Blood stood in the Batcave, wondering what had possessed him.
They were all standing on the brink of apocalypse. Bruce and Selina were
not only his allies in trying to reverse this calamity; they were somehow
inextricably connected to it. And
he had… assaulted Bruce in the clumsiest, cruelest, most senseless
going,” Selina said coldly.
looked at her, ashamed.
long have you been awake?” he asked—although the accusation in her eyes
made the question something of a formality.
heard enough,” she said. “He almost hit me like that once. Was a vault. Cat
icons. I had made a joke that it
wasn’t really stealing, it was more like practical socialism.
He almost hit me—like he did you just now, and he stopped himself—just like with you. Thing is,
Jason, that night was the first time I truly saw the real man under that mask.
He can be hurt so easily. For
Christ’s sake, Jason, you were a knight once. You think all that armor is decorative?”
apologize,” he said sincerely.
Selina took a deep breath, and watched a cluster of bats hanging on a stalactite.
she said finally, “when he did hit you that day in the morning room, I’ve
only seen him like that twice before: The
first time was Hell Month when Nightwing was missing, the prospect of losing
someone else that he loved to a criminal… and the second time was the mindwipe, the day Superman told us what he knew, the details, about the magic
Jason smiled sadly.
“So that day in the morning room, my bringing you as the woman he loves into contact with magic…”
“Not your best move,” she agreed. Then she paused, seeming to work herself up before continuing. “Jason, maybe it’s not me at the heart of all this. Maybe it’s him. If he thought—what was the phrase you used before—if any Bruce anywhere, in any dimension, thought somebody had used magic on me…”
“Say it, Selina, you know him better than anyone. What then? What might he do?”
“What did he do the last time?” she said dully. “When crime took what he loved, he made war on it like nothing has ever been made war on. His mind and his body, his life and his fortune, all dedicated to wiping out this supremely unacceptable thing. If he thinks… If any Bruce that’s anything like ours thought Zatanna used magic against me, then I’d say cosmic force or no, it’s going down.”
“I notice you’re no longer wearing the moonstone,” Jason said cautiously. “It is a very beautiful jewel he gave you to wear in its place… Selina, if we’re correct—and I freely admit before I say more that I have absolutely no idea how we could ‘test this hypothesis,’ (to use the terminology of the laboratory that would give Bruce such satisfaction)… But if we are correct, then it’s going to be up to you to enter these alternate dimensions, find these alternate reality Bruce Waynes, and… somehow… talk them out of this ritual/experiment/what-have-you before it can begin.”
“Jason, there are roughly six hundred things wrong with that statement, but the simplest one to mention is that the study upstairs goes KREEE every 43 minutes. It’s already happening; whatever those Bruces did, it’s done. The spark is smoldering; how can I possibly talk him out of something that’s already happened?”
Jason shook his head impatiently.
“You’re thinking in terms of linear time: the past occurs before the present which occurs before the future. This is quite different. This is infinity we’re dealing with, Selina. And Infinity has nothing to do with time. Infinity is that dimension of here and now which thinking in ‘time’ cuts out. This is it, if it doesn’t exist in the here and now, it doesn’t exist. And the experience of Infinity right here and now is the function of life.”
Selina sighed wearily.
“Infinity, hmm? You know Jason, all I did was kiss a man in a mask.”
“That’s hardly all you did, Selina. You’re the only happiness he’s had in his adult life. And he is an extraordinary—and an extraordinarily dangerous—man. There is, perhaps, a more deeply profound responsibility in having made Bruce Wayne happy than there is in summoning the magical forces as Zatanna has done.”
A hard, cold look fixed itself on the tip of Jason Blood’s nose.
“Jason,” she said finally—in that charged ‘Catwoman’ voice she seldom used with him since their earliest meetings. “Before we go any further, I’d like you to go upstairs and wait for me in the kitchen for a while.”
Selina knew what had to be done. The two theories made sense: Identical magic from multiple dimensions touching the same point had stilled the strings, and Bruce himself was the instigator once he got the idea Zatanna had used magic to change her.
It made sense. It fit the facts (if crazy portents and the nightmares of a snarky demonologist could be called facts), and it fit Bruce—dear, wonderful, obsessive, crusading, cat-loving, magic-hating Bruce.
Selina knew what had to be done. She knew in her heart that the theories were right, and that meant Jason was right, too. It was up to her to go into those alternate dimensions and fix this. And that meant Bruce had to be told.
That was the “had to be done” that she knew but couldn’t quite stomach. She knew it was necessary, but the prospect of dimension hopping into the land of goggle-cats and Poison Ivy lurking on the Wayne Manor patio was a lot easier to face than walking up to Bruce and saying “Look Handsome, about this Zatanna-zoinked-the-kitty idea you’re got up your ass…”
But it had to be done. It had to. It had to.
She would just go into the study and say “Bruce, …”
She would go into the study, and Bruce would be there and she’d say… she’d say…
The study. Portrait of the Waynes above the fireplace, first edition of Crime and Punishment on the wrought iron bookstand on the table, teak and mahogany desk, silver inkwell (Schofield, circa 1790), leather blotterpad, photo of the Waynes in a silver picture frame (Storr, circa 1830), Faberge box, grandfather clock—and Bruce. “Bruce, …”
This was ridiculous. Long before he was Bruce to her, he was Batman. And she had never, NEVER in a thousand rooftops, alleys, or vaults filled with Schofield inkwells and Storr picture frames had to rehearse before talking to Batman. She’d just go marching into that study, open her mouth, and the words would come out. Meow.
She walked in the door. Bruce turned. Their eyes met—Batman’s eyes, but the guy inside Batman too, the guy from the vault that night, “I don’t look at it as stealing as much as observing practical socialism,” a slap she never would have seen coming, a gloved arm materialized at her cheek, and then those eyes… Not Batman. A real person, a man whose wants and needs always came last, a man so used to being in pain he’d forgotten there was any other way to be… “It would seem the ‘accept the relationship for what it is’ scenario isn’t entirely workable.” “No,” came the whispered reply. Then that kiss…
It had to be done. It had to be said. Bruce, about this Zatanna-zoinked-the-kitty idea you’re got…
“Ivy on the patio,” she blurted, “Remember Poison Ivy on the patio earlier? There’s a semi-interesting sequel going on in the dining room. You, with seriously too-short 1940s hair, were most definitely greened and um, it looks like me in an interesting but properly purple and ungoggled outfit—with a tail—kicking her ass.”
“I’ll note it later,” he graveled. “I want to catch this next repetition of the persistent anomaly.”
And Selina retreated into herself. Ivy in the dining room, how completely fucking irrelevant. What was wrong with her? Bruce, we need to talk about Zatanna, that’s what she was supposed to have said.
So what the hell happened? How could she freeze up like that? It was just Bruce. Cat pins Bruce. Banned from the kitchen because he tried to make a sandwich once and didn’t know the lettuce and the lunchmeat had special drawers Bruce. Bruce that watched the tape of Ra’s al Ghul on the View no fewer than sixty-three times, Bruce that wanted her to bring her pet tiger to Bludhaven as a nine hundred-pound bodyguard…
…Here we go again, Selina thought. Martian Manhunter—Superman—headlock… of course.
If he really was considering the possibility that Zatanna had changed her, then of course Bruce would want to investigate this scene more closely. Almost the full Dr. Light contingent was present… except for Flash who looked like their Flash, Wally, and not the original… and Atom didn’t seem to be involved, although you could never be sure with a guy who could shrink down that small.
Pink fin-head alien pulled the wings from Hawkman’s back…
Bruce, we need to talk about Zatanna, that’s what she needed to say.
“Bruce,” Selina began firmly. He turned, and this time Selina carefully avoided his eyes. She took a breath, opened her mouth, and said “… —Didn’t Despero’s fin used to go the other way?”
Bruce glanced back at the apparition and grunted.
“Yes, used to be front to back when the anomalies began, now it’s side to side.”
“It’s not an improvement,” Selina noted.
“-POTS! Eugael ekaw pu!” Zatanna called, freezing Despero and waking the controlled Leaguers.
Selina raised a contemptuous eyebrow—then her peripheral vision noticed that Bruce wasn’t watching Zatanna. His eyes were locked on her. She turned and met his gaze levelly, and he seemed to hesitate before speaking, just as she had done earlier.
“Zatanna hasn’t been as audible or as present since that one time when Zatara was here. It must have been the proximity of his magic that pulled her more solidly into this reality.”
Selina smiled sadly. She knew that wasn’t what he’d wanted to say any more than she wanted to talk about Despero’s fin.
“None of them are supposed to be here,” Bruce continued, returning his attention to the scene and taking notes on a small handheld device. “I presume that’s why their ability to affect this reality is so limited and unstable…”
‘The denial twins,’ Dick once called them. The phrase had never seemed quite so apt.
“…Like Azrael’s shuriken in the Turner and Hawkman with the clock, solid one moment and then, just like that, it’s as if it never happened… Canary’s cry is audible but not debilitating… The other speech comes and goes…”
“I’m going to have to be the one to fix this,” Selina said finally, ignoring the reason why and confident he would do the same.
He froze for a moment, then turned to stare directly at her. A cold silence passed between them for a few agonizing seconds, and then he finally spoke.
Almost immediately, he turned back to the half-visible Leaguers and his notes.
“Absolutely not,” he added quietly, almost as if she was gone and he was merely adding a note to his own records.
Selina took a deep breath and tried again.
“I’m going to have to be the one to fix this—” she began as if the first exchange had never occurred.
“No,” he repeated.
“—Going into as many dimensions as it takes to find the triggers and stop it,” she concluded, ignoring the interruption.
“No. Didn’t you hear me, I said no,” he repeated, turning toward her again and replacing the handheld device in his belt.
“As a matter of fact, I did hear you,” she answered sweetly, “and what a novel and unexpected surprise the kneejerk ‘no’ turned out to be—from you! ‘No, grunt, absolutely not.’ Who’d have thought it. But I wasn’t asking, Bruce, I’m—”
“Asking or not, there is no way I’m going to let you—”
“Let me?” she interrupted. “Let? Me? I thought we retired that one with the blue cape, but let’s review, shall we: You don’t ‘let’ me do anything, Stud. I’m not asking your permission or your blessing, I am telling you—”
At that moment, the image of an alternate reality Alfred entered the scene as he did every 43 minutes, and instinctively Bruce and Selina suspended the argument with his arrival. The silence held for a beat until they each realized what they had done, reacting to a mere chimera from another dimension. It held a beat longer as confusion gave way to embarrassment. After a moment, Selina resumed in calmer tones.
“I have to. If I’m the heart of it—”
“If you’re the heart of it,” Bruce cut in, calmer but just as insistent as before, “then sending you is like shoving a match into a gas can to see if it’s empty. First of all, we don’t know that going from one dimension to another is the answer. And secondly, if that is the solution, then I’ll be the one to go. I’m more experienced with dimensional travel, I’ve dealt with things like this before—”
“Bruce. Don’t. Just don’t, okay? It has to be me, you know that.”
“I know no such thing,” he growled.
“You’re supposed to be the rational one,” she pointed out with a brave attempt at a naughty grin. “You go all emotional about this and make me be the rational one, while reality is unraveling to start with, it’s all going to go completely kerfluey and it’s all your fault.”
The last four words hung in the air as the chimera of an alternate reality Batman called to the chimera of a goggled Catwoman as she turned her back on the Leaguers and left the manor in disgust.
“I have to be the one to go,” Selina repeated in the here and now.
“Jason put you up to this, didn’t he?” Bruce finally responded.
Selina laughed. Despite the strain of the circumstances, she loved the way his mind worked, and her grin became markedly less naughty and less forced at that quintessential bit of Battitude.
“We’re short on time here,” she pointed out seriously. “We needed a plan and now we have one… I have to be the one to go.”
The alternate reality Hawkman picked his severed wings off the floor and joined the procession of somber Leaguers heading for the door. At the doorway, he stopped as he never had before, and shivered…
˜˜Soon, He-Valkyrie.˜˜ the mind-voice whispered. ˜˜Thou will join me soon enough.˜˜
Then a large yellow shape stepped through Hawkman as if he were nothing more than a projection, and Etrigan stood arm in arm with Hella where the last of the Justice League had been.
Custom old and custom wise
˜˜I am beholden to you, Sister.˜˜
Hella added—the mind voice dreamier and more fulfilled than it
sounded previously. ˜˜It
was good of thee to send Etrigan’s keeper to me in the kitchen.˜˜
Bruce glared at Selina with Batman’s rooftop severity.
“You didn’t,” he graveled.
“Oh, don’t give me that,” she challenged
him. “You were ready to punch him
out; all I did was ask him to wait in the kitchen.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” a polished British voice said dryly.
Everyone turned to see… the impossible: Jason Blood standing in the doorway, glaring hatefully at Etrigan. Etrigan returned the glare with equal hate. And after a tense moment, Whiskers, Nutmeg, and a third cat nobody had ever seen before trotted blithely into the room.
Selina had followed the new cat into the drawing room, where it settled on a window seat and stared intently at the front lawn.
For as often as she called Bruce a jackass, it had been a very long time since she’d really considered him limited in his thinking. But then, it had been quite a long time since she’d been stymied by the obstinate and ridiculous tunnel vision of a crimefighter.
As far as she was concerned, there were quite enough mind-bending hypotheses already on the table to go asking for more: strings vibrating, magic changing the way strings vibrated, alternate dimension magic users going for the same string at the same time, shutting it off, and sparking off a cosmic instability that leaked some kind of alternate reality Poison Ivy into existence to sit at the head of the table in the Wayne Manor dining room with her fucking foliage crawling all over Bruce—An eight year old Bruce, who was quite simply the cutest miniature person to ever exist, running through the room playing Sherlock Holmes—the Mindwipe Repertory Theatre KREEing into the study every 43 minutes to perform their little rendition of Six Superheroes in Search of a Conscience—And now, Jason Blood and Etrigan were both in the room at the same time.
The last one didn’t seem like that a big deal to Selina, not with an AU Green Lantern out on the lawn making an energy platform to transport non-flying AU Justice Leaguers the hell off of Wayne property. But Bruce wasn’t about to proceed with anything until he got an explanation.
So they were at it again, theorizing: Because of the cosmic instability, anything that exists was now at risk of unexisting, including magic. The bond between Jason and Etrigan was woven by Merlin’s magic, and something nullified it, perhaps only for a moment, but once the bond was broken… Jason suspected the something was connected to the seeing ritual, for it was just after that when Etrigan went quiet. Bruce said Jason was obsessing on the seeing ritual. Etrigan was speculating in verse. Hella was humming to herself in the mindvoice. None of the others seemed aware of it, either because the testosterone was running that thick or, more likely, because Hella only wanted to share her post-coital contentment with “the sister.”
It was all too ridiculous as far as Selina was concerned, and she had left them to their speculating and gone off on her own to investigate the mystery cat. It was a beautiful black ASH with stunning yellow eyes. Because it had no solid form, Selina knew she couldn’t pick it up to get a better look, so she had to crawl on the floor and contort. She could see it had a collar—blue—and a nametag. TSON was all that was visible, until the cat turned sharply in response to some phantom sound from its own world that Selina could not hear. With the turn, the full name became visible, and Selina couldn’t control the sudden purr welling in her throat.
The cat’s name was Watson.
Bruce Wayne was the only mortal on any plane of existence who would lecture a demon of hell and a goddess of the underworld. But he wanted both Hella and Etrigan to understand—and to verbally confirm that they understood—what using a speakerphone meant: Lionel Leiverman would be able to hear anything said in the room. That meant he could speak, Selina could speak and Jason Blood could speak; and that was it. No rhyming verse from Etrigan, no thees and thous from Hella—and no mind voice either, even though Leiverman probably wouldn’t hear it. None of them needed that unnerving distraction on top of everything else.
Jason had retreated to the point in the cave farthest from Etrigan, which happened to be the Trophy Room. There, standing before a display case with a whip of braided purple leather, he sulked.
He had never realized the depths of Selina’s feline nature, the criminal cunning, the talent for mischief, the willful resistance to being told what to do… maybe she really was a cat. He recalled his earlier thought when Bruce put that reality before him: reference the fact that she and Batman began as enemies, fighting each other tooth and nail—or batarang and claw as the case may be, and she wouldn’t blush or blink. So much as hint at the nature of their present relationship, she’s liable to send you into the kitchen for a hellish tête-à-tête with Etrigan’s old girlfriend.
Come Jason, self-pity,
“Etrigan, the one bright spot in all this calamity is that I may at last look you in the red beady eye and hear the sound of my own voice telling you to your hideous saddlebag of a face to go fuck yourself.”
A fine thought so far as the fucking,
“Tucking? That’s pitiful,” he said, turned, and joined Bruce, Selina and Hella in the main cave chamber.
..::Certainly alternate dimensions exist,::.. Dr. Leiverman squawked over the speakerphone. ..::They must. For the strings to move in all the ways they would need to in order to make up all the different things we know exist, they must be able to pass through our three physical dimensions (X Y and Z), a temporal one (T), and, at minimum, eleven others. We can’t perceive these dimensions because of our point of view—much like, if you were standing across the street looking at a cable strung between two telephone poles, it would look two-dimensional. But if you were much closer, a gnat walking along its surface, then that third dimension which was invisible to you as a human across the street would not only be visible, it would seem impossibly vast. By the same token, if you were just a little larger, an ant perhaps or a spider, you would perceive that the cable is not a single wire but a cluster of wires, dozens—each with their own length, width, and height—all coiled into it.::..
“Fascinating, I’m sure, Doctor,” Jason drawled. “But it doesn’t shed any light on how one could, theoretically, travel into one of these dimensions and return safely to ours.”
There was a long pause. Then…
..::That is Mr. Blood speaking, yes?::..
“Yes,” Jason confirmed. “Forgive me, Doctor; I am an old-fashioned sort. I am not entirely familiar with the conventions of ‘conference calls.’”
..::Oh no, it’s not that. I just—Mr. Wayne is still there also, yes?::..
“Yes,” Bruce confirmed.
..::Well it’s just that—what little I
saw of you two gentlemen, you’re not going to like the answer to that
question… We’ve discussed this
a great deal in the think tanks, because transporting a human being into one of
those dimensions is the only way we can ever hope to prove the validity of
string theory. We’ve talked
and fought and theorized and wept over the question.
The way to do it is a kind of marriage between science and magic.::..
“WHAT?” Bruce and Jason asked in unison.
“Good night, sweet prince,” Selina said under her breath.
Etrigan slapped his thigh and pointed tauntingly at Jason.
..::You see, the sub-atomic can cross dimensions very easily. It’s possible to entangle two quantum particles so that they are connected regardless of distance. Kind of like twins: if one breaks an arm in Boston and the other feels it in L.A. If you built two walkie-talkies embedded with entangled particles, gave one to that Flash fellow and had him run with it until he approached the speed of light where time dilates, keep going for a while so when he stops, one walkie-talkie is older than the other. It would exist in a different temporal reality. In theory, you could talk on one an hour in the future and hear it on the other in the present.::..
“Science and magic,” Bruce said, as if he hadn’t heard a word spoken after that horrifying concept was suggested.
“Magic and science,” Jason repeated, just as stupefied.
..::But science can’t build a person out of entangled particles,::.. Dr. Leiverman continued, happily oblivious to the revulsion his words had provoked. ..::These rules, in our reality, apply only to quantum particles. If there were some way that magic could be used to ‘change the rulebook,’ as it were, to allow for something as large as a human being to ‘dimension hop’ like a quantum particle.::..
˜˜Nothing could be easier,˜˜ Hella
interjected mentally. ˜˜With
Etrigan and his cage, Iason-the-mortal-who-will-not-die, we are three.
With three, the magick this mortal fool thinks is so unattainable is as
simple as ρεяαģŏ ΣΨθζ. ˜˜
“Doctor, we’ll have to call you back,” Bruce announced testily. He severed the line with a fierce punch at the keypad and wheeled on Hella. “What did I say about that?” he demanded.
Hella drew herself up regally, glared at him
like a goddess, pointed to the floor of the cave, and declared, “Įŋŧęr
mvŋdį, Įŋŧęr vicŧį, abęǿ iųvęŋŧųs.
vęŋįǿ mųŋđųs ałįųs.
Įŋŧęr mųŋđį ałįį.”
The stone floor puckered at a small point about 4 inches across. The shades of bluish gray, black, and white began to separate. Then the solidity gave way, and what was once rock hard mineral seemed to ooze like thick liquid. The patches of color began to turn like a whirlpool, which gradually grew in size until it formed an eddy two feet wide.
Bruce bristled as he stared at the whirlpool in the middle of his floor. Typical magic user, he thought with a grunt. A possibility presents itself and they jump in with both feet. No planning, no preparation, no analysis. No thought to potential repercussions. Not a moment’s reflection that with the manor apparently at the center of the cosmic instability, perhaps opening a magic portal directly underneath it wasn’t the best course of action. But it was too late to discuss that now, because one of them had taken it upon herself to snap her fingers and start warping reality.
“Etrigan,” Hella said simply, ignoring the waves of disapproval coming from Bruce. “Even among demons, thou art considered powerful.”
Etrigan raised an eyebrow, turned to Bruce, and shrugged. Then he stood over the vortex, hands on his hips like he had no idea what to make of it. He seemed to think a moment, then pronounced:
Gone, Gone, the Lady Meow
He turned his back on the vortex, offered another feeble shrug, and returned to his seat next to Hella.
Jason looked at Selina.
“Are you sure?” he asked soberly.
“Of course not,” she said. “But what choice do we have?”
“Very well,” he said quietly. “Then my… ‘contribution’ to this magical eddy the others created will take the form of an Egyptian prayer from the ancient cult of Bast. May the goddess stand between you and harm in all the dark places where you must walk… Bruce, if you set up the Justice League transporter over this vortex, set it to transport not to the Watchtower but back into the cave itself, I believe it will accomplish… what we need it to.”
“You’re sure about this?” Batman said while Catwoman pulled her hair through the back of the cat-cowl.
“The answer to that has not changed since the first, second, or third time Jason asked, the time Hella asked me, or the dozen or so times you’ve asked: No, I’m not sure. Who could be ‘sure’ about doing something like this? But what choice is there? It’s the only idea we’ve got, and we don’t know how much time we have left to waste it hoping we’ll think of something better.”
“I’m still not convinced that you’re the one who should be doing this.”
“I know,” Selina responded flatly. “But you have to admit that logically it makes the most sense.”
He paused, staring directly into her eyes. “I don’t like it,” he noted.
“Neither do I,” she said. “Much as I normally delight in doing things you don’t like…”
“Is that lump under your glove the moonstone?” he asked.
“No, it’s the sapphire.”
“Time to go then.”
She nodded, stretched up as she had on a hundred rooftops, and kissed him tenderly. Then she stepped quickly into the transporter. As soon as she stepped through the threshold, the air seemed different, the charged tickle of ozone mixed with a woody smoky scent, sweet citrus, and burnt sap.
“What’s that smell?” she asked before Batman had time reach the controls.
“Look down,” Batman said, his voice thick with disgust. “Jason made another run to his apartment for those while you were getting into costume.”
On the floor, Selina saw three small oil-burners, each consisting of three cats supporting a dish of scented oil heating over a burning tea light. One trio of cats was white, one black, and one gold.
“If we make it through this,” Catwoman noted in her usual tone of flirtatious amusement, “I’ll have to have a looong talk with that man.”
Batman’s lip twitched.
“We’ll make it,” he said flatly. “And I’ll hold you to that. Those cats are your ‘quantum connection’ to this dimension. They shouldn’t be visible to anyone else in the worlds you cross into, but they’ll be visible to you. Step back into the center, and I’ll be able to pull you back.”
“Okay then,” she nodded, and then waited. When nothing happened she said, “No Casablanca shit, okay, just do it.”
There was a sudden whoosh and a whirl of lights, intense white, bright pinks and yellows seemed to suck Batman and the cave into its center, then there was just the vortex of colors, yellows gave way to greens and blues and finally purples. Then the eye of the vortex opened and another cave was visible. It expanded quickly outward and in a heartbeat, the last of the colors had dissipated.
“Okay,” Catwoman said softly. The first thing she noticed was cavechill—her catsuit was—eek—quite abbreviated. A halter—a very deeply cut halter—and backless. The mask was still in place, the boots still clung above her knee but her clawed gloves were gone. Her stomach lurched as she looked at her hand and saw the sapphire ring was missing as well and—and—instead, on both wrists, she wore these thick, diamond-studded cuffs.
“Nutmeg, I don’t think we’re in Gotham anymore,” she whispered.
“Fun. New noise,” she noted looking towards the sound—and jumped! In the spot where Bruce’s favorite stalactite used to be, a stalagmite rose from the floor. Sitting on top of it was a large, brown, fat, flat-headed, yellow-eyed and not especially friendly-looking owl.
To be continued…