“We’re just going around all day like unconscious machines, and meanwhile there’s all this rage and worry and uneasiness just building up and building up inside us”Wally • My dinner with andre
My Dinner With Demigod
Dick Grayson winced as the alcohol touched the tattered flesh of his ribs, he held a cold compress against the burn on his chest.
“It was stupid,” Bruce chided. “We lost a suit, and very possibly a bike, and all for what?”
Dick didn’t respond.
“You knew it was a trap! We discussed how it was a trap! You risked so much!”
Bruce paced anxiously – he wasn’t anxious, but the way he stalked back and forth in the mine fomented anxiety in Dick.
“And that wasn’t a rhetorical question!”
“What wasn’t?” Dick asked, confused.
“What did you get from Fries?”
Dick glanced down and to the side.
“All stitched up, Mister Richard,” Alfred straightened out, and set the suture kit back with the rest of the first aid materials.
Dick sighed, then:
“The guy who showed up was a cop,” Dick was apologetic, and he only wanted to look Alfred in the eye. “It was the big guy from Falcone’s place. Took me too long to recognize him, and I got cocky. If it hadn’t been for the explosives though–“
“Explosives,” Bruce shook his head, “how do you miss explosives? After people, it’s the first thing we sweep for. You’re lucky he didn’t show up.”
Bruce was talking about Superman, as evinced by his upward glance.
“About that,” Dick rubbed the back of his head with his free hand, “you want the good news first?”
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. Alfred wiped the blood off of his hands with a rag, then put a calming hand on Bruce’s shoulder.
“So,” Dick began, “it turns out that the big guy can’t see through the costume.”
Al removed his hand from Bruce’s shoulder, and both he and Bruce crossed their arms in consternation.
“The explosion attracted him, I guess. I don’t know how long he followed me, but he accosted me in the woods. He didn’t know whether I was a metahuman, and he couldn’t identify me through the mask. Either that or he’s an excellent actor.”
“He is an excellent actor,” Bruce answered. “He pretends to be a human a third of the time.”
“It’s not an act, Mister Bruce,” Alfred interjected. “He was raised to believe he’s human. But ‘Clark’ isn’t a deception. Not truly.”
“I’m just saying that he seemed confused, and he did this,” Dick pulled the cold compress from his chest, revealing a pentagonal diamond shaped burn.
“He branded you?” Alfred was aghast. “I have to say that’s much more brutal than I had expected.”
“It’s smart,” Bruce was even-toned. “Utilitarian even. Aside from Al, and now your confirmation, this isn’t a power that’s ever been reported. He can clearly control the intensity, because after burning through your armor, he’s only burned you enough to leave a scar, and Alfred said that he was able to weld with it. This is precise, too, and now, if he happens to be in a room with you, he’ll know you’re Batman. Now he’s able to keep an eye on someone he believes is a reasonable suspect in multiple child homicides.”
“We could burn over it with scalding water,” Dick said timidly. “A scald would obfuscate the design of it, and this is too much of a liability for us,” he hung his head, feeling apologetic for the first time since the adrenaline started flooding his system.
“No. There’s no safe way to scald you. And for all we know he could see the distinct layers of scar tissue.”
“He wouldn’t take my mask off, but he asked me to do it several times. When I refused, that’s when he did it.”
“Maybe that’s some kind of,” Alfred shook his head, “respect for your privacy?”
Bruce and Alfred exchanged looks; concern commingled with knowing.
“You’re going to have to be elsewhere when we have coffee,” Bruce said finally.
“You’re having coffee with him? How did this happen?”
Alfred cleared his throat.
“So, about Kansas…”
In 480 B.C. King Amphictyon awaited an oncoming storm.
A military force, greater than the world had ever seen, was approaching in an earth-shaking mass of humanity toward his city-state.
Θερμοπυλῶν, where, according to the religion of the Greeks in the region, was the location of the worldly entrance to ᾍδης.
Thermopylae literally means “The Hot Gates,” and it is where all little Greek boys learn of the heroic King of Sparta, Leonidas, with a detachment of 300 personal guard, were able to fend off an onslaught of over one million invading Persians.
Persians led by a God-King.
The lesson that the story was meant to teach was one of strategy over raw power, and the tremendous advantages of defending familiar terrain, even against inconceivable odds.
Yiannis “Johnny” Gelio, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, took it as something prideful. Being Greek meant being able to outhink anyone, even a god.
A “mysterious” benefactor had, through Henshaw Allied, furnished a grand total of 300 men to work as independent contractors in service of the commissioner of Gotham City’s Police Department.
Johnny thought the number was fitting.
Symbols are important, Johnny reflected. Alone, we are just men, but together, we are capable of withstanding an army.
He’d been tasked with nothing less than the defeat of the gods who now walk among us in a twisted parody of humanity.
The emergence of these two supermen, specifically, was symbolic to Johnny in its own way: Apollo and Erebus. Light and Darkness.
He was told by this same patron to pull out all the stops in his efforts to solve the mystery of the Peter Pan murders, and he took that at face value, pushing the limits of what this new, modern company could provide in terms of on-demand manpower.
They would defend Gotham from the dangerous proliferation of the caped menace.
Johnny would stand at the front of his irregulars, and protect his homeland.
He was Leonidas. He had his Thermopylae, and he had his personal attaché. All that was left was to prepare them for war.
Dick had been careless.
But this was careless too. Bruce was only comfortable with it because Alfred assured him of the man’s tendency towards Good.
No, that’s not right; Bruce was not comfortable with this. But a refusal would’ve revealed too much.
If Superman believes I’m a security risk, that means he has reasons other than “his mother” to be concerned for his security, Bruce thought. A vulnerability?
His mother is already a vulnerability, Bruce corrected his thought process, but struggled to formulate, on a purely practical level, what Superman had to lose by his identity becoming public.
Superman could, of course, ask Batman the same question.
And following Dick’s line of thought, Superman doesn’t know the Bat is mortal.
Bruce had only slept for an hour, and he did so in the musty, dank air of the Bat Cave.
When Dick revealed his burn Bruce had briefly considered cutting it out and stitching it together, with a painstakingly-sharpened obsidian knife, and letting Alfred stitch him up. Ultimately he’d dismissed the idea because it was too dangerous, and though it might reduce the scarring, it was unlikely to remove the faint traces of the diamond shape, which meant it might be for naught.
But while people had spent immense quantities of cash to try to harm Superman by going bigger almost no research that Bruce had seen mentioned going smaller.
So Bruce spent hours fabricating and sharpening a tool of lead and volcanic glass. A tiny, simple knife which he could store in a lead case on his non-dominant hip.
It was unlikely to do anything, but Superman was still made of cells, and sharp obsidian could cut many different varieties of cells in half.
Stupid, and detectable, but novel.
Bruce arrived at Greathorn Diner, just as the lights were being switched on by a waitress in a slim, mustard yellow uniform.
“You can sit at the counter if you’d like,” she seemed to eye Bruce like she was piecing together the price of his outfit. Or trying to imagine what he would look like out of it. “First cup of coffee should be ready in two.”
“I’m expecting company,” Bruce smiled, removing his hat. “Do you have today’s Planet?”
“It’s three cents, and I’ll bring it right over, sit wherever you like.” she returned the smile, and shuffled off to collect the paper.
Bruce was early. He was often early, but in this case, he arrived a half hour before the scheduled meeting time. He assumed that Clark would arrive early or on-time; the ability to travel at the speeds he was capable of meant that no one at his office was even likely to notice he was missing.
Hell, he’d probably get to the office before 9:00.
But thirty minutes would be too much. For all of the problems that Bruce had with Superman’s priorities, there had to be lives he could save in proximity that would allow for him to be prompt to their meeting without letting people die for a half hour. The meeting would be bad enough.
The waitress arrived with a steaming cup of black coffee and the morning edition of The Daily Planet. Bruce thanked her and put on a pair of glasses he claimed to need for reading. In fact, they were from the pharmacy, meant to have proper lenses added by an optometrist, but he thought it further cemented him as an unlikely candidate for being Batman, and he liked the way he looked in them, too.
At 6:30, Bruce set the paper down, and looked to the waitress to indicate want of another coffee. When he looked back at the entrance, Clark Kent had his hand on the door.
Clark scanned the place with almost paranoid glances, and Bruce stood and extended his hand.
“Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Wayne.”
Bruce didn’t know how long the formalities would need to remain in place, but at least until they’d ordered.
“Have you eaten yet, Clark?” Bruce meant the question more to probe for whether Superman ate. There were stories that said he did, but no one had ever seen him eat, at least not as Superman.
Clark unbuttoned his jacket, removed his hat, and sat down.
“What is that? A gun?” Clark presented the question with no context or warning.
Bruce said nothing, instead, he opened the paper to a story about Willie Calhoun, on which Clark had a byline.
“This is good reporting,” Bruce smiled as he pointed to a line on the page, reading it as he underlined with his finger. “’”He’s burning through money,” said a former employee of Calhoun’s who spoke with this reporter on the condition of anonymity, “rate he’s going, he’ll be in debtor’s prison before any of the feds charges stick.”’ That’s an incredible insight,” Bruce noted, making eye contact with Clark, and lowering his glasses down to the tip of his nose. “How did this end up so far off of the ‘Metropolis’ section?”
Clark flexed his jaw. If he’d been preparing to say something, the waitress interrupted him.
“I’ll have the steak and eggs, medium, please,” Bruce ordered as though he’d been here before.
“Happy waitress with a side of scrambled eggs, please,” Clark said.
“Comin’ right up,” and she took their menus and headed toward the counter.
Clark opened his mouth to speak again.
“What’s on your hip? That’s the world’s smallest derringer if it’s a gun,” Clark spoke in accusatory tones. “You read the stories. A gun–“
“I’m happy to show you,” Bruce cut in, and he pulled the lead case from his belt, whip-fast, opening it and letting case and tin splash the table with a clang. Bruce flourished the small knife, showing off the impressive balance (considering he’d made it in the course of a sleepless night).
After a bit of additional drama, Bruce set the knife on the table, and pointed the handle in Clark’s direction.
“What is this, glass?” Clark picked it up, and turned it over in his hand. It looked like a pen knife in his grip. “Obsidian?”
Clark dragged the blade across the pad of his thumb, then looked up at Bruce with concern.
“WERE YOU GOING TO ST–“ he was speaking much more loudly than was needed, not just for discretion’s sake, but they were the only people in the diner. “Were you going to stab me?!”
“I was curious whether it would even work,” Bruce answered candidly. “I’m guessing not, but I doubted you’d tried it, and Obsidian is extraordinarily sharp. I’ve read the stories, Clark. And guns aren’t a pleasant experience for me.”
Bruce nodded in affirmation, and Clark lowered his hands beneath the table. Bruce leaned over, and Clark looked down at his hand, pulling the blade in a slice across his palm.
Nothing. Good to know.
“Well, it was worth testing.”
“Are you like this with everyone?” Clark had a perplexed look on his face as he absent-mindedly reassembled the box and returned it to its owner.
“I’ve been told I’m rather dashing.”
Clark rolled his eyes, and sighed.
Does Superman need to breathe? Is that all just for effect?
The waitress returned with the open faced grilled cheese and the overcooked steak, was thanked, and glided back to the lunch counter.
Clark leaned in collusively.
“Alfred asked me a question, and more and more people are asking it. Or maybe it’s just because I’m stopping to listen, I don’t know. But it has me thinking. A lot…” Clark trailed off.
“‘How many people have died while we’ve been eating breakfast?’ Was that the question?”
Clark Kent sat straighter in his seat than before. He looked Bruce directly in the eye and nodded.
“There was something else too. He told me this might break me, and, well, that’s something I hadn’t really thought was possible until recently.”
“Are you telling me you think you might break?” Bruce asked, suddenly very somber.
“I’m telling you that I’m less sure than I was before,” Clark heaved a melancholy breath, and then gulped the entire mug of coffee, uncouthly wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I’m telling you that maybe, I…what if humanity needs a contingency plan?”