I had slept in again. After the hell month craziness, confined to the cave and then the fortress, I was letting off some steam, prowling later. Bruce was beating me home most nights. Alfred was very sweet about it, always letting me catch another hour of shuteye after Bruce got up, so I was surprised at first that he would come wake me.
But Tim had called from Bludhaven and wanted to “say hey.” He was just checking in; there was nothing wrong or anything. But he’d asked to speak to me.
So I got up and took the call.
..:: Hey Selina, ::.. was how he began.
“Hey kid. Fair warning, you’re catching me before coffee,” I yawned. “How’s ‘Haven?”
..:: S’okay. Makes a change. We broke in on a guy last night that said ‘I got the drop on you, gumshoe,’ how about that! Never hear hokey shit like that in Gotham. Well, except from Scarface. Scarface called his guys ‘mooks’ once. ::..
“Sounds like quite the vacation you boys are having.”
..:: Yeah. It’s okay. Dick is cool. ::..
“Yes, he is.”
..:: Oh, before I forget, they don’t have analogies on the SATs anymore. ::..
..:: Remember when I was over studying for the SATs, and you said how analogies were so important in the old days. Well, I checked, and they don’t do those at all anymore. ::..
“In the old days? You mean back when I used to shred cocky little teen sidekicks?”
..:: Yeah, back then,
y’know, before movable type and penicillin. ::..
I could hear in his voice how he was grinning. I also heard Dick in the background, adding some joke of his own. This was the point of the call, evidently: let’s tickle the tiger’s tail. At first, I thought maybe he just wanted to hear a friendly voice, but it sounded like the whole Bludhaven escapade was going well. So this “saying hey” was definitely starting to feel like boys being boys.
I let them have their fun—for now. They were good boys, after all. And they had to come home sooner or later. When they did, they would discover Zogger now identified them on login as “Mouse 1” and “Mouse 2.”
When I hung up the phone, Alfred was waiting. He said Bruce wanted to see me as soon as I was up, so I stopped in the kitchen, picked up a muffin and poured a cup of coffee, and I was about to take Alfred’s elevator down to the cave, when he stopped me. He said Bruce was in the sunroom.
I knew he was meditating before I got there. There was a delicious hint of incense in the hallway, sweet and smoky. Bruce was kneeling in seza, silhouetted by the light streaming in through the windows; I couldn’t see if his eyes were open or closed.
“Been meditating?” I asked just to announce my presence.
“Not exactly, but something similar,” he murmured altering his posture slightly. “A mental exercise… extremely useful one. I try it every few years… Imagine yourself as a fictional character.”
“Oh that,” I laughed. “I’ve done it. Remember my stage show?”
“Different,” he grunted. “That was still you in Cat-Tales. It was a heightened, stylized version of you, but clearly the same woman who invented herself as Catwoman in the first place crafted that character on the stage.”
“Then I don’t know what you mean.”
“This is different from taking on a masked persona, this is… removing yourself completely from your own inner thinking and seeing yourself—describing yourself—only as another person might. Describing your thoughts and words and actions—all from the outside.”
“And this is useful?”
“Very. At first, it helped me refine the fop act, shape Batman’s interrogating techniques, even helped me run smoother meetings at the Foundation.”
“Now, I know why the log is wrong,” he growled. He’d dipped into Batman’s voice, which I don’t mind, of course. I moved the rest of the way into the room and settled on the floor in front of him. From this position, I could see now that his eyes were open—and it was, as I could have guessed from the gravel, Psychobat and not Bruce staring out of them.
He reached out and took my hand, just like he had before sending me to the Fortress. It was strange because Bruce will do things like that but Batman does not, and Psychobat wouldn’t ever.
“This isn’t going to be good news,” I noted dryly.
“No,” he pronounced. “Imagine you had a blackout when we went to Tokyo last year. How would you know what had happened?”
“Assuming you’re not going to tell me,” I began hesitantly.
“No, I’ll tell you everything.”
“Then I’d know, wouldn’t I?”
“Assuming you believe me, yes.”
“Are you going to lie to me?”
“Nope, I’ll tell you the whole truth.”
“Then I’ll know everything.”
“You’ll know what I tell you. I can tell you what you did, what you said, where you went. But I can’t know how you felt or what you were thinking.”
“Okay,” I nodded.
“Making a log entry at the end of the night doesn’t work that way. It’s more than a dry rundown of where I patrolled and who I apprehended, it’s more than a dry recitation of facts. I use that time each night to decompress. I download all the wild associations, the false starts, the chains of ideas: if a stakeout was boring and I wound up thinking through notes from the marketing meeting that afternoon. If Gordon seemed distracted when I answered the signal. If a playful catburgler changed her perfume, and it’s going to drive me crazy until I figure out what her new scent is.”
“Really now,” I purred, nestling in a little closer.
“Behave. I used that example for a reason. Writing a log entry is a highly individual and personal exercise. Do you understand?”
“I guess I do. I do it in the mirror sometimes, after a good prowl, or sometimes I talk to Nutmeg…”
“Close enough. There was a night, years ago, when none of that occurred. I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, but something must have felt off about it as I was making the entry. Some part of me held on to this feeling that something wasn’t right there.”
“This is where the nightmare comes in?”
“Right. When the Leaguers went after Dr. Light, it triggered that memory—no, not a memory, but that remembered sense of something wrong back there. There were nine individuals involved in that battle: Green Lantern, Hawkman, Zatanna, Flash, Atom, Green Arrow, and Black Canary on the one hand, and Dr. Light and Deathstroke on the other. It could have been any one of them that was triggering that association, so I did a search in the Justice League databanks for missions and encounters I’d had with any of them, then looked up my personal log entries for those dates. I didn’t have to look very far before I found it. I went on a mission with all seven Leaguers, against Hector Hammond. The log entry for that night is the one that is wrong.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know. I’ve read it a dozen times now, and it’s exactly what I remember, but it’s wrong. It feels wrong. It feels like a police report: went here, went there, like I was taking dictation from my memories, not—not—writing the log naturally.”
“Okay. Well, now we know when. Just not… what… or why?”
“I know more than that. Now that I know where to look, I know everything. I just don’t know yet what it is that we know… Let’s go for a walk. I’d like some fresh air before going down to the cave.”
I took a minute to duck back in the bedroom, for a warm sweater, I told him. The truth is I needed a minute to myself. It wasn’t like Bruce to imply that there was anything less-than-welcoming about the cave, even down to the freshness of the air. He usually meditates down there by his favorite stalactite, but today he wanted the warmth and brightness of the sunroom? And now, hot on the trail of some idea that’s been bugging him for weeks, he wasn’t going straight down to the cave—he was going for a walk?—for some fresh air?—and he wanted me along?
We weren’t far from the house when I realized where we were going… He was headed for the gravesite.
I’d been at the Fortress on the Anniversary this year. I assumed he’d gone alone, like he always had before: the gravesite during the day as Bruce, the alley after dark as Batman.
“Imagine yourself as a fictional person,” he was saying. “Imagine someone writing you, right now, walking up this hill, in a story. Think of all the detail they’d put into those shoes you’re wearing, how they’re not the most comfortable pair of flats you’ve got, but you wore them anyway because the color is just right with that sweater.”
“My shoes are brown,” I told him in the firm voice I use to set a price with Oswald. “Which goes with just about everything. And they’re perfectly comfortable. Are you insane?”
His lip twitched.
“Not insane. Just a man with precious little idea what goes on with women and their shoes. That’s my point. What were you really thinking about just now instead of your shoes?”
“I thought how I was away this year, at the Fortress. I wondered if you’d come up here alone or if Alfred or someone maybe came with you.”
“Really? That’s what was going through your mind?”
I felt funny. It was like he caught me out at something.
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”
He smiled—more than just a twitch. Then he did that density shift, the smile vanished and it was Batman glaring again.
“I didn’t do too well then, ‘writing’ your thoughts. The Tokyo blackout scenario, if I tried to fill in more than facts, if I tried to supply you with details of what you thought or felt in that time, I wouldn’t do so well, would I?”
“No. Bruce, spell it out for me,” I blurted. “I can tell you’re getting at something, but I don’t see it.”
“Ockham’s Razor. Cut away all the irrelevancies, cut right down to the bare bone: The log is exactly what I remember. And the log is wrong.”
Ockam’s Razor would have cut away as irrelevant the fact that it was seventeen degrees and we were walking through a graveyard. Those extraneous details had nothing to do with the chill I was feeling.
“So your memory is wrong,” I said finally.
“My memory is wrong,” he said. “About twenty minutes of that night… my best guess, twenty minutes… is missing… and replaced with someone else’s idea of me.”
For about ten seconds, I felt like I might vomit. And for about ten more, I thought about clawing up a tombstone, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing my claws and whoever else might be involved in this, Charles and Marie Wayne St. John were off the hook, having died in 1825 and ‘39, respectively.
“Okay then,” I breathed, forcing myself calm. “Mind games, that’s Hugo, Jervis, Jonathan, maybe Ra’s. I’d like first crack at Jervis and Jonathan—”
Bruce was shaking his head no.
“Don’t start,” I told him, “I’ll let you have your pummel. But Jervis is a bleeder and Jonathan is such a squirrelly little wuss, if you pound them first, there won’t be anything left for me to sink my claws into.”
“Selina, it’s not them. It’s not… Gotham. Whatever happened, it’s connected to the League somehow, not the rogues.”
“How do you figure that?”
He was staring down at a
quotation on the headstone of one Colonel Ernest B. Wayne:
“Because Superman knows,” Bruce said softly.
“WHAT?” It wasn’t my voice that said it. It was the loud screech of a hellcat. I don’t know where it came from. “Um, excuse me,” I cleared my throat, trying for dignity, and got my tone back to my normal octave. “What do you mean ‘Superman knows?’”
“It was right about that time he… wouldn’t look me in the eye… for about a week and a half. Then when he did, well, Clark isn’t the world’s best poker player. I could tell he knew something. It must have been this.”
“And you didn’t push to find out? You didn’t? Six weeks you wouldn’t let up about those stupid Mouawad diamonds—”
“Those weren’t yours,” he graveled.
“Not the point.”
“No, it’s not. The point is that I trust Superman’s judgment. Whatever it was that had set him off, he had to have a good reason for feeling it needed to be kept secret. The good of the League or… something. Whatever it is, I know he’ll tell me what he knows when he believes the time is right.”
It was my turn to glare.
“You can’t believe that.”
“Why not? Selina, with what you’ve asked me to swallow about your ‘friendships’ with Dent and Nigma, why is it so hard for you to believe I trust Clark.”
“Um, in a word—protocols!”
He sighed—and I felt awful.
“I never expected to have to use them,” he said, and he sounded exhausted suddenly. “It was necessary to have them, in case, just like you have a smoke detector in case, unlikely though it is you’ll ever need it and much as you hope you never do.”
“Look, I don’t want to argue,” I told him. “I’m just not sure what to make of this. I’m not even sure why you’re telling me about it.”
“Don’t you? Really? Selina, don’t you have any idea?”
All I could think was because I’d told him about the nightmare he’d had, but having brought up that forbidden subject once already and gotten away with it, I wasn’t about to press my luck by doing it again.
“You said ‘we,’” he said, squeezing my hand. “When we were talking about the Dibny case that night in the cave, you said ‘We’d have a body we thought was our killer.’ It wasn’t the first time.”
“Oh.” My cheeks felt warm. Again I felt like he caught me out at something embarrassing. “Just picking up the slack,” I said, feeling I should make some excuse. “Since Harvey doesn’t do it anymore, I figured I’d try it on for size.”
He didn’t smile or say anything more. We’d reached his parents’ tombstone. Even though it was weeks since his anniversary visit, I felt I should leave him alone. I tried to pull my hand free but he wouldn’t let go… He’s grabbed my wrist quite a few times over the years, but he’s never dug in that way. It’s easy to forget, when he’s Bruce, just how strong he is. I couldn’t begin to pull away, and I didn’t want to make it a thing. So we stood there in silence for a while, then finally when he’d had his fill, he turned to go back and let go of my hand like he didn’t even know he’d been holding it.
Bruce’s body isn’t the only instance of Gotham history told in scars. The faux-glacier interior of the Iceberg Lounge has some fascinating mementos. There’s the divot left where Eddie’s back hit the wall the night Joker caught him putting the moves on Harley, which had been patched but knocked loose again when Killer Croc hurled Azrael into the same spot. There are cracks near Poison Ivy’s booth where a few of her “babies” punched through the floor laying down roots. There’s a permanent discoloration behind the jukebox from numerous blasts of freeze ray.
And there is also, now, a vigorously scratched patch on the bar itself. It is what the rogues will forever refer to as the spot where Catwoman expressed her joy on hearing a certain writer, the one responsible for the most outrageous libels about her consorting with East End lowlifes, had finally been flushed from his job at the Gotham Post.
They can think that. It doesn’t matter. The truth is it was my reaction to a story from the rogue rumormill, but it had nothing to do with those Post hacks, and it certainly wasn’t joyful.
It was where I heard what had happened to Dr. Light—what they had DONE to Dr. Light—the “Justice” League—the rat bastard jackbooted thugs masquerading as heroes League. The implication of it—I didn’t know I was doing it, I was just sitting there letting it sink in, and I guess I dug the claws into the bar… a few hundred times…
What Bruce said about Harvey and Eddie got me thinking: I had sources of information he didn’t. Sure, he had the League, he had the Bat-team, and he had the scum he could always pummel a few more details out of. But I had me. I had my standing at the Iceberg and the fact that Oswald was itching to become my fence again. I had the simple truth that half the underworld skips town for Hell Month and everybody returns brimming with news. I had that other simple truth going for me as well: rogue men are still men, and at the end of the day they like to kick back and talk—preferably about themselves and preferably to a pretty woman. So I prowled early for a change and then stopped in at the ‘Berg.
Dr. Light’s story, as told by the rumormill, was… disgusting. Nobody’s pretending otherwise. He’d found a way to penetrate the old Watchtower, back when it was a satellite. He said he wanted his light gun back. They’d captured it, had it on display in their trophy room, and he wanted it back. He picked a moment when they would be busy elsewhere, when the place would be deserted—I just know it was when Bruce and those other seven were out fighting Hector Hammond—and he went in. Except the Watchtower wasn’t deserted; Sue Dibny was there. And Light raped her.
I’m not pretending it’s not monstrous. I’m not pretending it’s not disgusting.
They caught him in the act, so to speak. The seven Bruce mentioned who had been on the mission: Green Lantern and Flash—the old ones—Hawkman, Zatanna, Atom, Green Arrow and Black Canary, Elongated Man… and Batman. They’d all been on that mission; they all would have gone back to the Watchtower.
But Elongated Man left to take his wife to the hospital, and Batman left too. According to the log—the log Bruce says is wrong—Gordon had found a package in his office containing a top hat… so Batman left the Watchtower, leaving those seven “hero crimefighters” alone with Dr. Light.
They lobotomized him. Zatanna, “Mistress of Magic,” wiped his memory of the event, of Sue Dibny and the rape, and then they changed his personality. Rogue opinion is split on if it was intentional or if Miss Magically Wonderful didn’t know what the fuck she was doing and botched it.
As far as the underworld is concerned, inside Gotham and out, that’s the story. It’s clear now why that particular group of heroes went after Dr. Light when Sue was murdered, and somehow or other in their battle with Deathstroke, something zigged when it should have zagged and Light recovered his memories. That’s the story: just one of those things that happens in the wacky world outside of Gotham.
I don’t know how long I sat there, unconsciously digging my claws into the bar, letting the implication sink in.
I mean, it was the rumormill… the Rogue Rumormill has a slightly better truth-to-bullshit ratio than the Post, but so does an elementary school playground. But everything about this story seemed to fit. I got it from multiple sources, they were consistent on the important points. Much as I wanted to believe otherwise, it seemed like more than some Keystone flyweight blowing smoke.
Hearing about that battle between Dr. Light and those seven Leaguers is what triggered Bruce’s nightmares, it’s what reminded him of that gnawing feeling about the log—it was that night he was missing memories—no, not missing them, he had false memories. That poisonous witch—the seven of them led by that poisonous parched cunt witch—They took Bruce’s memories. Somehow, he must have found out what they were doing to Light and they wiped his memory of it.
I had four options… 1) I could wait until my heart stopped pounding so I could think through what to do next—which would only waste time, so screw #1. 2) I could get home to Bruce—but he probably wouldn’t be home yet, so I’d have to wait and I was NOT in the mood to sit around the cave listening to the bats squeak, so screw #2. 3) I could call Oracle, find out where Batman was patrolling, and get to him right fucking now… or 4)… 4) I could make a stop first—If those monsters thought they could get away with something like this because they had superpowers, they didn’t understand the first thing about cats.
I’ll admit I wasn’t in the calmest frame of mind on the trip uptown, but fortunately I used to live in the apartment Jason Blood now occupies, and I can navigate the way home from the Iceberg on autopilot.
Once I hit the balcony, I found the effort of presenting myself as a sane and rational person focused my thoughts admirably. Jason came out, expressed pleased surprise at my visit (although, in my experience, Jason is seldom surprised by anything), and I found that in answering him, I was Catwoman again. It was my voice, my walk, I sounded playful and pleasant, calm and collected. I didn’t really feel that way, but faking it made it real on some level. Jason offered me a brandy and we sat. I came straight to the point:
“Would it be possible for you to conjure up some kind of magic vaccine, like to keep a specific magician from tampering with a specific person?”
“What a curious question. This is not a remote hypothetical, I assume.”
“Of course not. Jason, you said you wouldn’t use magic for someone without fully knowing and approving of their reasons. I think you know already why I’m here and what my reasons are.”
He said nothing at first, he just looked at me carefully.
“’Thou shalt not mess with the people Selina Kyle cares for,’” he pronounced finally.
“I suppose, yes, there is that aspect,” I admitted.
“And something more?”
I knew there was no way to get what I wanted without being honest, so I opened my mouth, not knowing what I might say, and let the words come…
“Maybe I just don’t like the reminder that he is, after all, only human… more vulnerable on one level than any of them.”
“Yes. Even him. Especially him,” Jason mused.
I glared. He smiled at me. And I hissed.
“It wasn’t meant to be a mocking smile, Selina. It was meant to be sincere and sympathetic.”
“Will you help us?” I asked—sounding a lot meeker than any cat’s pride should allow. “I figure you magic-users are like nuclear warheads. They have theirs, so we have to have ours.”
“And yours,” Jason gleamed with a wicked smile, “will be bigger, badder, and capable of breathing hellfire in tight spots.”
“I knew you would understand,” I said, feeling I could kiss him.
“Well, I played court magician on occasion in the past, Selina. Serving as such for the Dark Knight and his lady… I imagine it will be fun.”
I chuckled, because it was just how Bruce would have said fun.
Hugo Strange shuffled listlessly into the Iceberg a short while after Catwoman stormed out. He saw Oswald occupied at a table with some men that looked vaguely familiar. Hugo associated them with gambling, in Star City… or maybe it was Keystone. In any case, he could wait. He went to the bar, puffed up importantly and coughed until he was noticed, and ordered a club soda from Sly. Then he sat and overheard the drivel of inferior minds. Gossiping, like so many old women. No wonder he had deteriorated, hanging out with such riffraff.
When Oswald had finally finished his business with the trio of… whoever those unimportant fellows were, Hugo moved to intercept him on his way back to his office.
Oswald ushered him to a free table—a better table than Hugo was ever given on his own, on the strength of his own position in rogue circles as Batman’s most dangerous foe. But that was just another in the long campaign of slights and insults that eroded him into this sorry condition, and how like Oswald to rub it in that way.
Unfortunately, the spotlight of a good table in the Iceberg dining room was not suitable for the private conversation Hugo wished to have. He suggested the seclusion of Oswald’s office, but was rebuffed. He suggested again, but Oswald was too busy watching the comings and goings at the door to really pay attention… To Hugo, it seemed like Oswald was fully preoccupied playing the role of the great crime boss tonight. He would have to return during the day, when Oswald would have no audience to play to.
“Selina, really,” Jason complained, thumbing the pages of a ponderous tome. “I understand that, like all women, you must take any male’s agreeing to do what you want as some sort of personal triumph. But if you would kindly desist from that infernal purring while I am trying to work?”
“If you insist. Out of curiosity—yes, it’s a cat thing—out of curiosity, Jason, how do you vocalize delight?”
He glared up at me, then returned his attention to the book.
“I don’t believe I’m familiar with the emotion in question,” he grumbled.
“Non-gloom,” I explained in the same tone I’d use with Bruce.
“Bruce,” he began, as if he knew of my mental comparison, “Lost his parents as a child, and has, as a result, devoted his life to making a better world. Good human with the occasional need to lighten up. Myself: Raging demon inside who wants nothing more than to rip me apart so he can get out and rip all of you apart. Fifteen hundred years. No respite from it. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter of non-gloom.”
“Fine, be that way. It took me nine years to get him to crack a smile, sort of, so don’t think I’ll give up so easily on you.”
“You are welcome to spend your time however you wish, Selina. I ask only that you do so quietly while I am researching your situation.”
I waited. I wandered around the room and looked at the spines of his books. I looked at his case of antique weapons. He had a bust of Ares on top, which was new. He previously had a Grecian plate up there depicting Achilles examining armor. I’d got it for him from the Boston Museum, a little thank you because he’d sent me in to get a Roman seal carved from a cursed gemstone and I found the most extraordinary crouching tigress displayed right next to it.
“Well?” I asked when I felt I’d waited long enough, “Find anything?”
“Indeed. There are two options available. One would create a blanket shield against all memory charms, the other would block all magic from a specific caster directed at the protected person—or persons, as I expect you’ll want the same sort of protection for yourself as for Bruce.”
“Yes, definitely,” I agreed. “I suppose the second is what we’ll want. It’s not magic itself that’s the problem, no matter what Bruce says. It’s that fucking League. It’s Zatanna. Jason, you stood up for me when I found out about Etrigan and that crazy Avalon crank, Lyle, wanted to make me forget it. And you don’t go flinging your mojo around for anybody that asks—in stark contrast to Z, whose answer seems to be ‘would you like a Big Gulp with that for only $3 more.’”
“Yes,” Jason nodded, “For me as a magickal practitioner, that is the most disturbing aspect of the matter.”
“Will there be trouble, for you, I mean, when she finds out about this?”
“Upon discovering their magick no longer affects some individual, a wizard will likely try to a) overpower the protections, b) find the other caster and attack him, or c) fail at A and move on to B… Zatanna is a child who has channeled the magickal force for less than thirty years. She could no more overpower a spell of mine than I could pit my control over the magickal forces against Etrigan’s.”
“Alright then,” I breathed. “Any other fine print I should know about before taking this to Bruce? I know he’ll be pissy about it. Zany hijinx could ensue, that’s what usually happens when I have the perfect solution and he’s being too much of a jackass to see that my way is best.”
“You love him very much, don’t you, Selina?”
I was thrown by the abruptness of the question, but I nodded.
“Well then, take this thought with you for the dark hours to come: It is a ludicrous fiction that love conquers all, but it can, in fact, conquer quite a lot. I am Iason of the Blood, Knight of Arthur, King of the Britons, reborn into dark service in the year of Our Lord five hundred and sixty. My power is vast, and for none to arrogate but by my will and decree. My services are engaged, Selina. Tell me what you need to ease your pain in this, and it is yours.”
To be continued…