Chapter 6: Mundi Nobilissimi
Superman flew anxiously towards Gotham, the focus of his apprehension shifting between the mission and Bruce. There had been a catch in his voice that Clark never heard before, not in a hundred team-ups, in a dozen arguments, in a thousand conversations or in three flat out fights.
There was a situation, he said, grave (as if Bruce would call in help for anything less than a 15 on a scale of 10). But throughout that brief conversation, Bruce’s tone had been much what it always was in a crisis situation—serious, authoritative, informed and controlled.
They had to meet, he said. Clark suggested the Watchtower but Bruce said no, the transporter wasn’t an option at the moment. Gotham, then? Fine. Wayne Tower, fourteen minutes. Recognizing the travel time (the Batmobile’s average cave-to-Gotham time was fourteen minutes) and considering the evident urgency of the situation, Clark said he could come straight to the cave. Then, through the communicator, his super-hearing picked up the rushing surge of human blood pressure, and after the tensest second of Bat-silence ever experienced outside of Hell Month…
“No. Not the house.”
Clark had never heard anything like it.
“No. Not the house.”
He slowed to a hover as he approached the edge of the Wayne property. He knew Bruce had sensors in place to “detect Kryptonian entry into Wayne Manor’s airspace,” although he had yet to figure out exactly where the detection net began. And since he had come to the manor against instructions, he wanted to minimize the reaction time once he’d set off the sensors. At his top speed, those inside the house would have only nanoseconds to respond before he…
Well, that was something of a problem, wasn’t it. What exactly was he planning to do bursting into his friend’s house? Crash through a wall, through the floor, and into the cave? And to what purpose?
“No. Not the house.”
For years, Lois told him he was crazy. She asked how someone with the strength and power to pull the moon out of orbit could be scared of someone like Bruce Wayne, normal human being. Clark always replied that he wasn’t scared of Bruce, it’s just that sometimes it was better to give him what he wanted so he’d stop making your life miserable…
“No. Not the house.”
He said specifically not to come to the house. He said it as Batman, he said it right after referencing a “situation” of crisis proportions, and he said it with a catch in his voice like nothing Clark had ever heard before. So what was he supposed to do? Of course, he had to go in. Anything could be happening in there. Anything could have a hold on them in there. Anything could… could… he couldn’t even imagine what the scenario might be. There was nothing for it but to charge ahead. He made a wide arc out to Bludhaven to pick up speed, then made a flying sprint straight to the front door, knocking (he hoped) at the same second those detectors announced his presence.
Through the thick manor walls, and thicker Batcave floor, he heard the murmur of voices: a low male grumble, irate, then a higher female reply, aggrieved. Then another grumble and another reply, silence… and finally, a sigh. Clark recognized that distinctly. It was Lois’s sigh. It was Lois’s “I will humor you this time, but only because you’re sheltering me from a five kiloton explosion. We’ll talk about it later once you’ve put Argentina back where it used to be before Mxyzptlyk turned it into a space station.”
The door swung open… and Superman stared. Catwoman (or technically Selina, in costume but unmasked) stood in the doorway, whip in one hand, a stopwatch in the other—and an expression of annoyed pique with which criminals often greeted the arriving hero when his entrance came sooner than expected, frustrating their dastardly plan.
“What part of ‘not the house’ did you not understand?” she asked testily—which shattered the ‘Curse you, Superman’ villain-accosting-the-crimefighter image, but evoked Lois instead: Lois standing in the bathroom of the Los Angeles Hilton, holding up a tan sandal that was not the brown open-toed pump he’d been sent back to Metropolis to find.
Superman ignored the question itself and focused on the unspoken indicators—Selina Kyle’s heartbeat, pulse, and blood pressure were all elevated and climbing. This in a woman he’d never seen rattled, even when he and Batman surprised her breaking into LexCorp that time.
“Selina, are you okay?” he asked with quiet urgency, shifting his eyes to signal that if hostile forces were lurking, she need only give some silent hint.
“I’m sorry,” she said wearily, “I don’t have that information right now, but if you’d like to check back next week, we’ll get back to you.”
Undeterred, he looked through her body and past it through the walls, scanning as much of the house as quickly as he could to get some hint what might be happening.
“Is it Bruce?” he asked through his teeth, taking pains not to move his lips in case they were being watched. “Has anything… anyone… taken control of—”
She chortled at him and checked the watch.
“Not for another twelve minutes yet,” she said gamely. “Look, you really don’t want a part of this. Just meet him in town like he asked, okay?”
But Superman brushed past her, mesmerized by a sight he’d glimpsed through the wall, and he walked with fascinated astonishment into the Great Hall. There, he saw Bruce walking down the stairs—in a suit?—Holding a baby?! And Selina—SELINA? He turned back, but the woman he just talked to was still behind him in the catsuit, but the… the same woman was on the stairs behind Bruce, and she wore a chicly tailored dress, white gloves and a fashionable hat. He himself—he blinked—he himself as Clark Kent, but with a touch of gray beginning at his temples—was suddenly standing at the foot of the stairs, Lois beside him in an even chicer skirted suit. Their mouths were moving, but as hard as he tried to listen, he couldn’t make out words. He could just convince himself he heard “christening” and “godfather,” but that much was suggested by the scene. He couldn’t really say he heard any true sound on any spectrum, until Selina—the real one, the one following him in from the foyer—spoke.
“Oh, you two are back,” she said casually to the apparitions. “Hey Spitcurl, with that sight of yours, can you make out any detail on the little rugrat that would say if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Wheh?” Superman breathed, realizing too late that she was talking to him again. He swallowed, then looked back at the stairs—the empty stairs—where the phantoms had been standing only a second before but were now vanished.
“Gotta be faster than that,” Selina said lightly. “And welcome to the Twilight Zone, by the way. C’mon, let’s get you down to the cave before the real antics begin. Bruce will explain—well, not ‘explain,’ but—oh, you’ll see.”
“Selina,” he managed finally.
“Nope, no time for chitchat,” she said, walking briskly towards the study. “Maybe next time someone tells you stay away from the house, you’ll take him at his word.”
“Selina,” he repeated, burying his astonishment in the forceful assertion of a crimefighter who won’t be put off. “Did you see that? Back on the stairs, that- that-”
“Sure,” she nodded. “And if you mention the details of that particular image to him, then Superman or not, I will find some way to set you on fire.”
In the cave, Batman got 4/5 of the way through briefing Superman when the KREEE of Canary Cry signaled the persistent anomaly beginning in the study.
Despite Batman’s forewarning, despite his meticulous explanation of all that would happen, despite his urging his friend to simply ignore the sound when it occurred and dismiss the whole dimension leak as the formless shadow it was, Superman raced to the summons of a colleague in trouble.
Batman looked at Catwoman, who looked right back.
“No one can say you guys aren’t predictable,” she noted.
“That’ll be six minutes in the study,” she went on, “and another ten if he follows them out to the lawn and watches them leave.”
Selina looked uneasily towards the transporter.
“That gives us time to send me back to Oz,” she breathed.
“I still don’t like it,” he graveled. “Even with Jason’s ‘tether’ in place to keep you from bouncing around at random, it hasn’t been tested in any way. And now with this Luthor angle, we may find a surer way to lock you into this timeline—or if Clark and I are successful today, it may not be necessary for you to jump again at all.”
“Bruce… Reality check: the anomalies in the house are coming closer and closer together. If I’ve noticed it, I’m sure you’ve observed, quantified, annotated and cross-referenced it by now. Things are getting worse, not better. The sooner I go, the sooner we can end this.”
He glared but said nothing.
“The sooner we get our lives back,” she offered gamely. “Besides, you’ll be off with Spitcurl this time, you won’t even miss me.”
“I’ll—,” he began, and then stopped as that dead, distant look returned to his eyes. “I’ll get the transporter warmed up,” he said finally. “You light those stupid little candles.”
The vortex of color sucked the cave into its depth just as it had before, and then sucked itself into its own center, leaving—to all appearances—the Batcave just as it had been. There was no owl this time, no stalagmite, and no wetbar.
Selina checked her attire hurriedly.
She was in street clothes. A snug, wine-colored top, vaguely suggestive of the catsuit, so far, so good… riding pants tucked into over-the-knee boots, very suitable…
And no sapphire.
She told herself it was irrational to be disappointed by that. This wasn’t alternate reality sightseeing, after all. She had a job to do, then she could get back to her own world and her own Bruce, who’d given her her own sapphire. She took a cautious step forward and peered into the main chamber of the cave… Batman sat alone at the workstation huddled in what, even at this distance, looked to be the gloomiest bat-funk on record.
Her heart broke as she watched it: sitting alone in the dark stillness of the cave, waves of that hell month aura streaming from him. He wasn’t doing anything at the workstation; the monitor wasn’t even on. He just sat there… emitting that palpable sense of raw pain churning inside. She took another slow step, then another and another without realizing it, until her heel make a chik on the stone floor and he turned sharply.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded fiercely. “Selina, what?! Did Alfred let you down here?”
“Y-yes,” she said cautiously. “Alfred. Let me… down here.”
“You’re not needed. Go,” he ordered.
She took a deep breath. This was going to be a lot trickier than “we’ll start with a foot rub.”
“Why would Alfred have called me if I wasn’t needed?” she asked delicately.
He stared at her blankly for a second, his Kevlar gloves creaking softly as he clenched his fists.
“He has to meddle,” Batman exploded. “I told him to let it be, I told him I— Look, just go, okay. I will handle this in my own way.”
He glared, more waves of that tense coiled hurt streaming off him, but Selina continued undeterred.
“Humor me, okay, I’m here now, so… What can it hurt to talk to me? What happened? What is it you’re dealing with?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he murmured.
“What with my being dumb as a post and all?” she quipped lightly.
He met her eyes and they stared in tense silence for what seemed like years. She’d seen those gears churning a hundred times before, but there was a new intensity this time; a strange sense of urgency behind those eyes. Then, just for a moment, the gloomy intensity lifted. Noting this, Selina zeroed in on the side of his lip, focusing all her will on that one spot, and broke into a naughty grin.
It worked! Even this morass of bat-gloom could be moved to a lip-twitch by the right application of persistence and felinity. The thought morphed her naughty smile into a contented one.
“Try me,” she said. “Cats are amazingly adaptable. Whatever subject you want to throw at us, long as you keep stroking the fur in the right place, it’s fine. Cats are also amazingly stubborn,” she added, “so unless you want me installing myself down here contaminating your cold sterile cave with lots of purple, fun and cat hair, you’d better start talkin’.”
Again the aura of ponderous gloom flickered, just for a moment. Then it returned, darker and heavier than before.
“Are you familiar with the theories about time travel and alternate realities arising from changes to a timeline?” Batman asked gruffly.
She froze as an icy foreboding crept up her back.
“A little,” she answered dryly.
“Well it’s not ‘theory’ anymore. It’s a very definite reality. I’ve experienced several alternate ‘world spheres’ in the past few days. I lived a full lifetime in two of them. Superman and I were both… sucked into… trapped in… I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Okay,” Selina said gently, “Up until now, I was being nice. I offered to listen because you’re obviously hurting, and if you thought that Alfred thought I could help… But this just got a lot more serious than that. This could be incredibly important, more important than you can imagine. I need you to tell me everything about those AUs.”
He stared at her strangely, then slowly rose from his chair. She noticed that his hand had slipped under his cape, no doubt reaching for something in his belt.
“Who are you?” he graveled menacingly. “You’re not Selina. Selina Kyle doesn’t get involved with things like this, and Selina Kyle certainly doesn’t talk to me in this manner. So whoever you are, state your business or get the hell out.”
She smiled in spite of herself.
“World’s Greatest Detective. It’s going to be nice dealing with you.”
He glared, but not with hateful rage as Owlman had done. He appeared to be waiting for something, like for her to pull off a facemask or shapeshift into another person. When nothing of the sort happened, his hand emerged from under the cape, a batarang gripped tightly in his fist.
“What do you want?”
“I would think that, after all these years, that would be painfully obvious,” she teased. “But what I want isn’t important at the moment. We need to talk about what happened to you with these alternate realities.”
“I don’t talk to Catwoman about such things,” he replied tersely.
“Maybe you should,” she noted. “‘Cause the vortex of despair thing you were doing when I came in, that didn’t look at all healthy. And if your cat—”
He bristled visibly, and immediately Selina regretted her choice of words. He hadn’t moved a muscle, but the tension spiked as if she’d confirmed his greatest fear. But she figured, at this point, her only option was to plow ahead.
“—if your cat is anything like me, she could probably help you with that. But you’re right, I’m not your Selina.” She gave a playfully helpless shrug. “And you’re not quite done with the alternate realities yet. I’m from one; I’m from one that’s—screwed.”
His whole body seemed to tense again, and Selina began mentally recalling ways to defend against a batarang without benefit of whip or claws. Then, the strangest thing happened: the confrontational intensity that had been pouring off of him since she’d arrived dissipated, and for a fleeting moment, an odd look crossed his face. It was something she rarely saw in Bruce and never when he was in costume. He looked tired. Weary. Not in any way defeated, but exhausted. Almost as suddenly, the look vanished and a new intensity took over—one that she was much more familiar with. His logical mind had locked in and he was sifting through possibilities. He was in Detective Mode. He returned the batarang to his belt and addressed her in a strangely direct tone.
“So why are you here?”
“Not really sure. But my hunch? I’m here to find out about you, to hear what you saw in those alternate worlds.”
“And why is it you doing the dimension hopping from this world sphere that’s ‘screwed?’ Why wouldn’t I have—”
Selina burst out laughing—which brought the darkest scowl yet.
“I’m sorry,” she sputtered, trying to get control of her mirth. “It’s just too funny. Even here, you’re obsessing on that. Control freak jackass.” She chuckled a moment more, then finally cleared her throat. “Okay, enough Joker impressions. Do I get to start asking the questions soon, Stud?”
“You can’t expect me to take this on faith, Catwoman. You show up here after all that I’ve- after-” He hesitated for a moment, his frustration mounting. “How do I know this isn’t another- With everything else that’s happened…” He finally stopped, his jaw setting firm. “When you’ve answered all of my questions to my satisfaction, then and only then will I consider- damnit,” he turned away.
“Bruce,” she whispered, “What did they do to you?”
She walked around to face him, but he said nothing. She noticed that weariness again, but only in his eyes. The rest of him seemed to be fighting against it with everything he had. She reached up and touched the side of the cowl. After a tense moment, he removed it.
“Better,” she noted. “Now tell me what happened.”
“A trio of villains from the distant future, the 31st century, traveled into the past, my past, and Superman’s. And they intervened at the critical points where… they removed us from the timeline, they… They killed Superman’s human family the moment he arrived on Earth, so instead of—”
“The Kents,” Selina interrupted to show he could speak freely.
“You know about that?” he murmured, astonished.
“My world, Bruce and I don’t have any more secrets,” she said simply.
He paused, the glower deepening into a sour expression as he processed this new information, then he nodded.
“Instead of being raised by the Kents, Clark was, we both were… They took me right after my parents were gunned down. They raised us as brothers, as if we were their children, and… and they groomed us to, to conquer, to rule for them. It was… it was ugly. It was the vilest, ugliest world… You can’t imagine—”
“You’d be amazed what I can imagine, Bruce. Believe me, what you’re describing is nowhere near the worst case scenario.”
“We killed the heroes that should have become the Justice League,” he retorted forcefully. He took a short breath and resumed, a strange detachment in his voice. “Me and Superman, killers. Clark fried Green Arrow where he stood, ‘Obey or die,’ split second, didn’t give it a moment’s pause. We tortured Zatanna before we killed her, tortured her magic right out of her. I wound up using it a couple times, how’s that for irony.”
“Ah,” Selina said quietly. “I take it events here aren’t very different from my world as far as… relations between you and Zatanna and the League, then.”
The cold steel of Psychobat clamped down suddenly, and Selina realized she’d probably overstepped, alluding to the mindwipe with a Batman she didn’t really know and whose relationship with his Catwoman seemed… puzzlingly vague.
“You were there,” he mentioned, clearly changing the subject. “Both alternate timelines. In the first, our ‘parents’ arranged women for us. They gave Lois Lane to Clark and… well, there was a string of women they set me up with. It never worked out. But you were the last; you were the one that stuck… I was going to keep you. You made me happy—what passed for happy in that world, anyway.”
Selina said nothing at first, but mentally ran through the dimensional leaks throughout the manor in which she had appeared.
“That seems to be a recurring theme in my travels,” she murmured quietly. “So, um, you beat Zatanna’s magic out of her, and still we wound up together?”
“I don’t think there’s a cause and effect,” Batman said bluntly.
“Neither do I. Tell me about the second timeline.”
He froze for a moment, staring directly into her eyes. A cold silence passed between them for a few agonizing seconds, and then he finally spoke.
“No,” he declared with Bat-finality.
“Look,” she said patiently. “You don’t know me, I realize that. But reality is unraveling, and not just the one I come from. I didn’t pick this world to come to; I was brought here. And I’ve got to think there’s a reason for that. I don’t want to poke into your personal thing—although frankly, from what I’ve seen of you, you could do with a little kitty-poking.” She paused and then sighed. “And you’re so far gone, you’re not even going to get the joke there until a half hour after I’ve left.—Doesn’t matter—but you really should go find your cat and let her lighten you up a little. You really should. You should, Bruce. This isn’t you. Alone down here, poisoning yourself with the mission 24-7-365, this isn’t what your life is supposed to be.”
“Do you have a point?” he growled the way he challenged criminals caught red-handed.
“Yes,” she shot back, unimpressed and unintimidated. “If you’re anything like my Bat, the reason you’re here alone right now is that you’ve always put the mission above any personal considerations, isn’t that right? Well, here’s the situation: there’s a spark smoldering in the fabric of space-time. Whatever personal reason you’ve got for not wanting to tell me about that second timeline, ask yourself if it’s more important than stopping that spark before it bursts into a flame that destroys all of—”
“My parents didn’t die,” he said with that same eerie detachment. “In the second timeline, my parents didn’t die. I grew up knowing their love, having that security. The rest of the world went to hell while the trio from the 31st Century found a new puppet to rule through. It was Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s al Ghul ruled the world, but I was a happy man.”
His clinical detachment faltered and the hard bitterness of the Psychobat added, “Is that the vital information you need to extinguish your spark, Catwoman?”
“We… dated. There were other women, the playboy life was… It was odd. I actually was what I pretend to be now, as if that script was buried inside me and I followed it unconsciously. But when I was with you… You and I clicked. It was different. After we met, I could be at a party with a dozen beautiful women lounging around the pool, but I’d be missing you. We had such a connection.” It was the most animated he had sounded since her arrival. He stopped, as if he’d caught himself becoming too enthused, then resumed with analytical detachment. “Presumably it was because we had a history in this true timeline, a relationship, that is, a correlation… eh, a link on some subconscious…” he trailed off.
“Maybe we’re entangled quantum particles,” she offered with an elfish grin.
He raised an eyebrow.
“You know about entangled particles?” he asked skeptically.
“Right after she lightens you up,” Selina answered happily, “your Catwoman needs to smack you, hard, several times in the head until you get over this notion that I’m stupid.”
Again the lip twitched.
“Well, that’s a start,” Selina observed. “You have a nice liptwitch, Bruce. I’m really sorry I can’t stay and prod more of them out of you until you declare me an impossible woman. But you can walk me back to my entangled particles that link me with home.” Saying this, she snaked her arm playfully around his, bringing her hand to rest on the top of his gauntlet. “And when the time is right,” she whispered, pointing to her ringless fingers, “give your cat a pink sapphire.”
“’Impossible woman’ sounds about right,” he noted.
They walked arm in arm to the point where, in an alternate Batcave, the JLA transporter was repositioned over a magical vortex. Selina showed him where each of the three oil burners was sitting, describing the cats on each and the scents of the oil they burned. She didn’t know why she was going into such detail, he didn’t seem all that interested in which burner (that he couldn’t see and that didn’t exist in his world) was white, which black and which gold… But it did seem like he enjoyed letting her prattle. He’d seemed so alone and cut off when she arrived, maybe unconsciously she was reminded what her own Bruce was like at the beginning…
“I have to go,” she said finally.
“Selina,” he asked seriously before she stepped into the circle, “why is it you making these dimensional jumps and not your Batman?”
Their eyes met and locked.
Bruce, we need to talk about Zatanna…
When she arrived, he thought Alfred had let her into the cave. It meant he’d told his Catwoman his identity. Whatever their relationship was, it was that far along.
“We tortured Zatanna’s magic out of her before we killed her. I wound up using it a couple times, how’s that for irony…” “Events here aren’t very different from my world as far as you and Zatanna and the League…” “You were there in both alternate timelines, You made me happy—We had such a connection.”
“We beat Zatanna’s
magic out of her before we killed her.”
“and still we wound up together”
“I don’t think there’s a cause and effect.”
“I-eh,” Selina stumbled uncertainly over the words while her mind raced over possible answers. “Batman is working from another angle,” she managed as a facet of the truth presented itself. “With Superman. There’s a Luthor involved so…” she trailed off and shrugged.
He grunted, accepting this plausible half-truth for the whole, and Selina held her breath as the vortex of color burst onto the horizon and consumed him.
Selina woke with a start. She was still wearing the boots and riding pants… She looked around. She was in her bedroom in the manor—she didn’t remember going to sleep, though—the vortex, the last thing she remembered was the vortex in the cave. She checked her finger instinctively—the sapphire was in place—but smaller than it had been.
“I hate this,” she muttered to no one in particular. “Through the looking glass, new wrinkles each time, no wonder Jervis is crazy.”
There was a strange knocking—and Selina’s brow wrinkled as she realized it was coming from the window. It wrinkled even further as she turned to look and saw Superman hovering outside it. He offered a friendly salute when he saw he had her attention, and his hovering posture shifted like he was waiting for something. Playing a hunch, Selina opened the window.
“We said seven o’clock sharp, didn’t we?”
“Um, yes. Seven. Sharp,” Selina agreed bravely. “Seven sharp, that’s what we said.”
“And here I am,” Superman declared.
“Yes. There you are,” she noted.
“Eh,” she hedged, “I guess I should… tell Bruce you’re here?”
“Boy, you’re not going to make this easy are you, Selina. Look, Bruce is at the Watchtower pulling a double shift, as we arranged. It was not easy to make that happen without his suspecting something; he’s an impossibly hard man to fool. I have no idea how any of your… colleagues in this town can get away with anything. There, you happy? I admit it, he’s a better man. He’s a better crimefighter than all of us, a better partner and a better friend. We need him in the Justice League, and I was wrong not to tell him what Zatanna and the others had done the minute I heard what had happened with Dr. Light.”
“That’s what this is about,” Selina muttered under her breath. “That fucking mindwipe again.”
“He’s prepared to move past it, Selina. If you’ll let him. We talked it out and he’s ready to work with me again. I just… I am sorry that I couldn’t abide by the agreement we made at the waterfall that day. When I talked to Bruce, I brought up the protocols—I’m sorry, it was relevant to the conversation, it was important to me, and I said so. I promised you I wouldn’t mention it, and then I did. So here I am, your slave for the next twelve hours. So let’s get up to this preserve of yours, show me your monster tiger and tell me what you want done to his pen.”
Selina bit her lip.
“You’re… landscaping the Catitat for me because you mentioned the protocols when you talked to Bruce about the mindwipe?” she uttered, choking down a tickle of laughter.
“And I’m ready to take my punishment like a man,” he sighed, “I just figured it was going to be a lot more enlarging the spring-fed lake, like you originally said, and not so much talking about why.”
“Well, come on then,” she purred. “Time’s a wasting.”
As the morning wore on, Selina wondered why the mystic whatever that governed the vortex had brought her to this world on this day. Bruce wasn’t around to talk down from an ill-fated magic ritual, and it didn’t seem like there was anything she needed to learn from Superman. By lunchtime, she decided it was just the Universe’s way of giving her a respite. With all the Batman variants crossing her path, plus the dimension leaks at home, what better way to keep her grounded then letting her spend a few hours with her cats. The Nirvana of this world was just as welcoming and maternal as her own, and Shimbala! Watching Shimbala discover an invulnerable Kryptonian playmate for the first time reminded her of the untamable power that is a wild cat.
The tiger was intrigued when Superman entered his pen, and he went immediately to investigate. Superman allowed the cat to approach and sniff his hand; he foolishly thought that concluded the introductions. He returned his attention to the watershed, building up the banks along the stream so it would form a waterfall by the time it merged into the lake… What the Man of Steel didn’t realize is that a tiger is still a cat. Like any other cat, he will tell you when the encounter is finished, and until he does, you are not free to go about your business. So Shimbala charged, and Superman had to push him away. The cat was even more intrigued and charged more forcefully. Again Superman pushed back, and before long, the two were roughhousing like Lassie and Timmy.
Selina watched through binoculars from a footbridge that passed over the lake. She watched as Superman picked up Shimbala and flew him to the top of a hill farthest from the stream, then returned to his place in time to give the base of the riverbank ten seconds or so of super-pounding before Shimbala raced down the hill and pounced on him again. Selina couldn’t be certain, but she swore at one point she heard the illustrious Man of Steel muttering that he ‘should have brought the dog.’
Maybe that was the lesson of this world: Cats were a force of nature. They were nature incarnate, and even a power like Superman had to accommodate them. He could do it by willingly cooperating, or he could try to force the cat to do it his way, but either way, kitty had his playdate.
When the tiger had enough, he allowed Superman to return to work. When Selina had enough, she invited him back to the cabin for lunch. She was happily preparing sandwiches when Superman casually mentioned that Bruce “pulled some strings” through the Foundation to get Lois an interview with Dr. Luthor.
Selina froze, mustard knife poised over the bread, and stared.
“Lewis Luthor?” she asked, the blood draining from her face.
“Lewis?” Superman laughed, “No, heavens no. Laura. Selina, didn’t Bruce tell you that Dr. Luthor is a woman?””
“No,” she said softly. “He didn’t mention that. Superman—Clark—we have to get back. And we need Bruce to come back. You’ll have to ‘fess up and tell him you rigged the duty log, take over his shift.”
“Selina, seriously, Laura Luthor might be a brilliant scientist, but she’s not what I would call a heartbreaker. I really don’t think—”
“Oh, don’t be a schmuck,” she interrupted. “If Bruce is working with a Dr. Luthor, any Dr. Luthor, then I need to talk to him, in private and like ten minutes ago. I can’t explain, just trust me, there’s no time to lose and… and it’s very seriously, cosmically, and universally bad.”
It was Superman’s turn to stare.
“Why do I have the feeling you’re not joking?” he asked sternly.
“Get me home in thirty seconds or to the Watchtower in sixty, and you’ll get an answer to that question,” she answered crisply.
When Selina reached the Watchtower’s Monitor Womb, she saw her own file open on the large viewscreen. Batman was nowhere in sight. She glanced over the images on the screen and then turned to Superman.
“I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now,” she purred with quiet amusement, “Six paragraphs on the ‘naughty grin’ seems aa bit excessive. And it really isn’t a ‘special power,’ you know.”
Superman glanced disapprovingly at the data on a sidescreen.
“They have it classified under ‘incapacitate and mind control abilities,’” he said genially, “It’s just Lantern and Flash having a little joke is all, obviously. I’ll… have a talk with them.”
“When you do, tell them the lady in question said ‘that’s not his mind, but leave it to hero-types like them to be confused on that point.’”
Before Superman could respond, Batman coughed in the doorway.
“Am I interrupting something?” he graveled.
“I was going to ask the same thing,” Selina said, pointing to the file. “We need to talk about this, Bruce. Whatever you’re thinking that’s got you poring over my file up here, it’s fucked, okay? Whatever you’re thinking of doing with Dr. Luthor—magic maybe? a Seeing Ritual, because you think Zatanna did something to change me?”
“WHAT?” Superman gasped, staring at Selina. “What are y—”
He stopped when he saw the look on Batman’s face. It was true. Bruce was planning something. Realization dawned: Batman had known about the switch in the duty logs, and worse, he had known that both Selina and Superman would be occupied, leaving him free to conduct whatever experiments he was planning.
“After Dr. Light, it must’ve got good for them,” Selina answered tersely. “She did it at least once more to a Flash villain in Keystone and—”
“And to the Secret Society of Supervillains,” Batman added, cutting her off.
Superman’s eyes darted from one of them to the other. He crossed his arms over his chest and let out a short sigh before adding, “And at least two more that I know about.”
Selina merely nodded her head towards the file displayed on the monitor.
“And when it came out about the Society, that set you off on a research project?” she said to Batman.
“You were in the Secret Society for a time,” he said flatly.
“No,” she corrected, patiently. “See, that’s also the kind of thing where you hero-types are apt to get confused. I went to a party. They had an open house when they set up their ‘Sinister Citadel,’ they invited me and I went. Big whoop.”
Batman turned a dial on the console, repositioning the image on the main screen, and then punched a button to enlarge a detail on the far right. The zoomed image showed Catwoman talking with Felix Faust and smiling a little too warmly.
“That’s a party?” Batman demanded emphatically.
Selina repositioned the image just as he had done and punched the button, expanding the lowest edge of the frame.
“That’s a kabob,” she answered, pointing to an object in Faust’s left hand.
“It looks like his wand,” Batman pointed out.
“I’m not having this conversation,” Selina said to no one in particular.
Clark was about to interject that it did, in fact, look like a wand, but a quick sideways glance at Selina told him that, in this particular case, silence was the best policy. He’d been stuck in Perry White’s office with Perry and Lois going at it too many times not to learn how and when to stay out of a conversation. He stared blankly at the image, concentrating a little too hard on the wand-kabob in question… he began to convince himself there might be a wedge of green pepper just visible behind Faust’s thumb.
“Look,” Selina resumed in a tone of strained patience, “They flew me out to San Francisco, I listened to their pitch, I took the tour. I admired the Corinthian leather chairs in their library, the X-ray machine in their medical center and the gun cabinets in their arsenal, and then I made an early exit.”
“It doesn’t look like you’re getting ready to make an exit,” Batman said, realigning the photo yet again until Catwoman’s smile filled the screen in an extreme close-up.
Clark, who now found himself without a convenient focus for his attention, turned away from the monitor. Time for phase two: convenient extraction. “I’m just going to go check on the Hydroponics Garden,” he muttered, edging slowly toward the door.
“I listened to Wizard, Mirror Master, and Felix Faust tell the same story,” Selina said curtly, “And I smiled each time, because that’s what you do when you’re drinking their liquor and eating their canapés. And then I made an early exit, because that’s what you do when the guy with the kabob keeps crowding your personal space and telling you his wife doesn’t understand him!”
“Wh-what?!?” Superman exclaimed.
“I thought you were going to check the Hydroponics Garden,” Batman spat.
“You heard that, eh?” Superman countered.
“Of course he heard,” Selina sighed. “He’s Batman. What, did you miss the memo?”
Batman turned his back on the two of them. He began closing windows on the monitor screen, gathering papers into a folder, and giving every indication that he was ignoring their existence.
“So you were never in the Society at all?” Superman asked with a forced conversational air, accepting that there was no help for it now—he was in this conversation whether he wanted to be or not. “No auxiliary status, or, I don’t know, a trial membership?”
Selina mirrored precisely the same smile that had appeared on the viewscreen before it flickered out.
“You’re thinking of a health club,” she said sweetly. “What’s honestly funny is this is damn near the same conversation I had with them. They had this idea that if I joined, I wouldn’t expect to be PAID to perform burglaries for them. I explained—very nicely, I thought, under the circumstances—that it doesn’t work that way.”
“I’ll bet that went over well,” Batman muttered, barely audible.
Selina shot him a look, but he’d resumed the “ignoring you” demeanor, so she continued to direct her comments to Superman.
“They called me for two jobs over the next six weeks,” she went on as if she’d never been interrupted. “For which I was very well paid (You remember that sweet Porsche I had before the Jag?), and I never heard from them again. I assume they found some member or other who’s almost as good as me and would do it for the brownie points.”
“Interesting,” Superman nodded. “Shadow Thief, probably. I believe he went on their rolls very early on, didn’t he, Batman?”
Batman turned, glowered, and grunted.
“I’m going home,” he declared. “Clark, if you’ll finish the shift.”
He nodded, and Batman walked out. Selina met Superman’s eye and then followed to the transporter.
“Don’t do it, Bruce,” she called softly. “Whatever you’re planning with Dr. Luthor, it can’t end well. If you wanted to know what happened with me and the Secret Society all those years ago, you only had to ask—”
“Selina,” he blurted, spinning around mid-step to face her. “You’re assuming that you know what really happened. You’re assuming your memories are accurate. If they— If she—”
“And,” she continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “If you want to know when I stopped stealing, it would be so much better to ask me about it rather than finding some radical physicist that… that for all you know could be crazier and more dangerous than the whole Secret Society put together.”
“What makes you think you can trust your memories?” he asked grimly.
“What makes you think you can trust Dr. Luthor?” she retorted.
“It isn’t a question of trust, it’s a simple exercise in scientific methodology, constructing an experiment to validate a worthy hypothesis that could redefine—”
“Pffft,” she interjected.
“Bless you,” Superman called in the distance.
Selina looked at Batman.
Batman looked at Selina.
“Cave,” he mouthed silently.
She nodded, and a minute later, the conversation resumed in the privacy of the Batcave.
“Dr. Luthor needs to monitor a physical space across multiple subatomic spectra during a magic ritual,” Batman explained impassively. “What mystics call ‘a seeing’ is as good as any, and she’s undergone extensive training with practicing magic users to be able to—”
“You’re staging a seeing ritual with Dr. Luthor in order to access the moment I stopped stealing,” Selina said over him, just as impassively. “And Bruce, it is a colossal mistake. If you go through with this…”
“Don’t stop there, that’s quite a threat you started off.”
“It’s not a threat. It’s… It’s just something I know. If you take that step, a spark ignites and… very bad consequences.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know… Bruce, I know I can trust my thoughts and my memories and my feelings where you and I are concerned. I will tell you about the moment I stopped stealing—but you have to promise me you’ll call off this ritual.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes,” she smirked. “I’d also like to note for the record that this is quite a tiny little stone for a pink sapphire.”
Underneath the mask, his brow crinkled.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but it’s quite large for a pink diamond. You thought I gave you an undersized sapphire for an engagement ring?”
All Selina’s carefully constructed words to explain her decision to stop stealing froze as a creeping icy shock congealed at the base of her spine and spidered through her entire body.
“eng’d…?” she said woozily.
To be continued...