart. If he couldn't use the floor, he'd bring the structure down over their heads.
"That won't do," opined Geo-Force, and increased gravity under Shakedown enough to send him to the floor. The green-costumed villain was too woozy to get up under his own power. Geo-Force grabbed him by the arm, hauled him upright, and prepared to wallop him.
The touch of a stinging whip on his upper body caused him to let Shakedown loose, and scream.
Syonide, hoping to score a win against at least one Outsider, grimly drew her whip back and prepared for another strike.
That was as far as she got, before Halo's paralysis aura froze her into a statue.
"You're darned lucky Katana didn't get to you first," grated Gabby. "And I should have let her."
Shakedown had managed to get up, and was about to scamper off into the farther reaches of the fight. A touch of Geo-Force's hand on his shoulder, dragging him around, let him know the impossiblity of that situation.
So he tried to bring his vibratory fist up in time, but Geo got his shot in first, and he crumpled.
Geo and Halo had time enough to give each other a congratulatory look before they turned back to the battle.
One of the advantages of taking the Batmobiles into action, rather than just using cycles, is that the things really did have decent storage space. That was evident when Batgirl and young Robin started taking collapsible Whirly-Bat harnesses and parachute packs out of the back seats and trunks of them.
"You're going up there? With those?" said O'Hara, pointing at the contraptions with the fold-out rotor blades.
"Unless you can persuade him to come down to us, I think we're gonna have to," said old Robin, snapping a set of blades into place. He slid his arms into a pair of harness straps and did them up tight. Then he strapped a hand-control on, having already donned a parachute on the part of his back not covered by the rotor apparatus.
The others were doing much the same. But when Batwoman tried reaching for a rotor, Flamebird pulled it away. "What do you think you're doing?" asked the older heroine.
"We didn't bring enough for everyone," stated Betty. "Sorry, major oversight."
"What are you trying to pull?", snapped the Cat King, who was just now realizing that nobody had set out a Whirly-Bat for him, either.
Batgirl, already in her harness, decided to tell them. "Neither you nor Batwoman are going up there, King. It's dangerous enough for all of us. Reduced mobility, lack of cover, the whole nine yards. The risk for you two is just too great. That's it."
Batwoman stepped up to Batgirl. "Why? Just because we're...well...old? Robin over there isn't much younger, you know."
"I'm just that much younger, Batwoman," said old Robin, "and in better shape. I'm in concert with the others. You and King are just too old for this kind of op. So you can be ground support on this one, okay?" He triggered the rotor, briefly, and felt the blades whirl at a safe distance from his back and head. "I think this is gonna be fine."
"Robin, we've got to do something," protested the King of the Cats. "We can't just sit around and watch."
The Robin of his homeworld stared him down.
"You've already done something very important," he said. "You helped save Selina Wayne's life. But this is beyond your current capabilities. I'm sorry, King."
After a pause, the Cat King said, "Yeah. I'm sorry, too."
Batwoman said nothing. Flamebird touched her shoulder, then joined the two Robins, Batgirl, and the Huntress.
"You've encountered him before, Batgirl," said old Robin. "You've briefed us already. Any last minute stuff?"
The shapely crimefighter adjusted the straps of her own Whirly-Bat unit. "Just don't let him get his hands on you. He can burn you to death with that phosphorus grip of his, and even if you survive that, you may be poisoned."
At that last word, the quintet looked at each other uneasily.
"Let's go," the elder Robin said.
With that, the five heroes activated their rotors. One by one, the machines on their backs built enough power to lift them into the air. They soared from the pavement of the bridge upwards and forward, arcing in a vaguely circular fashion towards the support upon which Dr. Phosphorus sat.
Two others had joined O'Hara, Batwoman, and the Cat King. One of them, the two heroes recognized. "Commissioner Gordon," said Batwoman. She was gratified the Gordon of this Earth resembled the one she knew in years past, before her Gordon's death.
The commissioner looked her up and down. "Ma'am, may I ask what you're doing in a Batwoman outfit?"
"It's my outfit," protested Batwoman. "I had it long before the Batwoman you knew."
"Like, since when?" said Gordon's friend, a brown-haired guy in a blue street suit who held a brown cane in one hand.
"1956," said Kathy.
When Gordon looked perplexed, the Cat King stepped in. "We're from another Earth, Commissioner. One that's called Earth-Two. Yours is known as Earth-One to folks in the know, and..."
"I've heard about it," said Gordon, tiredly. "Batman's told me about it."
Batwoman looked at the man with the cane. "And you would be, sir?"
He was looking up at the flying figures. "Jason Bard. I'm a friend of Batgirl's."
"Oh," said Batwoman. From the look in his eyes, it wasn't hard to guess what kind of friend he was to Barbara.
And the four of them looked upwards to the heroes ascending towards the top of the bridge support and their glowing adversary.
They were looking in the wrong direction to see a dim, winged figure on the horizon, who would have been pretty hard to pick out, anyway.
Selina Kyle was emerging from the operating room. The guards were still too heavy about her for an assailant to be a real threat. But they had to take her and the guerney bearing her down the hall and into the elevator to get her to her room. Only two guards could fit into the elevator, though others would be waiting at the floor on which her room was.
The two orderlies who had come to take Selina Kyle to the elevator were strangers to each other. "You a new guy?" said one.
"Yeah," said the other. "Just started today. Mark Jackson." He stuck out one hand over Selina's form, and the other orderly shook it.
"Just get me back upstairs, new blood and all, okay, fellas?" said Selina, a tad weakly.
The guard who was not Mark Jackson said, "Are you really the Catwoman? Can't believe I lived here eight years and never got to see you."
"Guilty as charged," Selina mumbled. "Please don't ask for autographs. I just wanna go to sleep."
"Hang on, Miss Kyle," said Jackson. "We'll get you taken care of right properly."
She looked up at him through half-shut eyes. "Do I know you?"
"Don't think so."
She lay back down. Well, there were the armed bulls. If she couldn't get up an elevator without a problem, she figured she might as well give it up right here.
A pale nurse, out of eyerange of Selina, took in the scene and walked quickly away.
If she was to save Catwoman, it would take every bit of her speed and finesse.
To be continued...