"Children of the Night"
Written By Chuck "da 'Cat!" Burke
“I don’t think there’s any doubt. You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.”
“I know, I know. I was just hoping we’d have more time.”
“Well, sure. We should have had nearly ten years before this happened, but this is apparently another side effect of the serum.”
Kirk Langstrom stood at the balcony railing of his Gotham City apartment. He looked up at the sky, wishing for the millionth time that he hadn’t made some of the choices that had transformed his life. Beside him, his wife Francine glanced back into the apartment. “Most bats have a lifespan of about twenty years. Becca is four years old, but appears to be about twelve. How long can she actually expect to live? Twenty years? Twenty five?”
“Thirty, at the outside, unless it slows down after onset.”
“Kirk, look at yourself. You’re not yet forty, but you look closer to sixty. It’s affected you, too.”
Turning to look at his reflection in the sliding glass door of the apartment, Kirk nods. The graying hair, the lined face, some of it attributable to the stresses he had placed on his body and soul over the past ten years, but he could not deny that he felt older as well.
“So, what now?” asked his wife.
“I’ve already made the call. That’s why I was out here, actually.” Kirk looked upward. “Of course, I don’t know how long it will take my message to get to him, or when he’ll be able to-“ A shadow swept over the full moon, and there was the barely audible sound of a body dropping to the balcony. The caped figure straightened and stood. “Ah, yes, good evening, Batman.”
“Langstrom. Mrs. Langstrom.” Batman glanced around warily. “You said you needed my help?”
“It’s our daughter. We think she’s been affected by the serum,” said Francine.
Kirk answered. “ Her aging is accelerated, roughly three times what it should be. She’s been having dreams, dreams of flying, and of being among a flock of bats.”
“And the cries,” added his wife.
“Years ago, I set up an ultrasonic monitor, so Francine and I would know if either of us, ah, changed during the night. It’s been going off when I’m not here. Becca is emitting ultrasonic cries.”
“And the past two days, her bed sheets have been shredded when she woke up in the morning.”
“Where is she now?” asked Batman.
“In her room, sleeping.” As if in answer to Francine Langstrom’s words, a crash sounded inside the apartment. “Or she was sleeping, at least.”
There was another crash as the balcony door exploded outward. Amongst the wood and glass, a humanoid figure of leather and fur emerged. “SHREEEEEE! SHREEEEEE!” The Langstroms clapped their hands to their ears at the high-pitched cries, while Batman dove after the creature emerging from their home.
“Is that Becca?” asked Francine.
“I’m afraid so,” replied her husband.
“Rebecca, stop! You’re going to hurt your parents!” yelled Batman as he reached to pull a grappling line from his utility belt with one hand, while the other arm was wrapped around her legs.
“No! Must find *SHREEEE* the others!” Arching upward, Becca Langstrom spread a pair of wings stretching eight feet from tip to tip, and swept them downward. This propelled her up and away from her parents, Batman still clinging to her legs.
“Not letting you go, not yet,” he growled, slipping a small device from his belt and slapping it to her leg. Bringing his free arm up, he next fired a grappling line up and across the front of her body, trying to entangle her. One winged arm swept down, claws snapping through the reinforced line like cheap thread. She gave a kick with both legs, dislodging his grip and sending him plummeting toward the street. Reflexes honed over many years of prowling the city took over, hands grasping the edges of his cape and extending it outward, slowing his fall as he surveyed what lay below. He tilted his body to change his angle of descent, directing himself towards a balcony two stories below. His feet struck the railing, knees bending to absorb the impact, then pushing off again in a more horizontal orientation. This brought him across the street, where he was able to grab a balcony on the opposite building and stop his descent. He grabbed the launcher from his belt and shot a grappling line up to the top of the Langstrom’s building, then activated the retracting motor to pull himself skyward until he could drop down beside them once more.
Kirk Langstrom was emerging from the apartment with a vial in his hand. “I have to go after her, try to save her,” he said in desperation, trying to convince his wife, Batman, and most of all himself, that it was the right thing to do.
“Agreed,” said Batman. “But she said something about others.” A look of alarm came over Kirk’s face. “What others?”
“I, I don’t know for sure. But there have been, well, incidents, since we returned to Gotham.”
“We’ve been followed. Never the same person, but it seems like whenever either of us goes out, there are one or two people following us. And last week, someone broke into the apartment. Nothing was stolen, but the file boxes with my research notes had been opened and the notes apparently taken out.”
“They were put back in, but I could tell someone had been through them.”
“The research that led to the serum, right?”
Kirk looked down at his feet. “Yes.”
“Right.” Batman reached for his utility belt and removed something that looked like a small pistol. Reaching into another pouch, he took out two glass vials and attached them. “Serum injector, with the antidote we worked up after the Vegas incident.”
“If Becca’s condition is due to the serum’s effects on her genetics, that isn’t going to help, is it?” asked Francine.
“Becca’s condition isn’t the one that concerns me. It’s these others.”
“I agree.” Kirk snapped the top off of the vial in his hand and swallowed the contents. Immediately, he began to grow larger, his head distorting as his ears elongated into large, dish-like appendages and his mouth and nose came forward on a blunt snout. His arms also extended, and spined wings tore forth from his skin and through his clothing. “SKREEEE! Can you follow?”
Batman pressed a stud on one wrist, and a ladder dropped down behind him. Above, a silent, bat-winged craft hovered. “Of course. Let’s go.” As he ascended, Man-Bat leaped from the balcony and beat downward with leathery wings.
Settling himself into the seat of his aircraft, Batman activated one of the multiple computer screens in the cockpit. With a few taps of the screen, a map of Gotham City was displayed, with a bright green dot moving northward away from him. With another tap, a second dot, this one colored blue, appeared just ahead of him. “Hmmm, sonic filter is finding Kirk, good.”
It only took seconds for the bat-winged craft to catch up to the Man-Bat as he winged his way over the city. A speaker broadcast Batman’s words in a frequency attuned to the transformed Kirk Langstrom’s hyper-sensitive ears. “I have a fix on her, two miles north-northeast from here.”
“That thing is going to be *SKREE* clumsy going after her at close range,” cried Man-Bat.
“I’ve got it covered,” replied the caped crusader. Noting that their quarry had stopped moving, Batman zoomed in on the map to see where she had stopped. “She’s at the old Fremont warehouse, Anderson Ave and Conway Road .”
As they approached, Batman activated a series of switches. His seat dropped down six inches, then flattened out. A panel at his feet opened, and a harness wrapped around him as he slid forward in the fuselage. He emerged out under the nose of the craft, dropping away as it rose vertically to hover. He twisted and bent, and the back of the harness sprang open to reveal a set of glider wings. As they caught air, he rose up and maneuvered over to join Man-Bat’s descent toward the warehouse.
“Looks like someone SKREE has wing envy!” called the leather-winged flier.
“Comes in handy sometimes.” Batman scanned the building. “Open bay doors on the right end, there’s motion inside.”
Together, they dove for the opening. As they dropped, two more winged creatures flew past them, stooping to brake themselves just before striking the pavement outside the doors. They walked inside without a glance backwards at the two heroes. Landing, Batman and Man-Bat walked inside to find a gathering of over two dozen, all of them similar to Langstrom’s transformed state. At the far end of the room, a podium stood on a loading dock, with three more winged beings standing there.
“What did I tell you, folks? Isn’t it a rush? That feeling of flying, being one with the night?” The speaker was small, as the transformed bat-like humans went. “No more playing dress up to show our rejection of society’s norms, now we will truly be the unique persons we were born to be!”
Letting the flying harness drop from his shoulders, Batman looked at his companion. Man-Bat’s inhuman face was difficult to read, but it was clear that he was astounded at what he was seeing and hearing.
“We need to talk to him,” said Man-Bat. “Does he have any idea what he’s done?”
“Leave that to me.” Like a shadow, Batman slipped through the crowd. He stuck to the edges of the crowd, sliding between and around the throngs of winged humanoids who stood around chatting like teenagers at a party. Which is basically what they are, he thought to himself. He tossed a line up over a beam and swung up into the air, dropping beside the person who had spoken.
“Batman! What are you doing here?” asked the apparent leader of the group.
“Investigating a possible theft of research material, and looking for a missing girl.” Batman waved a hand out at the crowd. “And trying to figure out just what is going on here.”
“Dude, it’s a party. I get what you’re talking about with the research notes. Yeah, I found some information on a computer when I did an internship at the natural history museum, and it led me to the original researcher and his information on bat gland extracts. But it’s harmless, man. Everyone will change back to themselves in a few hours.”
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with here, ummm,”
“Martin. Martin Kellog, former Comp Sci student at Gotham U, former intern at the natural history museum, now unemployed. Know anyone that needs a good hacker?”
“I assume you had help in this, someone who understands the chemistry and mutagenics involved?”
“That would be me,” said another of the three who had been standing on the stage. “Um, yeah, I’m Jeff Williams, bio-tech engineer at STAR Labs.”
“And the two of you took Dr. Langstrom’s research notes, and made a designer drug out of it for young social misfits?”
Man-Bat had launched himself over the crowd, looking for his daughter. He touched down as the two young men both responded with nods of their heads. “What’s the matter with that?” asked Martin.
“What about my daughter? Where is she?” asked Man-Bat.
“Your daughter? Who the heck are you, man?”
“This is Doctor Langstrom, the man whose formula you stole,” said Batman.
“Adapted,” replied Jeff. “The formula you created, I could see that was doing permanent changes. I modified it do it wears off after four or five hours.”
There was a high-pitched screech as another winged figure dropped down onto the dock. “Dad! *SHREE* I’ve found my place here. I can relate to them!”
“Becca, they won’t stay like this. We don’t know about you, though.”
“But I might be able to see some of them when they aren’t like this, to make some friends. And, besides *SHREEE,* I think I can…”
Beads of sweat broke out on her fur-covered body, as she concentrated. Her body shrunk down, the wings retracting into her arms, the skin taking on a normal texture and hue. “I can!” She looked up at her father. “I can control it.”
Batman looked at Langstrom, and saw relief in his eyes. He then looked out over the group in the room. “They’re just using as a way of standing out, like the Goth kids with their make-up and clothes?”
“That’s what most of us have done in the past, said Martin. “Everyone needs a way to be different. This is our way. And, hey, if there’s an emergency, an earthquake or something, maybe we could help out.”
The dark knight nodded. “If you’re okay with them having the formula, Langstrom?”
“I’ll keep an eye on them. Maybe we can refine it further.”
“I’ll be keeping an eye on you, as well. But, for now,” Batman looked around. “For now, I guess, the night is yours. And I can make sure this warehouse remains available.” Being rich does have advantages, thought Batman as he fired his grapple up into the rafters to make his exit.