Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

Villainy on Vacation


by Michael Rees

The party was in full swing, the champagne flowed and the crowded danced to the sound of the jazz band that competed with the sound of laughter and idle conversation. Through the thick window the lights of the city could be seen, like jewels set on black cloth, stretching out to the peninsula where the sea beat against the shore. Everyone had assembled to celebrate, except for one.

"You don't look like you're having a good time Bruce," Markus commented, sipping from his glass of champagne, the sleeve of his jacket slipping back to reveal thick gold band of his watch. "You're not regretting accepting my invitation?"

Bruce Wayne realized that he had let his socialite mask slip, revealing the Bat beneath. He replaced his scowl with a giddy smile and turned from his observation of one of the red coated waiters.

" Just regretting I didn't accept your offer to buy stocks in this place," Bruce raised his glass to his mouth pretending to drink.

Markus ran a hand down the front of his black tuxedo and glanced up at the bright lights in the high blue ceiling; "Well we were hoping to be the biggest building complex in America, stealing the title from your very own Gotham Towers. Any hope of that was lost when Metropolis leapt several hundred years forward in development. Still, this is the biggest building built by man and not transformed by a villain from the future."

Bruce regarded Markus, forming a personality profile. He was a boastful man trying to make up for the shortcomings of his physical obesity, which he hid under expensive clothes and tried to draw attention away from with his billowing beard.

Just the type of man to organize the construction of Prosperity, a small town within the shell of an apartment building. A striking feat of engineering, piercing the skyline of Charleston.

" Very true Markus. I understand all the apartment owners have moved in and that all the shops are ready to open their doors tomorrow," Bruce was trying to distract Markus and get him to talk about his obsession so he could return to the task of watching the waiter, the true reason why he was here.

" Yes, this party is to celebrate the official opening of Prosperity. Our apartment owners need never leave the building; all their needs will be catered for. Even our very own school," Markus chortled, the bristles of his beard rustling against his white shirt. "I understand the school was the only complaint that the children had. Why spoil paradise with knowledge?"

If he found the metaphor amusing, Wayne didn't show it, his vigilance having paid off. The waiter he had been watching was born Alexander Twin but had soon garnered the name "Sticky," as valuable items always seemed to stick to his hands. He also was a regular member of Two Face's gang until he left Gotham in the wake of the recent earthquake. With Two Face on vacation it was a good bet he'd be looking for people he knew and could rely on.

However, Alexander had lived up to his nickname and Bruce had seen him pocket a number of jewels, watches and wallets from the guests. He was now heading for the door to the stairwell, planning to slip away while everyone was distracted. Unfortunately for him he was going to bump into an old friend from Gotham before that happened.

"Pardon me Markus, I need to make my excuses for a moment," Bruce set down his glass on a nearby table before whispering. "You wouldn't happen to have a bathroom in this building, would you?"

A smile caused Markus's moustache to arch upward. "First door on your left, Bruce. Never could handle your drink could you?"

Smirking, Bruce patted Markus on the arm and headed towards the stairwell. With each step he took he mentally stripped away the personality of Bruce Wayne, playboy, revealing Batman, the Dark Knight.

Tensions were high in the boarding room, lap tops in front of everyone there. Sarah sighed as she ran her own computer through the simulation again. The doors raised in loading bay 23 and a red light flashed in apartment blocks 45 to 58.

" I don't see why this is such a big problem," said Ernest at last, his voice grating against Sarah's already stretched nerves.

" Are you the only one who doesn't understand what is going on here?" Sarah spun the computer around savagely towards the bald man, a finger stabbing at the red light on the display. "Whenever the loading bay door opens these apartments lose fifty percent power."

" I am with Ernest on this one," Wesley said, chewing on the end of his pen. "A loss of fifty percent power will only result in the lights dimming or the heating switching off, and loading bay 23 will only be used late at night and early in the morning. No one will notice."

" We could always claim ignorance, nothing in the original plans showed that kind of problem. They can't blame us if one of the workers wired one of the systems wrong," Margaret explained, trying to seek a peaceful agreement, as she always did.

Sarah shook her head in disbelief. "We are the designers, we were paid to oversee the implementation of our plans. Catching these problems was part of our job."

" So we caught it, we'll just send a technical crew in and fix it. You don't need to tell Markus to close the building down, not after everyone's moved in." Ernest placed a hand on his shirt pocket looking for his packet of cigarettes he habitually kept there and then remembered that Sarah had declared the offices a non-smoking area.

" It does seem a lot of trouble for something so minor," Margaret tried to place her hand on Sarah's but the younger woman swatted it away.

" This is just a problem which we know about. What other mistakes might have been made? What if the hospital loses power or the fire suppression system doesn't come on line when it's supposed to?" Sarah glared at Wesley, who was still chewing on his pen. "This is your fault Wesley. You were supposed to coordinate with the construction manager, make sure he was following our plans."

Wesley threw the pen down and it skidded across the dark wood of the table. "I did, but that guy had a bad attitude. He didn't like being told what to do, and I wasn't going to spend my time arguing with him over every decision. In the end I just let them get on with it."

" Oh dear," Margaret said quietly to herself.

" So you didn't ensure they followed the plan to the letter? Damn! I wish I had a cigarette." Ernest snatched up the pen and started twiddling it between his fingers.

" You said you could handle the responsibility Wesley. You've let us all down." Sarah glared at the young man, the youngest of all those assembled.

Wesley leapt up from his chair and walked towards the door. "Look, as long as he was generally following the plan I didn't think it would matter that he wasn't following it specifically. I'm going to the party where people are a bit more relaxed."

" Sit down Wesley, we've got to figure out what we're going to do! We'll have to review every system in the building." Sarah snapped.

Ignoring her, Wesley pulled on the handle of the door but to his surprise it remained shut. He pulled again but it refused to budge an inch. With a grunt of annoyance he slammed his fist against the door causing it to shudder.

" Another problem?" Margaret ventured.

" The door won't open," Wesley frowned at the security panel on the wall near the door frame. "Someone's locked it."

Alexander tried to break free of the tight grip on his waiter's uniform and failed, hitting the stairwell wall with great force. Batman glared at him with his blank white eyes, his jaw set and determined.

" I swear I don't know anything!" Alexander protested. "Two Face hasn't contacted me at all. I've gone straight since I left Gotham, I haven't broken the law for ages!"

Batman shook the pick-pocket, causing a collection of rings, watches and car keys to cascade out from his jacket. They hit the ground and bounced down the steps. Alexander managed to look apologetic, giving a slight shrug. With little effort Batman threw Alexander down the stairs.

After hitting the corner wall, Alexander desperately struggled to his feet, trying to pull himself up using the guard rail on the stairs. Looking up, he saw Batman calmly descending towards him, his long cloak flowing behind him, a sight Alexander had thought he had left behind in Gotham. Reasoning with him would not work; there was no way he'd convince the vigilante that he really didn't know anything about Two Face.

Quickly Alexander leapt on to the guard rail, looking down he saw the stairs spiral down and down into darkness in ever decreasing rectangles. Taking a deep breath he jumped, eyes closed, arms and legs flaying, reaching for something to grab hold of. A sharp pain in his hand told him he reached his goal and he tightened his grip.

Batman leaned over the rail and saw the small-time hood dangling two floors down. Lacking the fear that Alexander had, Batman leapt, using his cloak to control and slow his descent. As Alexander pulled himself up, Batman put out a hand to catch the criminal. With his other hand, he got ready to grab hold of the rail.

It was at that moment the lights in the stair well turned off. Disoriented by being plunged into inky blackness, Alexander lost his grip and started to plummet just as Batman grabbed hold of the cuff of his jacket, dragging the two of them downwards.

Ignoring the hectic pace of his heart as air whooshed around him, buffeted his cloak into his face, and entangled his limbs Batman summoned his memory of the stair well, using that for reference in place of his eyes.

Thrusting his gloved hands out he felt the rail rush up to meet his outstretched palms. He was going too fast to grab hold, so he pushed off, tumbling backwards, drawing his legs in. At the right moment he extended his legs, his feet landing on the narrow surface of the rail. Again he pushed forward, dissipating the momentum he was gathering which, if he had waited a moment later, would have shattered his legs.

The plan worked and he landed on the stairs, his body falling against the wall. Far below there was a sickening thud as Alexander finally stopped falling. So much for that lead.

Digging into his utility belt Batman retrieved his pencil torchlight, the narrow beam illuminating the confines of the stair well. Turning the beam upward Batman estimated he had fallen ten floors.

Immediately his mind started to work, questions jostling for attention. Why had the lights suddenly gone out? Had it been a power failure or was this something Markus had planned?

The Dark Knight couldn't hear the rumble of a generator, but he also couldn't hear cries of panic. In fact there was no sound at all, which was odd as the sound of the party should still be within earshot.

Thinking back, the last time he had heard the laughter and music emanating from the party had been just before the lights went out. Both had vanished at the same time.

Preparing for the worst, Batman moved back towards the party.

Ernest and Wesley strained at the door trying to get it to move, but it appeared as if the construction crew had at least followed their plans on security. Margaret wrung her hands while Sarah frantically search through the computer simulation on her laptop to see if she could find an explanation for the problem.

" Have you tried entering the security code?" Margaret craned her neck to see if the men had made any progress.

" Of course. It's not working." Wesley snapped back.

" This isn't a technical problem," Sarah said looking up from the computer. "There's a whole level of security protocols above the one we set up."

Ernest dabbed a handkerchief against his forehead. "How is that possible? We programmed the system, you can't get higher than us!"

" I am just telling you what I've found. It's only by luck that I discovered it at all," Sarah scrolled through the information trying to find a clue to who was responsible for this unusual turn of events.

Everyone jumped as the laptop Sarah was working on emitted a loud bleep and the screen turned black. One by one the other computers followed suit. The designers looked at each other in confusion.

" Now what?" Wesley said as the lights flickered.

Simultaneously thin white letters appeared on each of the lap top screens until all the computers read " Scripture."

Batman absorbed every detail in the room and placed them in the part of the brain he had trained to be an organic crime lab. His first fear had been dispelled straight away, there were no dead bodies, no blood spilt.

The light provided by the moon hanging in the cloudless night sky showed that the room was completely absent of people. Glasses of spilt champagne lay on the floor among broken plates and dropped party foods. The jazz band's instruments were in a pile on the small stage.

' No sign of a struggle' Batman thought. 'The spacing of the plates and glasses are consistent with the location of the guests. Either these people all dropped whatever they were holding and just left, or they vanished in an instant.'

Looking out of the window, Batman saw that the lights were still on in Charleston. The blackout was confined to the building. He ran a gloved hand over the glass, realizing the thickness would make cutting his way through difficult, if not impossible. For the moment he was trapped within the building.

Looking up Batman saw that the previously blue ceiling was covered with black soot. Shining the pencil torch over the area it soon became clear the soot covered the whole ceiling.

' A fire? That would certainly cause everyone to drop what they were holding and possibly knock the power out.' Batman turned the torch on the floor, looking for any sign of ash.

After an exhaustive search, Batman could not find anything which backed up his fire theory. Not a single item showed any sign of burning, and since the function room had been designated a no-smoking area, there weren't any cigarettes or cigars that might have started one.

A bell ringing caused the Dark Knight to spin round quickly, the light from his torch dancing across the room and casting shadows on the walls. The noise had come from behind the double doors of the function room that lead to the corridors; the bell must have come from one of the elevators.

Gently, Batman pushed open the double doors, making sure he didn't step on anything that might alert a possible enemy to his presence. Switching off his pencil torch he entered the corridor with its long lines of elevators. He could hear a carriage rattling up one of the shafts; a bell tolling for every floor it passed.

A sense of anticipation gathered in Batman's chest, years of experience allowed him to use the rush of adrenaline to increase his senses and strength instead of feeling unproductive fear.

Finally, he came to the elevator which was in use. The tiny light at the top illustrated the carriage's rapid ascent. From behind the metal doors, he could hear the elevator cable straining under the weight.

Reaching its destination, the elevator started to open. Batman had tried to prepare himself for any thing but somehow the scaly, gray-skinned, creature that leapt out still surprised him.

Things had gone from bad to worse in the board room. It had not taken long for them all to realize that the cooling systems had been shut off, and the powerful lights in the ceiling were slowly increasing the heat to almost unbearable levels. Ernest seemed to be suffering the worst, turning red in the face and sweating profusely.

Wesley's mobile phone lay twisted and broken in the corner. Any hope of calling for help had been shattered as soon as the phone was turned on and a ghostly voice had whispered " Scripture" over and over again until in frustration Wesley had thrown it at the wall.

Margaret was holding her small silver cross to her chest, saying prayers under her breath, while rocking back and fore. She had never been in this kind of situation, never faced any real adversity, but it had always been her nightmare that she would.

In desperation, Sarah had taken the back off one of the laptops, exposing its circuitry. Using the small tool kit she kept in her handbag, she attempted to reset the computer, ridding it of whatever virus had frozen the system and displayed the cryptic message.

" I think I hear movement," Wesley gasped.

The young developer had been resting with his back against the door, but now he twisted round and placed his ear against its surface. The others could hear something as well now, footsteps pounding on the ground, getting closer. They dashed forward, joining Wesley against the door.

Concentrating, they could just make out about five pairs of footsteps slowly shuffling down the corridor. Who ever they were, they were grunting as they moved, almost in a bestial manner.

" Who do you think they are?" Ernest took his ear away from the door and turned to the others.

" Security guards?" Wesley pressed his ear closer to the door so he could hear better. "Do you hear a baby? I think I can hear a baby."

Margaret shook her head. "It can't be an infant, its talking."

Among the grunting and the shuffling of feet, they could all hear a quiet, high-pitched voice. It seemed to be pleading with someone to let it go. It was unnerving to hear a voice that by all rights belong to a small child speak with the clarity and maturity of an adult.

" Free me." squeaked the voice. "He's not me, I am. Do as I say!"

The people in the corridor were outside the door now. Ernest licked his lips and started pounding on the door with his fists, surprising and startling those that still had their ears against it.

" Help! We're trapped in here!" Ernest continued pounding, his eyes bulging as he yelled at the top of his rasping voice.

One of the footsteps stopped outside the door and they could hear the person sniffing inquisitively and a light scratching at the door. Ernest stopped his pounding on the door, stepping back slightly. Those were not the sounds a security guard makes. A moment later something threw itself at the door, causing it to shudder powerfully.

Margaret shrieked and instantly covered her mouth while Sarah dropped the screw driver she had been holding. Wesley and Ernest braced themselves, trying to prepare themselves for another assault on the door. It was ironic that for the last hour they had been hoping that the door would open and now they prayed it would stay shut.

Batman tried to get a fix on his opponent, trying to anticipate its next move. His eyes searched the dark corridor, lit only by what few beams of moonlight could enter from the nearby offices that lined this corridor. Fighting in the dark usually wasn't a problem as he had fitted night vision lenses in his cowl but the creature's initial assault had damaged them.

There was a subtle shift in one of the shadows, twisting from a dark black to a dark gray. It was all the warning that Batman had before the creature launched itself towards him. Luckily it was all he needed.

With expert timing, Batman grabbed the wrists of his assailant, ignoring their spongy texture, which he could feel through his gloves, and fell back, placing his foot on the gray creature's chest, swinging the monster into the wall of the corridor.

Batman leapt to his feet as the creature tried to regain its senses. Its caricature of a human face snarled, causing its dark gray skin to crack and flake off, a gruesome slime dripping from its mouth and coating its chin. Its eyes, if it had any, were hidden in the shadows of its protruding brow.

Proving yet again how agile it was, the creature thrust its elbows into the corridor's carpeted floor, sprang into the air, twisting around so it landed on its feet, claws outstretched. A gloved fist impacted on its long nose, shattering it with a crack.

Keeping up the assault, Batman rained punches on the creature's head, preventing it from getting a fix on his location and landing a blow with its sharp talons. The creature growled and snarled in anger but they were wasted on Batman, nothing would distract him from his job. With a finally thunderous blow the creature's head snapped back, and it fell to the ground in a heap, unconscious.

'What is going on here?' Batman said, stepping closer to the still beast. 'I've never encountered a creature like this before. I'd say it was responsible for everyone's disappearance, but it displayed little intelligence and there was no sign of an attack.'

Shuffling from further down the corridor alerted Batman to more of the creatures. He could see their misshapen shadows slip across the wall as they approached the corner. Unwilling to waste more time battling unknown odds, Batman pushed through a door marked 'Emergency Exit'.

The four developers sat crowded together in the far corner of the room, as far from the door as they could manage. Their breathing was fast and ragged, they held on to each other for comfort and protection.

Several more assaults on the door had followed the first, but now things were quiet. After the assault there had been a disturbance, filled with grunting and yelling, ending in a gut wrenching shriek. Then four pairs of footsteps had shuffled into the distance.

" I think they're gone," Sarah said.

" Good, I'm not sure they were human," Ernest said breathlessly.

" Did you ever see a horror film and feel that sense of foreboding, that you know something terrible is going to happen, and that you're powerless to stop it?" Wesley asked, staring at the door. "Watching the characters and knowing only one of them is going to survive? You don't know how they'll die, but you know they will."

Margaret shuddered. "I never did like horror movies."

" This is ridiculous," Sarah got to her feet. "Let's be realistic. We're just getting crazy because we're trapped in here and it's hot. There are no monsters, and we're perfectly safe."

It was at that point a bat shaped blade pushed its way through the edge of the door wedging it open. Sarah yelped in surprise and jumped back to join the others as a man in a bat costume pushed the door open.

" Who are you?" Margaret shrieked hiding her head behind Ernest's shoulder.

" I'm Batman." The stranger scanned the room and noted the intense heat waving over him. "Who are you?"

" We're the developers, we've been trapped here for hours." Sarah explained " This is Wesley Bronit, Ernest Wilder, Margaret Pinter and I am Sarah Colton."

" Batman? I thought that was an urban legend," Wesley felt that if it was Batman, he really should be taller and more muscular. "Something to bring tourists to Gotham."

" What does it matter if he's really Batman or not, he got us out of here." Ernest stood up and extended his hand for the Dark Knight to shake.

Batman ignored the open hand and tucked away his batarang. "So you don't know what is going on?"

" We've been trapped in here. What's happening out there?" With the door open Margaret could hear the sound of destruction in the distance, glass being shattered, heavy weights falling and excited shouts.

" Everyone has vanished and the lights seem to be off in most areas. You're the first humans I've seen since this started. There are gray skinned creatures with a very bad temperament patrolling the corridors. There's a large concentration of them two floors down from here. They seem to be guarding something."

" The nursery," Ernest tapped his foot and looked down at the floor, imagining what they could be doing down there. "We heard a child earlier. Maybe they're collecting children for some reason."

" How did you find us?" Sarah asked. Prosperity was a large building and the chances of someone stumbling across them by chance were remote.

Batman pointed at the bright lights. "I saw the light coming from under the door. I also heard your voices."

" Yeech!" Wesley pulled a disgusted face as he noticed the mess in the corridor behind Batman, a gray skinned man lay splayed on the carpet, its innards in a pile beside it. "Is that one of the creatures you were talking about? Did you kill it?"

" No, it was dead when I got here. From the look of the wounds I'd say it was torn apart by its own kind," Batman noticed something glinting under the gray skin on the creatures wrist and bent down to get a closer look.

The others peered over Batman's shoulder as he tore at the skin revealing a smooth gold band.

" It's a gold watch, the same kind that Markus was wearing. So that's what happened to all the people! They've been physically changed and probably mentally as well." Batman rubbed his chin, adding this clue to the jigsaw in his mind.

" Is that why he attacked the door?" Sarah could see now that apart for the loss of weight and beard, the face did seem to belong to Markus. "Was he going to kill us?"

" I don't think so. If that had been the case the other creatures would have tried to break in. The fact that they killed him for his actions indicates he wasn't supposed to go anywhere near you. You've been kept isolated in the only room I've come across that has power. That can't be a coincidence." Batman stood up, not allowing himself to mourn for the loss of an associate.

" Like we're a control group," Wesley looked at the others to see if they agreed. "When you keep one group isolated to contrast the effects of an experiment."

" What's that on his forehead?" Ernest pointed to three bumps on Markus's forehead, forming the points of a triangle.

Batman ran his finger over the bumps, the skin flaking away to reveal copper metal lumps which seemed to puncture the skull, one of them wobbled at his touch. "Some kind of mind controlling device? One of them is loose, maybe that's why he broke his programming."

At the end of the corridor the elevator bell rang, indicating a carriage was approaching. Already the animalistic grunts and howls could be heard, rising from one floor to the next.

" We better go." Batman pulled the developers out of the room one by one and pushed them towards the stairs he had come up earlier. Terrified, they didn't argue.

The shopping court was filled with billowing smoke that curled away from the pile of burning books. The gray skinned creatures smashed the shop windows, searching for more fuel for the fire.

On raised platforms constructed from tables and crates stood men and woman in purple and green robes. Their skin was a pale gray; large metal circles embedded on their foreheads.

" Obey scripture, my brethren," they shouted raising their arms in the air. "All other knowledge is sacrilege. Follow the laws set out in the holy text of our master. Order is all, chaos is nothing. Too long have the human race corrupted the Earth with its insane search for forbidden knowledge. We will correct the balance, our new race will rule supreme. Follow scripture!"

A triumphant shouting spread throughout the crowd of simple minded gray creatures as they threw more books into the fire. The flames lit up the huge room, creating shadows which stretched all the way up to the roof high above them. Silently, and with no judgement, the moon observed the proceedings from its perch in the night sky above the sky light.

" So that's what scripture meant," Wesley whispered peering over the balcony on the twentieth floor.

" Do you recognize the people in the robes?" Batman brought out a pair of binoculars from his utility belt and passed them to Sarah so she could get a better look.

" They're the senior staff of the construction workers. No wonder they changed our plans, they must be behind this." Sarah passed the binoculars back to Batman.

" I said the guy had an attitude." Wesley said smugly.

" I think they're following someone else," Batman restored the binoculars to their place in the utility belt pouch.

" What do we do now?" Margaret didn't like this one bit - there were hundreds of the gray monsters here.

" If we can get the lights back on, the monsters won't have so much of an advantage. I also want to find out what they're guarding in the nursery." Something deep inside Batman told him that this was not going to be as easy as turning on the lights to dispel the bogeyman, but it would do for now.

" There's a control center in the basement. It's the heart of the whole building, we should…" Ernest stopped talking as a thick liquid dropped on to his hand.

Everyone looked up to see a spindly gray monster hanging from the ceiling above them, a big grin on its face revealing jagged, yellow teeth. While everyone stood frozen in surprise Batman dashed forward to push Ernest out of the way,but it was to late, the creature had dropped onto Ernest and was busy biting and slashing at him.

Everything seemed to slow down for Sarah, every moment took an agonizingly long time. With a savage punch Batman knocked the creature back, but as it staggered, it swiped widely with its sharp claws while Margaret screamed hysterically and Wesley stumbled away. Ernest's face showed a mixture of pain and confusion as his neck was split open and a torrent of blood flew through the air like rubies. As Batman delivered a devastating blow to the monster, rendering it unconscious, he turned just in time to see Ernest fall against the barricade, clutching his ruined throat. For a moment everyone was still. Then Ernest fell over the barricade, and kept falling until he hit the floor of open area of the shopping hall.

" Non-believers!" Yelled the robed workers pointing at the developers and Batman. "Kill them!"

All at once the creatures dropped whatever they were holding, and leapt up to the balconies, their sharp claws aiding their climb. A wave of gray skin advanced towards the humans.

" This way." Batman pointed them towards an open elevator, an inviting sanctuary.

Margaret and Batman ran but Sarah realized one of them was missing. She turned and saw Wesley running frantically in the other direction. He was pale and shaking, barley moving in a straight line.

" Wesley! This way!" Sarah yelled shouting over the inhuman noises coming from the monsters.

Sarah saw him look back for a moment, but then her view was blocked by hundreds of the monsters clambering over the barricade and on to the balcony. With little other choice, she ran for the elevator.

Margaret was frantically hitting the down button, vainly hoping to get the doors to close faster. Batman held out his gloved hand, reaching for Sarah. As soon as she was close enough he pulled her in, even as the doors closed. They slammed shut and rattled as the monsters ran into them.

As they descended into the bowels of the building they could hear Wesley screaming in pain. At the noise Margaret broke down in tears and buried her face in Sarah's chest. Taken aback, Sarah cradled the smaller woman's head. Batman just stared at the two women, a grim look on his face.

The control center had been state of the art, designed to control every function of the building. Sarah had been particularly pleased with how it had turned out, a wall of monitors encircling a collection of control panels. With a plush blue carpet and black walls it had been everything she had hoped for.

Now, all but a few of the monitors were shattered or filled with snow, and they were burnt or covered with strange lumps of metal that seemed to throb with a life of their own. The wires hung from the ceilings, pushed aside by metal tubes that ran haphazardly everywhere. The control room staff lay dead at their terminals, punctured by metal shrapnel.

" It's like these new parts just burst out of nowhere killing these poor people." Margaret wrung her hands.

"They were hidden." Batman ran his hand over a niche in the wall, exactly the shape of the pipe that now ran across the room.

" My God, where did these come from?" Sarah pointed to a flickering image on one of the intact monitors.

A vast room was filled with transparent tubes, inside resided sleeping gray skinned monsters. Small spider-like robots crawled across the surface, occasionally slipping inside the tube via an access point.

" It's like an army," said Margaret shaking her head in despair. "There must be thousands of them."

" The rest of the residents," Batman studied the monitor image closely. "What was this room?"

" It looks like the farm area. We had planned to grow genetically modified food there, so we really could be totally self-sufficient." Sarah saw one of the spider robots inject one of the gray skinned creatures causing its muscles to bulge and grow.

" Where's the computer?" Batman walked over to the terminals and examined the flickering displays.

" This one." Sarah pointed to a large monitor just below an arch in the pipe, strangely it seemed to have been unaffected by the carnage around it.

Batman reached for the terminal but there was a flash of red light and he jerked his hand back, letting out a hiss of pain. He tried again with the same result. There was a field of energy protecting that terminal.

" Why is it doing that?" Margaret looked with concern at Batman's smoking hands, the tips of his gloves melted slightly.

" Because he's in there." Batman glared at the computer.

" Who?" Sarah asked.

" Brainiac." Batman replied simply.

The computer glowed and a humming could be heard throughout the room. A burst of static revealed the location of a number of loud speakers, springing to life.

" You are as I remember you, Batman," came an emotionless voice that seemed to come from all around them at once. "It will do you little good, I am the building now and you are trapped inside me."

" I knew I recognized the three metal circles on everyone's forehead. Is this your way of following up your work in Metropolis?"

" Brainiac? Who, in all that's good and holy, is that?" Margaret asked Sarah quietly.

" I think he was an alien who put his mind in a computer. A version of him from the future calling itself Brainiac 13 tried to advance all technology around the world on the millennium, with the help of its younger self. Superman managed to stop them, but they escaped." Sarah explained and then added. "I know, I find it confusing as well."

" So who am I speaking to? The original or the upgrade?" Batman folded his arms and focused on the computer, watching the lights rise and fall.

" The superior model. I am Brainiac 13. I managed to escape Metropolis but the infernal Son of Krypton left me without a corporeal body. That will soon change, and then my army will sweep out and impose this model of efficiency on the whole world."

" Do you plan on teleporting everyone into those tubes and changing them into monsters?" Batman was stalling for time while he worked out a plan.

" No, while teleporters can be built with 21st century components, they are unreliable and have a tendency to burn out."

" The damage to the ceilings, I thought as much." Batman ticked that off his list of unanswered questions.

" The humans will be rounded up and placed in conversion chambers. All knowledge will be eliminated; no one will be able to stand against my advanced technology. All shall follow my scripture, the future is mine," emotion was creeping into Brainiac 13's voice, mad glee dripped from every word. "You shall be the next to be converted."

On the monitor the transparent tubes were opening, freeing the gray monsters. Arousing themselves from their deep sleep, they advanced on the large doors of the farming area.

" We're doomed." Margaret fell to the floor cradling her head.

" Not yet." Batman had a plan.

The door to the control center burst open under the combined might of the monsters, their claws easily cutting through the wood. A bright flash startled the first five creatures though and they covered their eyes as choking white smoke covered them. Within seconds they hit the ground, breathing shallowly.

More of the monsters pushed forward as more flash pelts were thrown at them. Every time one fell, another took its place until no more pelts were thrown.

Tiny, razor sharp, black bat blades spiraled through the air and dug themselves deep into gray skin causing howls of pain. As the monsters clutched their wounds they were knocked out of the way by their unhurt brethren.

Eventually they filled the room and fell on the two scared women they found, causing the women to drop the weapons which Batman had left them. Drooling with anticipation, one of the monsters raised its hand ready to slash Margaret.

" Wait!" Boomed Brainiac 13's voice. "Where is Batman?"

An explosion in another part of the building answered the villain's question.

The loud noise awoke Brainiac. With some effort he pushed himself up from the soft cot with the frail stumpy pink limbs with which he had found himself trapped. With his tiny palms he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Glancing to his side, he saw that the green Kryptonian battle armor was still there, the Lexcorp logo emblazoned on its chest and wires leading from the head up into the ceiling. So the noise had not come from that.

Slowly turning, so as to prevent himself from tumbling over into the soft bedding of the cot, he saw the doors to the nursery had been blown off. Walking over a pile of unconscious gray skinned drones was Batman, smoke flowing around him.

" Batman, am I ever glad to see you." Brainiac gripped the bars of the cot in an attempt to pull himself up.

" Lena Luthor?" Batman recognized the infant from the infamous photo the Daily Planet had run of Lex Luthor and his daughter.

Brainiac looked at his small female form and flushed red with embarrassment " I got trapped in this body. Now I am powerless to escape my future self. You've got to get me out of here."

Brainiac placed his hands together in a pleading pose and immediately toppled over without the support of the bars. Batman heard him cursing as he tried to untangle himself from the blanket.

By the time Brainiac had done so he saw that Batman had produced a small, hand held gun with a single barrel. "I thought you didn't use guns."

"Only as a last resort." Batman calmly pointed the gun directly at the small red haired child's head.

" Cease your actions Batman." Brainiac 13's voice filled the room.

" I knew you wouldn't allow harm to your younger self. If he dies you get wiped out of existence." Batman placed his finger on the trigger.

" You're bluffing aren't you? You won't kill a baby," Brainiac was staring intently at the barrel of the gun. "Come on, look how cute I am. Ga ga!"

Batman ignored Brainiac's attempts to look cute and cocked the safety catch on the gun. "It's the only way to undo what has happened here."

" Throw down your weapon or I will kill the women," threatened Brainiac 13.

Wordlessly Batman pulled the trigger causing a loud bang. Brainiac 13 screamed in rage while his younger self screamed in terror. The Kryptonian battle suit shuddered to life, a large metal hand moving in front of the baby. Batman smiled as the distress flare canister he fired bounced out of the room.

" Now." He barked into the communicator set in his glove.

Hearing the command over the communicator that Batman had give her Sarah leapt out of the grip of the gray monster that held her and dashed to the computer terminal. As fast as she could she entered her security code and closed the system off from outside access. There was no way Brainiac was getting back in.

In the nursery Brainiac 13 scooped up the baby. "You have trapped me in this shell again. You shall suffer for this."

Before Batman could speak the battle suit's chest opened, revealing its user womb. Carefully the suit placed Brainiac's tiny form inside and closed. Then Brainiac 13 fired the suit's thrusters, crashing through the ceiling, forcing Batman to dodge falling plaster.

Batman could only watch as the Kryptonian battle suit continued its destructive path through the building until it finally reached the roof and escaped into the night sky.

An hour later, Bruce Wayne was drinking hot chocolate from a Styrofoam cup. The police issue blanket around his shoulders brought back unpleasant memories of the night when his parents were shot, but he had to wear it to maintain his cover of a guest in shock, just one of many who crowded the outside of the Prosperity building, standing among patrol cars.

Spotting Sarah talking to a police officer, he walked over just as she finished speaking to the cop. She turned and looked at him with no recognition.

" Hello, Miss Colton?" Bruce waited until she nodded " I am Bruce Wayne, I was a guest at the party. I understand you're responsible for returning us to normal."

Sarah looked away, embarrassed. "Well only with Batman and Margaret Pinter's help. When Brainiac 13 left the computers, he couldn't control everyone so they just stood about waiting for a new command. We could then use the computer to order everyone back into the tubes to be converted back."

"I am grateful for your actions Miss Colton." Bruce took her hand. "I insist you join me at Magnolias restaurant. My way of saying thank you."

"I'm flattered Mr. Wayne, but maybe on another night. The night's over for me I think." Sarah stared deep into his eyes, and for a moment she saw a glimmer of something familiar.

She was distracted by a radio transmission coming from one of the police cars. "Attention all units, Two Face has stolen the twin pharaoh mummies from the Charleston Museum, I repeat….."

Sarah turned back to say something to Bruce, but he was gone. She scanned the crowd looking for any trace of him, but he had vanished.

A bat shaped shadow passed over the face of the moon. For some, the night was far from over.

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This story is 2000 by Michael Rees
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