Nexus 3, Chapter 16

“I know how this is going to sound,” I started, before stopping myself. “Actually, I don’t; I don’t know why I said that.”

“Because you’re nervous,” Elle said. “Which is making me incredibly nervous; you’re not usually self-aware enough to know when you should be worried.”

“I’m making things worse. A crew member asked me to donate genetic material.”

“His groupie?” Sam asked, frowning.

“His groupie?” Elle asked, her voice raising an octave.

“Stop reading me,” I told Sam. “And he isn’t the one who needs the material. Nor was he ever attracted to me. That was an inside joke. And I’m assuming any DNA would be provided in an approved medical receptacle, and not personally delivered to anybody’s private entrance.”

“Buh…” Elle said.

“Give her a second,” Sam said. “This has all been very confusing. I’m telepathic, and have seen into the deepest, oddest parts of your mind, and even I was having trouble following you.”
“Yeah,” Elle said, pointing first at Sam, and then at her own nose. “So, why do they want your genetics? They’ve met you? Heard the rumors, at least? And none of that has turned them off of the idea?”

“You are ripe with his genetics,” Sam said; “you are an arsonist living in a house of oily rags stuck together with kerosene.”

“I… just…”

“You cope by poking me,” I said softly. “And I know your poking is one of the rare times you’re comfortable showing affection, odd and aggressive though it often is.”

“It’s not as much fun when you just take it,” she complained.

“She’s not being candid,” Sam said.

“He knows that,” Elle said. “And exactly whose side are you on?”

“I’m on our side,” Sam said, and took both of our hands. “And this is important; you should hear him out, before trying to form an opinion.”

I could feel Sam’s warmth in my head; I wasn’t sure where her confidence in me and reassurance stopped, and her telepathically manipulating my conscious mind started, but neither did she; I guess it isn’t all that different from the way humans influence one another socially: there’s always one foot in trying to get what you want, but that doesn’t mean one person isn’t trying to help the other person get what they want, either. “It’s Sasha. He and his partner want to have a baby. Because I was supportive, after Bryan died, and because I was supportive again, during his reorientation… he has a fondness for me that few not at this table would understand. And, I think, more than anything, it’s a way to be close to Bryan; we were cousins, so some degree of his genes would be common to me.”

“And you’ve already promised you would,” Elle said. “So either I play bad cop, or I just accept that our daughter’s going to have a brother before she’s even born.” Sam flushed a color, one I’d seen only once before, and I was pretty sure it was pride.

“He hasn’t,” she said. “He promised he would ask us, and that he would be bound by our response.”

“He did?” Elle asked skeptically.

“If you’d like proof, I could arrange for the pair of you to imprint?” 

This time Elle flushed, at the realization of what that would entail.

“That’s an option?” I asked. “Then I’m afraid I have to insist. There’s just no way to be certain without doing our due diligence.”

“On the contrary,” Elle said, smiling, “I’m very certain that you’re an ass. And that my water broke.”

“Water?” Sam asked. “My feet are wet.”

“Oh, bother,” I said.

“Captain,” Haley came over my comms, “I appear to be experiencing an issue.”

“So are we, right now, Haley, can it wait?” I asked. My HUD shut down, followed an instant later by the lights. They were down the majority of an alligator before they kicked back on.

“Fine, Haley, your issue just jumped to the front of the queue. Sitrep.”

“There seems to have been some weaponized code in the black box. In trying to break its encryption, I inadvertently infected the ship’s systems.”

“I… helped,” Bill said from behind me. He was winded, trying to catch his breath. “And… my feet are wet.”

“Her water broke,” Sam said, before returning to trying to guide Elle through meditative breathing.

“Mazel Tov,” Bill said, then frowned. “This might not have been the most opportune moment to break the ship.”

“Might not, no,” I agreed. “It can be fixed, right?”

“Imminently,” Haley said. “Though there are going to be-” we lost the lights again.

“I need to get to the servers,” Bill said. “I need to pull the blades out of to create a physical quarantine.” He walked into me. “Once the lights come back on, or my eyes adjust.”

“Or you could just try and get to third base with every officer between here and the servers.”

“Please don’t tell me what I got a handful of,” he said, taking a step back just as the lights came on.”

“The accidental handful I can see, but I’m pretty sure I felt palpitating, and I don’t think all of that was on my end.”

“I think the lady doth protest too much,” Sam said. “Did I use that right?”

“Close enough,” I said. Either out of embarrassment, or fear the lights would drop again, Bill raced off.

“Damn,” Haley said. “My timetables aren’t functioning correctly. I believe I can defeat the infective programming, but it will take some time. A day, at least. During which time my systems will be-” the lights went out again, but this time my HUD stayed on, so I could continue to hear her,” unpredictable.”

“Anything else you need right now?”

“At the moment, I believe Bill’s help will be sufficient, but I will not hesitate to ask if there are further things I need. I would not dream of endangering our crew for pride.”

“Of course not. If anything changes,”

“I will alert you. In the meantime, you have offspring arriving imminently, which I believe is something humans tend to celebrate.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll wait to light the cigars until later,” I said. “But I appreciate the thought.”

Pitchmas 2021, Part 2: Sinister Seven

Note: Part of the challenge of these pitches is that I’m making guesses based on the shifting landscape of Marvel’s universe; to accommodate this, I moved this pitch from last week to this one, figuring I could adjust as necessary over the week. Since my first Sinister Six pitch, we’ve had a Venom and a Spider-Man movie, and as a result some things I assumed were givens have now been altered; I haven’t seen No Way Home yet, and may not for some time, since my local drive-in is shuttered for the winter. The main difference is I assumed Carnage would still be around, and a threat, which Venom needed help with- and not you know, in a different reality. Now, I’d switch his character’s motivation towards fixing the Symbiote’s dietary restrictions in that first movie, but it otherwise plays pretty much the same. Now, on with our feature presentation.

The Pitch

We start on a rainy night. Venom swings through the streets like Spider-Man, the symbiote first humming a version of the Spider-Man cartoon theme, before it bursts out into a boisterous version of the chorus with his own lyrics:

Venom Suit, Venom Suit

Eats scum from their heads down to their boot (alternate line: Friend to chickens and a hoot,)

Alien goo and sexy too,

Lethally protects you and you!

Look out!

Here comes the Venom Suit!”

Venom lands on a rooftop, and Eddie’s face is revealed under the mask. “I don’t like your song,” Eddie says

“Why not?” the Suit asks.

“For one, it’s entirely about you. I’m not even in it.”

“You’re in it. Because you’re in me.”

“You make it sound like I’m you’re luggage.”

“That’s it exactly. You’re my carry-on.” Eddie’s annoyed, but doesn’t pursue it further. Lightning slashes the sky, and the suit winces. “I do not like the lightning, Eddie.”

“I know, buddy,” Eddie says, but he’s cut off by another flash of lightning, this one closer; the symbiote recoils from Eddie, nearly tearing clean off him.

“It weakens us,” Venom says, as another flash hits a transformer near to them. In the initial strike, we can almost make out the fact that the symbiote is trying to tear itself in half- we see two distinct symbiotes. When the transformer explodes, coating the rooftop with fire and sound, the symbiotes sheer. It’s a moment before the torn away symbiote’s shape becomes recognizable, but it is Carnage, reborn. His symbiote face peels back to reveal Cleatus Kassidy beneath it.

“Nice to see you, Eddie,” he says, “but I got to run.”

He leaps off the roof. Venom is there an instant later, but he can’t tell where Carnage ran. There are a handful of people on the street, any of whom he could be, and a manhole cover missing from the sewers. Eddie wants to pursue, but Venom is terrified. They gave killing Carnage their absolute best shot, and he shrugged it off like it was nothing. He prevents Eddie from pursuing long enough that Carnage has definitely gotten away. We do whatever opening credits we’re going to do, at a minimum, flashing the title with a bloody, “Absolute Carnage” splattered beneath the words “Sinister Seven” (and yes, we are taking inspiration from the Oceans flicks and adding a member of the crew and going up by one for the sequels).

We get a quick montage of Eddie doing research, because the Six have changed their hideout. Venom, desperate, returns to the Sinister Six headquarters, and demands Ock pay what he owes, namely, that the Six help defeat Carnage. But he’s followed by Carnage and his new crew including Shriek wearing a black and white symbiote of her own, which resembles her comics ensemble. That’s right: Carnage’s symbiote and Venom’s made babies (note: in this reality, Kassidy did get the death penalty, leaving his Shriek available, and consequently more feral). Ock and his team are still licking their wounds from their last whupping, and unprepared for the onslaught. Carnage captures Vulture and offers to spare his family if Vulture agrees to work for him- and threatens to recruit his daughter in his stead if he doesn’t. We also see them seize Jackal. The remaining members of the Six scatter, recognizing the fight as unwinnable (and villains being a superstitious and cowardly lot).

Venom doubles back, and follows Carnage. He’s also recruited the Hobgoblin, who also knows where Man-Spider and Lizard have been working together. I might give Shriek a backstory with Dr. Connors, that he experimented on her while she was in custody, trying to remove the herding/pack mentality from human beings (her abilities have been linked to the opposite, a panicked, every man for himself kind of instinct). She seeks revenge on him.

We cut to Connor’s lab. Peter unmasks, and offers his services as a lab assistant to Dr. Connors (personally, I’d bring back Dylan Baker, because he’s phenomenal, and can do that mentor thing no problem, but also can pivot to sinister in a way that would make him perfect for this role). See, Pete, because he’s been Spider-Manning, hasn’t really been able to hold down a job, so on paper he looks like the world’s biggest flake. Connors is patient with him, but says that even before he got the spider bite, he wasn’t much of an assistant; he spent his time there geeking out, and it got bad enough he had to hire an intern to pick up the slack, before Peter fully ghosted him to work for Octavius (who, faithful readers will remember, he ghosted for Tony Stark). That’s when we meet Connors’ new lab assistant, Miles Morales. He’s getting some college credit in exchange for the gig, and money for college… once he’s old enough to go. Pete thinks a moment, then offers that if he ever needs a second assistant, he’s one swing away. Connors stops him, and says that he’s still going to help him- him and his clone. We hear the sound of web-swinging, before a four-armed Spider-Man swings into the room. “I don’t know, I’m sort of getting used to the four arms,” he says. “Though I don’t miss the thousands of eyes. Or being hairy like a sasquatch.” Pete gets a call from Aunt May, and tells them he has to go, and swings out the window.

Miles confronts Connors about their mysterious donor- that it’s Spider-Man. Connors doesn’t confirm it, or deny it. Miles tells him that, ethically, they shouldn’t be keeping their experiments a secret. He says that until they have a breakthrough, there’s nothing to publish- nothing to share- and he wants to make sure it’s safe before exposing anyone else to the mutagenic compounds in Spider-Man’s blood. 

The window opens, and they turn back, expecting to find Peter. But it’s Carnage. Man-Spider attacks him, and Carnage makes quick work of him, dropping a writhing little ball of symbiote onto him that turns him into the Doppleganger. Carnage next attacks Connors, who starts to change into the Lizard. As his mouth snaps open, Carnage jams a symbiote inside, and holds him while it takes him over. In the commotion, Miles hides, but has a terrarium with a spider smashed over him in the commotion, and he’s bit by its former inhabitant. Venom, watching from a nearby rooftop, calls Ock.

Cut to Peter Parker’s rooftop. He’s marching, maskless, saying, “No no no no no no no.” We pan, and see that he’s reacting, badly, to Ock and Venom. “The last time you two were on this rooftop I was sucked into a black void before spending a week chained in a sadistic nightmare.”

Venom, not being a monster in this iteration, tries to apologize. Ock cuts him off. “You care for your clone, yes? And Dr. Connors?”

“Are you threatening them? What kind of a team-up is this?”

“They are already under threat, and not from me. Carnage has them. They are in the thrall of his sadistic symbiotes.”

“Are you saying they’re all sadistic or just his?”

“The red ones,” Venom’s symbiote says, “are mad. We have a saying amongst the Klyntar, that black and white are all right. Black and red, everyone’s dead.”

“Well thank God there’s a nursery rhyme,” Peter says, rubbing his eyes. “And they can be helped?”

“Symbiote and host can be separated. Must, in most cases, before the symbiote kills the host.”

“Oh. Good. What nightmare isn’t better without a ticking clock?” Peter asks. He shoves his mask back on. “I don’t see that I have a choice.”

“You could call your Avenger friends,” Ock taunts.

“You think he didn’t?” we hear a commanding voice from behind them. We see that Sam Wilson Captain America is landing on the rooftop.

This is your cavalry?” Ock complains.

“Short notice. Everyone else is dealing with a Kang situation,” Sam says (we can swap in whatever else might be a more appropriate reference).

“So that’s six, right?” Peter asked. “Contract fulfilled. We can stop recruiting and take the fight to Carnage? Or are you doing that thing from that old Ocean’s 11 series, where each time you have to add a character and a number to the movie.”

“There wasn’t a sequel to the ‘old’ Ocean’s 11,” Ock protested.

“Kid’s 6. Anything older than Blue’s Clues is prehistoric,” Venom said.

“Blue’s whose?” Peter asked, to which Ock chortled.

We cut to street level. Carnage’s symbiotes are chasing Cloak through the streets. He calls out for Tandy, before he hears her scream “Tyrone.” He follows the scream to the rooftops.

Carnage is there with his makeshift family. “You spoke to Brock for an article about homeless youth and underground drug experiments. Nobody cared. Color me shocked. But the experiments made you slippery, and your friend, well, she’s a beacon if I ever saw one. Her? I have no use for. I learned a long time ago that I do my best work in the dark. But you… we could have a lot of fun with you. But you’re slippery. So I was never going to be able to catch you on my own. I needed leverage.” Shriek produces Tandy, held inside her symbiote. “I have a soft spot for tragic love, so I’ll give you one chance to save ‘Tandy.’ You accept one of my symbiotes, and I let her go.” We show he’s got a finger crossed behind his back.

“I want to say goodbye.” Cloak floats near her, then engulfs both Shriek and Dagger in his cloak, before disappearing- but not before Carnage tags him with one of his symbiotes. Cloak lets Dagger out of his cloak somewhere else. They have a tearful goodbye, as Cloak tells her that he can feel the symbiote taking him over- that she needs to run- because when it does, it’s going to chase her. She doesn’t want to leave him. He tells her he isn’t- that she’s going to save him- she just has to pick her moment. He disappears, reappearing with Carnage. He lets Shriek loose. Then they all teleport to where he left Tandy. She’s gone.

The story follows a similar arc to the Maximum Carnage storyline from the books, Carnage’s team sewing panic in the streets, which Shriek is able to turn into unrest and rioting; she’s used Connor’s work and her new symbiote to create the opposite of what he was working on, a low-level sonic pulse that freaks people the hell out on an animal level; he’ll jibber about the reptile brain, mention those sonic pest repellers; it’s especially effective on the young, who have better hearing, and also fewer social ties, and because the first riot is mostly kids, that freaks out the older cohort. So by the time the heroes are organized, Carnage has built himself a bubble of innocent rioters to hide behind- they can’t take the fight to them until they clear out the civilians. 

But just like the original Maximum Carnage, it’s a combination of Captain America’s inspiration for them to be their best selves (I imagine mentioning the solidarity he saw in New York during the Chitari attack, Sam, not yet an Avenger, took volunteers from his group therapy to do disaster work), and a combination of Dagger’s light powers, that get the people enough in their right minds to disperse. I’m imagining an additional rub, that while he’s not officially, numerically part of the team (got to save something for the sequel) Morbius studies Shriek’s impact, and discovers there’s a biological component; yes, it is primarily a psychic plague, but it works symbiotically with a biological one, that lowers inhibitions while increasing adrenaline and rage- even if they can get the crowd to calm down, the moment someone stubs a toe it all goes to hell all over again, unless they can deal with the underlying, symbiote-based infection. I’d probably have him be attacked by a symbioted Jackal, who mocks his abilities, and he has to defeat, to be able to carry out his cure. So it’s the three of them in tandem that deal with Shriek’s influence.

Then the heroes take the fight to Carnage. We get a cool aerial Cap vs Vulture fight, a heartfelt Dagger vs. Cloak fight (him swallowing her up and her using her light from inside to reach him). Venom fights Carnage, while Spider-Man handles his Doppleganger. I guess Ock fights Lizard. Kraven and Scorpion fight Hobgoblin and Shriek. Dagger is able to clear the symbiotes off of people, everyone except Carnage. See, there isn’t anything underneath it- he’s just the symbiote, the face we’ve seen having been recreated by its shape-shifting. I think as the other symbiotes are removed, they return to Carnage; it makes him slightly more powerful, but also takes the hosts out of the fight. So in the end it’s everyone still standing versus Carnage. He ends up climbing to the top of a tower where, buffeted by attacks, he’s struck by lightning, and his charred body falls to the ground, shattering.

Mid-Credits Scene

Venom apologizes again to Spider-Man for dragging him into this. Peter, with a little reluctance, takes his hand and shakes it. We go in close, as the Venom symbiote reaches a tendril from Eddie’s hand onto the back of Spider-Man’s. It should read, in the moment, like the symbiote wanting to shake his hand, too, since he’s a real hero.

Ock is waiting in the wings, wanting a similar moment, and Peter notices. “You touch me, Otto, and I’ll tear off your arms. The, uh, metal ones, I mean.”

“You touch the kid again, and I’m tearing off all your limbs,” Venom adds. “Wait. Aw, crap.” Venom starts to do the thing he did at the end of Venom 2, and disappears; instinctively, the suit covers Spider-Man, too, to try to protect him, and inadvertently drags Peter with them, giving us, for the briefest moment, the MCU debut of symbiote Spider-Man.

Sam is on Otto in an instant, assuming he had something to do with the kid’s disappearance. Otto is just as flummoxed, and concerned, as he is. “I knew the boy before he grew into a Spider-Man; I briefly dated his aunt, and considered him a son. My concern for his welfare is equal to your own, and my befuddlement at his disappearance equal, too.”

Sam asks Connors, who is out of his depth on this one. Sam leaves, saying he needs to consult with some nerds.

End Credits

We cut to Carnage’s charred remains on the ground, and can see that the eyes are moving, if only just. He’s remembering the moment he was struck. We saw it as lightning, but really, it was a message, carried on electricity, across the stars. We zoom across galaxies, to the homeworld of the Klyntar, a writhing ball o symbiotes. We push through the goo, into a dark throne room, on which sits a gaunt, terrifying figure. We zoom in, pushing close, until we can just see one of his eyes beneath wispy white hair. He opens one blood-red eye, and we cut to black.

Nexus 3, Chapter 15

It had been a long time since I’d been in the biome. A lot of the ship’s resources were fabricated, either through entirely synthetic means or in the bioreactors- essentially bacterial colonies reprogrammed to create whatever raw materials we needed, similar to one of the early ways insulin was farmed. For everything else, we had the biome, a small slice of Earth recreated as a perfect, closed system designed to keep homeostatic harmony, with us harvesting the materials needed, and replacing them with processable wastes and byproducts from the rest of the ship.

Sasha and his fiancé were already most of the way into their hazard suits when I arrived, and started to dress. One of the MaintOffs in charge of the biome checked to be sure our suits were sealed shut- to make sure we didn’t contaminate it- then sealed us in the decon suite.  

I waited through the cycles of hot steam, alcohol and decon sprays, and even after, waited for Sasha to speak. I was here at their request, and I appreciated a chance to just be a spectator at someone else’s rodeo.

“You’re our plan B,” Sasha said, when the doors opened.

“Should I be flattered, or insulted? Or just wait for more information?”

“Well, first, you should say hello to my fiancé, Deena.”

“Howdy. We’ve met, but obviously, these are less formal circumstances. At least, I think they are.”

“I like watching him squirm,” Deena said. “He’s so used to being in the loop, especially when there are secrets he’s not used to being on the outside.”

“She has a point,” Sasha said with a grin, “but we didn’t ask him here to torture him, no matter how amusing that might be. My plan A wasn’t ever feasible, because trans men don’t produce sperm. I was pre-med, back on Earth, but I think I was still in the wishful thinking stage; I brought it up, with MedDiv, when I was first talking about transitioning. I wanted to be able to just flick a switch and be who I wanted to be, down to new DNA. But that’s not really a procedure they do, not even back on Earth, except in extreme cases. Because the human body really wasn’t designed to be restarted with new genes. It’s… basically the equivalent of a full body transplant. And if that weren’t enough, your cells replace at different rates, too, so it’s more like a series of transplants. Your skin will be replaced in 39 days. The skeleton takes 10 years, at the outside you’ve got hippocampal neurons replaced every 20 to 30 years. But the most important parts don’t replace at all; heart muscle cells stop growing at 10 years old, grey matter at 3. So you’d always have to keep the immune system suppressed, or it would attack your heart and brain. And honestly, the only real reason to still pursue it at that point is psychological, so there couldn’t be any nagging sense that maybe I’m not a ‘real’ man. And fuck that. I don’t need to adopt a toxically masculine death wish to prove my masculinity; and I’d rather live a real long life as me than worry about whether or not anyone else takes issue with my reality.”

“That sounds healthy,” I said.

“It’s likely solvable, long-term. I think if we, as a society, disliked trans people less, we might have dedicated the resources to building nano-gene-replacement tech that would do that safely; we use similar techniques to aid in a host of genetic disorders already, so it’s not as if the technology doesn’t exist- though to be fair we are talking a complete tear-down as opposed to replacing a single bad gene, or a cluster, or even a faulty chromosome- though there are plenty who might argue that’s the case if we’re replacing a y with an x. But even today you have a lot of people who see the disharmony as a psychological one, that the fix should be convincing us to be happy with what we have- of course, isn’t that capitalism in a nutshell, the people who have the most trying to convince the rest of us we’re content with what we have, so they don’t have to share?”

“I have brain worms,” I said, “and a whole series of head traumas. So feel free to dumb it down for me, because right now I couldn’t tell you if we’re in a forest or a desert.”

“We want to have a baby,” Deena said, “while I’m still young and most likely to have the least amount of complications. And for that, we need a donor.”

“And I checked with MedDiv, you’re the man on ship whose genes are most likely not to be allowed near a fertile human woman,” Sasha deadpanned. “Waste not, want not.”

“He gets nervous,” Deena said, touching Sasha’s arm as gingerly as possible through the hazard suit. “One part crush, one part hero-worship. Several parts a mid-level introvert uncomfortable dealing with an extroverted authority figure.”

“It’s an honor even to be asked,” I said.

“You have no idea,” Deena said. “It’s a very exclusive club.”

“But like the two of you, I have a partner, or maybe two, I’d need to discuss things with. Were it only up to me, I wouldn’t hesitate at all, and I am touched to even be considered.”

“Um, not to be pushy,” Deena said, “but how long do you think we’ll have to wait for an answer?”

“I’ll ask as soon as we’re clear of the biome. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you ask over message.”

“That seems fair. Also, far less impulsive than I would have expected.”

“I have developed something of a reputation in that regard, more than a little of it fair.”

“And, again, not trying to push…”

“Just anxious to know whether or not one of the more stressful and intimate decisions you’ve ever made is going to get blown up despite everyone’s best intentions?” I asked.

“Something like that, yeah, but how long do you anticipate your partners taking to decide?”

“Well, seeing as this is a normal occurrence for me, the typical turn-around is two business days. Elle’s likely to kill me immediately for asking. If she doesn’t, I imagine Sam can convince her to at least decide whether or not to kill me by breakfast tomorrow.”

“That seems reasonable. And for whatever it’s worth, I am rooting for her not killing you,” Deena said over-seriously. “Me, too,” I replied.

Pitchmas 2021, Part 1: Spider-Man 2099

First things first: I planned out this series of pitches before Marvel and Sony had started talking about doing a new MCU Spidey trilogy. This is important, because I am pitching a spidey-heavy slate in large part because I wanted to demonstrate that Spider-Man is better in the MCU, and vice versa. So if you were noticing an awful lot of Spiders flying your way, your Marvel no-prize isn’t in the mail.

We open on the Gallows family; this is the last time we’re going to see Jake Gallows happy. They’re leaving a show, when they’re accosted. Jake wants to fight back, but his wife tries to hold him back; she only succeeds in getting him shot. His Public Eye badge clatters to the ground, and the muggers freak out. They gun down the rest of the Gallows, before fleeing.

We cut to the inside of Alchemax. Miguel O’Hara gets waved through security, as he watches the head of Alchemax, Tyler Stone, talking to his son, Kron, who we recognize as the head mugger from the previous scene. Miguel doesn’t care about either of them. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Miguel heads up to his lab. Only Tyler stops the elevator, and slides in.

Tyler pressures him for progress. He’s oily, and is sure that they’re so close to a breakthrough. Miguel snaps at him. “A woman died.” The words reverberate. We’re in Miguel’s lab, as a woman named Angela Rose becomes sand. We continue to hear his words. “She disintegrated before my eyes, Tyler. The only thing we’re close to is a new, more efficient way to cremate people.”

Back in the elevator, Tyler says he noticed Miguel hasn’t touched his allotment of Rapture, and that a productive employee is a happy employee. For the first time we notice that Miguel is looking a little twitchy, a little sweaty, a little worse for wear. He tells Stone he doesn’t always use it; sometimes it makes it harder for him to concentrate or sleep. Stone stops the elevator a moment. “You remember why you helped me develop Rapture, Miguel?”

Miguel remembers Stone’s answer, even if he disagrees with him, philosophically, and parrots it back: they developed it because it acts as a stimulant, getting the best work out of employees on the clock, but also relaxes the employee off the clock, so they return the next day refreshed. The fact that it’s addictive and prohibitively expensive without it being subsidized by the company keeps employees loyal. Miguel tells him he’ll take his next dose soon.

In his lab, Miguel is confronted by two bots of his design, Electro and Mysterio, riffing on the classic Spider-Man villains. Electro was designed first, to handle electrical and magnetic lab tasks that could be dangerous; Mysterio does the same for chemicals, and as a consequence is essentially a mobile chemistry lab with an overdeveloped sense of the dramatic. Mysterio is playful, up to and including sewing himself a cape and making mist wherever he goes; Miguel teases him about it being to cover up his exhaust cloud.

Miguel also has a lab assistant, Aaron Delgato. He’ll mostly be a background presence, this go round, but he is essentially Tyler’s eyes and ears into Miguel’s work. Miguel is working with spider genetics, specifically working on a serum using their genetics as a curative to the addictive compounds in Rapture. Miguel is doing a head count as he slides into a lab coat. His spiders have been engineered to have numbers on their abdomens to make it easier to count them. He asks where one of the numbers is, I’ll say 15 (I believe it was Amazing Fantasy 15 Spider-Man debuted in, though please don’t take my nerd card away if I’m wrong, I use it to defend my honor- that’s right, duct-taped to my junk like a chastity belt, which has proved incredibly effective at keeping people from untaping my duct).

We cut to the inside collar of his lab coat, where the spider is. Miguel scratches at his neck, which compresses the spider, who reacts by biting. Miguel cries out, twisting out of his coat. The spider runs off, as he collapses.

We hear the beeping of a heart monitor in a fancy-looking hospital room. Miguel is across the way from the monitored man; his vitals are good, we overhear his doctor say, no need for the same kind of equipment as Mr. Gallows is hooked up. “Gallows?” the woman visiting Miguel asks, as we pan towards the TV, which is showing the trial of Kron Stone.

The prosecutor is wrapping up. “Even now, one of the brave officers from our Public Eye is fighting for his life, barely clinging to it while this scum has the audacity to smile and make jokes. If only his wife or children had been so lucky. You’ve seen the vids; his guilt isn’t even in question. The only decision you have to make is the kind of justice he’ll face.” The judge instructs the jury to register their verdicts, and an instant later tells them the verdict is in. He instructs the defendant to stand, but he refuses, so the judge has two bailiffs force him to his feet, then reads out the verdict: death. We start to hear the heart monitor again.

This time the mugger goes into his pocket, and retrieves a black card. The bailiff holds out a panel, which he swipes the card against; the card changes to a slightly lighter gray. The courtroom gasps, as his shackles deactivate and fall to the floor. A man narrates that because of his family’s wealth, being caught committing multiple murders on camera essentially amounts to only a credit downgrade, that he’ll only be able to crash his sports car every other day from now on.

We hear the heart monitor go into full alarm, as we pull back out, into the hospital room. We see now that the window is open, with the cord for the heart monitor trailing out, threatening to pull the monitor out of the window, before going slack. We pan over to see that Jake’s bed is now empty.

We pan back to the TV. We hear reporters mobbing the defendant, in particular the newscaster who narrated earlier. “What would you say to people who say that you got away with murder?”

The mugger mugs for the camera (see what I did there?) before saying, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the fine, kids!” before cackling. The camera pans to the interviewer. He’s John Eisenhart. “There you have it: an ending nearly as horrifying as the crime that preceded it.” While John is a little too slick, a little too massaged, we can see some genuine emotion bleeding out of him. We cut a little later, as he’s driving down the freeway, while his camera woman cycles through their footage, including that last line.

“I hate this job,” he says.

“The fame? The fortune.”

“That I’m not paid that well, or paid to punch little shits like that on camera.”

“That’s why we moonlight,” she tells him. “So we can get at the stories that really matter. You really think these guys are legit?”

“I think these guys are certifiable. If half what I’ve heard about the Knights of Banner can be believed, I think they’ve been soaking up too many gamma rays.” He laughs to himself, before turning stone-faced. “No, they’re zealots. They’re definitely legit. Maybe too legit.”

“To quit?”

“To not be dangerous. But danger’s sexy. Danger means eyeballs.”

If we can get them to sign on for broadcast rights. Otherwise you got to tell their story with sock puppets again.”

“I can be very persuasive. I got an exclusive quote from Kron Stone.”

“Yeah, because you elbowed that Jameson girl from the Bugle in the boob.”

“An ace news hound follows his instincts, and doesn’t have time for chivalry.”

“Yeah, you elbowed me in the boob, too, dude.”

“Sorry about that.”

“S’okay,” she says sulkily, before striking, elbowing him in the chest.

“Driving!” he says. She grabs and yanks the wheel, but the car doesn’t respond.

“Yeah, but the car won’t let you drive badly. So whatever.”

We get a relatively low-key tour of the compound for the Knights of Banner. They’re really more monks; yes, they’re experimenting with gamma radiation, half because they claim it has the potential to be a true, and cheap, power source, one not controlled by the MegaCorps… but also because it can make worthy men of mortal ones- their world needs more than these knights, it’s going to take sterner material to tame this future. He relates the history, how most of Marvel’s heroes fell defending mutants- the strongest defending the weak, how when they fell mutants became hunted, and even the mention of most of the heroes became against the law. The Thorites got around it by making Asgardian worship a major religion again. Most of the other heroes faded into obscurity. Their leader pleads with Eisenhart- that he gave him this tour not to whet his appetite, but to help him understand how vital their mission is- and also how vital it remain a secret until their work is completed.

But seeing their secrets he’s convinced there’s fame and money in the story. He tries to convince the guy, that with publicity would come funding, enough to get his reactor online, but he’s having none of it. John and his camera woman return to his car, and he tells her there’s a way around this, that he can call the authorities, then film the Knights under an emergency public interest license. She’s pissed, because his big break was exactly like that, and instead of right place at the wrong time, he created the storm that got people killed. “My footage got those people justice.”

“Your ego got those people killed. It doesn’t justify it, just because you got their killers a slap on the wrist to soothe your conscious.” She storms off, leaving the camera. He hesitates, before calling the Public Eye. But the cops don’t just roust them, or arrest the Knights- they slaughter them. John pleads with them to stop, stop the violence, stop the madness, even threatens to expose them. They tell him the cops learned from his last shenanigan, and cut his feed- he isn’t broadcasting. They smash his camera. Eisenhart ends up barricaded in with the other Knights in their gamma reactor. The Knights work to dismantle their reactor, both to do so safely and prevent a meltdown, and to prevent their tech from being seized by the MegaCorps and then patented. They give John their plans, and ask him to get them out. He laughs bitterly, because none of them are getting out. The head knight offers Eisenhart their crucible; every knight has taken it, and that is why every one of them is dying of radiation sickness, some more swiftly than others. They have been incrementally closing in on Banner’s original experiment.

“You want to kill me slow so the cops don’t kill me fast? What kind of sense does that make?”

“I want to transform you into something the cops cannot kill.” They argue for a bit. The head knight’s stance is basically, “I believe in destiny. I do not believe we would toil here, in secret, for decades, and only as we close on our quarry be shut out. I believe this is fate, John Eisenhart. I believe you are here to complete our work. Perhaps I’m a zealot; if I’m wrong, the Eye will murder you long before radiation poisoning can damage you. If I’m right… there are many people you will be able to save from them.”

John finally relents, because “Dead men don’t file stories,” and this one is big enough to be worth chasing, even at this cost. We cut to the outside of the reactor compound, as the cops blow it. Subtly, we’re watching through a news camera. The cops infiltrate the reactor. They’re surprised the Knights managed to render the reactor safe in the time they had. One of the Knights, badly burned, tells them it’s because the Knights respect gamma, and is shot for his troubles. The cops execute the remaining Knights, before finding John Eisenhart. His clothes have been destroyed, save for a pair of purple boxers that are shredded. The cop who found him is about to shoot him, when one of the other officers stops him, and points back at a camera being held by his returned camera woman.

“Who cares, we cut his feed?”

They’re live.” The executioner holsters his pistol, swears, and calls in an ambulance. John’s hand flutters, and we see the data chip that the Knights gave him. John Eisenhart ends up in the hospital room where Miguel is.

Jake Gallows calls a friend from the force, one who was fired for a lack of brutality. He has him bring him to Old York, formerly Hell’s Kitchen, where the pair discovered the Punisher’s old cache, including a diary. We hear narration, “You who find my war journal, I charge with carrying on my work.” We realize then it’s Gallows friend, quoting. He helps Gallows inside, and dresses his wounds. He’s torn stitches and is bleeding worse, now.

Miguel comes to sleeping on the ceiling. When he realizes that’s where he is, he falls painfully flat into the bed, just as the doctor comes in to check on him. “Feeling better, Mr. O’Hara?”

“Not really,” Miguel mutters into his pillow, having had the wind knocked out of him.

“It’s all relative, Miguel. You nearly died. Anywhere north of dead is better.” The doctor asks the nurse how long he’s been up. They tell him according to his EKG less than a minute ago. The doctor is curious what woke him up. Then they notice the noise coming from John. He’s breathing like a dragon. An angry one.

The doctor turns towards John to check him. John wakes, and attacks both the doctor and nurse, before lunging bestially, growing more hulking and monstrous with each moment, at Miguel. Miguel leaps over him once. Then twice. The third time Hulk 2099 manages to connect, knocking him out the window. Miguel falls. And falls. We think that’s the end of him, until he shoots webbing from his wrist, and swings to (relative safety). A homeless man tells him he can see his ass (because he’s still wearing a hospital gown), and he says he’ll have to figure something out.

Jake has been researching while injured. Kron has been gathering organs for his father because what Miguel never knew is that fresh human organs were necessary to ‘tame’ Rapture; without them it’s lethally toxic to humans. The synthetics and vat-grown just don’t cut it; only filtering it through human organs cuts the toxicity enough for it to be used in humans, and Kron’s gang have been providing these organs.

Alchemax also runs the Public Eye, and have been feeding their officers into setups like the one that killed the Gallows family- basically doing it to any officers not otherwise on the take or deep enough under their control. They were also instrumental in the fall of the Knights of Banner- giving John Eisenhart the tip that led him there, knowing that he’d used his trick of calling out the cops to get his story- and once John finds this out he’s on board taking on Alchemax. He has a fight with his partner, who doesn’t want to help him kill people, and also doesn’t think he’s up to the fight yet, and isn’t willing to help Jake kill himself.

Gallows dismantles Kron’s gang violently, using relatively low-tech from Punisher’s stores. However, Kron isn’t there. Jake finds out interrogating the last of his lieutenants (who is wearing the mech suit Jake will put a skull on to complete his look). The lieutenant tells Jake Alchemax is experimenting on Miguel and on John, trying to use them to create superhuman organs that can survive Rapture. “Who?” he asks, and the lieutenant points to a screen on the wall, Eisenhart and O’Hara on security cameras in the hospital room. The lieutenant pleads for his life, saying he has the exact same family as Jake did, that they won’t survive their crippling debt without him. Jake notices a girl, cowering in the corner. Her name is Polly, she’s a Venus 8 Gene Doll, illegal on-world; and they’re sentient, the feel pain, and fear- whether or not it’s against the law to beat on one, it’s wrong, the kind of wrong that needs correction, needs punishment. We pan back towards the TV as the Jake looms over the lieutenant; over his shoulder we see Polly, watching intently, studyiously.

Miguel has stolen a Day of the Dead costume that is 90% of the way to his final costume. Hulk is rampaging, and smashes out of the hospital. Spider-Man pursues, first trying to get him to stop, then trying to get him away from crowds. Then, he’s able to talk John down, realizing his rage is feeding the cycle of his Hulking. Jake appears, telling them he had a shot (from a ludicrously large future cannon), but worried they were going to need the big man, so he let it play out; he’s added the skull motif to his stolen armor. He says that their accidents weren’t accidents, but real-world human experimentation, and that to get the proof they’re going to need to go hard at Alchemax. Miguel insists they not kill anyone. Jake says he doesn’t have to, but Punisher’s going to do what he needs.

The trio attack Alchemax, and are confronted primarily by corrupt members of the Public Eye. Jake ‘kills’ Kron, calling him ‘sewage’ and dropping him into the sewer with the intention of letting all of his stab wounds become septic and kill him as slowly and painfully as possible. We’ll show him get attacked in the sewers by something dark and shadowy (it’s the Venom symbiote). The corrupt Public Eye deliberately weaken the building, threatening everyone working there (save the executives, who escaped already via helicopter), as well as anyone who will be in range of falling debris. The heroes have to abandon their assault, deciding to save innocent people rather than pursue their personal missions. Alchemax-owned news stations paint them as terrorists anyway, attributing the damage the corporation and its henchpeople caused to them. John tells Spider-Man that the Knights gave him the designs for a reactor; they believed an Alchemax scientist named O’Hara could be trusted with it. He’s not so sure anyone working inside that company should be trusted. Spider-Man takes off his mask, and introduces himself. 

Mid Credits Scene

Tyler Stone leads Aaron Delgato into a basement at Alchemax. Aaron is nervous, even chattering about how he half-expected Stone to put the Public Eye on him, or pin Miguel’s accident on him. Stone admits that would be fair, since Aaron was the cause of Miguel’s accident, but tells him he values loyalty over anything else, and believes it should be rewarded. That’s why he wants to introduce Aaron to his silent partner. When he and Miguel would get stuck, and Stone would whisper answers into Aaron’s ear, it was this genius who whispered them in Stone’s. Aaron’s surprised/confused when the room is filled with a vast tank of water. Inside, however, there’s a full complement of scientific equipment, including computers. That’s when we meet Dr. Octopus, an Atlantean/octopus hybrid (he created the hybrid process himself). He’s a genius. And terrifying.

End Credits Scene

Latveria

Very science fictiony space, lots of tech, machines going. There’s a cocoon not unlike the one used to creative Vision in one corner. A red light flashes green, before it opens, and a metal gauntlet matching Dr. Doom’s grabs the edge of the cocoon to life him out, obscured mostly by smoke/steam as he says, “Doom rises again.”

Pitchgiving 2021, part 13: Birds of Prey 3: Birds of a Feather

This follows directly after the Batwomen pitch, and while all my DCEU pitches are in continuity, it really builds off my Birds of Prey 2 pitch from last year.

The Birds of Prey (along with the balance of the Batwomen) have to team up with the Gotham City Sirens, because the male crime-lords in town partnered with Jason Woodrue to use Ivy’s pheromones against all the men in the city (I’m thinking at least Penguin, Two-Face and the Ventriloquist will be our fodder villains for this one). To complicate things, before the Sirens sit down with the Birds of Prey, Ivy made a desperate plea to Alec Holland to try and stop Woodrue… only for him to fall under the spell of her purloined pheromones. We probably start the story en media res, with Harley, Catwoman and Black Bat managing to break Ivy out of the clutches of Woodrue. This leads Woodrue to unleash his altered pheromone into the city, where all of the men turn incredibly hostile- basically normal men on the street attack them. The crime bosses use this chaos to their advantage; Batman is able to quarantine Gotham’s male heroes in the cave while he works on an antidote… all while being a pretty demented bastard all the same on their video link. This leaves things up to the ladies to fix. I think the way we first introduce this, is Harley is sneaking off from Ivy to meet with Jason Todd. Black Bat knows that, because she also knows the context: Harley feels terrible for her part in kidnapping and torturing him. She’s trying to make amends, and at the same time there’s really no one else who understands what she went through like Jason does. It starts as a two-person support group, but will grow from there.

Harley is nervous being in the back of a plane again. The last time she was in one, everybody died, and she’s having flashbacks. It’s mostly an excuse to show a montage of moments from the Suicide Squad (I figure if we build it into our mythos eventually people will watch it enough for it to become profitable- and it is a fun movie- which is why next year I’ll pitch a follow-up… but shhh). The montage ends with Flag, and we cut back to Harley in the back of the plane, a tear sliding down her cheek, “I miss Milton.”

Black Bat notices, and sits beside her in the plane, and takes her hand, “Harley, it’s going to be okay.”

“Is it?” she asks, trauma clearly having taken the wheel. “At any second Waller might kick in the door and decide to try to kill me again. And this plant dick took Ivy… I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to her.”

“I know,” Black Bat soothes, “we’re getting her back.”

“How’s our mental patient?” Catwoman asks, emerging from the cockpit.

“Still crazy after all these years,” Black Bat says. “But she’s good. Because she has to be.”

“She’s your responsibility. I’m getting Ivy out, because I don’t like owing favors. But the headcase is yours to babysit. If she goes to pieces, we may not have the space to put her back together.”

“I trust her. She’s just… her last time in a plane didn’t go so great.”

“We don’t have time for trauma. We need to jump in fifteen seconds.” Catwoman flings a parachute at Harley, and it flies past, before she raises her hand. Catwoman looks at Black Bat.

“She’s good,” Cassandra insists. “She’s rallying.”

Catwoman runs out of the plane and leaps gracefully past camera. Black Bat helps Harley into her parachute. “What if I can’t do this?” Harley asks.

“I’m pretty sure,” Black Bat glances at the cockpit, to see the stick is tied in place with a whip, “yeah, by engaging the autopilot Selena meant this stolen plane is going to crash as a distraction, so we don’t have much choice. Come on.” Black Bat takes her hand and pulls her to the door and jumps with her.

They’re buffeted by a bad wind, and separated, and Black Bat gets caught up in a tree as a patrol arrives. For a moment it looks bad. Then Harley pops up out of the grass and takes the patrol apart with swift, acrobatic efficiency. Catwoman’s already up in the tree and slices Black Bat out of her chute, and she falls with a somewhat comedic thud, before standing and brushing herself off.

“Jumping out of a perfectly functional plane is just crazy enough to be in my wheelhouse. What I meant was what if I’m not functional enough to save Ivy, to infiltrate this ‘compound,’ to be the kind of partner I’ve always wanted…”

“Harley,” Black Bat interrupts, “I love the brilliant, fucked up way your head works. But the reason I trust you, even now, with my life, is that when you follow your heart, I’ve never seen it steer you wrong. So when I say you can do this, I mean that you will, if you can just stay out of your own way. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Harley says.

“You two ever consider motivational speaking?” Catwoman asks, slinking down the tree. “Or getting your own Lifetime movie? Or maybe just starting a nationwide hug tour?”

“Ignore her,” Harley says, “she deflects genuine emotion because she’s worried if she doesn’t immediately bat it away people will understand how desperately she craves it, and to belong.”

Catwoman is not happy being analyzed; Black Bat puts up her hands. “You poked that bear.”

“Doing this for Ivy,” Catwoman says, annoyed. “Silver lining: maybe the two of you will get shot in the process.”

I’m assuming, since this is a big, ambitious swing already, that we should just montage them breaking in, taking out some guards, and rescuing Ivy, where we slow down again, because Harley wraps her arms around Ivy and kisses her. It needs to be a moment… but afterwards, it needs to not be a big deal, too (because I want them together, and happy, but if we make it too much of a thing then it’s like there’s something atypical about women finding love together… and there isn’t).

“What took you?” Ivy asks gently; she’s trying to keep it light, bantery, and not let on how scared she’s been, how much being used by Jason Woodrue has psychologically or physically taxed her, because she knows Harley has been merciless with herself, so she has to compensate by being kind.

“Traffic,” Harley says, half a laugh, half a sob.

“No crying,” Catwoman says, almost accusatory, but we can tell, too, it’s because it’s affecting her.

“In baseball?” Harley asks, raising her bat. The Sirens stomp together, as we do another quick montage (because we have so much story to get through on this one).

They get free, and we’re going to do a quick little flashback. Again, I don’t want to make a thing about them, like there’s anything odd about their pairing… but I like this moment. This is the moment it all comes out in the open.

“I didn’t look for you because you were probably the only person at Arkham who tried to understand me. I knew the tendency for a patient to put their doctor on a pedestal; I told myself you were doing a job, and doing it well, and that can be sexy, in its own right. I knew not to assume it meant anything, either about how I felt about you, or about how you felt about me.

“But then I saw you, with Cassie, and out in the world, as yourself, strong, confident, but with a heart so big and open that of course it flashed like a giant kick me sign to a monster like the Joker, but also… that showed just how warm, loving, and compassionate you were, how much you wanted for someone to love you like you love everyone. And that you could see people like us as… people. That’s a damning statement, to be sure, about our society, and the mental health profession, but you’ve always been a diamond,” she touches the diamond pattern on her right wrist, “and you’ve always deserved someone who saw that,” she kisses her.

Black Bat interrupts the story, and we reveal that Harley and Ivy are cuddling on a loveseat, while the other two are sitting in the same room. “I’m out. It’s like listening to 2 out of my 3 moms talk about making out. I’m out,” she reiterates as she leaves the room.

Catwoman sits quietly in her chair and stares.

“I had a cat like you,” Harley says. “Would just sit in the corner of my room and stair. Until I brought a guy home. Or a girl home. Or anyone else. And then, she’d lock eyes with me, and only then, she’d start to bathe.” Catwoman frowns, trying to figure out her meaning, before just leaving the room.

“I don’t mind an audience, but a part of me did want you just for myself.” I want her to have that, too, so we’re going to fade to black.

We fade back in the next morning. I don’t care who wants what, but I really want to emphasize the humanity in this moment, the normalcy; one of them is snoring buzzsaw loud, and the other has just left a puddle of drool on the other. And even this, I know, could be filmed with the male gaze in mind- but it shoudn’t. They should look like the room got hit with a hurricane, their hair should be mussed, as little makeup as possible (I mean, the characters are usually caked in it, so I’m genuinely not sure what’s supposed to be their skin and what’s makeup), but they are frumped to a degree that even Margot Robbie (and presumably Lake Bell, because that’s great casting I suggested in the last one) look like normal human beings. Black Bat knocks on the door, and comes in, keeping her arm over her eyes. “I really, really, hate to intrude on your love nest- like, I don’t know the words in English to express how much I don’t want to intrude,” (I like the idea of her spouting something in Mandarin or whatever to prove that the words exist, at least somewhere).

Harley wakes up, and feels self-conscious, picking up that Cass expects a sexed-up Adventureland, “Yep, the air is thick with the smells of sex and sensual oils and lubricants and just,” and tries to mop up the drool, wake up Ivy, all while making the both of them look a little more put together than they were (this should be silly and fun, not for gratification).

“Okay, whoa, already way more information than I would have ever wanted to know. But before I exit, you should know… it’s spreading. Ivy’s pheromones, Woodrue had enough of them that he’s blanketing the entire city. It isn’t just our neighborhood that’s a nightmare. It’s the entire city.”

“Let us get dressed.”

“Oh, God, no more,” Cassandra moans.

“We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Ivy asks.

“What, that I took a beautiful woman to bed and then proceeded to drool all over her stomach? That I was snoring so loud it bugged me even in my own dreams. That despite my days being consumed with thoughts of sex and death the entire time you were missing, once you were back, all I could do was pass out next to you?”

Ivy, again, is gentle with her, recognizing Harley’s spiraling. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I just needed you to hold me.”

“And I couldn’t even do that right.”

“The drooling wasn’t exactly what I expected. But I slept like a baby. I felt safe with you. It was exactly what I needed.”

“Yeah?” Harley asked.

“Being with someone isn’t just about rocking their world sexually. You also want to be comfortable just being with them. Feeling safe, and secure and, and loved.”

“Yeah,” Harley says, realizing how much she needed to hear that, and cuddling up against her. “I love you, Ivy.”

“I love you, too, Harls.”

Damnit. Okay. That’s on me. I promise I’m going to try and stop being so damned enamored of the two of them together that I can get back to pitching. I think the best way to get this story moving again is to take a peek at the other side of the aisle, namely the ‘good’ guys.

We watch Barbara walk by her suit in the Clocktower; she’s wearing clothes for a run. She tells Oracle that she needs to pick up an assignment from school, but then she’ll be back, and asks if Oracle needs anything. She asks for a Yoohoo (or other product placement to be paid for later).

There’s something on the air as she puts in her earbuds and puts on some music. We’re going to leave the music on for most of her run, at least until the insanity gets to be so much she silences it, and suddenly is forced to confront exactly how screwed up the few blocks she’s ran are. I figure this is one long take (but possibly with some hidden cuts, if need be). First she runs by a man who is clearly screaming at her, partially dodging to avoid specks of spittle flying through the air. Unfortunately, this is Gotham, so angry men yelling at random women on the street is a thing, and doesn’t phase her. At a hot dog cart, a man and a woman with a baby in a stroller seem to be altercating, when the man raises his hand. Barbara grabs the hook of his elbow and uses it to roll him over her back without stopping. She runs a little further, and a man takes a swing at her. She puts him down without any problem, only for another man to attack her. And a third. She puts them all down with ease, but we pull back, to reveal that this has all happened on the same block. Barbara turns down her music and calls Oracle. “Oracle, what the hell is going on?”

“You know that weird fog on the waterfront that turned any man who came into contact into a woman-hating troll? Yeah, well, it’s spread across the whole city. It’s chaos. Figured you knew.”

“I slept in. I’m going to head back to the Clocktower. Something tells me we’re going to need to handle this.”

We cut to Batgirl arriving. Oracle is clearly phased by what she tells Barbara. “So I called Batman, like you asked. He’s aware, by the way. Um… I’m struggling. I know this isn’t a typical workplace or… anything approaching a normal situation. I guess I just never imagined I’d ever hear Batman call me a c-word.”

“What?”

“And he called you, uh, B-girl.”

“Well, that is my-” she realizes Oracle means the other B-girl.

Oh. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“It was more, comically surreal. But… he’s terrifying. Most of the time I don’t breathe when he calls. And I even noticed he noticed, and has tried to emote more, which should make me feel more comfortable, that he’s trying, but it’s like watching the Tin Man try to be more emotional by wearing Totos face. But it’s only right now, when I actually saw what he’s like when he’s threatening. And the idea that he could stay like this…”

“We’ll fix it.

“Almost makes me feel sorry for criminals. Not because of what he does do, but because… because of what he could do, what I now realize he might do. Gives me the feeling he is one day where they give him a shot of espresso instead of decaf from being Joker in a cowl.”

“Maybe that’s why he doesn’t drink caffeine at all- just doesn’t trust himself.”

“Really? Does he even sleep? And he still doesn’t touch caffeine? How does he stay up?”

“Obsession.”

“The Calvin Klein cologne? Does he chug it?”

“Will. Same way he’s still remaining functional, if a bit… jerkier than usual.”

“Feels like an understatement, but yeah, he’s still working, with all the other Robins, Nightwings, Red Hoods and whatevers in the cave with him. He’s isolated the compounds. Definitely bears some signatures worth being concerned over. Three names, at least trying to read between the lines; he was editorializing some, especially when it came to Ivy. But it was her pheromones. But they seemed altered, in a way that makes him suspect Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue are involved.”

“That’s bad,” Batgirl reacts. “Really bad. Ivy on her own is trouble. Ivy and Woodrue are extinction level trouble. Swamp Thing would have been our go-to guy to help with it, but if he’s working with them, or they have him… call everybody.”

Everybody?”

“Let me rephrase. Everyone without a y chromosome. Anyone who can help, we need on standby, or here if they can swing it”

“What about Batwing?” Batgirl doesn’t follow. “They’re nonbinary.”

Barbara sighs. “I’ll text Batman. If this goes down to the chromosomal level, it might make sense to have Batwing sequester with the rest in the cave. But if not, it’s all hands on deck.”

We’re back in Ivy and Harley’s apartment. Ivy is wearing a shirt from Arkham (yeah, like she did in the first Arkham game), and is drinking coffee. “So… I’ve been talking to some of the houseplants.”

“You, too? They only seem to want to talk to me about celebrity butts. You?”

“That’s not them, hon, it’s a voice in your head. No, the plants tell me Alec was here.”

“Alec, Alec… why doesn’t that name ring a bell?”

“He was my ex. Is sort of dead. And a plant elemental.”

“You used to bang the plant guy?” Harley asks, amused, horrified, intrigued, confused. “I mean, there’s bumping uglies and then there’s bumping uglies.”

Harley.”

“I swear, I did not know, or I would have at least straightened up before he grew out of a few bags of fertilizer in the tub- we may have to replace the tub. He said it was the fastest way to get here from ‘the Swamp,’ which I really hadn’t expected to be all so literal. One of the bat people owed me a favor, got me his number, when you went missing. I thought plant guy, wearing a trench coat, he must be some kind of plant dick, and, not you know, your old plant d-”

“It was his friend who wore the trench coat. But it worked, I guess. You found me.”

“We did… just not at first. He led us into a trap. A trap for him, I think, or at least a trap for if he came looking for you.”

“Oh, no. A couple nights ago? When Woodrue’s experiments got a lot worse.”

“Yeah,” Harley says meekly. “But he did get us the lead that got you back.”

“For which I am grateful, but… do you understand what Alec Holland is?” Harley shrugs. “He is basically a plant god. Meaning, he could take my pheromones, and increase their potency. He could probably even reproduce them. That’s why Woodrue didn’t put up much of a fight when you came for me- because I was redundant-maybe even a distraction at that point. And now it’s a race against time, and we’re starting from behind.” She finishes her coffee and turns around. “How much pull do you have with these bat people?”

“Like I asked for a tour of the Batcave or for them to drive us around in the Batmobile while we made out in the back seat.”

“And they said ‘no?’”

“No back seat. The rest all depends. Are we asking to work with them, or trying to scam ‘em?”

“If you don’t at least leave the possibility of the latter open I’m never talking to either of you again,” Catwoman says, pouring herself a bowl of milk.

Ivy’s prepared. “I spoke with the city’s Economy Development Corporation, and they estimate there are half a million cats in Gotham City. I know cats are survivors and all, but what happens if jilted men decide to take their anger out on women’s cats, or worse, if my pheromones end up working just as well on male cats.”

Catwoman stops lapping at the bowl. “Can I at least steal something, when this is all over, so I don’t feel like a complete sap?”

“Sure,” they both say with a shrug.

The Birds of Prey/Batwomen assemble at the tower, with the promise that the rest of the women heroes are dealing with a bigger threat outside of Gotham, but will be there as soon as they can wrap it up. Then they get the call from the Sirens, all agreeing to work together.

Oracle has been able to put together the records from all of their Woodrue-related locations so far. And it seems he’s been using places, money and resources from three separate crime families. Analysis of recent police surveillance has proven that the three seem to be working together, and that they need to hit all three crime bosses at once, to mop up as much of their men and resources as possible. They split into three teams, with Ivy’s team going to where they think Swamp Thing is/Penguin, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey going after Woodrue/Two-Face, and Batwoman and the other Batwomen going after the location where the pheromones are all stored to destroy them/Ventriloquist (he’s squatting on old Joker territory; he lost clout after fallout from BoP2, especially with his willingness to sacrifice his henchmen for a joke, nobody really wanted to work for him)- that meant the Ventriloquist had a lot of territory with abandoned chemical storage/disposal, perfect for the pheromones they pumped out of Ivy.  

The Batwomen easily deal with the Ventriloquist, Scarface and his vanilla mooks. Then they realize there was a lot more pheromone than they realized- acres of it. Batwoman calls her father. The base is still observing chemical weapons protocols, so they’re fine, if somewhat understaffed. He agrees to help her bomb the pheromone storage (I think he loads a plane with explosives and arranges for Kate to steal it, having learned since the last movie how to fly a plane… ish- the main sticking point being her landings are still mostly crashes in the simulator).

Ivy leads the Sirens to rescue Alec. Penguin, slightly impacted by the pheromones (but having always been a dick) gets the snot kicked out of him, and realizing how ridiculously powerful Ivy is, decide not to screw with them and leave without much of a fight. The true brawl, though, is with the Swamp Thing himself. He’s still under the influence of Ivy’s pheromones, only a stronger, more robust variant he helped concoct. Thankfully, midway through the fight Ivy realizes that the Swamp Thing they’re fighting isn’t Alec at all, that he essentially grew himself a bodyguard, so while the others fight him off (badly), Ivy reasons with Alec, that he’s a good man, the man she admired, the one she fell for. She kisses him, and it brings him out of his stupor, and then some. The bodyguard keeps fighting, but some of the life has gone out of it; this is amplified by the fact that Harley, seeing the kiss, goes berserk, and will hit him in the twig and berries frequently with her big-ass mallet. Alec’s still a little influenced by the pheromones, and clingy; Ivy says she thought he got engaged, and he says that’s complicated. Ivy tells him things are a lot less complicated for her- that she found someone who makes her happy, and looks over at Harley, practically glowing. Ivy uses the Swamp Thing’s arm to pull Harley to her, and kisses her. Harley stammers that she thought… before Ivy tells her she thinks too much, and kisses her. “I do.” And they kiss again.

Finally, Two-Face’s place is where the real fight happens. One half of his mansion is overgrown. The Birds of Prey split up, Batgirl leading one segment into the overgrown side, since she’s got all the weedkilling toys, and Question leading the other up the pristine side. Question and Huntress make short work of Two-Face, before wondering where all his goons are. Both Harveys smile. Woodrue knocks Batgirl and Canary through a door, rolling into the room. Harvey tells them the reason he didn’t see a point in putting his men in harm’s way tonight was that it was going to be a bloodbath- that they were just waiting for all the guests to arrive.

At that moment, the Sirens and the Batwomen arrive. Two-Face brags to Woodrue that his timing is impeccable. As you can see, we’ve got a ridiculous cast of women here already… but things are about to go just completely nuts. I wasn’t screwing with you when I said that this was Endgame for DC’s women. Well, here it goes.

I think for the ending we bring in a big Big Bad; personally, I’d swing for the fences and have it be Granny Goodness with a team of male furies; Granny Goodness has basically been taken to task by Darkseid. He thinks her Furies need to open up to male members, that she’s been artificially holding her elite soldiers back. So she’s testing his hypothesis, by recruiting a team of men. She explains that there’s a part of her rooting for the women, because they’ll prove her right if they win, not that she could ever gloat to Darkseid. But she wants her ladies back; she was the one who gave Woodrue the necessary upgrade to be able to adapt Ivy’s pheromones.

At first, the combined Birds of Prey are outmatched. But then… those other heroines we teased earlier on, who would show as soon as they wrapped up the bigger threat… they arrive. This loops in all of the most powerful of DC’s women for a fireworks finish as they beat a team of men under Granny’s control, before all of the rest of the women show up. This list is in no way all-inclusive, and will likely swell. But it should give you an idea of who’s punching who.

Wonder Woman Lobo
Big Barda Scott Free
Supergirl Granny Goodness
Power Girl Superboy
Zatanna Jason Blood/The Demon
Ivy Jason Woodrue
Catwoman/Black Bat (snatches Granny’s control rod)
Harley Quinn (souped up) Joker, like from the first Arkham game (can really be Clayface, if that’s too silly)
Batgirl Nightwing
Mary Marvel Black Adam
Fire  
Ice  
Huntress  
Mera  
Jesse Quick  
Natasha Irons  
Artemis  

Wherever possible/necessary, we can replace the menfolk with their CGI counterparts (having the Demon in a fight wouldn’t necessarily require paying Jason Blood to show; I’m all for paying him to show, mind, but I know some actors really hate showing up to film what is essentially a cameo, and it’s possible the budget on this will also be insane, so building in places where we can cut costs might be helpful).

But the women are winning. Granny is conflicted; she’s winning the moral argument even as she loses the fight. But she also knows that Darkseid doesn’t brook failure… she sees an opportunity to slink away, taking Jason Woodrue with her.

And, personally, I’d bring in at least 3 men, here: Batman, Superman, and whatever other male Justice Leaguer would be most impactful (could be Aquaman, given current box office). We start with whichever of them has the most recognizable voice, calling from offscreen. Camera pans, and we see those three, and think this is round 2 and it’s about to get brutal…. Only the men aren’t attacking. Or cursing. Batman explains that he’s synthesized an antidote, that he’s got Flashes spreading across the city administering doses.

Harley asks Wonder Woman if this means she’s in the Avengers- “I mean the Justice League, clearly you weren’t my safety squad.” Wonder Woman pretends not to have heard, and walks away. Harley is, for a moment, disappointed. But Batgirl is behind her. She tells her some people might look at them as minor league, but if Harley, Ivy, or Catwoman want, they always have a place in the, and before she says Birds of Prey, we go to black, and smash in the Birds of Prey logo. We quickly do the cast credits, before cutting back, immediately to the same scene.

Catwoman runs up to Harley and Ivy. “That thing I needed to do, it’s done, and we should go. Now.” She turns, and we can see she has a utility belt slung over her shoulder. It literally doesn’t matter which of the Batmen she took it from, but it’s slightly funnier if it’s a Robin and he has to hold his pants up. Batman bellows after Selena, and we cut again to black.

More credits. Then we’re on Apokalips. Jason Woodrue has seen better days. Clearly, he’s been tortured for a while. Desaad is overseeing that, but Darkseid is working with Woodrue’s figures. Desaad is becoming more concerned, that he’s been working with Woodrue’s information tirelessly, without speaking. Desaad is trying to get an answer from him, if the Antilife Equation is complete, if he’ll be able to mold the minds of men to his will. He’s not going to reply, but I would like to have him turn to camera, similar to Thanos at the end of the very first Avengers, and smile. But while that CGI Thanos looked a little cartoony, this one should be horrifying- and his smile should be a thing of nightmares. That Darkseid is happy at all should be something we’re all worried about.

Note: That puts an end to Pitchgiving 2021. Because I’m at least as crazy as Harley, I’ll be rolling right into Pitchmas, with 12-ish MCU pitches, building off the last several years of pitches.

Nexus 3, Chapter 14

I stayed in my suit the entire time we were in the shuttle, to make it less likely whatever the starfish rubbed on the bolt in my leg didn’t spread to the others. But still, we all got an extended stay in quarantine for our troubles.

Sam was waiting for us in quarantine, and she fixed me with a glare that was equally scared and angry, “I understand why you don’t want us to go. That… fear, knowing everyone you care most about is in danger, immediate and yet remote, where there was nothing I could do… it was difficult to bear. But… I calmed myself with the knowledge that it was necessary, to safeguard the ship and her crew, and with the fact there was not a natural force that could pry your safety from Elle, or hers from you. I hope that you can find the same calm, when Elle and I leave together.”

I looked from her to Elle, and realized there was no way I was winning any kind of argument on this one. She was also right, even though I hated admitting it. “Me, too,” I said.

I think Bill was getting sweet on me- or maybe he was just bored- but while we matched speed (as much as possible, anyway) for pickup by the Nexus, he suggested we start launching decoys again. At the time it was little more than idle chatter, but while I was the last man waiting in quarantine, he came back, to discuss it in more detail. He also had the head of our science division in tow.

“I’ve been running the numbers,” Bill started, “and I want to officially, formally, propose we reinstate the practice of firing decoys. They helped us evade the Argus, and even with the slightly better scanning equipment likely on board the Nascent, we’re likely to have similar results. If you’ll recall, we didn’t pause firing decoys because it was a bad strategy, it was just the Argus bypassed the decoys entirely by threatening the worlds we’d stopped at. The Nascent won’t have time for that. They’re a shipkiller, and they’re already on our trail. They’d have to abandon us entirely for that to become a solution-”

“So it would only be a viable strategy if we managed to slip them,” I said.

“Right.”

“So why’s Stephen here?”

“We don’t have a lot of fungible material, on the Nexus,” Stephen began. “Mostly, that’s because space is largely a vacuum. We deliberately fly through plasma clouds to suck up raw materials to power the star drive, and we’ve always had filters attached to capture micrometeroids or other debris unfit for introduction into the star drive. It was never a huge priority; chuck basically anything into a star drive and it’ll burn, because the temperatures are sufficient to tear apart the electromagnetic bonds holding subatomic particles together; there isn’t an element that isn’t fuel at that temperature and pressure. That’s why we have to expend so much of the ship’s energy into the electromagnetic toroid keeping the plasma suspended- it would ‘eat’ the ship if that suspension system failed, even for a picosecond, because the failure would cascade until the entire ship was swallowed in the birth of a miniature star.”

“I’m not liking any of this so far,” I said.

“Right. Focusing too much on the sexy destruction. My point was, we never had much reason to work hard at filtering out particles because the engine is essentially self-cleaning. But I’ve done some base-level modeling, and I think we could introduce some magnets into the plasma intake to siphon off metals. We could also build out a more elaborate screening system to try and pull in other elements, but that’s a slightly less known quantity. As far as metals, we can combine whatever we get to create an alloy suitable for serving as a decoy. If we want, say, a combination of materials to make an expanding canvas sack to create the shape and approximate mass of the ship… that might be more challenging to come by- it’s difficult to model because the constituent atoms are rare enough that it’s hard to know what any particular system will be rich in. But my modelling suggests we could regularly replenish the lost metal materials to have a steady supply of decoys. And if we get desperate, we could use the terraforming laser to blast some asteroids into chunks and collect the chunks.”

“Bill?” I asked. “How does all of this sound to you?”

“It’s some of his better and saner work. We’ve been talking over schematics, and I think everything but flying the ship into asteroid fields is practical.”

“I don’t remember a mention of ‘fields,’” I said.

“That’s because even he understands it’s a crazy idea,” Bill said.

“Not crazy,” he said, sounding vaguely wounded, “not exactly. But certainly far from ideal. And not asteroid fields. Asteroids are the big bastards. Meteoroids, though, are their smaller cousins; on the outside of an asteroid field are all of the chunks of asteroids that broke off; still moving synchronously, but nowhere near the multiball insanity of the asteroid field. But in the event we needed mass in a hurry, it could be done… provided we can be surgical enough with the laser to decimate without completely vaporizing the particles- which isn’t much of a guarantee, because some of the combustible particles will be superheated by the laser, and be driven by the combustion out of our path. Depending on the composition of the field it could be a quite lossy process, even presuming we could accomplish it safely.”

“Haley,” I began, “what’s your read?”

“The laser was, as originally conceived, both a deterrent weapon and potentially could be used to forge passages through areas where a circuitous path was less ideal; say a system bordered by a black hole with a volatile and dangerous star at its heart, with an asteroid field caught between them. To put it into old world terms, it was analogous to an icebreaker. The difficulty is the upgrades necessary to make it worthwhile for rapid, more surgical usage were deemed too expensive and not useful for our mission. However, I believe that 80% of these upgrades can be made merely through repurposing excess cryo technology.”

“And the other 20%?”

“As Stephen said, there are question marks as to the composition of the plasma clouds we may find, but it is highly possible we could acquire the necessary atoms that way.”

“How possible is ‘highly’ possible?”

“73% chance that we could acquire the necessary materials within a six month time-frame.”

“And I assume it legs out considerably from there. What’s our worst-case scenario?”

“Using data from the five year journey of the Argus, I would estimate that the materials should be achievable within six years at the outside.”

“And the odds we can avoid the Nascent that long?”

“.003%.”

I sighed. “Get it started. Prep a presentation for the full council; they’ll want to at least know what’s going on, even if I don’t expect them to try to reverse course.” They turned to leave, until I put up my hand. “Wait. What about orphans?”

“Tragic. Though I don’t understand the connection,” Stephen said.

“As in lone asteroids,” I said.

“There aren’t all that many,” Stephen said, “but especially if we were aggressive with our probes, looking for any with a possible firing solution with the ship… it’s possible.”

“How possible?” I asked.

“Uh….”

“Haley?”

“I second Stephen’s ‘uh…’”

“Goddamnit,” I muttered.

“I think what they’re trying to express, is that it could work, theoretically. But lone asteroids aren’t exactly a known quantity. If we were talking about inside the well-charted Sol system, sure, but it could be hoping to find a needle in a haystack… or we could bump into the bastard without even looking for it.”

“Is it worth attempting, at the least, provided we can find one?”

“I don’t see a downside,” Stephen said.

“Could we have a moment?” Bill asked Stephen.

“Is it going to be something humiliating?”

“Possibly.”

“But it won’t happen if I stay.”

“Probably not, no.”

“Well, I’ll want details, later.”

“And I want-” Bill stopped himself, realizing this was not something he could win. “We’ll see,” he said gruffly. He waited until Stephen had cleared the doors, before he eyed me conspiratorially. “You didn’t gloat. Not once. We were trapped in that shuttle for days; you didn’t so much as snicker in a way that told me you told me so.”

“There was always the possibility I was going to die from a shit-covered prick from an alien… maybe I just wanted that detail to die with me.”

“Except we’ve been back on ship for a week. You’ve been all but cleared by medical; really, I think SackTug’s only kept you in here this long to give the rest of us a break from you. Still, nothing.”

“Maybe revenge is a dish best served so circuitously that it can never be traced back to me.”

“Maybe,” he said, with a shrug. “You’ve also been 39% less of a pain in my ass since we got back.”

“You chart how much of a pain in your ass I am?” I asked, and Bill chuckled.

“Nah. Just a ballpark. You want to talk about it?”

I didn’t, or I would have. But maybe that knee-jerk wasn’t the right way to play it. “They had Elle dead to rights. I couldn’t suppress both of them from my position, and moving would have just shifted which of them had a free hand to move. And I knew, as sure as anything, the one I couldn’t hit was going to shoot her. Might have been a flesh wound. Or it could have been fatal, or bad enough that she’d bleed out or go septic before we were picked up.”

“I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done for any other member of the crew. Even including you.”

“I know,” I said.

“Then what’s the big sloppy deal?”

“Maybe it’s the reminder that we’re, all of us, trying to help each other, save each other. Maybe it’s that it wasn’t any other member of the crew. But right now, I really don’t feel like lording over you how monumentally wrong you were. Speaking of…”

“Now that I’ve reminded you you feel compelled to be a jerk about it?”

“No. But I was wondering if you’ve made any progress on the black box.”

“Ah. Encryption’s pretty hardcore, even before you account for the arrow through it.”

“And you aren’t just keeping the juicy tidbits from me?”

“Right now we all need to pull together. That means not obstructing your access to juicy tidbits.”

“I’m regretting using those words.”

“I think we both are, at this point.”

Nexus 3, Chapter 13

Elle fired a volley of shots, then stopped. “I’m assuming our rules of engagement are that we’re to minimize casualties.”

“Certainly ours,” I deadpanned.

“Well, we did kind of drop a kinetic weapon in the middle of apparently a populace. Even if, best-case scenario, they were all bunked underground for a long winter’s nap, at a minimum we nuked their summer homes. We’re definitely the aggressors, here.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That makes sense. Minimize casualties where and how you can. But I’m not risking our lives for theirs. So if you can’t shoot to corral, or even shoot to wound, you take the kill shot, no questions asked, no hesitation. You understand?”

“Crystal clear, sir. I just didn’t want to be playing footsy while you were playing a real contact sport.”

“Fair enough.” I finally had my first contact, coming up on Elle’s rear from the south. I couldn’t be sure if it was a flanking maneuver, or if the caves came up all around and they were just milling towards the disturbance from all directions- though given our numerical inferiority I wasn’t sure the difference would matter.

I leaned out too far, in part because I wanted to get as wide an understanding as possible while things were still relatively calm. The handful I’d seen were just the tip of an iceberg; they did seem to be milling, with five at the lead, but up to a hundred behind them, filling the street. “I got incoming in a big way,” I said. “Hundred total.” I fired, between the lower limbs of the creature, all of which were identical; there were five, in total, two they walked on at a time. I wondered if that meant that had five redundant heads that also functioned as limbs, or if they had five limbs with the brain in the center. The first few scattered towards the buildings for cover, buying me a moment.

“Morphology question, Bill,” I said, firing another volley, into the opposite row of buildings, to get the stragglers to seek cover, too.

“Little busy,” he grumbled, barely audible over the sounds of the torch in the background.

“Learn to multitask,” I said, firing another handful of shots, narrowly missing one of the starfish. “Morphology is basically engineering for organisms, so it’s closest to your wheelhouse. These creatures look like starfish.”

“Number of limbs doesn’t seem to be standard,” Elle cut in. “I’ve had a few with seven or eight limbs.”

“Right. What’s more likely, that these creatures have a centralized nervous system where the limbs meet in the center, or that they’re holding their brains in any one of the limbs- or maybe all of them.”

“Having multiple heads is pretty rare on Earth,” Bill started. “Basically it’s a defect in cellular division, called polycephaly. There are a handful of species that have more than one brain structure at different parts of the body, but that’s very much the exception, and not the rule. Starfish are probably the weirdest example, because they don’t have a brain in the classical sense. They’ve got neurons and a complex nervous system that seems to run along the length of the entire organism. That’s why they can regenerate from a severed limb; that’s even the preferred way for some species of starfish to procreate.”

“I don’t know that any of that helps me,” I said, firing again. They were probing, damnit it, seeing how far out they could go before I fired. That signaled some intelligence.

“You should have brought a biologist, then,” he said.

“No. It was more than I could have hoped for, as far as starfish biology is concerned. Elle, I’m not going to tell you when to shoot one of them, but when you do, keep an eye out. If you shoot them in a limb and they don’t mind, that will tell us something.”

“Right. About that. While Bill was talking, I clipped one. It was right foot. It did a partial cartwheel so it wasn’t walking on the wounded limb anymore, and kept coming.”

“Fuck. So to even slow them down we’ll have to disable three out of five limbs. I haven’t noticed any tools, yet.”

“Yeah,” Elle agreed. “Not even one of them grabbing the equivalent of a frying pan. That’s… peculiar.”

“Unless they are just gawkers, here to rubberneck.”

“Don’t say that. I’ll feel extra bad about the one I shot.”

I was about to tease her, when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. “Shit,” I said, getting behind cover too slowly. I knew before I felt it, or before I looked down, that I’d been hit. There was a bolt sticking out of my leg. “Whether or not they’re looky-loos, they aren’t the only ones here. They flanked us, building to the south of this one, second floor. Shot me in the leg with a fucking crossbow.”

“Don’t touch it,” Elle said firmly. “By the time a species developed projectile weapons, they were also likely to have connected enough dots to have some inkling of poison and disease- at least enough to know to rub filth on their projectiles.”

“So there’s likely poison and/or shit on this thing. Why shouldn’t I take it out?”

“Because removal is a whole secondary injury. If you’re lucky, they’re using a bolt that doesn’t have any fins. If you’re not, the whole bastard thing is designed to tear more on its way out.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry. First aid training sort of fell out of my head there, for a second. I’ll leave it be.”

“Cover me,” she said, without giving me much time to actually prep. I leaned out, and peppered the opposing building, near enough to the two natives to keep their heads down. “And make way,” she said,” sliding behind cover as rocks and arrows thudded in the doorway behind her.

“Why are my pants getting tight?” I asked.

“I’ve had that effect on you since the day we first met,” she deadpanned, firing over my shoulder. “Tourniquet. I used a security override on your suit, to begin its tourniqueting procedures. It’s not a complete seal, but it’ll hold whatever infectious agents might be in the wound from circulating freely. It’s designed to cut circulation as much as possible without harming your ability to maneuver, at least at this level, though they can completely cut circulation in the event of a nicked artery”

“Goddamnit. I know these things,” I said. “My head’s definitely affected.”

“It’s probably too early for most infectious agents. A poison could hit this fast, but there’s also even odds that whatever is poisonous on this world is safe for us and vice versa. Shit,” she said, and I could tell from the way she was looking up that she was navigating data on her eyescreen. “Your suit must have a leak. You’ll likely be getting an alarm any second, now, once it falls far enough below spec. One moment.” She fired again, suppressing another of the starfish creatures. She put her hand to the wound, and a gel spread from one of her fingertips. She leaned around me to the other side of the bolt. “Yep, straight through. And barbed like a son of a bitch.” She sprayed more goo to seal it on the opposite side. Like an idiot, I tried to repressurize, before realizing I was going to fire her seals like bullets- only nothing happened. “Like I said, I overrode your systems. You have to let the gel set.” I felt a hiss, as my suit filled back with the normal quotient of gases. I took in a deep breath and could already think a little clearer.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Told you you should have been the one in the shuttle,” she said.

“So you and the baby could be the one dealing with whatever they rubbed on this bolt. Or so I’d have to carry you back because with a bolt through your leg you’d basically be an unmoving target.”

“I wouldn’t have got hit,” she said.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But one of us needs to get back to that shuttle. We’re blind to half the theater.” She leaned out and fired. “You go,” she said. “I can cover you better from here.”

“Yes, but then I can’t cover you well from there.”

“Yeah, your coverage was for crap last time, now that you mention it. Now go. There’s only two of them up there, now, but if they add a third or forth- or worse, if they get someone from a worse angle, we might be hosed. In three, two, go!”

I knew better than to keep arguing with her; we were both stubborn enough we could have stayed until we were completely surrounded complaining that the other person should go. And I knew she wasn’t wrong. That was the better vantage, and with what had been my good leg injured, I was moving even worse than she was. I dove into the shuttle, landing on my side so I didn’t disturb the bolt. “This is it?” I heard Elle ask over the comms.

“There wasn’t a lot left worth taking,” Bill replied. “The spearhead wasn’t designed to survive that kind of crash. Our pod, by comparison, was still able to land. I’m still getting readings from it, and we’ll try and recall it to the Nexus, if we can recover it. Now give me your gun; I’ll cover you from here.”

“Bull. We risked our lives for that junk. I can’t lift it in my present condition, and I’m not risking it and you getting left behind because I can’t properly cover you from over there.”

“Fine,” Bill said. An instant later he broke cover, so I had to, in a hurry, suppress as best I could from the back of the shuttle. Surprisingly, he arrived unscathed. “I’m starting the shuttle.”

“You should have gone first,” I said to Elle.

“Oh, stop acting maudlin- you can’t shoot straight when you’re maudlin. I’m leaving the rifle and the extra ammo, only keeping a pistol, and going on three, two,” she broke cover.

The damned starfish were getting wise, knew just how far out of cover they could get without giving me a clean shot- and so even though I was singing whatever the hell kind of ganglia they had instead of hairs, they kept lining up their shot. Bill stepped out of cover behind me, triangulating until he had a decent shot; he couldn’t make it count, but got close enough to get one of the starfish back behind cover, and knock the other one into my scope. I took the shot, through the arm it was holding its weapon in, and it dropped it. Elle slid in beside me, a moment before Bill. “I thought you were starting the ship,” I said.

“It’s two buttons, jerk,” he said, handing me his rifle. “And you’re welcome.”

The backdoors closed agonizingly slowly, with one final bolt managing to slip through them and strike the black box in the seat beside Elle. “Uh,” she said.

“That’s not ideal,” Bill said. “But nothing we can do about it now.”

I heard a handful of tinks as weapons bounced off the hull. “Should we be worried about any of that?” I asked.

“There’s two layers of shielding,” Bill said, “the exterior, where the heat-shields are, and an interior shield to hold in gases and the like. Without the exterior we might burn through energy quick; might be a bit cold waiting for the Nexus. They aren’t likely to pierce both; you’d have to hit the same spot twice.” There was an especially loud thud, “but there’s no real upside to letting them keep trying.”

He fired the engines and the remains of the city rushed by beneath us.

As we ascended, Bill leaned back in his chair. “Trajectory was just as we modeled, which means Haley and Dave’s supposition was correct- it was dead stick, on a collision course but no longer capable of any kind of correction. That wasn’t always the case; whatever it was using for fuel got eaten through, and it’s possible it was using something efficient to limp along, maybe an ion engine using whatever solar radiation it could pull in through panels. I’ll presumably be able to get more from the black box- the uh, arrow notwithstanding.”

“I’ve thought about it,” I said. “I’m composing a message to the Nexus: Drop a commbox on the world we’re leaving. We’ll leave it with a message, something to the effect that our ship was attacked, and we were trying to examine the weapon that was launched at us. We didn’t realize the weapon was going to fall on a populated world. We can’t stop their first interaction with our species from being a tragic one. But giving them some answers, a little closure- it might mean that they don’t spend the next fifty years planning their revenge on our species- or terrified we’ll come back to finish the job. As a show of good faith, include schematics and relevant tech that should help them rebuild- medical and infrastructural.”

“And what about when Pete inevitably complains?” Bill asked.

“Give our beloved HR troll credit where it’s due; I think he’ll understand this isn’t about profit, it’s about making right as a species for shit Sontem’s done.”

“And we’re not just setting them up for a date with the Interplanetary Copyright Court?” Elle asked.

“Precedent says that technology they perceived at the time as a gift can’t be used retroactively to sue a species over whatever technological evolution has occurred since. By the time the company knows anything happened here, their patents will be toilet paper.”

Bill smiled. “That might be the first time I’ve actually enjoyed being a pirate. Maybe we just need to be more judicious about screwing the right kinds of bastards.”

“Yarr,” I said.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 12: Batwomen

Prologue

White text tells us this happened fifteen years ago.

Batwoman, recognizable because of her bright red hair, as a child, is sitting in the backseat of a car with her identical twin, Beth. Gabi Kane, their mother, is driving, dressed in military clothing. Side-pitch: since this is a women-focused story, but also just because it plays against type and I think it would add to the diversity of the DCmovieU, I’d suggest gender-swapping the parents. For the pitch I’ll assume we keep it as it has been, but I strongly feel that would be the better story.

“You need to tell them, Jacob,” Gabi insists to Kate’s father, who is in the passenger seat. “It’s the only way they can protect themselves.” He unbuckles his seatbelt, to lean back and talk to them. He hesitates, not knowing where to begin. Gabi intercedes. “Your father is doing important work. Bad people have been infiltrating the military, people who don’t think our country should be for all kinds of people, regardless of color, creed, or who they are.”

“Right,” Jacob takes over. “I’m heading up an investigation into those people. And because of the duty I’ve agreed to carry out, those bad people and their friends have been making threats. Against me, against your mother,” he has trouble forcing himself to say the next words, until Gabi takes his hand, “and against the two of you. And I didn’t, I haven’t known how to tell you. Because you’re too young to have to know how awful the world can be. But my first duty is to protect you, and the best way to do that is to tell you to be careful. These bad people can look just like you or me. They might come dressed in BDUs. They might talk the talk, they might even have a life of military service under their belt. But if you ever have a question, whether or not someone is safe, you ask me, you ask your mother, and we’ll tell you straight, even if the answer is we don’t know, and you need to be wary. Can I trust you girls to be on overwatch for me?”

The girls stiffen up, and tell them, “Yes, sir.” They barely get time to recognize his smile, because Gabi shoves him  back into his seat, and we now see a large dump truck barreling down on them before it hits. We see broken images, as Kate goes in and out of consciousness. Gunmen in black paramilitary gear violently open the car doors. One shoots Gabi Kane in the head as she resists (feebly, because she’s groggy from the airbag). On the other side, one of them tells Jacob he was told what would happen if he persisted, and Jacob is smacked in the face with the butt of a rifle. A bag is shoved over Kate’s head, and we cut to black, and modern day.  

It’s a dark, stormy night. Commissioner Gordon is speaking to the Mayor, trying to convince her that she’s going to be safe, that his men can handle, “a little weasel like Jervis Tetch.” He’s got half the S.W.A.T. team on the mansion grounds, anything short of Batman wouldn’t be able to- he stops, because two of the S.W.A.T. officers are suddenly there, deserting their posts on the perimeter. Gordon prepares to give them a dressing down, when he notices the vacant look in their eyes, and tells the Mayor to get behind him, as he pulls his gun.

We cut to the aftermath, as Batgirl and Batwoman patrol the scene, one-upping one another as they reconstruct the events from the evidence. There’s an added layer, as Batgirl is concerned about her missing father; the rivalry is mostly a distraction from that worry for her; for Batwoman, it’s very much that while she’s trained, and older, she’s also green, looking to prove herself. But we start at the point that Gordon put a bullet into the door frame. Batwoman insists he missed. Batgirl assumes, correctly, that the first was a warning shot, an attempt to roust them from their stupor. When it didn’t work, he gave each man a flesh wound. But there were more of them, other officers flooded into the room. Gordon put up a fight, trying to protect the Mayor long enough for her to get away, but that’s when Mad Hatter himself showed up (casting suggestion: Jack McBreyer, Kenneth from 30 Rock; watch him in the ’21 season of Nailed It, he’s a manic little chaos gremlin who would be perfect for the role and also kind of looks the part). Gordon was attacked by a new player, a woman, judging by the height difference, and the hole left in the drywall by her heel. Gordon was overwhelmed; blood on the scene is his type, but there’s not much of it- they were clearly trying to keep from hurting him there. He was carried off by two of the officers, along with the Mayor.

Batwoman is distracted, and she’s clearly thinking back to a different night, a different kidnapping. Text, fifteen years ago. We don’t see this flashback from Kate’s POV. Instead we’re focused on her father. He’s riding along with a police team, including Gordon, at that point a Sergeant. He’s wearing black, not his military uniform. Gordon notices Jacob is armed. “I was asked to let you ride along, but there is no way in hell I’m letting you inside with that firearm.”

“All respect due, Sergeant, if it were your little girl in there, would anything short of someone putting a bullet in you stop you?” We think it’s going to be a pissing contest, but Kane sees Gordon’s hand at his cuffs, and relents. “I’ll stay out of your way, scout’s honor. But the second I see my girls I’m getting between them and danger. I’m not failing them again.” It’s the pain in his voice that stops Gordon.

“That sidearm stays in its holster, unless and until it’s a matter of life and death. I don’t want them walking on a technicality.”

“I don’t want them walking, period- but it’s your rodeo.”

Gordon’s team kick in the doors. Kate is tied, blindfolded, propped against a wall. There’s another body, definitely dead, obscured by a hood but with a bloodied bullet hole in the head that everyone is going to assume is Beth. Gunfire erupts, with Kate caught in the middle of it, exposed out in the open. True to his word Jacob runs through the gunfire, and covers Kate with his body, taking a shot meant for her head in the meat of his arm.

Gordon hesitates for a moment, his team at a severe disadvantage with two civilians out in the open, before demanding the team deploy smoke and lay cover fire. It buys Jacob a window to lift Kate up. Her hood falls, and he begs her not to look as he runs back towards Gordon. We see one of the gunman has the police flanked, and is drawing on Gordon, when a shot rings out, and he drops. Gordon sees that Jacob is holding his daughter in one arm, and his sidearm in the other. Gordon tells Kane to get his daughter outside. For a moment, from Kate’s POV, we watch as she sees what she thinks is her sister’s body on the floor.

They return to the Clocktower, and consult with Batman over a video link. Also in the room with them are Black Bat, Oracle, Spoiler and Question (the Renee Montoya version from Birds of Prey). Batgirl thinks she’s in charge, having been at this longer and with less support. Batwoman, by dint of being former military and older, thinks she’s in charge. Spoiler’s just happy to be there- she’s only filled in for Robin a handful of times when they needed someone to double so Tim could be in the same place as Robin. Cassandra feels like she’s just thrilled to finally be on the team; she still loves Harley, but she’s crazy. A great friend, and if you can only have one person in your corner she would do literally insane things to protect you, but she’s not a role model, either. And Question is really just there because of Batwoman; they haven’t started dating, but each suspects the other is interested and they’re at that point of mutual interest.

Batman tells them they’re going to have to handle Jervis- that he and the other Batmen have been infected by the Fluoronic Man, that while he works on an antidote, he can’t trust any of them to leave the cave, so they’ll have to handle Mad Hatter. Oracle is able to hack the security cameras at the Mayor’s mansion, and from that they realize that ‘Alice’ is the one assisting the Mad Hatter. She looks, initially, like another of Mad Hatter’s automatons, until it comes to fighting Gordon- then she comes alive, and the results are brutal. They place a heart-shaped crown on the Mayor and on Gordon, before carrying them out.

Batwoman reasons that if they’re assembling the most powerful people in Gotham, there are some obvious next victims: Bruce Wayne might make the top 10, but next up is definitely going to be the Colonel in charge of the nearby military base. After forcefully making her case, Batwoman breaks away from the rest of them, to make a phone call, trying to raise her father. We start in on his phone, panning over his desk, including his name tag, including his rank. She whispers, “Pick up, dad.”

We cut to earlier, Kate, with her hair cut military-short, is wearing BDUs. She opens a door into a military office, a nice one, for the colonel in charge of her base. We flash white text that says “Ten years earlier” (though we’ll have to update that; the policy essentially changed in July 2011, on paper in September, so this needs to be set before that). She’s been summoned. Her father is sitting in the CO’s chair, and spins around. Kate says he’s not her CO. “Nope, kiddo. I’m here as a favor.” Kate assumes he means to the CO. “No. To you. Your CO isn’t supposed to ask. But the problem is, you aren’t leaving her room for plausible deniability that policy runs on.”

“It’s bad policy, dad.”

“No question. Impacts morale. Forces men and women of honor to live duplicitously. Creates fractured loyalty. But even a full-bird Colonel can’t change it- can’t even question it. I’m here, as  proud father, as a man who loves you more than any other ever will, asking, please, for your sake, to be discreet.”

“I can’t. Because my dad, and my mother, raised me better. To be proud. To be honest. And I can’t be both while following that policy. So maybe I can’t be here anymore.”

“I didn’t want it to go this way,” he says.

“But still, you knew it would.” She stands next to him, and puts her head on his shoulder. “Thanks for being here,” she says, as a tear rolls off her cheek and onto his collar. 

We pan across a similar office, to see some blood pooled on the corner of the desk. A hand grabs the blood, and a man pulls himself up. It’s the Colonel, wearing his military hat with a blank look on his face. He snaps to when Mad Hatter enters the room. Hatter snaps off a half-assed salute, and says he doesn’t stand on ceremony; he only cares that the military has access to the kinds of chemicals he needs. 

The Batwomen infiltrate the military base. Batgirl is a taskmaster, insisting that the military can’t know they’re there, that the bats essentially have a détente with the American government, including its shadier operators like Amanda Waller- and those shadier elements in particular are just looking for an excuse to put Gotham under martial law. Depending on where we are in the President Luthor storyline, we might well mention that part of why he got so much support from the military was his tendency to elevate them as the preferred alternative to superheroes. Batwoman bristles at a lot of this, instinctively feeling like she belongs on the other side of that line- even though she’s clearly on the vigilante side, now.

They manage to arrive at the worst possible moment, as the villains make off with a stolen plane, full of chemical weapons. The Batwomen end up stealing a plane of their own to hide their identities as the military swoop in. Batwoman is able to baffle them with bullshit over the radio- with just enough military and Colonel Kane knowledge to talk them out of shooting down the plane, calling it a military requisition, one tacitly approved by Colonel Kane himself, telling the officer to call him and ask- which he should be doing before shooting down a military plane as it stands. Kate insists Barbara land the bird, now, because it bought them seconds, not minutes, and the military will shoot them down.

They scatter, and meet back up at the Clocktower later. Oracle managed to trace the tracker on the other plane; eventually it lost its mind, after it was hacked, because the tracker started flying in the opposite direction mid-air. Batwoman argues it wasn’t hacked; simpler explanation is that it’s Gotham, where impossible things just require doing a favor for the wrong kind of man. Oracle agrees to chase the box with a drone, and we’ll eventually see she was right, that it was Man-Bat who carried the tracker out of the plane mid-air. But it was already beginning a descent for a landing at a small airport outside the city. The Batwomen depart to intercept.

I think they manage to rescue all of Hatter’s kidnapped victims, but Alice has already abandoned him, having gotten what she came for, including chemical weapons and a plane. To get any useful intel, they have to deprogram Mad Hatter; see, they captured him, but they didn’t just want his cooperation, they encouraged obsession, obedience- Alice wrapped him so thoroughly around his little finger that he thought he was the one in charge, not her. Batwoman and the Colonel do the deprogramming, this not being his first rodeo with this kind of thing- in fact, he suspects and his theory is proven out that these are the same people he’s been fighting his whole career. That was why he got stationed in Gotham all these years, and why he’s resisted promotion or anything else that might take him away from the epicenter of their activity. He tells them it was easier, during the War on Terror, because the Church of Crime were basically Fundamentalist Terrorist, if their only religious precept was to do crimes. He also admits to Kate that he’s been trying to figure out for years how to apologize to her- that they contacted him before she was outed. They were the ones putting pressure on the Department of Defense to discipline her- that he was the reason she was forced out.

But there’s more to it than that. We get a montage, Batgirl followed a hunch, or really, Oracle followed Man-Bat back to his belfry, which turned out to be a Church of Crime stronghold. Batgirl drops a big, illustrated Bible down on the table. Man-Bat, when she dosed him with Batman’s curative agent, was similarly brain-washed. We get a quickie action scene flashback, the other Batwomen kicking their way through some lower-level churchies, before they take on Man-Bat. In close-quarters he’s at a disadvantage, and can’t fly, and Black Bat is able to sneak up on him and dose him before he can escape. Batgirl relates that Lykos wasn’t making any kind of sense, but he was pretty sure Batwoman had been on their radar for a lot longer than any of them realized. Batgirl opens to a page painted with a rendering of Batwoman. It’s more gothic, more theatric, also old. Batgirl, at least preliminarily, has tested the pages, and the chemicals react like it was painted more than a hundred years ago- they’ve been waiting for her, and if half of what Lykos said is accurate, they got tired of waiting, and decided to create her, instead.

Alice runs the Church of Crime (but outsiders call it the Cult of Crime). She’s essentially David Koresh, if he wanted Waco, but also if he expected to win Waco. That’s why she’s been gathering her army of cops and military men, and has been training others using them to be even more badass.

The Colonel breaks in to discuss his findings, that the Church began with white supremacists and other far-right groups, because it was where vulnerable, disaffected men were congregating. It was looking for a certain kind of moral flexibility, and encouraged those men to become police, military, anyone who could be of influence in their coming campaign.

So the finale is going to be showstopping, the Batwomen having to infiltrate, all while keeping the Batman rule in effect (no killing), because at least half of the military/police at the compound were abducted into it. Once they’ve secured the facility, the Colonel rides in with the full army, and secures them, but Alice has already gone, taken the chemical weapons she stole up in the plane for the next part of her plan. See, fully 2/3 of her agents have been returned to their former lives, and re-embedded in the military and police. She plans to activate them when the fighting starts. That’s how she plans to win. But the opening salvo is unleashing chemical death on Gotham, killing millions and making sure that the forces of order show up in force. The Batwomen take a plane up, one that Barbara can fly, so it’s Kate and Alice and the other bats on the plane. Eventually, Oracle is able to get the plane to return ‘home’ automatically, so Barbara can join the fight.

But the part that’s really a kick in the berries is Alice herself. See, she locks her and Batwoman in the hold of the plane, where the chemical weapons are, while her hench-people fight the others. She reveals to Kate that yes, they created her. They knew that a Bat needs a tragedy, but even losing her mother, losing her sister, wasn’t enough. Kate was too resilient, took too well to military discipline. She needed to be a rogue operator- so she had to be cut lose. She tells her it took years, a hundred little stumbles, a phone call here, a temptation there, a roadblock there, all to keep Kate pliable, self-destructive, angry. If they’d only known that her father lied to her all these years, it might have been easier; they had laid out her quest so carefully, and yet, Jacob refused to start her on her journey. Her sister wasn’t dead. The girl was just some collateral damage. But they had her sister for fifteen years, a lifetime, really. For years they wondered why Kate didn’t come looking for her… it was only when Alice took the Colonel that she finally learned the truth- that Kate didn’t know. This entire time they’re fighting, Kate becoming more unhinged, more angry, more brutal, closer to using lethal force. “All this time, I’ve been trying to twist the knife, without realizing I’d missed the mark.”

Kate stumbles back, Alice’s knife sticking out of her chest. “I’d started to think there was something about me, that maybe you just didn’t care enough to rescue me. Sins of the father, huh?” It’s Batgirl who manages to get the compartment open. Alice is convinced she’s won, that their prophecies state that after she cuts out the Batwoman’s heart, she’s unstoppable. It doesn’t matter what they do next- she’s already won.

“How’s our girl?” Batgirl asks.

“Woman,” Batwoman croaks.

Black Bat, who after getting shot in BoP2 has taken first aid really seriously, is seeing to her. “Stable. Heart rate’s steady, and from the sonagram it looks like the knife missed the heart.”

“Seems like trying to force your prophecy backfired.” Batgirl tosses a pair of cuffs at her feet. “You stabbed my friend. You put those on, and I’ll try to remember which side of the line I’m on.”

Spoiler, who is, still, pretty much just happy to be included, “I’m just happy for a chance to kick you.”

“Two on one doesn’t seem all that ‘right side of the line to me,’ Alice says, drawing two ornate pistols from under a large skirt. Batarangs hit her hands before she can aim them, and she drops them.

“You can still choose the cuffs; they’ll just hurt more now,” Batgirl tells her. Alice chooses instead to hit the button opening the rear of the plane.

Batgirl glances at the poison, and the two lines trailed from it to the open door.. “It’s a gravity feed,” she says. Pilot tilts this plane even a few more degrees and we’re going to start spraying poison.”

“But I wanted to kick her,” Spoiler groans. She runs out of the room. We follow her, through the body, with lots of henchpeople, a few of whom stir and she kicks back down. Then she gets to the cockpit door, which she wires with plastique and blows. Then she puts the sharpened edge of a batarang into the pilot’s throat, and tells him to keep it steady, or he’s drinking what’s left of the poison. He tells her he’d rather die than betray his mistress. She says he says that, but if she has to slit his throat, she’s pretty sure even she can keep a plane steady. Only difference is he’d be dead and Batman would scowl at her, and probably never let her be a Robin again- which she’s not sure she’s got the legs for anyway, frankly.

In the rear, Black Bat is trying to hurry Barbara along, because a few hour class from the Red Cross really doesn’t cover nearly-stabbed hearts. Batgirl fights, but what she doesn’t realize, initially, is that Alice isn’t focused on her, or the poison, but on Kate. She tears the batarangs from her hands and flings them at Kate, sticking Black Bat to the wall with one. She proves to have one more knife, and manages to get the upper hand with Barbara, preparing to stab her and saying idly that perhaps it will make a woman out of her- hoping that maybe killing Batgirl will count towards the prophecy, instead. Kate shoves her, knocking her to the lip of the plane. Kate is immediately, with a knife still in her chest, trying to help her up. “Beth. Please. Take my hand. We can fix this. We can be a family again. We can be whole.”

“The only way I can be whole,” Alice says, letting go of the door and reaching for the knife even as Kate tries to take her hand. Alice twists the knife, and Kate drops her, and she falls towards the harbor below. The plane lurches, and we watch poison start down the tube, before the plane rights itself, and our characters rush to the cockpit. Spoiler is sitting in the pilot seat, with the old pilot sprawled.

“I’m not really sure I can keep us level without hitting a building, so…”

Black Bat arrives. “Yeah, I closed the back door so the poison wouldn’t, you know, kill everyone.” Batgirl takes over flying. The Colonel calls them over the radio, and Batwoman discusses returning the plane. The military police want to take the bats into custody. The Colonel insists that they were never there at all, that it would wound morale to have it exposed that they lost chemical weapons to one of Gotham’s garden-variety crazies. Batwoman is extra cold to the Colonel as she leaves.

Later, the Colonel shows at her cave. “Best divers at the base couldn’t find her.”

“You told me she was dead.” Kate says, opening her door. He doesn’t play coy.

“That’s what I thought, at the time. The girl they mutilated, at least with her head missing, was a ringer for Beth. They fudged the blood work; fudged the DNA, too. But somehow… I still knew. I stole a sample myself, and paid to have it tested blind, at an independent lab. I tried to tell you, a hundred different times. But you found a way to be happy. I couldn’t snatch that way from you again- I couldn’t drag you back down into the hell I was trapped in.”

“We could have been there together,” she says. “And I will be blisteringly furious with you, for longer than may seem fair. But we’ll get through this like a family, too.” They rest their heads against one another. “I miss them.”

“Me, too, kiddo.”

Credits

Mid-credits scene: The Colonel pulls away from Batwoman. “But, uh, this wasn’t a social call. That, gas… I know some of your people were exposed, whether or not Batman wanted me to. But it’s spreading. I don’t know if it’s just a change in the wind, or they’re pumping more of it out into the streets. Gordon’s been trying to keep his men out of it; he lost a couple teams before they figured out how noxious it is, that it can enter through skin, air, water. We were lucky, the other day it was raining it stopped shy of the East Side, or it would be in the drinking water by now. That luck won’t hold. We have to do something.”

End-credits scene: Barbara is listening to a voicemail from her dad. “This has been a long-time coming, Barbara. I’ve turned a blind eye, pretended I wasn’t a cop, or a father.  And don’t get me wrong, the city owes you and your friends a debt, a dozen times over… but we need to talk.” She hangs up the message as she enters the Clocktower. Oracle tells her the caller waited to speak to her directly.

I’m largely agnostic as to which Siren we get. Marketing would dictate we get whoever is most popular (likely Harley). Budget would likely dictate we use whoever’s cheapest, and I’d say pinch those pennies, because we’re going to need every single one of them for the next one, because it’s basically Endgame for the ladies of the DCU (and we really should spend accordingly). So our Siren (I’m just going to assume that it’s Ivy) tells Batgirl they screwed up. They thought they could stop the Fluoronic Man themselves. But now it’s clear he’s working at the behest (or at least to the benefit) of the city’s male crime lords, turning anyone who is exposed to Ivy’s altered pheromones into a violent misogynist.

Bonus: Birds of Prey 3: Birds of a Feather

The Birds of Prey (along with the balance of the Batwomen) have to team up with the Gotham City Sirens, because the male crime-lords in town partnered with Jason Woodrue to use Ivy’s pheromones against all the men in the city (I’m thinking at least Penguin, Two-Face and the Ventriloquist will be our fodder villains for this one). To complicate things, before the Sirens sit down with the Birds of Prey, Ivy made a desperate plea to Alec Holland to try and stop Woodrue… only for him to fall under the spell of her purloined pheromones. We probably start the story en media res, with Harley, Catwoman and Black Bat managing to break Ivy out of the clutches of Woodrue. This leads Woodrue to unleash his altered pheromone into the city, where all of the men turn incredibly hostile- basically normal men on the street attack them. The crime bosses use this chaos to their advantage; Batman is able to quarantine Gotham’s male heroes in the cave while he works on an antidote… all while being a pretty demented bastard all the same on their video link. This leaves things up to the ladies to fix. I think the way we first introduce this, is Harley is sneaking off from Ivy to meet with Jason Todd. Black Bat knows that, because she also knows the context: Harley feels terrible for her part in kidnapping and torturing him. She’s trying to make amends, and at the same time there’s really no one else who understands what she went through like Jason does. It starts as a two-person support group, but will grow from there.

Harley is nervous being in the back of a plane again. The last time she was in one, everybody died, and she’s having flashbacks. It’s mostly an excuse to show a montage of moments from the Suicide Squad (I figure if we build it into our mythos eventually people will watch it enough for it to become profitable- and it is a fun movie- which is why next year I’ll pitch a follow-up… but shhh). The montage ends with Flag, and we cut back to Harley in the back of the plane, a tear sliding down her cheek, “I miss Milton.”

Black Bat notices, and sits beside her in the plane, and takes her hand, “Harley, it’s going to be okay.”

“Is it?” she asks, trauma clearly having taken the wheel. “At any second Waller might kick in the door and decide to try to kill me again. And this plant dick took Ivy… I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to her.”

“I know,” Black Bat soothes, “we’re getting her back.”

“How’s our mental patient?” Catwoman asks, emerging from the cockpit.

“Still crazy after all these years,” Black Bat says. “But she’s good. Because she has to be.”

“She’s your responsibility. I’m getting Ivy out, because I don’t like owing favors. But the headcase is yours to babysit. If she goes to pieces, we may not have the space to put her back together.”

“I trust her. She’s just… her last time in a plane didn’t go so great.”

“We don’t have time for trauma. We need to jump in fifteen seconds.” Catwoman flings a parachute at Harley, and it flies past, before she raises her hand. Catwoman looks at Black Bat.

“She’s good,” Cassandra insists. “She’s rallying.”

Catwoman runs out of the plan and leaps gracefully into a leap past camera. Black Bat helps Harley into her parachute. “What if I can’t do this?” Harley asks.

“I’m pretty sure,” Black Bat glances at the cockpit, to see the stick is tied in place with a whip, “yeah, by engaging the autopilot Selena meant this stolen plane is going to crash as a distraction, so we don’t have much choice. Come on.” Black Bat takes her hand and pulls her to the door and jumps with her.

They’re buffeted by a bad wind, and separated, and Black Bat gets caught up in a tree as a patrol arrives. For a moment it looks bad. Then Harley pops up out of the grass and takes the patrol apart with swift, acrobatic efficiency. Catwoman’s already up in the tree and slices Black Bat out of her chute, and she falls with a somewhat comedic thud, before standing and brushing herself off.

“Jumping out of a perfectly functional plane is just crazy enough to be in my wheelhouse. What I meant was what if I’m not functional enough to save Ivy, to infiltrate this ‘compound,’ to be the kind of partner I’ve always wanted…”

“Harley,” Black Bat interrupts, “I love the brilliant, fucked up way your head works. But the reason I trust you, even now, with my life, is that when you follow your heart, I’ve never seen it steer you wrong. So when I say you can do this, I mean that you will, if you can just stay out of your own way. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Harley says.

“You two ever consider motivational speaking?” Catwoman asks, slinking down the tree. “Or getting your own Lifetime movie? Or maybe just starting a nationwide hug tour?”

“Ignore her,” Harley says, “she deflects genuine emotion because she’s worried if she doesn’t immediately bat it away people will understand how desperately she craves it, and to belong.”

Catwoman is not happy being analyzed; Black Bat puts up her hands. “You poked that bear.”

“Doing this for Ivy,” Catwoman says, annoyed. “Silver lining: maybe the two of you will get shot in the process.”

I’m assuming, since this is a big, ambitious swing already, that we should just montage them breaking in, taking out some guards, and rescuing Ivy, where we slow down again, because Harley wraps her arms around Ivy and kisses her. It needs to be a moment… but afterwards, it needs to not be a big deal, too (because I want them together, and happy, but if we make it too much of a thing then it’s like there’s something atypical about women finding love together… and there isn’t).

“What took you?” Ivy asks gently; she’s trying to keep it light, bantery, and not let on how scared she’s been, how much being used by Jason Woodrue has psychologically or physically taxed her, because she knows Harley has been merciless with herself, so she has to compensate by being kind.

“Traffic,” Harley says, half a laugh, half a sob.

“No crying,” Catwoman says, almost accusatory, but we can tell, too, it’s because it’s affecting her.

“In baseball?” Harley asks, raising her bat. The Sirens stomp together, as we do another quick montage (because we have so much story to get through on this one).

They get free, and we’re going to do a quick little flashback. Again, I don’t want to make a thing about them, like there’s anything odd about their pairing… but I like this moment. This is the moment it all comes out in the open.

“I didn’t look for you because you were probably the only person at Arkham who tried to understand me. I knew the tendency for a patient to put their doctor on a pedestal; I told myself you were doing a job, and doing it well, and that can be sexy, in its own right. I knew not to assume it meant anything, either about how I felt about you, or about how you felt about me.

“But then I saw you, with Cassie, and out in the world, as yourself, strong, confident, but with a heart so big and open that of course it flashed like a giant kick me sign to a monster like the Joker, but also… that showed just how warm, loving, and compassionate you were, how much you wanted for someone to love you like you love everyone. And that you could see people like us as… people. That’s a damning statement, to be sure, about our society, and the mental health profession, but you’ve always been a diamond,” she touches the diamond pattern on her right wrist, “and you’ve always deserved someone who saw that,” she kisses her.

Black Bat interrupts the story, and we reveal that Harley and Ivy are cuddling on a loveseat, while the other two are sitting in the same room. “I’m out. It’s like listening to 2 out of my 3 moms talk about making out. I’m out,” she reiterates as she leaves the room.

Catwoman sits quietly in her chair and stares.

“I had a cat like you,” Harley says. “Would just sit in the corner of my room and stair. Until I brought a guy home. Or a girl home. Or anyone else. And then, she’d lock eyes with me, and only then, she’d start to bathe.” Catwoman frowns, trying to  figure out her meaning, before just leaving the room.

“I don’t mind an audience, but a part of me did want you just for myself.” I want her to have that, too, so we’re going to fade to black.

We fade back in the next morning. I don’t care who wants what, but I really want to emphasize the humanity in this moment, the normalcy; one of them is snoring just buzzsaw loud, and the other has just left a puddle of drool on the other. And even this, I know, could be filmed with the male gaze in mind- but it shoudn’t. They should look like the room got hit with a hurricane, their hair should be mussed, as little makeup as possible (I mean, the characters are usually caked in it, so I’m genuinely not sure what’s supposed to be their skin and what’s makeup), but they are frumped to a degree that even Margot Robbie (and presumably Lake Bell, because that’s great casting) look like normal human beings. Black Bat knocks on the door, and comes in, keeping her arm over her eyes. “I really, really, hate to intrude on your love nest- like, I don’t know the words in English to express how much I don’t want to intrude,” (I like the idea of her spouting something in Mandarin or whatever to prove that the words exist, at least somewhere).

Harley wakes up, and feels self-conscious, picking up that Cass expects a sexed-up Adventureland, “Yep, the air is thick with the smells of sex and sensual oils and lubricants and just,” and tries to mop up the drool, wake up Ivy, all while making the both of them look a little more put together than they were (this should be silly and fun, not for gratification).

“Okay, whoa, already way more information than I would have ever wanted to know. But before I exit, you should know… it’s spreading. Ivy’s pheromones, Woodrue had enough of them that he’s blanketing the entire city. It isn’t just our neighborhood that’s a nightmare. It’s the entire city.”

“Let us get dressed.”

“Oh, God, no more,” Cassandra moans.

“We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Ivy asks.

“What, that I took a beautiful woman to bed and then proceeded to drool all over her stomach? That I was snoring so loud it bugged me even in my own dreams. That despite my days being consumed with thoughts of sex and death the entire time you were missing, once you were back, all I could do was pass out next to you?”

Ivy, again, is gentle with her, recognizing Harley’s spiraling. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I just needed you to hold me.”

“And I couldn’t even do that right.”

“The drooling wasn’t exactly what I expected. But I slept like a baby. I felt safe with you. It was exactly what I needed.”

“Yeah?” Harley asked.

“Being with someone isn’t just about rocking their world sexually. You also want to be comfortable just being with them. Feeling safe, and secure and, and loved.”

“Yeah,” Harley says, realizing how much she needed to hear that, and cuddling up against her. “I love you, Ivy.”

“I love you, too, Harls.”

Damnit. Okay. That’s on me. I promise I’m going to try and stop being so damned enamored of the two of them together that I can get back to pitching. I think the best way to get this story moving again is to take a peek at the other side of the aisle, namely the ‘good’ guys.

We watch Barbara walk by her suit in the Clocktower; she’s wearing clothes for a run. She tells Oracle that she needs to pick up an assignment from school, but then she’ll be back, and asks if Oracle needs anything. She asks for a Yoohoo (or other product placement to be paid for later).

There’s something on the air as she puts in her earbuds and puts on some music. We’re going to leave the music on for most of her run, at least until the insanity gets to be so much she silences it, and suddenly is faced to confront exactly how screwed up the few blocks she’s ran are. I figure this is one long take (but possibly with some hidden cuts, if need be). First she runs by a man who is clearly screaming at her, partially dodging to avoid specks of spittle flying through the air. Unfortunately, this is Gotham, so angry men yelling at random women on the street is a thing, and doesn’t phase her. At a hot dog cart, a man and a woman with a baby in a stroller seem to be altercating, when the man raises his hand. Barbara grabs the hook of his elbow and uses it to roll him over her back without stopping. She runs a little further, and a man takes a swing at her. She puts him down without any problem, only for another man to attack her. And a third. She puts them all down with ease, but we pull back, to reveal that this has all happened on the same block. Barbara turns down her music and calls Oracle. “Oracle, what the hell is going on?”

“You know that weird fog on the waterfront that turned any man who came into contact into a woman-hating troll? Yeah, well, it’s spread across the whole city. It’s chaos. Figured you knew.”

“I slept in. I’m going to head back to the Clocktower. Something tells me we’re going to need to handle this.”

We cut to Batgirl arriving. “So I called Batman, like you asked. He’s aware, by the way. Um… I’m struggling. I know this isn’t a typical workplace or… anything approaching a normal situation. I guess I just never imagined I’d ever hear Batman call me a c-word.”

“What?”

“And he called you, uh, B-girl.”

“Well, that is my-” she realizes Oracle means the other B-girl.

Oh. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“It was more, comically surreal. But… he’s terrifying. Most of the time I don’t breathe when he calls. And I even noticed he noticed, and has tried to emote more, which should make me feel more comfortable, that he’s trying, but it’s like watching the Tin Man try to be more emotional by wearing Totos face. But it’s only right now, when I actually saw what he’s like when he’s threatening. And the idea that he could stay like this…”

“We’ll fix it.

“Almost makes me feel sorry for criminals. Not because of what he does do, but because… because of what he could do, what I now realize he might do. Gives me the feeling he is one day where they give him a shot of espresso instead of decaf from being Joker in a cowl.”

“Maybe that’s why he doesn’t drink caffeine at all- just doesn’t trust himself.”

“Really? Does he even sleep? And he still doesn’t touch caffeine? How does he stay up.”

“Obsession.”

“The Calvin Klein cologne? Does he chug it?”

“Will. Same way he’s still remaining functional, if a bit… jerkier than usual.”

“Feels like an understatement, but yeah, he’s still working, with all the other Robins, Nightwings, Red Hoods and whatevers in the cave with him. He’s isolated the compounds. Definitely bears some signatures worth being concerned over. Three names, at least trying to read between the lines; he was editorializing some, especially when it came to Ivy. But it was her pheromones. But they seemed altered, in a way that makes him suspect Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue are involved.”

“That’s bad,” Batgirl reacts. “Really bad. Ivy on her own is trouble. Ivy and Woodrue are extinction level trouble. Swamp Thing would have been our go-to guy to help with it, but if he’s working with them, or they have him… call everybody.”

Everybody?”

“Let me rephrase. Everyone without a y chromosome. Anyone who can help, we need on standby, or here if they can swing it”

“What about Batwing?” Batgirl doesn’t follow. “They’re nonbinary.”

Barbara sighs. “I’ll text Batman. If this goes down to the chromosomal level, it might make sense to have Batwing sequester with the rest in the cave. But if not, it’s all hands on deck.”

We’re back in Ivy and Harley’s apartment. Ivy is wearing a shirt from Arkham (yeah, like she did in the first Arkham game), and is drinking coffee. “So… I’ve been talking to some of the houseplants.”

“You, too? They only seem to want to talk to me about celebrity butts. You?”

“That’s not them, hon, it’s a voice in your head. No, the plants tell me Alec was here.”

“Alec, Alec… why doesn’t that name ring a bell?”

“He was my ex. Is sort of dead. And a plant elemental.”

“You used to bang the plant guy?” Harley asks, amused, horrified, intrigued, confused. “I mean, there’s bumping uglies and then there’s bumping uglies.”

Harley.”

“I swear, I did not know, or I would have at least straightened up before he grew out of a few bags of fertilizer in the tub. He said it was the fastest way to get here from ‘the Swamp,’ which I really hadn’t expected to be all so literal. One of the bat people owed me a favor, got me his number, when you went missing. I thought plant guy, wearing a trench coat, he must be some kind of plant dick, and, not you know, your old plant d-”

“It was his friend who wore the trench coat. But it worked, I guess. You found me.”

“We did… just not at first. He led us into a trap. A trap for him, I think, or at least a trap for if he came looking for you.”

“Oh, no. A couple nights ago? When Woodrue’s experiments got a lot worse.”

“Yeah,” Harley says meekly. “But he did get us the lead that got you back.”

“For which I am grateful, but… do you understand what Alec Holland is?” Harley shrugs. “He is basically a plant god. Meaning, he could take my pheromones, and increase their potency. He could probably even reproduce them. That’s why Woodrue didn’t put up much of a fight when you came for me- because I was redundant. And now it’s a race against time, and we’re starting from behind.” She finishes her coffee and turns around. “How much pull do you have with these bat people?”

“Like I asked for a tour of the Batcave or for them to drive us around in the Batmobile while we made out in the back seat.”

“And they said ‘no?’”

“No back seat. The rest all depends. Are we asking to work with them, or trying to scam ‘em?”

“If you don’t at least leave the possibility of the latter open I’m never talking to either of you again,” Catwoman says, pouring herself a bowl of milk.

Ivy’s prepared. “I spoke with the city’s Economy Development Corporation, and they estimate there are half a million cats in Gotham City. I know cats are survivors and all, but what happens if jilted men decide to take their anger out on women’s cats, or worse, if my pheromones end up working just as well on male cats.”

Catwoman stops lapping at the bowl. “Can I at least steal something, when this is all over, so I don’t feel like a complete sap?”

“Sure,” they both say with a shrug.

Birds of Prey/Batwomen assemble at the tower, with the promise that the rest are dealing with a bigger threat outside of Gotham, but will be there as soon as they can wrap it up. Then they get the call from the Sirens, all agreeing to work together.

Oracle has been able to put together the records from all of their Woodrue-related locations so far. And it seems he’s been using places, money and resources from three separate crime families. Analysis of recent police surveillance has proven that the three seem to be working together, and that they need to hit all three crime bosses at once, to mop up as much of their men and resources as possible. They split into three teams, with Ivy’s team going to where they think Swamp Thing is/Penguin, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey going after Woodrue/Two-Face, and Batwoman and the other Batwomen going after the location where the pheromones are all stored to destroy them/Ventriloquist (he’s squatting on old Joker territory; he lost clout after fallout from BoP2, especially with his willingness to sacrifice his henchmen for a joke)- that meant the Ventriloquist had a lot of territory with abandoned chemical storage/disposal, perfect for the pheromones they pumped out of Ivy.  

The Batwomen easily deal with the Ventriloquist, Scarface and his vanilla mooks. Then they realize there was a lot more pheromone than they realized- acres of it. Batwoman calls her father. The base is still observing chemical weapons protocols, so they’re fine, if somewhat understaffed. He agrees to help her bomb the pheromone storage (I think he loads a plane with explosives and arranges for Kate to steal it, having learned since the last movie how to fly a plane… ish- the main sticking point being her landings are still mostly crashes in the simulator).

Ivy leads the Sirens to rescue Alec. Penguin, slightly impacted by the pheromones (but having always been a dick) gets the snot kicked out of him, and realizing how ridiculously powerful Ivy is, decide not to screw with them and leave without much of a fight. The true brawl, though, is with the Swamp Thing himself. He’s still under the influence of Ivy’s pheromones, only a stronger, more robust variant he helped concoct. Thankfully, midway through the fight Ivy realizes that the Swamp Thing they’re fighting isn’t Alec at all, that he essentially grew himself a bodyguard, so while the others fight him off (badly), Ivy reasons with Alec, that he’s a good man, the man she admired, the one she fell for. She kisses him, and it brings him out of his stupor, and then some. The bodyguard keeps fighting, but some of the life has gone out of it; this is amplified by the fact that Harley, seeing the kiss, goes berserk, and will hit him in the twig and berries frequently with her big-ass mallet. Alec’s still a little influenced by the pheromones, and clingy; Ivy says she thought he got engaged, and he says that’s complicated. Ivy tells him things are a lot less complicated for her- that she found someone who makes her happy, and looks over at Harley, practically glowing. Ivy uses the Swamp Thing’s arm to pull Harley to her, and kisses her. Harley stammers that she thought… before Ivy tells her she thinks too much, and kisses her. “I do.” And they kiss again.

Finally, Two-Face’s place is where the real fight happens. One half of his mansion is overgrown. The Birds of Prey split up, Batgirl leading one segment into the overgrown side, since she’s got all the weedkilling toys, and Question leading the other up the pristine side. Question and Huntress make short work of Two-Face, before wondering where all his goons are. Both Harveys smile. Woodrue knocks Batgirl and Canary through a door, rolling into the room. Harvey tells them the reason he didn’t see a point in putting his men in harm’s way tonight was that it was going to be a bloodbath- that they were just waiting for all the guests to arrive.

At that moment, the Sirens and the Batwomen arrive. Two-Face brags to Woodrue that his timing is impeccable. As you can see, we’ve got a ridiculous cast of women here already… but things are about to go just completely nuts. I wasn’t screwing with you when I said that this was Endgame for DC’s women. Well, here it goes.

I think for the ending we bring in a big Big Bad; personally, I’d swing for the fences and have it be Granny Goodness with a team of male furies; Granny Goodness has basically been taken to task by Darkseid. He thinks her Furies need to open up to male members, that she’s been artificially holding her elite soldiers back. So she’s testing his hypothesis, by recruiting a team of men. She explains that there’s a part of her rooting for the women, because they’ll prove her right if they win, not that she could ever gloat to Darkseid. But she wants her ladies back; she was the one who gave Woodrue the necessary upgrade to be able to adapt Ivy’s pheromones.

At first, the combined Birds of Prey are outmatched. But then… those other heroines we teased earlier on, who would show as soon as they wrapped up the bigger threat… they arrive. This loops in all of the most powerful of DC’s women for a fireworks finish as they beat a team of men under Granny’s control, before all of the rest of the women show up. This list is in no way all-inclusive, and will likely swell. But it should give you an idea of who’s punching who.

Wonder Woman Lobo
Big Barda Scott Free
Supergirl Granny Goodness
Power Girl Superboy
Zatanna Jason Blood/The Demon
Ivy Jason Woodrue
Catwoman/Black Bat (snatches Granny’s control rod)
Harley Quinn (souped up) Joker, like from the first Arkham game (can really be Clayface, if that’s too silly)
Batgirl Nightwing
Mary Marvel Black Adam
Fire  
Ice  
Huntress  
Mera  
Jesse Quick  
Natasha Irons  
Artemis  

Wherever possible/necessary, we can replace the menfolk with their CGI counterparts (having the Demon in a fight wouldn’t necessarily require paying Jason Blood to show; I’m all for paying him to show, mind, but I know some actors really hate showing up to film what is essentially a cameo, and it’s possible the budget on this will also be insane, so building in places where we can cut costs might be helpful).

But the women are winning. Granny is conflicted; she’s winning the moral argument even as she loses the fight. But she also knows that Darkseid doesn’t brook failure… she sees an opportunity to slink away, taking Jason Woodrue with her.

And, personally, I’d bring in at least 3 men, here: Batman, Superman, and whatever other male Justice Leaguer would be most impactful (could be Aquaman, given current box office). We start with whichever of them has the most recognizable voice, calling from offscreen. Camera pans, and we see those three, and think this is round 2 and it’s about to get brutal…. Only the men aren’t attacking. Or cursing. Batman explains that he’s synthesized an antidote, that he’s got Flashes spreading across the city administering doses.

Harley asks Wonder Woman if this means she’s in the Avengers- “I mean the Justice League, clearly you weren’t my safety squad.” Could be cute to have Ratcatcher 2 cameo, and Harley waves her off. Wonder Woman pretends not to have heard, and walks away. Harley is, for a moment, disappointed. But Batgirl is behind her. She tells her some people might look at them as minor league, but if Harley, Ivy, or Catwoman want, they always have a place in the, and before she says Birds of Prey, we go to black, and smash in the Birds of Prey logo. We quickly do the cast credits, before cutting back, immediately to the same scene.

Catwoman runs up to Harley and Ivy. “That thing I needed to do, it’s done, and we should go. Now.” She turns, and we can see she has a utility belt slung over her shoulder. It literally doesn’t matter which of the Batmen she took it from, but it’s slightly funnier if it’s a Robin and he has to hold his pants up. Batman bellows after Selena, and we cut again to black.

More credits. Then we’re on Apokalips. Jason Woodrue has seen better days. Clearly, he’s been tortured for a while. Desaad is overseeing that, but Darkseid is working with Woodrue’s figures. Desaad is becoming more concerned, that he’s been working with Woodrue’s information tirelessly, without speaking. Desaad is trying to get an answer from him, if the Antilife Equation is complete, if he’ll be able to mold the minds of men to his will. He’s not going to reply, but I would like to have him turn to camera, similar to Thanos at the end of the very first Avengers, and smile. But while that CGI Thanos looked a little cartoony, this one should be horrifying- and his smile should be a thing of nightmares. That Darkseid is happy at all should be something we’re all worried about.

Nexus 3, Chapter 12

“It’s not enough,” Elle said, as we finished counting the amount of shots we could fire. I could tell she was fighting the urge to start counting all over again.

“We didn’t come down here planning to depopulate the entire landing zone,” I said with a laugh. “But it will be enough.”

“And if it isn’t?” she asked, and this time when she touched her hand to her belly it was unconscious.

If it’s not, then there isn’t a head of security anywhere man’s set foot I would trust at my side more. We got each other through Dalaxia. Fought off an entire metropolis’ worth of space bears. Beat back a military crew that dwarfed ours. And if push comes to absolute shove, the two of you are getting the hell off of this world.”

“Don’t start thinking like a martyr again.”

“Not on Bill’s life.”

“I heard that,” he grumbled, still fighting the controls as the entire ship shuttered.

“If there’s any way I can watch our daughter grow up, I’m going to be there. And if there’s not, there isn’t a species that could keep me from ensuring at least that you will.”

“What about the Romaleon?”

“They took their shot,” I said.

I could hear the chortle Bill was badly fighting back as he said, “Isn’t it more like you took their-”

“Don’t,” I said, flicking the safety off on my rifle, which hummed to life, “after all, I’m armed.”

“Party pooper.” But then he took his eyes off the instruments to fix us both. “I’m putting us down as close as I can. Risk to the shuttle, either from gunfire or particles, at least my back of the envelope says that the difference is likely to be small. Whereas, the odds we get overrun, captured, killed, or just separated from the shuttle… we’re going to be on top of the wreckage. There’s a lot of fires still raging- the crash released a lot of energy, including heat. Whatever time you can buy will have to be enough. But the more you can buy, the better the chances we get off this rock with some answers that will save lives. But it’s her call. When she says we need to leave, we leave.”

Elle and I armed ourselves to the teeth. We packed on as many bags of ammunition as we could carry, and two pistols each, and a rifle. “So what’s the best-case scenario?” I asked Elle.

“That their society isn’t much more evolved from bears, hibernating in caves, that mostly they’re just stumbling out to see what woke them up.”

“And the odds?”

“I think there are essentially four technological epochs we regularly see. Stone tools and weapons. Metal tools and weapons. Physical projectile weapons. And energy projecting weapons. The nipple of the bell curve of species usually hovers around the breakpoint between stone and metal, with a slower taper towards energy projection. If I remember the figures, it’s roughly 25% of species contacted thusfar that had developed projectile weapons, and around 10% that had energy projecting weapons.”

“And of the latter two, projectiles are actually worse,” I said, “because there’s really no one solution that will handle all projectiles.”

“Right. You can use a densely woven fabric like Kevlar to stop a bullet. But any reasonably sharp arrow-head or bolt will slice through it like butter- for those you need interwoven ring mail.”

“And I remember sitting in on those meetings. You specifically argued that multiple layers of protection were worth whatever extra cost in manufacturing and launching, and whatever extra resources were required to get them down on the shuttles. Company scientists thought we’d have to slow either the speed or frequency of stopping at new planets- that the hit we took in efficiency wouldn’t compensate for the marginal security benefit. Kicking yourself for not fighting harder for my proposal?”

“Just aware that not doing so makes it more likely this will be the way that I die- it was always going to be ironic.” The shuttle lurched as we touched down, and the rear doors started opening.

It was a hell of a lot worse than I thought. The species might have hibernated underground, but there were definitely buildings topside, as well. Seemed like they were formed mostly of a rocky, red clay, with thatched roofs; it was the roofs that had caught and spread the most fire. I didn’t see bodies; maybe that meant that they all retreated for their equivalent of winter, and we got exceedingly lucky. Maybe they were there, if you only took the time to dig- but we didn’t have that time. The pod, or what was left of it, was sitting in the middle of one of these structures, and we were parked outside. Elle and I swept the structure; there had been a window and a door in the rear, but the impact had collapsed them both to make them impassible. That left the one door to watch, to protect Bill.

“I’m taking the structure,” I said.

“Like fun you are,” Elle replied.

“Three quick points: one, I’m Captain; two, you’re protecting for two, and three, we might not have time for you to do that little pregnant waddle if we have to leave in a hurry, so you’re posting up in the back of the ship.”

“I hate you when you’re right nearly as much as I hate you when you’re wrong.”

“Maybe you just hate me, full stop,” I offered.

“No, I love you when you’re quiet.” I didn’t point out her Freudian slip, and she walked back to the shuttle.

Bill was already carting the cutting tools to the wreckage, which looked like a barbecue turned inside out, so I wasn’t sure what all he hoped to get from it; hopefully the instruments inside fared better, but he ignored us as he walked, aside from passive-aggressively mumbling, “No, no, it’s fine, it doesn’t matter if it takes me an extra several minutes to carry all of this crap out here…”

I don’t know if Bill instinctively knew what he was doing, since it was essentially an engineering problem, but the way he angled the ship enabled Elle to cover the streets to the North and East from the rear of the shuttle, while I could mostly cover South and West- and we could both cover each other. It wasn’t a perfect position, since we would have needed at least one but likely two more to truly watch all of the angles, but under the circumstances it was likely as good as it was getting.

“If you need, you can mute me,” Bill said, “but I’m going to record what I’m seeing. Even if something prevents us from making it back, this recording might still be recoverable. And it wouldn’t hurt for the two of you to know what we’re up against, either. Outside of the pod is charred. Either it was never designed to enter atmo or it was truly dead stick and just smashed through, heat be damned. I think some of these were heat panels, but with this kind of damage it’s hard to know. If they’re based on the same designs as our pods they’re a generation or two beyond them. Access panels aren’t in the same place, and even now that I’ve found it the damned thing seems to have been fused shut- as in the heat was enough to melt screws, which have since cooled and hardened in place. But that’s why I brought the torch.”

I don’t know if he was aware of it, but he started to hum, something classical, but that inexplicably kept including measures of Dueling Banjos, and I think at one point segued into Old McDonald. “Fuck,” he finally said. “So, Good news/bad news.”

“Bad first,” Elle and I said in unison.

“We can’t leave yet. Because the good news, it’s brain is intact. They shielded the shit out of the black box, which would seem, if I’m understanding all of the linkages, here, to include both the processor and memory systems. This is going to tell us… everything. Who fired it, where from, how long it was trailing us, when it went dead stick and likely, if there are any blindspots we can exploit. Provided we can survive this, and get back to the Nexus with it and us intact, this is probably the best case scenario.” “Well that’s just great,” Elle said. “And you might want to hurry up on cutting it out. Because I have contact, and they are armed for bear.”