Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

In 2008, I had to make a decision. Whichever choice I made, I thought it would kill me to forgo the other. I felt as though I were being torn in two, and I wasn't very well put together even before all that came up.

I tried for the longest time to avoid making that choice. To dream up some way to have things both ways. If I had been a more whole person back then, maybe I could even have found a better way, I don't know. Certainly I could have come to a firm conclusion faster, which would have been easier for all parties concerned.

I thought I had made my decision, but then all at once I was uncertain again. I am not sure how close this situation came to killing me, but I know that I spent a lot of time thinking about ways in which I might suffer a fatal accident, and thus be spared having to make that goddamned decision.

The situation as it stands is far from perfect. None of us has everything we wanted. But I can live with it. Or anyway, I've stopped wishing I were dead.

But how I wish I had not caused so much needless pain to those others. There is no upside to that, and no way to reduce the shame I feel at how I treated the ones who were dearest to me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Come check out Arcadia Berger's new site,, where she shamelessly plugs her ebooks.

But then, Arcadia Berger does most things shamelessly.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Like Ashleigh's

Going to post this here in addition to posting it to Tumblr [] because I created it in honor of a post by Berzerkasaurus Rex [] and Rex has trouble looking at posts on Tumblr.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Earth-349: Hawkman

[Still finding Earth-349 stories that I haven't posted to the blog] by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D. Disclaimer #1: This story is inspired by a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other. Disclaimer #2: This story makes use of copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., and other publishers. It is written for amusement only and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights. Disclaimer #3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended, especially those who are disturbed by themes such as transgender and the end of the world. Prologue One: Earth-1 Katar Hol, son of Paran Katar, member of the Hawk Police of Thanagar, lifted the absorbascon from his head and looked around him, allowing his mind to return to being merely the consciousness of a single man, rather than a vast, almost impersonal awareness possessing all the knowledge of all people on Earth. Quickly sorting through what he had moments ago grasped in its entirety, plucking from the fading vision of Earth entire the things he actually needed to retain, he allowed himself to reflect for a moment on the shock he had felt the first time he had absorbed Terran knowledge, and begun the long transition from a visiting police officer hunting an escaped criminal, to an interested observer and ally of Terran humanity, and finally to something that was almost as much Terran as Thanagarian. The absorbascon had allowed him and his partner (and wife) to learn the languages and customs of their hosts, enough to allow them to pose in their off-duty hours as ordinary Terrans, but a true understanding had taken much longer. Now, though, after nearly a decade on Earth, he was more likely to think of himself as Carter Hall than as Katar Hol, as “the” Hawkman of the Justice League than as a Hawkman of the Thanagarian police. Yet this planet, not his birthplace, now seemed as though it had always been destined to be his home. Prologue Two: Earth-2 Carter Hall, son of Perry Hall, secretly the world-famous mystery man known as Hawkman, tied the leather thong that wrapped the handle of the mace and cut it short with a razor blade. He turned it, inspecting his work approvingly. The weapon, which had served a soldier in the armies of Philip of Macedon, would serve Hawkman for another day. Hall reflected on the confused time when he had first learned of his past life in ancient Egypt, the days when he had recreated his ancient feat of adding a “ninth metal” to Egyptian alchemy’s eight. Hall had become Hawkman, and made his girlfriend into Hawkgirl. Strange to think it had been nearly thirty years. It didn’t seem so long. Now they were an old married couple, with a fine son, Hector, who might just become a mystery man himself one day, taking his father’s place in the Justice Society. Hall twirled the mace in the air, tossing and catching the deadly implement with practiced ease. Reincarnation, antigravity, masked heroics. What a life. Yet it all felt exactly right. As though it had been meant to be from before Egypt had existed. Prologue Three: Earth-3 Hol Hektah, son of Peren Hektah, had risen through the ranks of the police agency which kept the rulers of imperial Thanagar in power, promoted from Wingman to Falcon and eventually to Eagle. He had done it by hard work, by careful politicking, and by knowing when to take chances. When the job of hunting down the anti-imperialist activist Bythor had come up, Hol had used every trick and favor he had to get the assignment. Hol had known that rooting Bythor out of the unknown planet “Earth” would be no simple find-him-and-kill-him mission, and that carrying it out successfully would be his route to the highest honors, his best chance of one day holding the title of Hawkman, supreme commander of the force that kept the flying cities of the Hawkworld in the air. His lover, Sondar, had stowed away. That made her a deserter from her demolitions unit, but she had figured that he would need the bombing skills that had earned her the nickname “Egglayer” to kill Bythor, and that returning as the partner of a hero would win her forgiveness. And if they failed, they would probably be dead anyway. They had arrived at Earth so full of confidence. How could they have guessed just how mad a planet Earth really was? The Crime Syndicate, the rulers of the planet, had already killed Bythor. They’d had no more use for his talk of human rights and justice than Hawkworld had. Hol and Sondar had been permitted to live, provided they helped the Crime Syndicate protect Earth from other invaders, but they would never be allowed to return to Thanagar and warn their superiors about the dangerous superhumans of Earth. Now the madman Johnny Quick had raped Sondar, and she was pregnant. Hol could not allow his beloved’s child to grow up on this mad planet; they would have to make a break for it. To live any longer on Earth? It was never meant to be. Prologue Four: Earth-24 Jerzy Holiuski threw himself against the hangar door. The corrugated sheet metal groaned loudly, but refused to yield. Chuck Rensie, the Texan Holiuski had met earlier that day, approached with a long metal rod which he levered into the door, trying to pry it open where Holiuski had failed. "What are you expecting to find in here, anyway, Polack?" Holiuski shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe parts for your plane, maybe petrol. Maybe a new plane for me. But if you are serious about this idea of becoming some kind of air pirates to fight the Nazis, we will need things we will only find at an air base like this one, no?" "Yeah," Rensie grunted, leaning on the bar. "And your Polacks bugged outta here so fast, they musta left plenty behind." Holiuski walked around behind Rensie, placing the bar between them. The American turned around to face him. "One more thing: don't call me 'Polack' again, Yankee." Rensie's fair, freckled face turned livid at the word "Yankee", and he lunged for the Pole. This had the desired effect, the bar levering the door open with a scream of rent metal before dumping Rensie on the ground. Rensie jumped up, already beginning to laugh, when he saw Holiuski's expression. He followed the Pole's eyes, looking into the hangar. At first he thought they were parachutes hung on a rack. But then he saw that the leather harnesses were connected to seven sets of black-feathered wings. Prologue Five: There Is No More Earth-168 Hank and Don Hall still felt as though they were standing on some kind of solid surface, even though they could see nothing more beneath them than they could in any other direction: only something like swirling, pearlescent fog. "God damn it," Hank snarled, the long red "feathers" of his cape rustling like palm fronds, "this didn't have to goddamn happen!" "It was bound to happen, thanks to barbarians like you," snapped Don, wagging a white-gloved finger under his brother's nose. "What, now you're gonna blame me for this? This is the goddamn end of the world, little brother!" "And in the face of your world's end, still you learn nothing," said the Voice which had given them the powers of the Hawk and the Dove. "Can you imagine how disappointed I am in you?" "I did what I could," Don raged, "but how much could I do, when you gave just as much power to the wrong side?" He stabbed a finger at Hank. "Still you think of sides. Still you think either you or your brother should have dominated the other. You have learned nothing, and your world is forfeit because of it." "I told you," Hank snarled. "I told you appeasement would only --" "Enough. Your world is destroyed because it failed to learn the lesson I created you to teach it. And you failed because you never learned it yourselves. But that world is done, and a new role awaits you, on a new world." "Then it's true," Don said softly, "there are other worlds, other Earths?" "There are. And on a thousand Earths I have placed my champions, my Hawks. Each has a different role to play, according to the nature of the Earth. On the world for which you are bound, after a transformation, you shall have a new destiny, as parents of a new generation of Hawks." "Parents?" Hank said, horrified. "No, you can't do that! Even if the little drip isn't much of a man, he's still my brother, and I'm not gonna marry him even if you do change him!" The Voice paused, and somehow the silence took the place of a chuckle. "Fear not, Henry Hall. Incest is not what I mean to be your fate.” Epilogue: Earth-349 The alarm clock woke Perry Carter at 6:00 AM exactly, just as it had the day before, back at MIT. He took pride in keeping to routine. Shutting off the clock, he looked around his bedroom, the same one he had lived in as a child. It was the largest private room in Carter Hall, as befitted the son of the head of the Carter family, but it was smaller than the bathroom of his apartment at school. The Carters were the wealthiest of the four Founding Families of Laputa, but space upon the flying island was scarce, and there were limits to how much space money could buy. Then again, Carter reflected as he pulled on his green hose and tied his sandals, nobody else at MIT had his own set of wings, or the antigravity belt that allowed them to carry him on the winds. These items, his most precious possessions, he removed carefully from their cabinet on the wall. His mother, Saundra Carter, had worn them during the Second World War as Lady Hawk, one of the world’s first superheroes. Now he wore them as Hawkman. Carter checked the wing-harness and flew neatly from his bedroom window, soaring into the dawn sky towards the edge of the sky-island. Below and to his right, he saw fat old Asa Whitney on his flying carpet, cruising slowly just above the ground. To his left, his uncle Einar soared on his green batwings. All the fliers, of course, were using small bits of Ixium, the same mysterious substance that kept the sky island in the air. Directly ahead, the lip of the island was ploughing through a cloud, spilling streamers of fog over the green lawns. There seemed to be someone standing there, dangerously close to the edge, especially in the fog. Carter flew down towards the edge, beginning to make out a pair of bodies, two women dressed in odd birdlike costumes that might have been meant to be tributes to his own. He flew down towards them.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Still My Favorite Valentine

Definitely, and by a long chalk:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Earth-349: The Fantastic Four

Earth-349: The Fantastic Four by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D. Fantastic FourDisclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical parallel world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other. Disclaimer #2: Some characters appearing in this story are based on copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights. Disclaimer #3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended. Dr. Natalie Richards, known to the general public as Doctor Fantastic, did not look up from her microscope as she reached for the bottle of solvent on the workbench behind her. The seeming clutter of her laboratory was perfectly clear to her at all times, so there was no doubt in her mind that the bottle her fingers first touched was the one she wanted, even though it was a good twelve feet behind her. The rest of her body remained in its normal form, that of a broad-shouldered woman, her brown hair touched with gray at the temples but otherwise showing few signs of age. Somehow the normalcy of her appearance made the elastic extension of her arm seem all the more grotesque. All the while, she continued to speak, monotonously but with perfect diction, into a microphone propped next to the microscope. "Each clan of the Durlan race has its traditional form, distinct from all others: the Daggle, Skrull and Krrlgr clans wear a humanoid shape; the Shoggoth, Llorn and Fortikay are amoeboid; the Gollo are long-necked quadrupeds." Doctor Fantastic's arm retracted silently, assuming an almost normal shape as she brought the bottle in front of her, twisted off its cap, set it down and picked up a pipette, all the while her eyes remained fixed on the arcane image under her view. The pipette, loaded with solvent, hovered over the slide in the microscope, when Richards heard a small sound behind her. Still not looking up, she paused before letting fall the precise drop she needed. "Is that you, Griffy?" Richards, the microscope, the tape recorder, the bottle of solvent and everything else on the workbench were suddenly slammed against the wall. Only Richards survived, thanks to the super-elastic powers that made her Doctor Fantastic, and the shock of being mashed against the bench and the wall was acutely painful even to her. The pressure against her back suddenly vanished, and Richards turned, readying herself to face a dangerous foe or to deal with malfunctioning equipment. She was not prepared for what she did see: a small, skinny young man in studden leather shorts, boots, bracers and cowl, snarling at her with unalloyed hostility. "All right, fellow," Richards began, trying to assess the danger the unfamiliar enemy posed, "let's --" Richards found herself enclosed in an invisible sphere of force, one that quickly shrank until she was crushed into a sphere less than two feet in diameter, then smaller still, until the air was forced from her lungs and she began to black out. Unable to speak, she tried to form words with her lips, but any plea or shocked exclamation was rendered unintelligible by the distortion of her flattened face, half-buried against her blue-sheathed shoulder. Frances Grimm looked at the rough orange surface of her left forearm and sighed disgustedly. Tossing aside the sheet of 400-grain sandpaper with which she had been trying to improve its texture, she looked into her newly-installed full-length mirror, the third she'd bought that week. Surveying her hairless, lumpish shape, almost genderless except for the prominent orange breasts distending her white cotton nightgown, she raised a massive fist, then slowly lowered it. "Getting better, Grimm. But you'll know you're really getting used to how you look when a mirror lasts you two whole days." She picked up her newest exercise device, a lump of gray puttylike material Natalie had created in the lab, malleable but so stiff it challenged even the immense strength of the She-Creature. Suddenly the lump's texture changed, became hard to hold onto. Grimm bore down with her mighty hands and squeezed. Nothing happened. She clamped the blob under one arm and crushed it against her chest. It shifted, and Grimm gave a satisfied grunt and lifted the lump to look at it. It had been shaped into a hasty but recognizable bust of herself, as she had been before the Fantastic Four's ill-fated flight into space. As she stared, gaping, the bust's mouth opened and a long gray tongue protruded. Grimm dropped the lump and looked around the room. When she saw the intruder in studden leather, she leapt forward, snarling "Okay, dickhead, it's cl--" She slammed into an invisible barrier that stopped her cold. Even foot-thick concrete had more give in it than the wall she ran into. Rebounding from the barrier, the She-Creature's craggy orange bottom never hit the ground. Instead, she fell into a sphere of force that pressed in on her mercilessly, squeezing with a force she'd never felt before. She fought back, battering against the force, making the masked man sweat as she hammered ceaselessly against his power, but in the end hypoxia won out, and she subsided into unconsciousness. Her maliciously grinning captor did not allow oxygen to penetrate Grimm's prison until her orange lips began to take on a slight bluish tinge. Susan Storm slipped the autographed photo of Paul McCartney into the fireproof transparent cover vacated by Fabian's and hung it back on the wall. She stepped back, climbing onto her bed's ruffled pink spread to admire the effect. "Oh, Paul," she murmured. Natty had promised that the next time business took them to Europe, the pogo plane would make a stop in England so Sue could meet him. She'd promised. "Paul's an asswipe," came a harsh, unfamiliar voice from the doorway. Sue turned, her seventeen-year-old eyes widening at the sight of a boy in the dumbest, raunchiest outfit she'd ever seen. Her eyes flashed with rage as his words sank in. "Flame on," she snapped, not caring that her spread hadn't been fireproofed (the treatment made stuff so stiff). A sheet of flame covered her body, and the spread beneath her burst into flame as well. But only in a circle around her. Sue only just had time to notice that before she lost consciousness. Flaming used up oxygen so very rapidly. Frances' bellowing curses woke Natalie. She looked around and saw that she was suspended in midair in the communications room, three of its highly-advanced 21-inch color screens flickering with light. Frances and Sue were floating nearby, naked as she was. Their captor stood by the communications controls, apparently making connections. "Everybody awake?" the young man in leather sneered. "Good. Welcome to your new lives, courtesy of Animus." "Well, good morning to you, too, Animal Boy," Frances grated. Animus glared at her and her limbs were suddenly crushed to her sides. Evidently he had reduced the space allowed to her. "For the benefit of the less literate among present company," Animus said sweetly, "the word 'animus' has two definitions: The masculine spirit within each person at war with the feminine anima, and the desire to harm someone. I am animus at large in the world, by both definitions!" Natalie and Sue had both been staring hard at the masked man. Simultaneously, they both said uncertainly, "Griffy?" Animus started, not expecting to be identified so quickly. "A-animus," he insisted, "call me Animus." "Griffin Jay Storm, do you think this is funny?" the Human Torch screamed. Natalie cried, "Sue, no!" but Animus had already sealed her force-field cage against sound and air. Susan Storm's fists pounded against her older brother's power until she collapsed, gasping for breath. "Give her some air, Animus," Natalie Richards said calmly. "You don't want to hurt her." "Yes I do," he laughed, but allowed Susan some air. "Don't want to kill her, but oh, do I ever want to hurt her. I'm going to hurt you all, a whole lot." Frances spoke up next. Her voice had never been called ladylike, but after her transformation it had become a gravelly bass croak. She tried to make it as pleasant as she could. "Look, uh, Animus, I can see you wantin' to try a new name, a new look. I was thinkin' the other day that we oughta at least start callin' you the Invisible Man. But --" Animus cut her off, sounding almost sad. "You never did have a clue what I wanted, did you, Fran? Even before, I could never get close to you. Always trying to be as tough as the guys, but secretly ashamed you couldn't be more girly, never opening up enough to let me get a look at the real you. And after it happened, you played it bitter or you played it like a clown, but you never gave me a chance to tell you that you were still a woman to me, and I was still ready to love you if you'd give me a chance." He stabbed a finger in Natalie's face. "You were no better, Tal. Using your research as an excuse to keep everybody at arm's length, even while you strung me along, never letting me quite know where I stood with you. And when we became the Fantastic Four, it was worse. I was living with you, for crying out loud, and still you'd be making a fuss over your responsibilities as team leader, finding endless excuses for ignoring me and then expecting me to be there when you wanted because we were a team after all. "And you, Sue," he continued, pacing down the line of prisoners, "even you couldn't treat me like the big brother, could you? God, have you any idea what it's like to have your kid sister patronize you?" He raised both fists in the air and raved at his naked captives. "God, yes, I'm gonna hurt you! You're going to pay and pay and pay for what you did to me!" He turned and pointed. Switches flipped on the communications console. A mask of gray steel, framed by a green hood, appeared on the leftmost screen. "You are ready to deliver me my cargo," asked a voice halfway between Max von Sydow and Bela Lugosi. "She's all yours, Your Majesty," Animus chuckled, using his force field to turn the videophone camera on Natalie. Doctor Doom laughed behind his mask. "Soon, Richards, you will know the vengeance of Doom. I arrive within the hour." The middle screen was almost completely filled by a distorted, inhuman gray face. "Hi, uh, fella," the Hulk rumbled. "You got the girl?" Animus moved Frances' force-bubble into camera range. "She's all yours, if you've got the cash." The Hulk lifted a suitcase that had once been quite elegant-looking and popped it open, bursting the steel band which had served in place of its long-demolished clasps. It was full of currency. "I got it. I want that nose-breakin' bitch. Been a long time since I had a girl I could use more'n once. Besides, she broke my nose." "So I've heard. Well, she's all yours. I'll meet you in the fourth sub-basement, as we agreed." "Right, like we agreed." The third monitor flicked alight, but no image appeared on it. "What about me, Griff?" Animus turned towards his sister. She sat, composed, within her force bubble, not trying to cover her nakedness. "Who are you selling me to? The Skrulls? The Molecule Master? The Doom Patrol?" "Shut up," Animus said softly, looking away. "Is this really what you want? Do you want to start your new life this way? Is this the kind of person you want to become?" "Sue --" Animus' reply was cut off by the third monitor's suddenly coming to life. A leering, freckled face appeared, seeming almost to lean out of the screen as it faced the camera. "Well, Mister Animus, I see you've got my little package all un-wrapped for me!" Alec Pierson, the Puppeteer, brushed at his red pompadour and straightened the collar of his western shirt as though preparing for a date. "I'll be right over, as soon as your other two customers have come and gone. Wouldn't want to get in their way, would I?" "Pierson," Animus whispered. "You were there. You . . . ." The Puppeteer frowned. "I'll be coming over soon. As soon as you've concluded your other business. As soon as you've had your revenge on those other two bitches. Those cold, castrating bitches," he snarled, leaning even further into the camera. His image was distorted now, sweat beading on his forehead as though the simple act of speaking to Animus were a great strain. Animus looked down at himself. "You did it. You gave me . . . ." "You're going to sell those bitches and be done with them," Pierson repeated. A blurry figure appeared in front of Pierson's face. He held it up to the camera, and it automatically adjusted to focus on a small but exquisitely detailed statue of Griffin Storm as Animus. A statue carved from clay, and cleverly jointed to be posable. "A puppet," Griffin snarled, pointing at the screen and then closing his eyes. "You're going to do it," Pierson hissed. "I'm warning you." The head popped off Pierson's puppet. Pierson stared at the ruined puppet, horrified. He looked back up at the camera and ran from the room, leaving the video monitor to show an empty room. Griffin Storm peeled the leather mask from his face as his three former comrades sank gently to the floor. "You'd better get ready for company. Doom will be landing on the roof in half an hour, and the Hulk will be in Sub 2 half an hour after that." "Right," snapped Natalie crisply, "we'll meet Doom on the roof. He'll probably depart without landing when he sees the four of us together and in uniform. The Hulk will be a little more trouble, but with your powers at their new level, Griffy - uh - Griffin, we should be able --" "No. You'll have to handle them without me." Griffin approached a window. It swung open at his approach. "Wait, Griff," Sue implored, "don't go! We need you. And we know this wasn't your fault, it was the Puppeteer manipulating you, we see that." "No, Sue. It came out because of him, but it wouldn't have come out if it hadn't been in there already." He stepped out the window, turning to look at his friends as he hovered there. "I'm not going to become Animus. But I'm not going back to being your Invisible Boy, either. I don't know what I'll do, who I'll be, but when I find out, I'll be in touch." He feel away from sight. Sue, Nat and Fran rushed to the window and saw him gliding into the distance, riding the air on an invisible winged shape. "I taught him the aerodynamics to do that," Fran said softly. "Well," Natalie said, trying to recover her crisp voice of command, "we still have a couple of guests to make unwelcome. We can sort things out after that." "Yeah," Fran agreed with forced cheerfulness. "Call up the Inhumans and Doc Xavier, find us a new fourth. Maybe another chick, we can be a girl gang this time." Sue glared at her. "Your skull's as thick as your hide, you big hippo. We can't replace Griff." "Well, not replace, but --" "But nothing," Nat said flatly. "Without Griff, we've got no reason to continue as we have. Once Doom and the Hulk are dealt with, I'll be packing for Arizona, the way I should have done when Ross Oil offered me the job in the first place. More research, less horseplay." "If I respond before the end of the month," Sue observed, "that scholarship from MIT will still be good." "But if you guys leave now," Frances croaked, "this is . . . the end of the Fantastic Four!" And it was.

Earth-349: Catwoman

Earth-349: Catwoman by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D. Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical parallel world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other. Disclaimer #2: This story makes use of copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., and other publishers. It is written for amusement only and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights. Disclaimer #3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended, especially those who are troubled by themes such as age regression and spanking. She entered the Starr Electronics office through the front door, dressed as a cleaning woman, but as soon as she was inside, she pulled the cowl over her head. These things had to be done properly. The safe door was made of a modern composite material: impervious to acids and the heat of anything not nuclear-powered. The lock was electronic, just as up-to-date, very impressive-looking -- and about as hard to crack as a gym locker. She had it open it two minutes. She would leave the way she had entered, without a trace, but these things had to be done properly, or one might as well just write bad checks, so she cut a neat circle from the window with her glass cutter and laid it on the floor. She chuckled as she imagined them trying to figure out how she had scaled the outside of a glass-faced skyscraper, then snarled as she noticed that the window didn't open at all. She thought about cutting a bigger hole, one plausibly big enough for a very athletic person to climb through, then shrugged and left things as they were. Call it a symbol. Symbols were important. She was so upset by her gaffe with the window that she almost left the office with the cat-mask still in place. She was just reaching up to pull it off when a low voice behind her murmured, "Here, Kitty, Kitty." She spun, her movements not hampered by the baggy garments of a cleaning woman. Her leg lashed out precisely at the source of the voice, but Batwoman had already moved half a step back. Catwoman's heel met a gloved hand rather than a jaw. The Dark Dame yanked the burglar off her feet, with an extra tug as her head approached the floor to spoil her fall. Catwoman's head cracked loudly against the floor, and Batwoman pressed the advantage, flipping the stunned criminal onto her belly and yanking her arms painfully behind her back. Knees dug cruelly into the small of Catwoman's back, and she did not recover in time to escape the manacles Batwoman snapped onto her wrists. Catwoman almost got away as Gotham's Guardian moved to bind her ankles, but in seconds the second pair of shackles were in place, and then a chain was looped between the two, pulling Catwoman's body into a painful bow. "More chains than the cops use, Batty-girl. You must like them." "Sorry to disappoint you, Lois," Batwoman said evenly. "This is strictly business. I knew a pair of handcuffs weren't nearly enough to hold you." "So, it's Lois now, is it? Am I supposed to be impressed?" Batwoman peeled the cowl from Lois Lane's face, made ugly by unconcealed loathing. "I wouldn't mind if you were. The police hadn't figured it out yet." Catwoman gave a snarling laugh. "The cops in this town haven't got any more brains than they do balls." Batwoman's face betrayed a hint of emotion. "Not funny, Lois. Drake Lance is a good man. He doesn't deserve the suffering he's going through because of you." Inspector Drake Lance had publicly promised to "put a collar" on Catwoman. She'd assaulted him in his apartment and castrated him, then delivered his testicles to his fiancee with a note reading, "Your Drake is now a capon". The Catwoman shrieked with rage. "He deserves it! They all do!" Batwoman shoved a bat-shaped chunk of black foam rubber between Lois' bared teeth and secured the straps,. gagging her. She hoisted the struggling criminal onto her back and carried her to the elevator. "It's obvious, Lois, what your problem is. You feel that there's no man on Earth who comes up to your standards, and you've decided to take out your frustration by hurting the best men you can find, men like Lance, or like Cal Starr, who would have been bankrupted by your little industrial espionage tonight." The elevator opened. Catwoman continued to struggle, but her arms were growing tired in their unnatural position behind her back. "I tend to agree with you, Lois. You are a superior woman, and you deserve a superior man. But did it ever occur to you that you put too many barriers between yourself and men? Challenging their right to court you is one thing; acting like you despise them is another. It would take a man who was really superhuman to put up with that kind of treatment for long." The elevator opened onto a basement garage. Batwoman carried her prisoner to the black panel van she privately thought of as "Batmobile #4". With Catwoman secured in back, Batwoman changed from her bizarre black and gray costume into a less conspicuous disguise: a dirty-blonde wig, jeans, a cordurouy jacket, a large mole on her nose. She wondered for a moment why she had worn the Batwoman costume to confront Catwoman, then reminded herself that one really had to do things the right way, if one was going to do them at all. Catwoman lay silently in the back of the van as Batwoman drove the van out onto the street and parked, pulling the handset of a concealed car-telephone from under the dashboard. She dialed a number, spoke a few words, hung up and drove on. Catwoman remained still and silent, no doubt methodically exploring her bonds. A sudden storm of muffled cries and snarls made it obvious when she figured out that the cuffs had no key mechanism at all, and would have to be cut off. Batwoman drove towards the upper West End of Gotham, onto the campus of New Devonshire State University, and parked the van at the back of Crane Hall. Professor Carter Nicholls was waiting at the door as she carried the bound Catwoman inside. "You can take the manacles off her now," Nicholls said as Batwoman laid Lois Lane on a padded table. "What kind of restraints do you have?" Batwoman asked, looking over the table. "We won't need any. She's already under." Batwoman looked and saw that Catwoman's eyes were glazed, her breathing shallow. Professor Nicholls had induced a deep hypnotic state in the few seconds it had taken her to carry Catwoman into the lab. She removed the restraints and straightened Catwoman's body on the table, disturbed by how compliant but unresponsive she was, like a jointed mannequin, neither asleep nor awake. "Now, if you'll give me about an hour, er, Miss Wayne, I'll have her ready for you to take home." "Are you sure you'll be safe with her, Professor?" "Oh, quite safe. But I would like some privacy while I work." Batwoman nodded and headed for the door. Professor Nicholls possessed some sort of reality-altering technique which he'd never revealed to anyone. Batwoman didn't even know if it involved psychic powers, technology or something totally unimagined. But on several occasions, he had sent her, alone or accompanied by Robin or Batgirl, into the past and future, and had once transformed her into a young girl, walking through modern Gotham with no memory of her adult life. Batwoman sat in the van for an hour, going over Korean vocabulary cards and doing a few Yoga exercises, until Nicholls came out and ushered her up to his lab. she went, carrying a large shopping bag. Lois Lane's body was almost lost in the dumpy cleaning woman's dress. Even the purple bodysuit underneath was now baggy, no longer skintight. The body on the table was that of a girl no older than ten. The soft oval face, seeming now comfortably asleep, showed no trace of the cruelty of Catwoman, or the brittle sophistication of Lois Lane. "Now, remember, Miss Wayne, her transformation seems complete, and it should be complete, but it could easily break down in the early stages. It would be easy, if she fell into her old habits, for her to regain her memories of adult life, maybe even to spontaneously regain her adult body. You must keep her living as a young girl, an innocent young girl . . . ." Batwoman looked up from the table. Nicholls had pulled a pair of pink cotton briefs from the bag and was clutching them nervously, sweat beading on his forehead as he stared down at the girl on the table, biting his lip. "That's all right, Professor. I'll take it from here." Nicholls swallowed and nodded gratefully, though it took him a moment before he put the panties down. Batwoman carried the girl to the van. She was now dressed in a navy blue pleated skirt, pale blue blouse, white sweater vest, blue socks and mary janes. The Professor saw them out, and Batwoman drove them away into the night. It was late now, so she went to the Corolla Building penthouse rather than drive all the way out to the mansion in Fingerwood. She laid Lois on the living room couch, changed out of her disguise, and checked the time. She'd timed it perfectly; the program she wanted was about to start. She bent over the sleeping girl. "Antwerp," she whispered. Lois blinked and looked around. "Um, hello?" "Hello, Lois. My name is Roberta. You're going to be living with me now." The girl made a sour face. "Another foster home? Swell." "Well, Lois, this time things are kind of different. This is going to be hard for you to believe at first, but it'll be easier if you watch something first." She picked up the remote control and turned on the television. The girl's eyes widened. "You have a televisor?" That was good. She was relating to the TV set as the rich person's novelty item it had been twenty years before. The screen showed a handsome blonde man with his arm around a slender woman with chocolate-colored skin, waving to reporters. "--ormer astronaut Steve Trevor today announced his candidacy for the Sen--" CLICK A handsome man in a tux sang into a microphone as he gazed into the eyes of a beaky woman in an outrageous hat. "--enaded his wife of eighteen years with the comic-romantic song 'That's Amore'. Lewis responded in her typical madcap fash--" CLICK Earth, as seen from space, filled the screen. The image pulled back to reveal a second Earth, then a dozen, then hundreds of tiny, identical Earths. White letters appeared over the multiplying worlds: "New Devonshire Educational Television Presents More Worlds Than One." Lois sat rapt through the program as it moved quickly through famous disappearances (Marshal Ney, Oliver Cromwell), mysterious people who seemed to come from nowhere (Kaspar Hauser, Mary Psalmanasar), inexplicable artifacts (the Kensington Stone, Lomellini's Column) and other historical anomalies, to modern physics and finally to the documented crossings between worlds of recent years (the Flash photographed the streets of a "Crossroads City" that existed in place of Hub City; a real-life Captain America held a captive Adolf Hitler aloft by his collar). From time to time she looked around the room, noticing objects even stranger than the huge color screen of her host's "televisor". When it was over, Lois looked down and saw she was holding Roberta's hand. "So, I'm in a different world now? I'm from that, um, Earth-348?" "No, hon, another one. One that . . . doesn't exist any more." It was true enough. The Earth-349 of the 1940s was long gone. "And now I'm gonna live here with you?" "That's right. I have your room ready for you at the big house outside of town; for tonight, you can sleep in the spare room here." Lois pulled her hand from Roberta's. "Suppose I don't want to?" She jumped up from the couch with what looked disturbingly like decades of athletic experience working her ten-year-old body. "I wake up in this weird place, and you tell me a crazy story about how it's 1966 and a whole new world, and you've got a nice room for me and --" Roberta rose slowly from the couch. "Lois, honey--" Lois snatched up a glass bowl from the coffee table and held it over her head. "Tell me what's really going on, you bitch!" Unexpectedly, instead of trying to hit Roberta with the bowl, Lois swung it sideways and smashed in the TV screen. A hand clamped on Lois' wrist. She was hauled off her feet and over the coffee table without touching it. She landed on the couch, across Roberta's lap. "That, young lady, is enough!" Roberta was surprised by the voice she heard coming from her own lips. It wasn't the stern voice of Roberta Wayne in the boardroom, nor the inhuman menace of Batwoman. With a start, she recognized it as the voice of an angered mother. Lois kicked and thrashed as Roberta flipped up her skirt and yanked down her panties, but she did not display the preternatural grace she had a moment ago. She merely struggled as any child might. And when Roberta's hand came down again and again on her small pink buttocks, Lois responded in a perfectly natural fashion for a ten-year-old: she kicked and screamed and was shortly in tears. Roberta sat her young charge upright and glared into her eyes. "Now, there will be no more outbursts like that, will there?" "No, ma'am." The tiny, contrite voice was immensely gratifying to hear. But then, Roberta reflected, four days as a captive of the Penguin had shown her that mysterious time-bending abilities were not really needed to turn a grown woman into a snivelling, obediant child. "All right, then. How about if you wash your face and get ready for bed?" "Yes, ma'am." By the time Lois had had a bath and brushed her teeth, she was calling her guardian "Roberta", which made Roberta feel better about the whole project. She was confident that she and Alfred, and little Delia, would be able to provide Lois with a proper second chance at life. She even got a good night kiss.