AT WONDER TOWEREdit
AT WONDER TOWER
by Michael Holt
And, for my sins, I was still in Arkham.
I woke up on a musky and thoroughly stained mattress, its stuffing spilling out of many holes onto the littered floor of the abandoned apartment. Last night's whore snored softly beside me. And my head was big with a hangover.
I sat up, groaning, and put a hand to my head. Despite my pants being down to my knees, I was still in costume. Which was good. I didn't need to be revealing my civilian identity to a streetwalker from the Harvey Dent territory. I tried a little experimental standing and the ache behind my eyeballs throbbed in protest with each and every separate movement. After staggering into the disused toilet, I took a good long piss into the waterless commode, one hand on the wall behind the shitter, for balance, squinting in the dusty sunlight streaming through the dirty windows of the abandoned Arkham apartment.
My profession is superhero. But, I assure you, the only glamorous thong about it is the name. I’ve heard of only one super who was actually paid for hero work, and he was a covert government assassin for chrissake. Not only do I not make money at it but I spend millions of my own money each year. My name is Michael Holt and I am Mr. Terrific, but keep that to yourself.
The place had no water, so I couldn't wash my hands. “Fuck it,” I growled to myself.
I stumbled out of the toilet, bumping the doorframe in the process, and back into the mattress room. I stared at the sleeping hooker. Either that woman lying there was much prettier last night with a tighter ass and firmer tits, or I allowed a little moonlight and a lot of rotgut whiskey to let my imagination run away with me. Last night she was the spitting image of Eartha Kitt. This morning she ain’t. I mean not even close.
But, the late-night fuck had done its job. The tension that had been building since I landed in Arkham had eased. Now, I just needed to get rid of the hangover and everything will be okie-fine in Mike Holt's little world.
It was then that the goddamn comm started vibrating in my pocket and going beep beep beep. "Please stop," I groaned.
Going to the open window, which I had used to get myself and the whore into the abandoned apartment, I activated my nanite-mask interface and looked at the caller i.d. Barbara. Figures. If she’s calling that means she must want something. Arkham Cave security up-grade, new equipment, a buddy of hers too stupid to get out of the way of a bullet that needs patching up. Something. She probably wants to know if I've gotten her team's new suits yet, like the good fucking servant she seems to think I am. Well, fuck her. Fuck all the Bats, from Bat A to Bat Z.
I activate a t-sphere and ascend out the window and into the Sky. Geezus pleezus flying hurts with a hangover.
Flight-path a little wobbly there, a little herky-jerky, ladies and gents. Not my usual straight and level routine. My eyes were squinty as I flew toward Blackgate Sanctuary and my med-kit and some aspirin and maybe a shot of B-12. And, a few lungful of pure oxygen won’t hurt the cause either. It was gonna be another busy day for this under-appreciated crime-fighter. My nemisis, Doctor Hugo Strange's clock was down to minutes rather than years.
I flew right at the eastern cliff of Blackgate island. Any observer would think I was about to smash head first into the rock. But, I passed unharmed through the holo-projection over the old sewer outlet and into the underground passage which lead to my lab. Once inside, I immediately went to my medical bag and dug out some headache relief tablets. I dry-swallowed, then prepared a spray-hypo, loading it with B-12 and injected it. I sat, resting from the flight. The after-taste of the tablets chalky in my mouth. I perched in the chair with my head in my hands waiting to start feeling better.
The cessation of the throbbing head came slow, but after about twenty minutes it came.
I thought about a shower. No food, the rotgut whiskey was playing hell with my stomach. With my head clearing, I remember Batgirl’s hail. I growled to myself that it was unprofessional not to see what she wants, at least, if I didn't that would make me as bad as her and that primo don she calls a leader.
I return the call as I walk across the laboratory to the lavatory. I take my clothes off as the line beeps, but keep my mask and earpiece activated, as its how I control my tech. Her line is still ringing as I turn on the shower and step under the spray. Ah, man, blessed relief. The hot water stings like needles as it hits my body.
The comm is finally answered.
“Mike, its me. Sorry about my rudeness last night but Bruce and I were having an argument about what to do about Tim.”
I listen to her, frowning. I'm pretty slow to anger but just as slow to forgive. I needed hers and Batman’s help last night. I needed back-up and what I got was the we’re-too-busy-to-talk right now routine from the both of them, while I’m fighting Hugo Strange’s thugs and League of Shadow agents all by my lonesome on land, water, and air.
So, my Black ass was hanging way out there because they’ve got a goddamn domestic situation. Can I get a fucking witness?
"You know, Oracle, I don't give two shits for your little Bat-family drama. I mean, its always something with you guys, isn't it? What's with Bruce and his fucking Achilles in his tent act, all of a sudden? Some might think he's beginning to lose his nerve. Some might think he's forgotten what jar he stores his balls in. And for your information, I scrapped that horn dog of yours who wears pink tutus and takes it up the ass from Ms. Quinn, off the goddamn sidewalk last night and took him to Emergency. Ask Beast Boy about it. The kid was the only super professional enough to answer his comm."
“I know you’re mad at us all right now, Mike. We’ve been asking a lot from you and not keeping up our end. I know, it’s just that Robin..., well. I’m sorry. Okay? Please?”
Its the sound of that sultry voice in my ear that softens my tone. Barb is out of the wheelchair, Oracle is no more, but I can't help responding to the memory of the always there, always reliable, always optimistic voice of the former techno-girl.
I exhale under the spray and make a giant effort to be a decent person about this, but the anger remains not far below the surface.
"Tim is a lost cause because he wants to be. The sooner you and Bruce and the rest of the gang realize that the happier you’ll be. And, I talked to Ms. al Ghul last night, while you were ignoring my calls. I've sic'd a sphere on her to follow her around twenty-four/seven. She wasn't happy about that, truthfully, I'm hoping she'll work with me to find her father. I know she's a daddy's girl through and through so the possibility is remote.
“And, you can pick your team’s upgraded suits at the guardhouse here at Blackgate's main entrance. Just ask the guard on-duty for the bags.”
“Thanks, Mike but that’s not why I called. I feel fucked up over last night. Sorry again.”
“Alright. I gotta finish my shower, then I'm gonna check on Tyger. After that, I'm going to the Tower. Strange's reign of terror ends today."
“You’re not still thinking of killing him? I can’t go on a mission with you like that. It’s bad enough with Bruce now the way it is. You know how he feels about this one-rule.”
"No, Barbara, stay away from the tower. I'll take everything I need to crack that iron bitch again. Last night, I isolated it from all ground water, power, and hardwire telephonic connections. And, thanks to the downloaded computer data, we snatched during the first Tower break-in, I was able to wreck the comm-sat that was maintaining its global communications.
“Due to my arial-combat last night, all of Strange's renegade TYGER copters are in pieces on the Arkham asphalt or at the bottom of the Bay. The limbs have been severed, time to lop off the head.”
“How is Tyger? I haven’t gotten out there to see him yet.”
That almost got me mad again. “Tyger? He'll make it, but a long convalescence is in his future. The good news is his enhanced physique will see him through."
"Look, honey, everybody has their bad days. You, me. Tyger's getting shot has its effect on me, especially since the assassination attempt was in reaction to our raid on the Tower. Forget last night. I took care of what I needed to do. You can tell Bruce I know I can't depend on him to watch my back, but he's gonna have to nut-up soon or fucking call it a day and retire. This Mr. in-between shit is getting on my nerves and hurting Gotham in the bargain. Wait, you know what, on second thought, I'll talk to Bruce myself. Maybe even kick his ass and put his head back on straight for him. But, it’s one motherfucker at a time. Got to start my day. Tee out."
I was anxious now to start for the Tower, to go after Strange, but, it was just as important to check on Tyger Bantu’s condition. I let the blowers air-dry me in the stall, step out, put on fresh clothes. But I didn't bother to shave. Somehow clean-shaven and premeditated murder don't seem to go together. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.
I made my way upstairs into my office, without stopping, I left it and walked down a first floor corridor to the ICU nurse's station and took out Tyger Bantu's chart. All indications were he’d had a quiet night.
When I walked into his unit, I found Dekan Too, his fiancée already there. Her small hands were wrapped around Tyger's much bigger paw. Her head rested on the pillow beside his and I felt a pang of jealousy, a moment of longing and something close to despair. If I were in that bed would there be a woman holding my hand. I think of Kara, our tempestuous romance and shake the thoughts from my head. Today is a Warrior day, not a Lover's. Tyger is sleeping, resting comfortably, still, it hurts me to see such a normally robust man now bed-ridden.
And, by all rights my old friend, hell, my brother, should be beside me today, braving the enemy fortress, bracing the barricades and all that. But, I'll get it done for you, brother, I silently swore. And, I'll present your woman with Strange's fucking head on a spike. I turned, walking out of the unit and returning the chart before I made my way outside.
I walked around a corner of the med-center and, using the mask interface, changed instantly into my working clothes. The security cameras which monitor every inch of the Sanctuary’s public areas, do not record the change because they cannot detect me. By design, I’m invisible to all electronic tech. Using the nano-tech mask, again, I summon a multitude of spheres from the lab and three more of the mega-em pulse generators.
Its time, time to do what I get paid for, so to speak. Grabbing one of the baseball-size spheres, it lifted me up into the clear morning sky and I headed toward Arkham's own heart of darkness, the Wonder Tower and the monster within it, Doctor Hugo ‘head-case’ Strange.
I didn’t need to worry about violating the Tower's airspace. The night before I’d killed all of Strange's gunships, so I flew above the high and thick defensive wall squared around the tower and directed the football shaped pulse-generators to mid-height around the skeletal structure. I activated them and their combined electro-magnetic pulse brought down the electronic shield within a fraction of a second.
With sphere in hand, and a swarm following me, I flew over the thick wall topped with razor wire but I didn't land. What I wanted wasn't on the lower floors this time. I flew straight toward the upper structure, a fierce scowl of concentration on my face, natural senses and augmented leptonic ones on full tactical alert.
I directed two spheres at the elevator cables at the center of the tower, severing them. Their heavy cars zip down the tower’s center before crashing with the sound of compacting metal into the foundation in the substructure. While a few alert guards fire at me from below, their slugs and advanced-taser pulses frying harmlessly on my force-fields, I attach more spheres to the railings of staircases and ladders and catwalks that zigzag up the pylons of the tower, each set to explode when detecting nearby motion. Not to stun, not to dazzle with light, but to go off with killing force. This was grown-up work today, sonny-jack, no take-it-back allowed.
The top floor of Strange’s stronghold was now isolated. My attack is less than ninety-seconds old.
I land on the narrow metal ledge outside the upper-floor habitat. With the sphere in my hand I activate laser mode and cut into the alloyed steel of the tower bulkhead, vapor wisps up from the melting metal. Less than fifteen seconds and the wall has a hole big enough for me to slip through. I entered and am immediately shot at. Ducking, rolling over the floor tiles, the ramaining spheres followed me in through the hole like so many high-tech hailstones. As I roll, I swept the laser around, not aiming, just trusting to statistical probability that I’ll hit someone, or at the least, make the assailants themselves duck and cover.
I come onto my feet. Glancing around the lounge, I see a Shadow agent down, laser slash across his chest, his body-armor smoking. Other agents have taken refuge behind desks and tables, a couple still firing. I direct a sphere toward each of them as I activated a half-dozen more to reinforce a stronger force field around me. The spheres touched their assigned targets, explode, and take the assailants with them.
I went ducking through a door and into a large rotunda, giving it a quick running inspection. No hostiles visible, but sensors pickup several heartbeats in close proximity, I felt them thumping in my earpiece. From behind a wall up ahead, a whole fucking crowd of the sumbitches just waiting for me to open the door.
Yeah, so the deal was I just go strolling through the door like the original Boo-Boo the Fool and get bushwhacked like some disposable character actor in a B-western. All according to the bad-guy playbook. I grin. Not a nice friendly grin either. It’s the grin of a Wolf in a roomful of Dogs. I sent a squadron of spheres hurtling forward and they blasted the wall to smithereens, taking the bunched hostiles with it. So much for the script.
I walked through the rotunda which now sifted with drywall dust. Sensors displayed a holographic schematic of rooms, to either side of a corridor at the far end. Some look like labs, some offices, more than a few are detention cells. All empty, except for the one at the far end of the long corridor. Sensors read six people on the other side. Bio-telemetry of one matched Strange's profile. And therein lie the prize.
I scanned the corridor not believing for one second that Strange hasn't set safe-guards for his protection.
I saw it.
Cantilever gear works above the far suite’s door. Step on the floor tiles in front of that door and ka-blooie. A metal block comes crashing down, converting human flesh and bone into chunky salsa. The original blunt object, not clever but deadly enough for all its mundanity. I dispatched spheres to blow the ceiling and the heavy weight into itty bitty little pieces. Then I proceeded, walking slowly down the hall, in case the bad guys decided to make a charge, my boot soles treaded over curled metal flakes, remains of the blasted weight, now gracing the tiles.
So, this is it, I thought, reaching the door. I took a deep breath.
I didn't blast down this wall. I needed Strange to see me. To know he was facing certain Death at my hands. I lasered off the lock and jerked the door open. His guards opened up on me the moment I cleared the threshold, with a concentrated barrage of electrical pulses from their TYGER rifles. The combined offensive forced me backwards a few paces into the corridor. But my force field held. The anger which had been shimmering over the last few days I now gave full vent, allowing it to blow with volcanic force. And in that rage I eschew my spheres and bellowed as I rushed forward, meeting the advanced weaponry of Strange's guards with the force field around me but otherwise close-quarter naked hand-to-hand.
Instinctively, not planning it, I attacked with French Boxing, the martial-art which merged Savate technique with classic boxing style. Kicking the rifle out of one hostile’s hands, as I turned I punched the man beside him in the throat, under his helmet visor. I pulled his rifle from him as he fell and used it as a staff, shattering the visor of a third guard, slamming the butt of the rifle down on the bridge of his nose which shoved shards of bone up into his brain. Two down. More weapon fire hit the shields, draining its energy as dispersed heat. I growled, in my berserkers rage, mind’s eye flashing the image of the open chest of Tyger, the unnatural stillness of his heart as I performed surgery on it. I leapt at the first guard, who I’d disarmed, twisting around his torso, hand under his visor fingers to his eyes and driving the stiffened digits deep, before I placed both hands to his helmet and wrenched his head too far to the right, snapping his spine above the shoulders.
Two assholes left. I stopped, staring at them and them at me.
"You can run. You can go, its Strange I want," hyper-ventilating voice coming out like crunched gravel. "You don't have to die."
One of the men decided retreat was the better part of valor, threw down his drained weapon and ran from the room.
The other gamely took up position in from of Strange, casting away his drained weapon and adopting a karate stance. So be it. I straightened up from my crouch. Then, he kicked at my chest and damned if he doesn't land a hit, my shields failing. I staggered back against a wall, feeling like a mule just took out his bad day on me. The bodyguard pressed the advantage, moving in close. A bad mistake, the good news being it was the last he’d ever make. In seconds it was over. I grabbed his ankle, twisted it as I balled my fist and rammed it at his unprotected crotch beneath his chest armor, driving his sac up into his pelvis. Turning, using the leverage for a judo throw, and slamming him down to the floor. I stomp his belly then a stiff-finger jab at his throat, feeling his windpipe crunch. He gurgled and wheezed, swallowing bone and began strangulated breathing his last.
I look at Strange five feet away from me with that shitty round beard of his and those fucked up glasses.
He stood, plainly surprised at the sudden turn of events. "I expected Batman. It was supposed to be Batman," he said, in the tone of a diner whose been brought the wrong entrée.
I shrugged, catching my breath. "Life is full of surprises, asswipe, but, rejoice as this is your last one."
The fuck shook his big head angrily and took a hand from behind him, leveling a tranquilizer gun. "Stay back. The serum in this gun will turn you into a mindless primitive, a homicidal beast. You will now move aside and allow me to leave this place. You were supposed to be Batman, anyway!"
I spread my arms wide. Bloody gloved palms outward. "Alright, shoot me."
And damned if he wouldn’t have if one of the spheres hadn’t lasered off his hand. We both watched the dart-gun and hand drop dumbly to the carpet.
"Opps," I said.
But, the doc didn’t hear me, he was making a big production about the lost hand thing, screaming, tears draining from beneath his glasses. Carrying on to beat the band, it was a hot mess. I summoned a sphere, which smacked into my hand.
"I promised Tyger Bantu's fiancée that I would bring her your head for the sorrow you've caused her."
Hearing me, Strange stopped screamed like a girl and his eyes grew wide with anger behind those super-nerd glasses.
"You can't defeat me," he started to monologue, but I was not in the mood for any cliché bullshit.
I activated the sphere's laser mode and casually swept it across Strange’s throat. And I watched as his ugly face tilted to one side, as if pondering an interesting query, or as if he were trying to recall where he left those darn car-keys.
But, the head just keeps on canting until it fell to the floor with a dull thump, joining his severed hand. The rest of his body crashed forward.
I stared down at the headless form for a moment and felt the anger drain away beneath the adrenaline still coursing through my system. I let go of the sphere and let it float. Taking a few breaths, appreciating the fact that I was alive and my enemies were not, I bent down and picked up the head. The maniac’s eyes staring, his mouth still twitching. Medically speaking, the brain takes a few minutes to shut down into Death, which means he could probably feel me holding his face in my palms, watch me, hear me.
"And, so, here endth the lesson." I could’ve kissed the recently departed I was so happy.
But, I was also tired, beat down to my bones and the action had taken less than five minutes from start to finish. I went to Strange’s desk, walked behind it, and sat in his chair. The seat was still warm from his body heat. I placed his head on the desktop, admiring the way the sunlight glinted off his glasses. A shame it wasn’t a souvenir I’d be able to keep.
"Ra’s al Ghul's next," I say to the ex-Dr. Strange. “Maybe, it’s his head I’ll mount on my wall.”