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27 July 2013 @ 01:00 pm
Love and Other Headaches :: Through the Course of Our Actions [Part Two]  

Ultraviolet light bathed an unassuming dark stone—and turned it a deep, shimmering blue. The rays refracted through the kryptonite, throwing spots of blue light around the room. One briefly painted Lex Luthor’s face as he stared at his newest acquisition.

“It has all the characteristics of kryptonite,” Mercy said, making notes. “And yet it’s not the same as the samples we have. Different radioactive properties.”

“Well, that’s why we have the dog,” Lex said philosophically.

Within moments a small sample of the meteorite had been brought into the Project Uplift lab. The technician in charge took out a box of dog biscuits, and whistled, which quickly brought both the ordinary shepherd bitch and the blue-eyed white dog that everyone had taken to calling Krypto, after Lex’s half-joking moniker.

Krypto froze at the sight of Lex and Mercy, and put his hackles up, growling softly. His dam stopped halfway to where the tech with the biscuits stood, a prudent distance outside the bars, and whined. She wagged her tail, looked toward the humans, and licked her chops, but then glanced back at her offspring.

The white dog lowered his head, glaring. He knew not to charge the bars; a few weeks ago they’d had to move him and his dam to a new enclosure, because his adult teeth were coming in. And Krypto’s puppy-teething was slowly wearing through the steel. Now the bars around their cage were made of impure green kryptonite sheathed in lead. Radioactive enough to hurt when he bit down, but not enough to kill him before someone from maintenance could repair the damage.

So he avoided the bars scrupulously, never so much as touching them. No one was allowed to enter the cage, now, either. Not even scientists were immune to the charm of a playful puppy, and one of them had gone in after hours for a rousing game of fetch. Except when the super-pup had nipped at the woman’s hands excitedly, wanting her to throw the ball for him, he’d drawn blood and crushed bones. Someone else had foolishly tried to teach Krypto not to bite, by smacking him with an iron pipe when he nipped at a hand holding a biscuit through the bars. That had ended with the puppy getting a new chew toy in the form of said iron bar, and the idiot guard having his arm broken in three places by a single snap-and-shake of those jaws.

Now no one dared get close to him, and he was becoming feral. A long slide had been installed in the cage so that food, treats, and toys could be dropped in without anyone getting too close. The bitch missed people, and whined and pawed at the bars, but Krypto was possessive of her and growled at anyone who tried to touch her.

When neither animal came any closer, the tech dropped a few biscuits through the slide. The shepherd grabbed them up, crunching them eagerly, but her white-furred son never moved, nor shifted his gaze from Lex and Mercy.

“Smart little bastard,” Lex commented.

“He gives me the creeps,” Mercy admitted. “All of that power in a non-human mind.”

“None of them are human,” Lex corrected.

She shrugged. “Non-sentient, then. At least we can communicate with Kryptonians as one intelligent primate to another. That thing is nothing like us.”

Mercy had a point. There was no point in attempting empathy with an animal. He glanced at his watch, and said, “Start the exposure.”

The sample was removed from its box and placed near the bars. If it worked like ordinary kryptonite, the response should’ve been immediate. And there was some reaction—Krypto shook his head roughly, and pawed at his ears. The trembling weakness and obvious pain weren’t in evidence, however.

Lex kept up the exposure for half an hour, during which time the white dog would’ve been prostrate and shivering even with a comparable amount of the most diluted green kryptonite. He showed some anxiety, pacing and whining, but the female licked his face and nuzzled him until he laid down. And there he sat, panting, staring at the blue stone, until Lex ordered it put away. “Inconclusive,” he muttered.

Mercy had kept her silence throughout the experiment, and when she spoke her voice was contemplative. “There was some effect. More subtle than the green. Perhaps it’s a weaker variant?”

That would an unwelcome outcome, considering that Lex had traded five times the volume of green kryptonite—of the third iteration, too, the purest form currently available on the black market—for this unusual specimen. The thieves who’d stolen it from the museum in Portland had guessed correctly that Lex, who traded in more kryptonite than anyone else on the planet, would be interested in the oddity. They hadn’t known what they held … but then, neither did anyone else. Green kryptonite was the most common type of an extremely uncommon substance, and there were rumors of a red variant that Lex was actively tracking down, though he hadn’t yet acquired a sample. This blue form was completely unheard of.

“You’re right, but I don’t think it’s weaker. Just different. Maybe psychological; Krypto there did seem quite anxious. No pain, though.” And that could be useful. One of the main problems with green kryptonite was that it was dramatic. Superman and his kids knew when they were being exposed to it, and they were extremely cautious of it. This new, more insidious type might be a stealthier weapon….

“Should we attempt testing on Scion?” Mercy asked. “Unlike the dog, he can give us verbal feedback on the effects.”

For a moment, Lex considered it. The boy was extremely precocious and articulate; he could tell them precisely what was happening during an exposure. But there was the possibly that some kind of harm was occurring. Even if the stone merely triggered a fear reaction … and they knew how Scion reacted to threats. Lex saw in his mind the careless guard thrown down the hallway, and remembered the strength tests they’d given the boy. His powers were not at their height yet, and Mercy suspected he needed a rush of adrenaline to make them fully active, but the child was still fully capable of doing them both immense harm. And like the dog, he was smart, markedly more intelligent than most of his breed.

“No, we can’t risk antagonizing him in any way,” Lex finally said. “His purpose lies in siding with us, unquestioningly, and we can’t jeopardize that.”

“True,” Mercy said. “Perhaps when he’s older, and understands the merit of scientific inquiry. Someday we will have to tell him about kryptonite, you know.”

Lex chuckled. “Someday we’ll have to tell him how he came to be, too, but at least we have a script for that. We ought to work on how to introduce the idea of kryptonite. I just don’t want him to question his loyalty to us when he realizes we have more of it than anyone else on Earth.”

“No one else knows how to manufacture it.” Mercy shrugged.

But someone knew where to find it, and Lex’s installation in Nevada so many years ago had precluded his salvage operation in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the fragments of the kryptonite island. Besides, he’d expected his government contacts to discreetly channel their findings to him—every nation in the world that knew of its existence had wanted a piece of kryptonite, no matter how much they might claim to love the Man of Steel.

And yet, very little was ever recovered. Lex had seen footage of Superman’s impossible flight to lift that island out of Earth’s gravity, and had seen enormous chunks of impure kryptonite go tumbling into the ocean. There should have been significant volumes of it recovered. That so little had been found told Lex that there was at least one other major player in the kryptonite market, one proactive enough to get ahead of the salvage operators—but whoever it was, they had bought and held instead of trading. And that was interesting.

Everyone was there … well, almost everyone. Steph had installed surveillance cameras so she could watch from a distance, and the warehouse specified in the meeting currently looked like a who’s-who of Gotham crime. The Maronis, the Falcones, a few of Black Mask’s lieutenants, some of Two-Face’s crew … an unwelcome thought popped up in the back of her mind. I could’ve done a lot of good if I’d just rigged the place with explosives.

No, that was a Red Hood kind of plan. At least that asshole was out of the city. Funny, he hadn’t been on the invite list for this, but then Batman considered him a different class of criminal. Of course, he had been a Robin once.

Steph was starting to get a little nervous now, though. The assembled crooks were posturing and threatening and wanting to know who’d called this meeting. (She couldn’t help remembering how Hood had handled it, but a bunch of heads in a duffel bag weren’t her style. Plus it had now been done, and wasn’t as impressive.) Only one of the main players was still missing. Funny thing, though, Steph had heard of him, but never actually laid eyes on the guy.

Well, there were a lot of gangsters she’d never seen. The top-tier guys didn’t get down to street level very often, and Steph didn’t get to do those kinds of takedowns very often unless she had a clear, hot trail of accountability to follow.

The appointed hour for the meeting came and went, and Steph tried to tell herself that the last guy was being fashionably late. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except he was the key to the whole thing. With Black Mask in jail and Gotham still recovering from the brawl between him and Red Hood, this was a perfect time to unite all the gangs under one leader—a leader who was on Batman’s payroll, at that. But now Matches Malone hadn’t shown up, and Steph felt a terrible sinking in her gut. A whole bunch of bad guys in one place was either a consolidation … or a war. She had a limited amount of time to try to turn this all around, and very few options. Desperate, she ran toward the fire alarm. That might get them all out before this whole situation blew sky-high….

Someone spat an insult, someone else threw a punch, and someone else waded in to either stop it or support their ally or take advantage of the opportunity. Steph actually had her hand on the fire-pull when the first gun was drawn, and the alarm blared loud enough to cover the first shot.

But not the second, or the third. And the shrieking fire alarm just meant they were all fighting each other to get outside, too. Not a chance in hell of containing it, so Steph called it in to Oracle as a gang war even as she got herself out of the way. “Oh, God,” she groaned from the safety of the roof, watching it all fall apart right in front of her. This wasn’t some one-off scuffle, people were dying, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do. She didn’t have the training, or the damn equipment, to get down there and stop it. Not Spoiler all by herself…

…that was the problem, though, wasn’t it? Little Spoiler, fired as Robin—hell, she wasn’t really Robin, she was just Robin-bait to get Tim back into his tights. Too dumb to hang up the cape when her own boyfriend told her to stay out of the game. Too stubborn to take her licks and go home, so she had to show them all how good she really was. She had to take one of Batman’s contingency plans and put it into effect, and she’d damn sure missed something because there was a three-block riot going on instead of turning 96% of Gotham’s crime into a smoothly-running machine operating under Batman’s control.

Steph’s chest heaved, her breath hitching. It was her fault, all hers, and even if backup was coming, people were dying now. Bad people, but hell, the violence was gonna spill over any second, and then innocents would be in the line of fire.

Not enough training, not enough equipment, and backup on the way but from how far away? None of it mattered. This was her mistake. Spoiler jumped in.

The man woke up, knowing muzzily that he was in danger but not knowing where from. He tried to lunge to his feet, managing only a stumble-stagger, and flung one arm out for balance.

There was a weird crunching noise as he caught himself, and he looked toward his hand. A cold chill ran up his spine; he’d grabbed the corner of a brick wall, and crumbled it like soup crackers. With his metal hand.

Metallo. That was the name the scientist had given him. He could remember no other. But he could remember the outrage, that the man had maimed him, implanted some kind of rock in his chest, turned him into a machine, all so he could kill Superman. Supposedly this stone that had taken the place of his heart was lethal to the Kryptonian, and all his kind.

The scientist had said he’d saved his life, given him a purpose. That had only made him angrier. How dare they play God with him? If it had just been the arm, maybe, but his heart, his actual heart, was gone. He had some radioactive rock powering his body and pumping his blood. And then there was his mind—he couldn’t even remember his own damn name!

He could, however, remember grabbing the scientist by the throat. It had been too easy with his new arm, fragile tissue crushed in a second. And then running, running, out into the city, only stopping when he was exhausted. Collapsing here in an alley, falling asleep in his weariness, and now waking.

He’d never gotten the name of the bastard who’d done this to him, either.

Well, that was a place to start. A purpose. Find whoever had arranged this—it couldn’t be just one man, not with this kind of tech—and make them pay.