The Great Confrontation

    Part 19

    by DarkMark and Dannell Lites

Sy Kent definitely knew something about fighting.  But she wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way of LoriLe Kent’s uppercut, which, of course, was just what Lori intended.  The blow sent her off her feet and up to the ceiling, where she made a big dent in it with her head.  This was distressing.  It wasn’t like fighting that untrained blonde, Katherine de Ka’an.  The punch hurt.

She pushed herself out of the hole and thought about sending a supersonic scream to alert Adam.  As if anticipating it, Lori drew back her fist and then slugged her hard in the abdomen.  The wind went out of Sy’s sails in a hurry.  She doubled over, grabbing her belly and hitting the floor.  Main priority now: getting some air into her gut.  Lori, thank Rao, wasn’t attacking.  Sy pivoted around on the floor and tried to kick out at her foe’s ankle.  The Slug girl’s foot came up and then stamped down on Lori’s ankle, pinning it there.

“This doesn’t have to go any further,” Lori said, “unless you want it to.”

Beams of hate as hot as heat-vision went from Sy’s eyes to Lori’s as she lay there, gasping, on the floor.  But she didn’t say anything.

“I have no doubt that my brother is coming back here soon,” continued Lori.  “If he has a problem with it, he can come to me.  I hope he does.  In the future, I intend to come over and have some conversations with you.  They’ll be our little secret.  Correct?”  Pause.  “Correct?”

Sy, laboring for breath, finally managed a “Yes.”

“Good.  One more thing, Sy.  Kath de Ka’an is a lot more my friend than you are.  If I ever hear you’ve given her any more trouble, you can consider me her advocate.  And I advocate very, very well.  And if you have any ideas about hurting Alan...forget them.  Is that clear?”

“You...”

“Is that clear?”

Sullenly, Lori nodded.

“You put one of the Family in medical care.  Rao only knows what it’s going to do to her emotionally.  I don’t like that, and I don’t like you.  But I won’t throw down on you again.  Unless I have to.  That’s all.”  She took her foot off Sy’s ankle.  Then, flying deftly to the ceiling, she used her heat-vision and hands to repair the dent Sy’s head had made in it.  She returned to the floor, and faced Sy once more.

“My brother may have spy devices recording this.  I could care less.  If he has a problem with it, he’s to come to me, and me alone.  That’s final.”

With that, LoriLe Kent went to the door and let herself out.  Sy managed to drag herself up by the edge of a table and sat in a hoverseat, getting her wind back.

Sheol.  Two weeks ago, she was on the very highest lowlevel.  Now, she was separated from her parents and had gotten punched in the gut.

It was all that damned Katherine’s fault.

    -S-

Bron Wayn was rarely ever surprised.  This came the closest to it that he’d experienced for a long while.  The small monitor in his study gave the form of the intruder away.  He turned in his seat, unhurriedly.

“How did you know I was here?” asked Bron.

Superman stood a few feet behind him, his arms folded.  “I can listen, Bron.  I’ve memorized your heartbeat.”

“In a city of 50 million?”

“I listen really hard.”

“So.”  Bron clasped his hands before him.  “What happened?”

Alan Kent drew in a breath.  “The Joker almost destroyed me.”

Bron Wayn said nothing.

“A combo of seawater and Joker-venom,” said Alan.  “I got lucky.”

“How do you mean?”

“My brother saved me.”  Alan hated having to say it.  

“Not good.”

Superman set his jaw.  “I came to you for help.”

“What kind of help do you want?”  

Before he had ended the sentence, Bron Wayn saw Superman’s face only five inches away from his own.  “Bron, listen.  The Joker is doublecranked with Heaven’s Seven.  They sent out one of their signals.  When I investigated, the Joker was the one who pulled the trap.”

“Kent, you’re in my face.”

“And I’ll stay there until I get some help.”

Bron stood up, forcing Alan to back off, and his eyes blazed with a fire that seemed to stretch back centuries.  “If you expect it from me, you’d better give me some space.  Right now.”

Superman sighed and stepped back.  “Wayn, don’t you see?  You’re in danger, just like me.  If they’ve used the Joker to trap me, guess who Heaven’s Seven is going to be taking on?”

“First things first, Kent,” said Bron.  “Tell me all about it.  How they trapped you.”

Keeping his eyes away from Bron’s, Alan proceeded to give a summary of the incident.  “So now you know.”

“Perhaps,” said Bron.

“You know the Joker better than anyone, Bron,” said Superman.  “I need your help.”

“Alan,” said Bron, “did it ever occur to you that the Seven might have put a chemical tracer on you, with that poison?”

The Man of Steel was wide-eyed, but immobile as a statue.

“Come on,” Bron said, taking him by the arm.  “Into the Cave.”

The Batcave was not a cave as such, but a very large bunker built underneath the Wayn estate.  The lighting was subdued.  They reached it thru a portal keyed to Bron’s body-type.  He also had a Bat-Belfry high in a milespire for other equipment, but his home operation was based here.  Superman looked around as they descended the stairs.  Scientific equipment to spare, some of which even Alan wasn’t familiar with.  A few trophies of Bron’s cases, none from those of his father or prior Batmen.  Bron caught him looking and explained.

“Family tradition.  When the cowl’s passed on, you have to pack away your father’s trophies.  The only ones allowed in are the ones you earn.”

Alan nodded, but said nothing.

“In there.  Please,” he said, gesturing to a cabinet connected to an analytic apparatus.  Alan opened the clear plastic door, got in, shut it behind him.  An instant later, beams of holo light were coursing over his body, even the soles of his shoes, through the clear floor.  The spectral analysis was conveyed back to Bron on a readout screen.

“What’s the verdict?” said Superman.

Passing his hands over a console, Bron said, “Some radioactive trace material in there.  That bath you said your brother gave you probably took care of most of it.  I want to give you something that’ll take care of the rest of it.  That agreeable?”

“Doubly.  In here?”

“In there,” confirmed Bron.

From apertures in the ceiling of the chamber, a chemical foam came down under pressure.  It cascaded over Alan’s form, drenching him, giving him a faintly winy smell.  After some seconds of that, water followed, taking the foam from his costume and body.  To finish up, a blast of heated air dried him off.  When that was done, Alan opened the door and stepped out.

“So now,” said Alan, “they know where I am.”

“Probably,” Bron acknowledged.

“What if they suspect you of being Batman?”

Bron rested his elbows on the edge of the control surface.  “They may already know that.”

“What?”

“Aelfric is the Joker.”

“WHAT?”

Alan was astonished to see Bron turn away from him.

“I should have known,” said Bron.  “Why I did not, why I couldn’t see, it was unconscionable.  True, perhaps it’s just a case of being hidden in plain sight.  But...”  He turned, and his eyes were grim and blazing.  “My father’s murderer, Alan.  My father’s killer under my own roof, for all my life, and I never once suspected.  Never once.”

“Your butler, Aelfric?  The one I met, when we came over here as kids?”

“Yes.  That one.”

“How?”

In brief, Bron Wayn related how he had learned of Aelfric’s double life.  Alan had to sit down during the narrative.  For him, it was beyond belief.

“This man, who killed your own father, was your butler all these years?”

“Yes, indeed.  He was.”

“But...his son.  The Joker of your time.  He died, on a case with you and Dad.”

“That he did,” said Bron.  “We were fighting during a thunderstorm.  The fool picked up the first thing he could find to hand and tried to brain me with it.  It was a lightning rod.  He was electrocuted.”

Alan shook his head.  “Insane.”

“It runs in their family.”

Superman looked at Bron.  “But he lived with you for over twenty years after that.”

“He did.”

“And he didn’t try to revenge himself on you.”

Bron looked down and sighed.  “Even I, my friend, do not fully understand the Joker.  Father, or son.  I suspect Aelfric has a split personality.  The part of him which is my butler may not know what the part of him which was and is the Joker does.  Vice versa, as well.”

“Or he may.”

“He may.  But I doubt that.”

Alan contemplated it.  “You need my help, Bron.  He has to know who you are.”

“Perhaps he does,” conceded Bron.  “Or he may have that knowledge denied to him when he is in Joker-phase.  I don’t know.  If he does know who I am, why would he bother attacking you first?”

“Point taken.  What else, Bron?”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“How do you know?”

“Supermen aren’t intuitive idiots, either,” said Alan, softly.

Wayn pulled up a chair, himself, and sat in it, facing Alan.  “I’m glad you had a seat, Alan.  This may force you to fall out of it.”

“Tell me,” said Alan.

“Irinia Kent is involved with the Joker.”

“No!”  Alan’s hands squeezed the arms of the chair and demolished them.  “Bron, no!”

“I have spoken with her.  As the Batman.  She as much as admitted it to me.”

“You can’t be serious!  This is...no.  No, I can’t believe it.  I won’t believe it.”

Bron shook his head.  “I wish I didn’t have to believe it as well.  I knew it would hurt you, Alan.  That’s why I kept it from you.”

“Great Rao.”

“Your brother may be tied into the mass as well,” said Bron.  “I don’t know that he’s specifically involved with the Joker.  He may not know of Irinia’s connection with the...man.  But her daughter, Sybilla, certainly does.”

Alan stood up.  “I have to go to her.”

“And do what?”

“Pry the knowledge out of her.  I can do it.  I have to.”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried?”

“I have powers you couldn’t even dream about, Wayn.”

“How will you use them, Alan?”

Superman stopped, his mouth open.

Bron said, “Will you crush her hand to pulp?  Will you beat her within an inch of her life?  Will you tear down her house?”

“I...”

The man who was the Batman waited.  Superman had to look away.

“What should I do?” said Alan.  “What can I do?”

“Just what the Batmen have been doing since the 20th Century,” said Bron.  “We think.  We investigate.  We plan.  We gather evidence.  We learn what our enemies are planning.  And once we learn that...we may strike.”

“So, you’ll...help me on this thing?”

Bron smiled.  “I don’t see there’s a way I could not do it, now.  If we make it through this case, my boy, we’ll have a bond as strong as any two Supermen and Batmen have forged.  Including your father and me.”

“Bron, I feel like such a naif.  Like Candide, or Neville Chamberlain.”

“You think your father didn’t have such problems when he was starting out?  Think again, boy.  Muto almost killed him in his early days.  Several times.  Aelfric’s son almost killed me.  This thing we do, it’s not something you’re born knowing.  Like most other things, you learn on the job.”

“I was Superboy for awhile,” said Alan.  “I thought that prepared me for being Superman.”

“It prepared you more than it prepared your brother,” said Bron.

“What about Heaven’s Seven?  If they could trace me to your home, they might attack you.”

“They might,” acknowledged Bron.  “But not while they know you’re here.  I propose to abandon this house, for the duration of this case, and operate from the Bat-Belfry.  That is...if you’ll give me a lift there.”

Superman finally smiled.  “You only had to ask.”

“I’ll be a moment,” said Bron, and moved to a doorway which he opened with the touch of his palm.  He was gone for a very short time.  When he emerged, he was wearing the colors which had changed only minimally over the last five centuries.

“Let’s go,” said the Batman.

Superman grasped him under one arm, wrapped him in his protective cape, flew through the Batcave’s hidden exit, accelerated to blinding speed, and made for the Bat-Belfry.

It might have taken some time, but the new Superman-Batman team was underway.

    -S-

The crime combine of Metropolis was getting used to the summons they periodically received.  It was annoying, but at least it gave them a chance to keep in touch with the other boys.  True, they were competitors, sometimes bloody ones.  But, like all businessmen in a similar endeavor, they had an understanding of who they were and what they did that no outsider could match, and that made them, in a very real sense, one.

What they couldn’t get used to was the sight of the Masked Man appearing, as if by magic, turning like a whirling dervish and slowing till he was fully visible.

“There’s a matter I need your help on,” said the Masked Man, viewing the gangster chiefs.  “Heaven’s Seven.  I want to know who they are, where they are, and how I can find them.”

Curso was the first to speak up.  “What’s in it for us?”

“Among other things,” said the Masked Man, “your lives.”

Curso nodded, sagely.  “Okay,” he said.  “We’ve got a basis for dealing.”

    To be continued...

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