The Vile Vial
A parable for a twisted DC Universe
by D.J. LoTempio
A gale kicked up. A choking dust storm swept out over the land a stinging, stinking yellow haze.
The sun went dead black in Kansas."
- report from Fort Riley, Kansas, suspected American starting point of the Flu of 1918
In 1918, a strand of influenza virus, commonly known as the Spanish flu, swept across America and the world. Instead of the elderly or young, it killed adults in the prime of health. This virus held no ideological belief. It kept no covenant with honor or piety. Both sadist and saint felt their chests tighten and fill with fluid. All told, almost 30 million people lost their life under the strain of this one-celled microbe more casualties than those caused by all the weapons of World War I.
Now imagine a virus with a similar pedigree. While it has no emotions remotely human, let us pretend that it has grander dreams. Instead of stamping out life an inherently counter-productive goal it seeks instead to remove words like goodness and truth. White is black, black is white. Mothers abandon their children. Teachers attack their students. Police patrol communities looking for chances to break the law instead of upholding it. It remodels our perceptions with a yellow, phlegmy haze.
Now open your eyes because the time of imagining is over. The dream has already come true.
Selina Kyle knew there was something wrong when she returned Picassos Boy Leading a Horse to the Paley Collection at the MOMA. By all accounts, it was a beautiful gesture from a beautiful patron of the arts whom had rescued this prized "Rose Period" piece from ruthless, selfish thieves. The problem was that Selina Kyle WAS the ruthless and selfish thief who had originally stolen it. The painting had caught her eye five years ago when the Paley Collection was traveling across the United States. She knew it would look wonderful catching the yellow evening sun as it shone through her Gotham apartment, and it had. Until she woke up one morning, after a brief encounter with that imbecile the Riddler, and a wave of guilt overcame her. It was all she could do to get the painting back to New York City and its home at the MOMA before she had a nervous breakdown.
Life only got worse afterwards. She lifted an exquisite silk shawl from Saxs 5th Avenue but retched on herself when she walked out the front door. Later, she found herself on a grubby sidewalk, bawling like a baby, after not paying for lemonade from a childs stand. She even tried picking pockets and giving the money to vagrants, but a thundering headache beat in her head until she returned the wallets.
She found no comfort when she returned to her apartment. Every wall and every drawer screamed her guilt. She called someone who might help. Then Superman was on the television telling the world that he and other heroes were infected with a virus that turns heroes into villains, and vice versa. A collection of infected villains, led by the Scarecrow, was the designated Justice League. They were charged with the task of corralling any infected heroes and preventing any more outbreaks of the virus. Selina put on her Catwoman costume, grabbed her lash and went to join the villains-turned-heroes. The first person she encountered made her wish that she hadnt.
"I hope they never find a cure for this virus," Blythe Bonner exclaimed to Catwoman. "Ive never felt so confident in myself as I do now, you know?" She was filled with the exuberance of the newly converted. Light played across her face as she spoke of her minted confidence.
"I mean, like Im writing this book Chicken Soup for the Supervillain Soul and its so obvious to me how lost and misguided most of us were before the virus. Like take my brother, Barney, and myself. We got these great powers, and we came up with these names - I was Byte and he was Bug. Now, the names sucked but our powers were cool. I can change into living electricity and travel through electric lines. Barney can control any computer and make giant electrical hands out of them. And we were so angry with our mother for abandoning us that we just got into all these fights. And we never thought where this anger was coming from, cause like it was coming from inside us. You know what I mean. We werent evil. We were just troubled. Like how stupid is that?"
Catwoman looked up from the conversation hoping to find something more interesting to catch her attention. Granted, Byte was pretty and sweet, but her costume was dumb, her book even sillier and her only major superhero was Firestorm the Nuclear Man. Catwoman had a classier image to uphold.
Unfortunately, all about her was chaos. Her fellow former villains were reveling in their newfound dispositions, experimenting with them, testing them as a child would a toy on Christmas. It was a 12-step program gone horribly wrong. But, with the Justice League confined to their Watchtower on the moon, who could give them direction?
Then, the voice of Maxie Zeus, deluded gangster from Gotham, rose above the din. "It has occurred to Lord Zeus that the mortals have suffered terrible indignities because of our collective avarice. I lay a mandate before this assembled host that charity is godly, and must precede personal glory. Let the world remember that our first action was philanthropy. Join with me in this endeavor. Let us go forth, recover our ill-gotten treasures, and redistribute it among the needy, unfortunate, and lost."
Zeus enjoyed the attention and approval his plan had attracted. He seemed more full of himself than usual. Scarecrow, the Superman-appointed leader of this quasi-JLA, stood up. His body seemed too light and frail to stand against Zeus blustering ego. "Maxie, while I wholeheartedly endorse your philanthropic plan, I must respectfully disagree and remind everyone that we have been given a more immediate and important duty. It is our task to protect the citizens of the world until such time as a cure for this Vile Virus is found and the heroes are able to assume their traditional roles."
Zeus was not deterred. "But surely, selfless charity must take precedence over personal glory and adventure."
"I think Maxie Zeus is totally right," Byte replied. She seemed to speak for number of supporters. "Like, weve got these great powers, you know, and we could probably help a lot of people that weve hurt. Isnt that karma or something?"
The Scarecrow was visibly dismayed. A week ago, he would have tossed a fear grenade in their midst and giggled as people wet themselves in dread. But, as Selina discovered, it is impossible to fall on old habits when youve been genetically upgraded.
"Let me make a suggestion." A young and powerful figure stood up from the masses. His name was Prometheus and the room went silent in his presence. Selina knew it was equal parts respect and fear of a man who had twice nearly murdered the Justice League of America. There was little love lost between herself and the man. She had foiled his plot, more out of self-reservation than goodwill; worse, she humiliated him before a crowd of reporters and heroes. It was a first date neither would ever forget.
"Guns, steel and germs are the three things that have shaped human history," he said. "In the dearly-departed 20th century, we saw germs like the Spanish Flu and AIDS devastate the world with a grim pale of death. Lets not greet this Vile Virus with indecision and confusion, because that will only lead to untold deaths for this newborn century. We have an opportunity to facilitate great change if we apply intelligence and verity. We must not act like frightened and angry children anymore. Our force is large enough to spare some individuals for Zeus work. I recommend Zeus, the Riddler, and Toyman as envoys for his magnanimous plan. That will still leave the bulk of our forces for the task of saving the world."
The speechs effect swept through the crowd and Scarecrow directed his troops with renewed vigor. The troops were rallied behind the promise of a better tomorrow. Prometheus slipped back into the crowd and idled over to Catwoman. "Im surprised to see you here," he said. The statement lingered. Catwoman was not sure exactly what he meant by making the point.
"Whatever do you mean?" She leaned towards him, giving him a generous view of her figure. It was usually her best defense against males. She wasnt sure how to treat Prometheus but is was always good to keep the boys off balance.
Prometheus eyes never strayed, though. "Well, I dont remember hearing you involved in anything that would have exposed you to the Vile Virus."
"Do you think Im a traitor." She displayed a man-killer smile. "Are you implying that Im not infected with goodness?"
"My usual form of implication is a .44 caliber bullet to the head. But, I had a lot of aggression before all the changes happened. Im just wondering how you got infected. Thats all."
"Well, Id appreciate it if you dont share this knowledge but I got it from the Riddler. He made it to Gotham before anyone sanitized him. Not that he knows what sanitation is, of course."
"So does this new version of Catwoman think stealing is wrong?"
"I think in a world filled with super men, omnivorous mega-corporations and daily invasions of the fantastic that extreme responses are required."
"So would you steal again?"
"Is this a test," Selina made it an invitation and not a question.
Catwoman looked into his eyes. Rarely had she met a man whose motives and interests were so impenetrable. Did he still hate her for his humiliation? Was this some form of absolution for almost killing her? Shed rather be talking about Chicken Soup for the Supervillain Soul than endure this interrogation.
"Truth be told," she said. "We dont know each other well enough to be discussing our virtues and vices. I usually let Batman arrest me once or twice before I get intimate. Is there a point to this conversation, or could you leave me alone?"
"Look, youre obviously anxious and confused right now. A lot of people here today share those feelings. Our colleagues have spent the better part of their adult lives undermining the social and financial framework of our world, and many of us are having a hard time reconciling our past indiscretions with our current mindsets. Feeling threatened or insular isnt going to help you make the adjustment."
"Sounds like your offering something."
He smirked. "Every once in a while, society has an opportunity to jump on a social shift, a leap into new attitudes and ideas. I think weve, and I mean us villains, have been awarded a chance to get rid of our dross and become something better. We can be bringers of happiness. I hear Count Vertigo has gone from manic depression to loving life. This is the Age of Aquarius. Lets get on that groovejet."
Selina Kyle did not feel all that convinced. "Im not really interested in world peace or saving lives. I want the answer to who am I now that the virus has changed me? Am I a "good" villain or a "bad" hero? Before the virus, I didnt care, but now I dont even fully know myself. I used to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Usually poor little me, but sometimes for the really needy and hopeless. Im not heartless, you know."
She paused and chewed on her tail for a moment. "Maybe I should steal from the poor and give to the rich? I dont know, but unless I find an answer Ill go back to being a weak and stupid orphan. I need a reason to steal again."
She noticed that Prometheus posture relaxed as she explained her situation. He seemed satisfied with her answer.
"This may be bold," he said, "but I think we can really help each other. I feel terrible about how we started our relationship. I think youre a fabulous woman and Ive really admired you. Scratch my back with a little project and Ill scratch yours. Cats know how to scratch, right?"
Selina considered the offer. She looked among the other villains for a tug of hope. But he seemed like the only one with any surety, the only one with direction. "Usually we scratch eyes," she said.
"I suppose all that talk about the Age of Aquarius and second chances extends to those fourth-tier villains, too?" She pointed to the small group of individuals gathered in the WayneTech headquarters in Gotham City. Prometheus had chosen a squad of lesser-known villains for his project. Byte was among them, as well as her brother, Bug the computer commander. The other two were a pair of thugs Catwoman dimly remembered through the underworld grapevine.
The first, Blackguard, was a large lout whose modern day armor generated a mace and shield of energy. He was chewing gum quite loudly. He never made it past Booster Gold, which wasnt too high in the superhero/supervillain scale. He was cheap gangster playing in the big leagues.
His Texan friend, Strobe, was known for a series of brazen bank robbers in the late 1980s and early 90s. Rumor had it he had constructed his own high-tech armor that endowed him with strength and the ability to project deadly light. His career was abruptly halted after a fight with the Atom found him with a sentence of 10 30 years in Belle Reve Federal Prison.
Catwoman could feel their eyes creeping over her. They whispered to each other and nodded their heads in her direction. The virus business was unnerving enough to Selina but the attention from the two men aggravated her feelings even more.
Strobe leaned towards her and said, "Maam, my friend and I just want to say that you are one of the most fit and beautiful women we have ever laid our eyes upon. We just thought you deserved to know that."
"Yeah, people really dont get enough compliments anymore," Blackguard added.
Catwoman realized that this might be a long mission if she had to put up with the "Two, Wild and Sexy Guys" in the back. She was saved from misery by Byte who had her brother in tow.
"Catwoman," she said. "I just wanted to introduce my brother, Barney."
"Y'know I hate that name," he said to Catwoman. "I'd really appreciate it if you just call me Bug or Barnard. I'm really good with computers, you know. Im like a living modems so I can dial into just about any system and control it. So, if you have a computer at home, I could, you know, take a look at it sometime. I'm sure I could make it faster, you know what I'm saying, right? Im not trying to pick you up or anything. My sister just said you were really nice."
"Its a pleasure to meet you well, how about I call you Bug since were all in our union suits. That way well keep it professional." Selina put on her genuine smile for Barnard.
Byte seemed a little dismayed by Selinas casual dismissal of her brother. She had hoped for something more between the two. "Does either of you know what kind of mission were on? I was really impressed with that speech Prometheus gave but didnt really ask him any questions about what he had planned."
"At first, I thought this Prometheus guy was full of it," Strobe said, "but he's really onto something. We were talking about high-tech investment options and it just clicked in my head - 'This is my chance to get back on the high horse. As soon as we save the world, I'm riding back into Dodge with my sights on investing. Im going to make this world a better place. Christ, my head still spins thinking about how I missed out on the Bull Market."
"Hold on a minute," Blackguard said. "If you're an investor, what were you doing robbing banks?"
"C'mon man. That was in the early 90s. There was a recession! Those bio-tech companies cost me a fortune."
Just then, Prometheus walked into the room. He calmly placed his high-tech sidearm/nightstick on the desk and then draped himself on a chair. "Is everybody really to do good," he asked.
Blackguard leaned forward. "What you got in mind?"
"I'm taking our responsibilities as JLAers very serious," Prometheus said. "We are justice! It is up to us to remind society of goodwill and decency. I just found out about an upcoming attempt to infect Gotham City with the Vile Virus."
"Why would anyone want to infect Gotham with a virus that switches your personality?" Strobe turned to Blackguard. "Can you imagine how nice a city Gotham would be if its residents were infected?"
"It would be like Toronto," Blackguard affirmed. "Maybe someone wants to turn the United States into Canada. That dont sound bad to me."
Catwoman turned away from the two men. They would have been better off with Abbott & Costello.
Prometheus silenced them with an icy stare. "It doesnt take the Center for Disease Control to realize that a few million people infected with a virus easily becomes tens of millions across the East Coast. And not every city shares Gothams dismal atmosphere. We need to stop Ras al Ghuls men before they can shatter the fragile stability in Gotham. Just remember that we cant rely on the police or other law-enforcement if they become infected."
"How is that any different from normal," Bug moaned.
"Ra's men are highly trained," Prometheus added. "Most are accomplished assassins. Im talking president killers, here. Using nothing more than guile and strategy, they have been able to hold off the Justice League. That should give you an idea of how dangerous they are. Luckily, we have a secret weapon that they wont be expecting."
"Oh yeah," Blackguard asked. "What kind of secret weapon are you talking about?"
Prometheus sat straight up in his chair. "Me."
Unbeknownst to the people inside the Gotham City International Airport, the Vile Virus was worming its way into their midst's, and the best intentions of the heroes could do nothing to stop it. Edith Baxter was waiting patiently for her daughter, Amanda, to return from flight check 11 when the infection started. Jason, her grandson, sat demurely on the floor, aggravated by her persistent indifference to demands for attention and candy. Edith was enjoying the calm silence when a sharp, arthritic pain stabbed up her arm. It was Jason tugging for her attention.
"Grandma," he exclaimed. "Ice cream. Can I have an ice cream? I'll share." A small ice cream stand had just opened across the way, selling brightly colored confections. While Edith loved to spoil her four-year-old grandson, she knew they had neither time nor money to indulge him.
"I'm sorry, Jason. Not right now, honey. Your mother will be back soon with some money."
He tugged her arm again. "Please, Grandma." He tugged again and again; each pull was a biter yellow charge. Worse, Edith could feel the eyes of bystanders descend upon her. She could sense their collective anger grow as Jason disturbed their irritating wait. She must become their instrument.
Her hand descended like a hammer, throwing Jason down to the ground. Tears welled beneath his eyes and a cry burst from his throat. "Shut up, you brat," Edith spate. She hoisted the boy and heaved him into a garbage can filled with moist debris. "Shut your trap. Just shut it!"
"About time someone used the old school," someone said. Others nodded their heads in assent.
"Mother, what are you doing," Amanda said as she returned from the Attendant Desk. "What has come over you?"
Edith looked her daughter square in the face. "I always hated you, little witch. You ate my womb! You did something to my insides, you parasite! I could never have more children after you ruined me. Then you stick it under my nose by leaving me with your evil brat. No more, Amanda. No more!"
An aged fist struck Amanda and she fell to the floor, more because of shock than force. Suddenly, her adored mother had turned into a terror. She found no aid from among the other people waiting for planes. They were ancient Romans in the Coliseum, pleased with the show. Someone passed Edith a cane; Amandas last conscious thoughts were of her son.
A crowd rose up and started tossing chairs and luggage. Hours of frustration gave birth to barbarism as families and strangers embarked on a rampage. The airport seemed doomed to destruction until an unearthly light shone throughout the terminal, scouring the air with its elongated wavelength.
"Strobe, sterilize all the people and vents in the Terminal," Prometheus called out. "That's why I had Dr. Light adapt your equipment to project UV bursts. Byte, you quarantine anyone who seems infected already. Catwoman, Blackguard, and I will be out by the air conditioning units intercepting Ra's al Ghul's terrorists. Back us up when you're finished."
Prometheus turned on his wrist phone. "Bug, Ras is bound to have some high-tech support for his men. Disrupt their communications but keep the planes grounded as best you can."
"Looks like were too late, boss," Blackguard said.
The trio broke through an emergency exit with Prometheus taking staircase strides. "Thousands of people are going to be infected before this crisis is over, Blackguard," he said. "Only an idiot expects to win every battle. Were here to make a decisive advance in the war."
Prometheus stopped and turned to Catwoman as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Remember when I asked if you're still capable of stealing? I need to know can you steal?"
Selina thought back to the Picasso and the memory of the happy conservationists filled her with dread. She couldn't even steal an apple from an orchard without returning it to the bough. "Maybe," she replied.
"This is life-and-death, societal earthquake time. 'Maybe' doesn't cut it. We're all one step from the abyss, and all your nine lives won't be enough to save us if you fail."
The erstwhile heroes burst onto the tarmac with a good 50 feet between them and ten well-armed terrorists. It was a deadly distance. Ten semi-automatic rifles leveled towards them and spewed bullets. But Blackguard took the lead, and quickly created two shining shields of energy that deflected the lethal hail. Catwoman leapt high into the air, spiraling over Blackguard and into the pack. Her lash and claws created a storm of cloth, flesh, and blood.
Her ferocity would have been devastating among a normal horde of men, but these were trained killers, fearless of death in its many shapes. A blade slice out from the group missing her wrist but dislodging her whip. A pair of bullets skimmed past her stomach. In that instant, Selina realized she was an inch from dying if she wasnt careful. She struck out with her claws and cut three furrows into the face of her assailant.
Prometheus appeared in the middle of the fray with the subtlety of a card trick. His nightstick glowed with passion and power as it crushed weapons, bones, and consciousness. Quickly, he singled out the leader and wove a liquid path through the hail of bullets and steel. "Remember me, Robinson," he said. "I tried out for the League of Assassins in 1996. You kicked me out cause I was too hyperactive."
Robinson, the lead assassin, deflected Prometheus nightstick with his rifle. He spun in the air and attempted to bring the rifles shaft into Prometheus gut. It found air instead. "I remember a youth that was little more than a thug," he said. "A cheap killer not fit for elegance."
"Yeah. Thatd be me."
Prometheus was having a difficult time getting through Robinsons defenses while avoiding the attacks of other assassins. He had hoped that Blackguard would have served as a better distraction, but he seemed too afraid of the gunfire to drop his shields. Blackguard just stood there. Above them, Prometheus could hear the beating of mighty wings, telling him that a helicopter was descending to rescue the assassins. Time was running out.
Suddenly, Catwoman leapt over her assailants and onto the leader Robinson. Prometheus used the opportunity to blindside the other assassins, pummeling them with his merciless nightstick. Catwoman struck with the force of a lioness and it was all Robinson could do to protect his vitals. But Catwoman was after more than his life, she searched him for a sample of the Vile Virus and quickly discovered a medicinal pouch attached to his belt. She reached for it, but her arm started to shake. Tremors engulfed her whole body until Robinson easily kicked her off.
"Disengage," Robinson yelled to his remaining three men. The helicopter came in low and unleashed suppression fire upon the heroes. Prometheus quickly ducked behind Blackguard.
"Did you get the vial," he yelled to Catwoman. She shook her head in denial.
"Bug," he called into his wrist phone, "the assassins are taking off in a helicopter. Try to jam their electronic systems and tell your sister to get out her if she can. I need a few extra minutes to save the day."
He pushed Blackguard to the side and said, "Get your lazy, infected butt out of my way."
The next few minutes seemed like a roller coaster ride to Catwoman. The helicopter began to take off with the assassins when its engine started to sputter and lurch. Prometheus commandeered a luggage cart and sped towards the paralyzed helicopter. He narrowly avoided a hail of bullets and grabbed the landing gear. She had only seen Batman move as quickly or deftly. Prometheus was in the cart one second and in the cabin of the helicopter the next. Bullets continued to fly until Prometheus fell out with Robinson beneath him. The helicopter returned to life but the pilot was unprepared and lost control of the vehicle. Its blades dug into the tarmac and propelled the cabin into the earth.
Flames roared across the tarmac accompanied by a black, oily smoke. Catwoman turned to Blackguard. He seemed to be crying, fearful of the flames. The virus had taken its toll upon the villain and changed him from a brute to a baby. It would have been better if he just stayed home.
She got up from the ground and stood beside Prometheus. Robinson lay dead from the fall. Prometheus held up a slim vial of glass and steel. "No thanks to you," he said.
She wanted to explain her reasons. She was sure it would all sound logical to him, but now was neither the time nor place.
Prometheus spoke into his wrist phone, "Bug, send Strobe and Byte out if theyre finished. We need to search for any survivors and clean up this mess. Then contact WayneTech and let them know we have a sample of the Vile Virus. Were going to find out what makes this thing work."
Prometheus squad made short work of the clean up and was sequestered in a WayneTech facility by dusk. Catwoman watched the evening light cast shadows against the far wall. A week ago, that light was the signal to go to work. It meant she was going out to steal another pretty thing with which to decorate her home. Now it was just another sunset.
Dr. Michael Stachowski, an expert on contagion and mimetics, was working with the group on studying the virus. He was a young turk, too full of his own intelligence, and Catwoman found him annoying. His eyes kept slipping back and forth between Byte and herself. He directed their attention to the screen of an electron microscope. "Essentially, youve got what appears to a common variety of Influenza A. I prefer to use its other name "La Grippe," which sounds a whole lot cooler."
"We know it is connected with the flu, Dr. Stachowski," Prometheus said. "Perhaps you could add something more productive. By the way, arent you a little young to be a doctor?"
Stachowski smiled. "Im what you call a protégé, too smart for my own good. Now, La Grippe here appears to have undergone an antigenic shift, meaning it has mutated into a new strain. There have only been two recorded antigenic shifts of La Grippe before this one but it probably occurs all the time. Thats partially why you have a serious flu season every few years."
"Its a filthy disease," Byte added. "Our grandmother died from a flu infection a few years ago. She had a beautiful singing voice once. But her lungs filled with phlegm and she could barely speak. There was a horrid, gurgling sound whenever she tried to breathe. Its terrible."
"Au contraire, my dear," Stachowski retorted. "Viruses are for more romantic and tragic than you would paint them. Originally, they were unprotected genetic strands that carried hereditary information from newly developed life to its offspring. They were messengers among primitive life."
"Like a postman," Blackguard added.
"Yeah, however your primitive mind wants to describe it. But a funny thing happens as evolution bears down upon the world. Life becomes more complex and cells begin to take over the transfer of genetic information, leaving the virus like a jilted lover. Viruses still have their original programming though. They keep trying to connect with DNA, but she wont return their phone calls. The virus takes its revenge by infecting genetic code with copies of itself instead of exchanging information. It think it is more operatic than horrible. Sometimes my eyes tear over thinking about it."
"Can you create a vaccine from the sample weve obtained," Strobe asked. "I dont think I can sterilize the whole city."
Stachowskis brow furrowed in thought. "Thats a little more complicated. It appears that La Grippe has been modified. I swear that its haemaglutinins and neuraminidases have binary code inscribed on their shafts."
"Bug, check it out," Prometheus ordered.
Barney Bonner pulled out a SCSI cord and plugged himself into the terminal. "Dr. Stachowski is correct. The shell of the virus has code written on it. But why?"
"Because the virus is programmable," Prometheus said. "Scientists have been trying to bridge the gap between technology and biology for years."
"You mean like nano-machines," Byte asked.
"Please," squacked Stachowski. "Nano-machines are so 20th century. Prometheus is talking about biological tools like proteins, cells, and bacteria that can be programmed to perform specific functions. WayneTech has been working on a cancer cure using proteins for a few years. We never got very far though."
Catwoman turned to Prometheus. "Youre suggesting that Ras al Ghul didnt just breed a virus. He actually figured out a way to program it like a computer virus. He told it what genetic traits and dispositions to change."
Stachowskis eyebrows eyes strayed over to Byte. "Hey man. Do you mind if I copy this virus? I could make a version that would get me laid?"
Blythe was more than a little repulsed by the implication. "Why couldn't we make a virus that makes us not use cars? Or prefer peace over strife."
"I have a better idea," Prometheus said. The others waited for his sage opinion. "Lets create a virus that creates a pathological compulsion to lie? Wouldnt it be interesting if we created a virus that turned the world into a giant episode of the Sopranos? I think that would be fabulous."
A change in pressure tilted the room and Catwoman could feel her small hairs start to stand. The others had noticed the change too. Byte stopped writing in her notebook and Blackguard slowly got up from his chair. Strobe gently tapped the ON button for his weaponry. "What happened to the Age of Aquarius," Strobe asked.
"I lied." Prometheus casually fitted a CD into his helmet. "Ive got a better idea on how to use this virus. Why dont I program it to attack the DNA of Batman, Green Lantern and any other Justice Leaguers whose blood Ive got on my hands? Do you think Wonder Woman looks good in mourning black?"
"But you were infected with the Vile Virus," Bug said. Youre not supposed to be a villain anymore."
"I never said I was infected. Im operating on Level 3 of the Memetic Scale. Im self-liberated from mind viruses. Of course, it helps if you have access to technology light years advanced from anything on Earth. I havent been sick in over four years."
Strobe pointed his arms towards Prometheus. "Well just have to stop you then. Theres five of us and one of you. Why dont you do the smart thing and stand down?"
Stachowski scurried beneath his electron microscope.
"Yknow Tex," Prometheus said. "Maybe you can add but your grasp of risk investment just sucks. Ive already beaten you and you dont know it. Did you think I would pick a bunch of villains that I couldnt beat?"
Prometheus swung his nightstick and bashed Bug against the computer terminal. Strobe attempted to fire a laser bolt but instead his armor fired a harmless blacklight. He felt his armored joints seize. Blackguard tried to energize his shields but they turned into shackles. In the span of a second, three of the erstwhile heroes were defeated.
"Why dont you find a Molly Hatchet poster to shine on." Prometheus said as he leapt over the surprised Strobe. "My technology has already gained control of your weapons. I hope you dont need the bathroom cause youll be stuck in your armor for awhile."
Blythe Bonner was not so easily dealt with though. Unlike the others, her powers allowed her to become a stream of electricity. She was free of human form. Prometheus nightstick swept through her and found no purchase. "Its people like you who give us a bad name. You think youre so smart, but all you do is spread anger. If you were really smart, youd know that I can enter your "technology" just as easily as my brother."
Bytes form zipped into Prometheus helmet and knocked the villain to the ground. A grin formed on his lips. "Girl, you dont know how smart I am. That CD in my helmet is programmed with the collected works of William S. Burroughs and Marquis de Sade. Youre being programmed with the writing of some of the most twisted minds in Western history."
He tapped a button on his helmet and the electrical form of Byte exited. She was stunned from the experience, her mind overwhelmed with new thoughts and ideas. Prometheus handed her the notebook. "Why dont you write a few letters to Playboy. Chicken soup isnt going to cure this flu."
Prometheus scanned the room. Blackguard was trussed up in energy shackles. Strobe was imitating a hydroponics lamp. Bug was squashed and his sister was busy with her next bestseller. There was one conspicuous member missing.
He reached under the desk and pulled Stachowski out. "Where did she go?"
"Look man," Stachowski said. "My bad with the attitude. My bad. Ive got total respect for you. The Catlady took off with the live sample of the Vile Virus. She didnt leave an address."
"No problem. Ive got a fair idea where shes heading with it. Ill catch up with her in a minute. First, I want to show you my own version of La Grippe."
Catwoman knew she only had short time before Prometheus caught up to her. Granted, she could probably hide in Gotham City forever if she made it out of the building alive, but Prometheus was too dangerous to let go free with his new knowledge of the Vile Virus. He could break the programming code if anyone could.
She kind of liked his double cross, in a devious sort of way. He was sharp and smooth just like Batman, but he was underestimating the opposition. Batman never did that. There were other people as cunning as Prometheus and they already had crafted strategies to defeat him.
It didnt take long for Prometheus to follow Catwoman to the Justice League Teleport Room in the WayneTech building. It made perfect sense that she would try to escape to someplace safe and secure from Prometheus, someplace where knowledge of the virus would be helpful. The room was dark and its lights were busted. The smell of ozone hung in the air, telling him that the teleport tubes were on.
"Nice try, Catlady," He said as he switched his helmet lights on and scanned the shadows, "but I happen to know that the JLA has shut down reception for their teleport tubes. Nobody goes into the Watchtower. Too bad. They could use that virus sample."
Selina looked down upon the villain from a ceiling girder cloaked in twilight. "The best thieves can steal out as well as in," she said. "Especially if they are being paid enough."
Prometheus looked up to the ceiling and pinned Catwoman in his light. He wrung sweaty palms around his nightstick. His anticipation was broken by another voice, filled with the hard heel of vengeance. "Catwoman didnt try to get into the JLA Watchtower, Prometheus. She let something out."
Batman stepped out the darkness as calmly as a man stepping out of his home. Ever so lightly, his movement disturbed a haze lingering on the floor. Prometheus senses were on high alert but by then it was already too late. He could detect a change in his perception, a twinning in his vision and a chemical taste in the bad of his throat.
"Nerve gas," Batman said as he circled Prometheus. "Hidden beneath the smell of the teleports ozone." The voice seemed to come from several Batmans at once. It became impossible for Prometheus to distinguish up from down, or left from right.
"I couldnt steal the virus because I was paid not to, mommas boy," Catwoman said. "Im through helping charity cases. I may not be able to steal for myself but I can still steal for the highest bidder. Or for love. If you had told me from the beginning what your plans were, well, maybe we could have struck a deal, but now its just too late."
By now, the nerve gas had shaped Batman into a demon of darkness. Leathery wings surrounded every direction. "I contacted Catwoman before she joined the other infected villains," Batman said, "and hired her as a double agent. I asked her to prevent anyone from recovering a sample of the virus. That might cause too many problems for Ras al Ghul and myself."
Prometheus reached for his belt that contained a host of chemicals. He could still counteract the drug if he had time, but the belt was gone. He didnt need to guess whom had taken it. He looked up with his dilated eyes and asked, "This is going to hurt? Isnt it."
The first blow struck his jaw, knocking his helmet off of him. Mere whispers of fingertips touched his arms and legs, paralyzing the muscles and nerves. It was a gentle, almost affectionate, gesture followed by a severe and brutal beating. Underneath the blows, he could just hear Catwoman goading Batman further and the Dark Knight eagerly agreeing.
He felt himself tossed into a chair. It was followed by a sudden injection of chemicals that cleansed the chemical dullness. The pain and bruises came into sharp focus.
"This is not your typical ending," Batman said. "Your plans are finished but your life and role can serve a better purpose. Justice is an out-moded concept. So is heroism. Do you understand what I am saying?"
"Its music to my ears. Thanks for leaving them attached."
"You were correct when you called the Vile Virus a societal earthquake. Unfortunately, the Justice League and the rest of the world still cling to these vestigial ethics. They can never understand us. They will never accept us. Ras al Ghul has finally shown me the light and I can only give him my love in return."
"I cannot reveal my role in this new world order yet. I must appear the good hero, locked in the Watchtower, striving to resist the beautiful call of injustice." Catwoman crawled up behind Batman. Her claws gaining purchase upon his broad chest. In the half-light, they looked like one great beast of the night - a fusion of mankinds unbridled appetites and darkest ideals.
Prometheus licked his lips at the prospects. Maybe he would get something out of this yet.
"I need someone to preach injustice because I cannot. Not all of my followers have been converted and some will attempt to rival me. I need a great divider, a prophet to unleash hatred and spite among them. Will you be my Left Hand?"
"Amen, baby," Prometheus saluted Batman. "Ill party to that tune every night and every day. Put the needle on the record, Batman, cause this world is about to blow."
"Take your weapons. I will contact you and tell you what to do. This adventure is over, but the next is just beginning. In the end, we can only win."
"What about me, Batman," Catwoman whispered into his ears. "I want your love, not just your money."
Batman turned and engulfed her. Her pulse raced as his passion filled her. "Soon, the world will be yours."
Her laughter filled the hall.
The End (For Now)
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This piece is © 2001 by D.J.LoTempio
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