“Anyone who believes what a cat tells him deserves all he gets.”Neil gaiman • stardust
“Superman follows the law,” Mayor Basil Karlo explained. “Maybe they have some kind of code?”
“He’s a vigilante,” Councilman Jonah Jackson rebutted. “He breaks the law every day. What’s the use of this? People feel safer with Superman around.”
“Do you honestly think that the Bat will just hang up his cape because we make a law against it? Murder is illegal, but he does that, too.”
The mayor nervously scratched behind his ear, raising his finger to make a point, and then withdrawing with a melancholy huff.
“Things are going to get much worse very soon. We need cover, or Gotham will get sued into insolvency. And we won’t recover a second time. Even Alfred Pennyworth isn’t solvent enough to handle another Depression.”
GOTHAM COUNCIL CRIMINALIZES CAPES
By VICKI VALE
Oct. 18 – (GOTHAM) Amid rising crime and growing concerns over the “Peter Pan” murders, The Gotham City Council, the city’s legislative body, passed legislation today that would outlaw so-called “super human” activity. The Costumed Actor Prosecution for Extralegal Enforcement, or “CAPE” Act, will make it illegal for anyone in costume to engage with emergency situations or emergency workers. The CAPE Act even goes so far as to rescind “Good Samaritan” protections for Gothamites, but only if they’re wearing a “costume, disguise, or other identity-obscuring getup” in the course of the engagement.
“Rogue, costumed engagement of this kind has no place in a city like Gotham. This will provide some additional insulation against criminals who would attempt to extort the city through lawsuits from extralegal intervention. This puts a stop to vigilantism in all forms,” said GPD Press Secretary Abner Dabney. “And it keeps supermen accountable.”
But the new law has raised concerns for some. Ms. Marcia Forrest of Fingerton, a woman who claims to have been saved from a burning boat by Superman, says that this will make Gotham less safe.||“I was previously skeptical of these people,” said Forrest. “Superman is more than a man of great moral character. He’s a true hero.”
Johnny Gelio, Gotham’s Police Commissioner, said the measure is “long overdue.” At 31, he is five years younger than the youngest previous commissioner. His predecessor, Peter Grogan, was 62 when he resigned earlier this year. Commissioner Gelio has indicated that a spate of assaults from these caped vigilantes, allegedly including Superman himself, have interfered in police investigations of the serial killer the public is calling “Peter Pan.”
“This town doesn’t need another enemy,” said Gelio. “The individual known as Superman interrupted an operation which was, up until his intrusion, would’ve resulted in an arrest of the superhuman operating under the alias Batman,’” Gelio said. “We have reason to believe they are working in concert with one another, and our superhuman task force, staffed with Lieutenant Jim Gordon and some of the finest detectives in Gotham, is investigating further.”
The Mayor praised the measure, saying that his office supported the Jonah Jackson-sponsored bill. He will be signing it this afternoon. For his part, the councilman from District 13, Jonah Jackson, wants to support law and order. As the representative from Gotham’s wealthiest district, crime wasn’t a priority until the Batman arrived in Gotham.
“Me and Mayor Karlo rarely see eye to eye,” said Jackson. “But when one of my constituents has his house blown up by these terrorists, we need to take action, otherwise we risk potential lawsuits from the victims for inaction.”
An attempt to contact Superman through our Metropolis correspondent and Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane was made by this reporter. Unfortunately, the Man of Steel was not available for comment.
Selina Kyle exhaled, seeing her breath condense into a cloud in front of her. The sky was cloudy and starless, with only the light pollution of Gotham’s municipal district to make her partner, Lieutenant Jim Gordon, visible.
Jim took a drag of his cigarette, flicking it away, the red hot cherry streaking across the darkness like a firefly.
He was running himself ragged, and it showed on his face, and in the ever-larger splashes of gray in his auburn hair. Selina and Jim sometimes escaped to the roof to discuss their progress on the Superhuman Task Force. Or just to talk, or to hold each other, which was such an infrequent blessing as of late.
No one else in the department knew they’d been seeing each other, it was usually such a clandestine affair, and no one else in the department ever came up here, even though it was the perfect place to think. The roof boasted the best views of the imposing, Art Deco megaliths of the Gotham City Skyline. Front and center in a garden of giants.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said, billowing forth a fountain of smoke after an overlong, breathless silence. “But something’s wrong, and you’re keeping it from me.”
Selina had to acknowledge that the man had good instincts as a detective.
“I had planned on saying the same thing, Jim. You’re…” she paused, searching for a way to describe his disposition, “you’re far away lately.”
“Mm,” Jim grunted, failing to elucidate. He pulled the cigarette case out of his coat pocket, and was visibly disappointed to find it empty. “It’s late, it’s cold, and I’m out of cigarettes. Let’s go downstairs.” He pulled open the door to the staircase, the light under the awning flickered. “You coming, Kyle?”
“Not unless you’re ready to call it a night,” she replied. “I need some time to think.”
“Suit yourself,” and the door swung shut behind her partner.
Selina began to pace back and forth. She was cold, but warm enough to stay, if only to avoid having to sit in awkward silence with the lieutenant, especially in the harsh, fluorescent light that gave the department the tone of pulp paper.
She’d been to Jim’s apartment three times in the last week, and he was only home once. She had a key, and even if she hadn’t, she knew how to jimmy a doorknob or charm a doorman; having a badge made scratching her “particular compulsions” much, much easier. Around here, the only kind of people who ever asked for a warrant were criminals and lawyers.
Her boots fell quietly on the gravel as she paced closer to the edge of the building and leaned over the ledge. The fire escape reminded her of running from cops, perverts, killers, and custodians. A decade of leaping off buildings and hoping they were up to fire code made the physical portion of the police exam a joke.
Selina stood up straight, and took a step backward from the ledge. Someone was on the roof with her, and they hadn’t come through the door. A deep breath, and she surreptitiously clicked the thumb safety on her 1911. The hidden Baby Browning she kept tucked in a specially-designed holster she cut out behind her belt (ever since September’s warehouse “raid,” anyway) almost never had the safety on.
The detective turned around, calmly, not wanting to give more away than needed.
Am I losing a step?
The office lighting, the insomnia, the endless overtime, and insurmountable paperwork. Reading and re-reading, interviewing and re-interviewing. Maybe it was getting to her. But then, she’d never had a bad sense about this kind of thing. She was well-tuned to the feeling of being watched, because if she wasn’t, she’d be dead by now.
When a guy stared at a woman like Selina, she always knew. But when he was analyzing her body behind her back, it set off a shivering, ready-to-strike feeling across her body, like an alleycat with its hackles up.
And she could still feel the gaze. Alert and confused, she took a step toward the door, and stopped short.
Time felt like it was slowing down. The airy voice was drowned out by the sound of the blood in her veins. She could hear the distant alarm bell blaring as someone broke the glass in a jewelry store. She ducked low and spun, pulling her Colt Government from its holster and squeezing off a shot at the source of the whisper. The whisper that she was certain was only inches from her neck.
The explosion from the barrel of her sidearm lit up the desaturated blue night into a fiery spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows, and she beheld the object of her paranoia: a giant, black, demon-shaped tear that made the rest of the night look vibrant by comparison. It thrust forward, gliding silently over the gravel of the rooftop: Batman.
The bullet went right through it. No blood. No grunt of pain. I need backup and I hope that was loud enough for somebody downstairs to hear.
The spent shell made a muted clang when it hit the rooftop, and she was bracing her arm for a steadier second shot, pulling the hammer back manually on the semiautomatic weapon, and all in the frightening space of a single heartbeat, the Bat’s hand stretched out, reengaging the thumb safety on the gun. In lieu of an explosion, pulling the trigger resulted in the immutable rigidity of American steel, and a nearly-full magazine hitting the ground in front of her.
She turned the pistol over in her hand in a single motion, planting her foot and throwing all of her strength and weight into a swing of the gun’s handle like a club, aimed at the Batman’s head, and hitting only air when the Bat rolled its head forward and closer to her. The force of her attempted gun-butting almost spinning her around and exposing her back to the villain.
But Selina had always been impressively agile, especially when her life depended on it. She released the gun with her left hand, catching it in her right and pushing off of her planted foot. Her right hand balled into a fist and hammer punched her opponent in the temple. And the second attempt at hitting him with the gun was successful. Batman’s head jarred sideways, but he didn’t blink, regaining his balance before perceptibly losing it.
And for the first time, the woman noticed his eyes: they were all black, and reflected the limited light like a lion in the darkness.
She lunged forward, positioning herself to spear him around the midsection, but fell short as he moved backward without any visible twitch of muscle. She wouldn’t believe he was tangible if the butt of her hand didn’t still feel the sting.
“Gord–“ the Bat began to speak again, but she twirled, and her hand was swinging out from behind her back whipping the Browning into position, the next graceful step in a fatal dance.
The pocket pistol in her hand was less powerful, but less familiar to Americans. She’d boosted the piece two years ago when some goon was getting too “hands-on” with a girl who didn’t look a day over nineteen. Selina, soft spot that she had for vulnerable girls in dangerous alleys, took the fella down with a knee to the midsection.
The woman shouted “leave me alone” in a bizarre accent that Selina couldn’t forget or identify, and leveled the tiny gun at her. All it took to relieve the woman of her gun and her purse was a smile, a step forward, and some dangerously impulsive confidence. She knew that tonight wouldn’t be so simple, and hoped that Batman was an American.
Batman’s head was beside the gun when the shot was fired, and by the time the gun hit the ground, his face was barely an inch from her own. She could see his breath.
No human is this fast.
His grip on her wrist felt unbreakable, and she felt jealous of the beat cops who carried billy clubs, the strap would at least keep her from being as vulnerable to disarming. But Selina Kyle wasn’t the type of woman who allowed herself to feel vulnerable. She’d fought men before. Men bigger than her. Older and stronger than her. Men who insisted that she was a part of the family. Men who insisted their presence in her personal space was “fatherly,” and men who were “conceding to their animal instincts.” She’d fought cops before. For Selina Kyle, it felt like she’d been in a fight, on average, every single day of her life.
She wasn’t afraid to die, because she wasn’t going to die.
If he’s got balls, he’s wearing a cup. Go for the soft, sensitive, high-nerve-density inner thigh. It’s famously difficult to defend. Difficult to see, too, but here goes nothing.
Selina cocked back her neck like she was bracing to headbutt him, and then shot her knee up into the vague, billowing shadow where she thought his thigh should be. She hit something, and snapped her wrist free, pulling his arm across his body and leaving his face defenseless. She punched at the only part of him that wasn’t just writhing darkness – his jaw. He stepped back, and so did she, holding her breath to avoid showing anything but relentless willpower.
She inclined her head less than an inch to the left.
How does he know my name?
And then the doorknob clattered and shook.
But the door wasn’t opening.
“Detective, listen,” Batman’s words sounded to Selina like the wind rustling a dying tree. She glanced backward to the door and saw the impediment. A jagged, black shard of something wedged in the gap between the hinges. “Lieutenant –“
“WATCH THE DOOR KYLE!” A muffled voice from the other side of the roof access.
Four gunshots rang out, blasting through the door from the inside, and as the door swung open, a slender leg in pinstriped, police blue, tailored Italian suit pants slid back into place beneath its body.
With a smoking pistol in his hand, Yiannis “Johnny” Gelio, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, was smiling. Fearlessly striding into the night air on the roof.
“You!” Johnny shouted as he stepped out onto the roof. A sea of Henshaw Allied partisans washed out onto the roof at his side.
“Surround him! Like you practiced!” Johnny’s face spasmed into an unnerving grimace as he barked the orders, and he found himself pushing into the expression, reveling in the glee of having thirty-five of his men by his side instead of a paltry two. The militarized contract-police force who moved with precision and brutality forming an incomplete circle around their quarry.
I am Leonidas, king of Sparta. Tremble before the might of my awesome phalanx!
“I am Commissioner Johnny Gelio,” Johnny spat, “Batman, you are under arrest for the first degree murders of six children, and for violation of the CAPE Act.” Nobody needs to get hurt tonight, but we are prepared to use all the force necessary to bring you in.”
Batman was silent, surrounded on all sides by his cloak, and not even that swayed in the eerie stillness. A scar in the middle of the roof said to have reflective, animalic, unblinking eyes. Johnny took a step forward, breaking the circle, and eliciting a susurration among his men. The commissioner was cautious; a misstep on the gravel could leave him vulnerable, its kinetic messiness made it difficult to square up for a fight.
He’d heard the rumors and read the reports: Batman is able to become insubstantial, like a shadow, or disappear in one place and reappear in another, he can fly, he can see through solid objects, and he’s tough, maybe even bulletproof.
But Johnny had seen him limp. And Johnny had stared down Superman, and the alien blinked, so he took another step forward.
The commissioner moved his head in the direction of the sound, but his men maintained line of sight with the abomination. All were armed and positioned in accordance with the drilling that Gordon had designed and Johnny had improved. Each man pointing either a gun or holding a baton at the ready. Flass held an arcing cattle prod which Johnny thought looked quite dramatic, but that no doubt would run through its battery if the brute didn’t stop showing off.
Clink. Clinkclink clink.
“Put your hands up,” Commissioner Gelio spat the order at a noncompliant shade, stepping forward and pulling out his pistol lining up the shot with Batman’s…
Where are those glowing eyes of his?
Johnny was facing the Batman’s back.
“HANDS! NOW!” The commissioner shouted, and Batman’s shoulders moved, lifting the cape just slightly.
Clink clink clink clink clinkclinkclinkclink clink clink clink clink clinkclink clink…
Batman lifted both of his hands, then thrust them downward, and leapt forward crunching glass and gravel beneath his feet in an assault of bright, blinding flashes and sudden, dense fog spilling out from beneath his cape.
“KEEP YOUR EYES ON HIM! DON’T LET HIM GET AW– hack – WAY! AND COVER YOUR MOUTHS, THIS IS A GAS ATTACK!”
The commissioner scrambled along the gravel, struggling to see anything more than a nondescript shadows, breaking formation and searching for open air. A cacophony of coughing and the muffled shouts of squad leaders trying to give orders from behind a shirt or handkerchief.
A gunshot. Ringing out in the pandemonium with the unmistakable timbre that could be nothing else.
BLAM! BLAM BLAM!
These idiots are firing blind!
“Hold your fire! Hold your fire!”
Johnny felt the gentle whoosh of moving air. He could hear the grunt of exerted effort, and he intercepted the punch, delivering a flurry of multiple jabs to the body. He couldn’t see, but he was fighting on instinct. Years of perfecting his body to overcome his disability, training for speed, instinct, and anticipation. This could be the Bat. His shoulder shot upward into the most vulnerable part of the arm, breaking it with a violent crack (heard even through the padding) at the elbow, and his gargantuan assailant slumped to the ground. The convergence of preparation and opportunity? A decidedly not intimidating voice, high in pitch, wailed in agony, and Johnny cursed inwardly.
He walked past agent Corelli’s oafish body, and the fog began to dissipate, helped along by a group of men flapping their jackets like blankets at a smoke signal.
I lost him.
“You lost him?” Johnny asked angrily, impulsively.
The agent he loomed over – Fiorello – just turned twenty this week. His face was cherubic, but disrupted by scars across his eyebrow and forehead. The kid was round and stocky, and Johnny had personally seen him enforce the curfew a time or two, and he was a scrapper. And he was cowering under the gaze of the commissioner.
“I– there were gunshots,” Fiorrello said, shrinking away.
Johnny leaned over the edge of the roof, and saw a motorcycle driving northeast.
“Inside, now, we need to discuss where we fell short.”
His men coughed and hacked, but when they met Johnny’s eyes, everyone but Flass froze.
“Everything okay, boss?”
The commissioner traced the wrinkles on his face with his fingers, and with a strain, flexed his jaw. He didn’t look confident or prepared. He looked like a clown.
He stalked back toward the door, jerking it open.
“Selina – I’m sorry – Detective Kyle,”, Johnny set his face into concern, and extended his arm to the detective. “You alright?”
Selina batted away the offered hand, flexing her fingers, and walked through the door.
“I thought you said no guns,” Dick cried, flapping his arms like a fledgling robin. “I know you said no guns, because you always say no guns.”
Bruce groaned. He sat at his workstation, stripped down to his underclothes and toweling his face with a damp hand towel. His eyes were bloodshot from the nitrogen smoke, and his head was pounding from breathing CO2 (and no small amount of the smoke…and getting hammer-punched in the temple, probably). Alfred brought another bowl and a glass of water.
“Grappling hook wasn’t great unless you were shooting down,” Bruce said after some controlled, deep breaths. “I started tinkering with the original design, and at some point, I asked why not use gunpowder? It’s a much more reliable propellant, and doesn’t require the hook to be corked into the,” he paused to think. “I guess it’s a gun.”
“Are you telling me I could’ve had a piece this whole time?”
“Does this look like a piece to you?”
“Piece-a-garbage,” Dick mumbled, examining the small, crude thing.
Alfred chuckled again.
“It does look very –,” Alfred started.
“– Improvised,” said Bruce. “It’s going to be further developed, but it hel–.”
“– I was going to say ‘stupid,’” Alfred completed his thought.
Bruce let out a deep breath, and went back to tending to himself.
Gunfire was unpleasant. It rattled Bruce, not just physically, but mentally. Almost spiritually, if you could call it that. Alfred had described it as shellshock, a term people started using after the War. But in the costumed detective-cum-outlaw world, you have to truly adopt a different persona when you put on the mask. To Bruce, this meant delaying the shudders, the nightmares, the fear.
Moreover, this was a gun as a tool for something other than killing. From a utilitarian standpoint, it made more sense to have more options that ensured he didn’t die, and taking one off the table because it gave him the willies would be irrational, even if the fear itself was not.
This isn’t a compromise, it’s an upgrade, he thought. If you’re better equipped, fewer people, yourself included, will die.
Water was running in the sink where Selina Kyle stood in the women’s washroom, staring at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her wrist was just a tiny bit sore, but she, for the most part, was none the worse for wear. She splashed more cold water on her face; having mostly avoided the miasma, she was breathing easy. Aside from the metallic, bitter taste of adrenaline, she felt normal. A little on edge, but normal. She rolled her shoulders, and moved her neck in a circle to limber herself and shake off the anxiety.
You took on the Bat one on one to a stalemate. He didn’t even get a hit in.
She put both of her hands on the sink and leaned over. In her mind’s eye, she saw the fight happen again, her throwing punches, shooting at him, and – he must’ve hit her at some point, right?
Again and again, the fight replayed in her memory, and, aside from grabbing her wrist, she couldn’t recall him even touching her. Pain check: throbbing in the heel of her hand, bruise on her knuckles, sore knee, sore wrist.
He deliberately didn’t even get a hit in.
What had previously felt like a boast in the immediate aftermath of the chaos, now felt like a revelation. He was jackrabbit fast, demonstrably strong, and hardier than anyone she’d ever scrapped with. And he hadn’t even hit her. It became more and more clear to her that he was capable of completely incapacitating her, but he just hadn’t. In fact, Batman put himself in a much more difficult situation by not taking her out.
Selina Kyle stepped back from the sink.
There was something foreign in her front pocket that she hadn’t noticed before. She reached down and retrieved a folded piece of paper with “Gordon” typewritten on the outside.
She hesitantly opened the note, and read nonsense and scattered letters.
Rotate: Mrs. christie’s hack Murder solution
Crow Donut (Ear Numb): all of them
m xunqdmx fuzk
dgyad mhqzsq m
tqqx m oxqmz ruzot
Ciphers were certainly not her thing. Assuming that’s what she was seeing, her internal conflict suddenly flared.
Jim, or Johnny?
The impulsive choice was Johnny. She didn’t like him, but he had power. Not that he was unpleasant to look at, but he had an aura of narcissism that gave her pause. It was easy to see a scenario where he would discard her. And, importantly, she didn’t like him. But Jim – where had he been when Selina needed saving? At least, when she thought she needed saving. They were supposed to be partners, and he shouldn’t have left. He felt distant. And Johnny had made the initial gambit–
“Detective, may I see you in my office?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Have a seat,” the commissioner indicated the leather chairs – new, luxurious leather chairs – directly in front of his desk. Selina sat down. But instead of sitting across the desk, he sat in the chair directly next to hers. It was a surprising tactic, and she was sure it was meant to engender trust and get her to let her guard down. Knowing about the maneuver didn’t, unfortunately, mean it wouldn’t work, and Selina thought she’d need to keep her guard up.
“I want to talk about the work of the task force.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that Lieutenant Gordon is pushing himself too hard. Men have told me he’s slept at the office on multiple nights, and his engagement in the trainings he leads, while competent, is disconnected from our team. He enters the room late, debriefs everyone without answering questions, and leaves, locking himself in his office until interviews. You’ve seen it: he doesn’t eat, he isn’t sleeping well, and it’s a chore for anyone but you to get more than a grunt from him. Trust is a two way street, detective, and if the other officers – whether they’re union or Henshaw – stop trusting him, someone is going to get killed.”
“I understand, sir,” Selina was sitting straight in the chair, but the commissioner was leaning toward her, increasing the sense of intimacy and amplifying the implied urgency. “What can I do?”
“You have the lieutenant’s ear. He trusts you, and the two of you work well together. I want you to deliver reports to me if anything seems off. Changes in routine, unwarranted complaints about other officers. I won’t even need specifics,” Commissioner Gelio paused, and raised an eyebrow. Selina didn’t know whether he was expecting an answer or if the gesture was one of his spasms.
She couldn’t deny that this felt less like snitching and more like looking out for Jim.
“Can I count on you to help me with this?”
– The conversation from mid-September was as clear as if she’d just had it. It didn’t feel like it was helping, but it certainly wasn’t making things worse.
This was the first true test, though.
She had spent years without feeling guilt. The world had done so much to her that no amount of retribution against it could balance the scales. Burglary, heartbreak, or murder could all be justified. It’s America, after all. Ambition has more value than loyalty, and a commissioner, strictly speaking, is a more valuable ally than a lieutenant.
Why not both?
She had a typewriter at her desk. Why couldn’t she replicate this, and hand off a copy to both of them? Who would know other than her?
Selina folded the note and put it back into her pocket, turned off the sink, and marched back toward her desk with the confidence of someone who wasn’t going to die.
The code is solvable (I think), but maybe I’ve got some inferential distance at work here.
I’ll provide the solution in next week’s chapter, as well as how to decode it specifically. Feel free to make guesses in comments, or replies to the post on reddit/ao3/ffn/RR