vol. 1
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Annual #1

vol. 2
Issue #1
Issue #2
Issue #3
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Issue #8
Issue #9
Issue #10
Issue #11
Issue #12
Issue #13
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Issue #15

 

 
Birds of Prey

vol.2 #8

"The Heart of Darkness"

            By David Marshall


A monitor bearing Calculator’s likeness on its screen descended from the steel-beamed lattice work of rafters in an inventory warehouse that served as the graphics engine for the game “Streets of Gotham”.

“A monitor?” Batgirl taunted. “That the best you can do, Calculator?”

Calculator was seated at a desk wearing a white shirt with the top two buttons open. A brown necktie was loosened and the fat end was tucked into his shirt pocket. His chin rested thoughtfully on his pursed fingers. “You really want to make this confrontation physical?”

Batgirl nodded and waved for Calculator to join her. “More than you know.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” whispered Black Canary. “Doesn’t he control this whole environment?”

The monitor screen disappeared and Calculator’s avatar floated to the floor. “And I thought Canary was just the pretty one!” With a wave of his hand, Calculator restored Black Canary’s wounded appendage. “You’re going to need it.”

Batgirl pounced as soon as Calculator touched down. She staggered him with a series of punches and followed with a vicious uppercut. His head snapped back like a Pez dispenser. A karate chop to his exposed throat followed.

Calculator stumbled back and gasped for breath. Batgirl bull-rushed him and grabbed his necktie as she leaped over him. The knot tightened immediately but with a gesture his tie disappeared before it could drag him to the ground. Batgirl hit the gray cement floor hard but rolled to her feet and recovered quickly.

Calculator was faster. He slugged her across her jaw.

“I forgot how much this hurts,” Batgirl said as she spit blood for her mouth.

“What’s a little pain among friends, Oracle?” Calculator executed a perfect standing hand-spring and kicked Batgirl in the breadbasket. “Now that was exciting!”

Black Canary jumped on Calculator’s back and wrestled him to the ground with a full-nelson hold.

“Thanks,” said Batgirl as she stood to her feet. “I owe you one.”

“Thinking nothing of it,” Black Canary replied. “I…”

Calculator smashed the back of his head into Black Canary’s nose and freed himself. He stood confidently and laughed.

“Something amuse you?” Batgirl asked.

Calculator pointed at the two women. “You truly believe we’re on a level playing field, don’t you? Look at you with your twenty-fifth level power-ups! You’ve showed me yours; now let me show you mine!”

An information bar appeared above Calculator’s head. Not only was his health barely dinged by the women’s combined attacks but his level read one-hundred.

Black Canary glanced at her own health meter. She was nearly done and suspected Batgirl was in even worse shape. She turned to Batgirl. “Any ideas?”

Batgirl shook her head. “In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose.”

Gotham Convention Center, the Streets of Gotham Convention

“Ladies and gentlemen!” bellowed the ring announcer. He stood in a muddy pit along with Lady Blackhawk and Prima Donna. The floor-level pit was surrounded by a traditional wrestling ring. “I direct your attention to the center of the convention floor where our two lovely, super-bad beauties will battle for the title, “Queen of Gotham!”

The floor erupted with loud, testosterone-fueled cheers from the raucous crowd as they gathered around the wrestling ring.

Lady Blackhawk stood calf-deep in thick, dark mud. It felt disgusting oozing between her toes but she had bigger worries. Prima Donna’s face was skewered in rage. The shot of E2 she ingested earlier was coursing through her veins and she didn’t look happy about it. The pretty model Lady Blackhawk saw earlier looked nothing like taut-faced warrior before her now. Sizing up the competition, Lady Blackhawk half-wished she’d taken the drug herself.

The announcer gathered the women to the center of the ring and went over the rules. “There will be one ten-minute session, ladies. You get a point for every move our panel of judges deem a successful maneuver on your part.”

Lady Blackhawk glanced ringside at the judges. Two were pudgy, middle-aged men. The one on the left wore khakis and a light blue button-up shirt but no tie. The second wore jeans and a t-shirt that bragged his real home was Middle Earth. Both looked impossibly heavy for their metal-framed folding chairs. The third was a frat-boy type in his early twenties, a bit too preppy for Lady Blackhawk’s taste, but modestly handsome. All three took their duty too seriously.

“If either of you steps outside the ring or are thrown outside it, you are disqualified,” the announcer continued. “No biting, no hair pulling, and no fingernails. In other words - no girl fighting!”

The crowd laughed at the announcer’s condescending humor.

“Ladies are you ready?” the ring announcer asked.

Lady Blackhawk nodded and inserted the rubber mouthpiece her ring attendant gave her when she first crawled into the mud bath. Prima Donna snarled and rolled her head like a pit bull tearing apart a baby kitten.

DING!!! DING!!!

Prima Donna made a beeline for Lady Blackhawk and slammed into her at the center of the ring. It was like slamming into a brick wall. The attack staggered Lady Blackhawk. While she struggled to stand in the slippery ooze, Prima Donna slipped in behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist. The tiny brunette lifted Lady Blackhawk into the air and slammed her into the slimy muck.

The spectators went nuts.

The fall hurt. Lady Blackhawk pushed herself up from the muck and nursed her right shoulder. At last she made it to her knees. “Damn it girl! You do NOT want me to get rough!”

Prima Donna kicked but Lady Blackhawk had been in a scrap or two in her day. She ducked out of the way and caught the woman’s muddy foot as it passed by her and yanked. The slimy mud and gravity did the rest. Prima Donna slammed into the quagmire on her back. Again, the crowd roared its approval.

Seizing her advantage Lady Blackhawk quickly pounced on her foe. The two women jockeyed for position. Thanks to the E2, Prima Donna was much stronger but Lady Blackhawk was more experienced and had leverage. She pinned the woman’s shoulders with her knees and slugged her across the face. “Sorry about this, girlie but I suspect you don’t feel a thing in your drug-induced stupor!”

Prima Donna kneed Lady Blackhawk in the back. The blow knocked the wind out of her and sent her reeling chin-first beneath the mud. She arose from the slimy mess with her face covered. She cleared the mud from around her eyes and slung it back into the pit. “A day spa it’s not!”

Prima Donna pounced again sending both women writhing around in the thick mud. This time both strength and leverage belonged to the fighter in red. She pinned Lady Blackhawk and drew back her fist to strike.

Then out of nowhere a metal folding chair floated into the ring. It hovered over Prima Donna’s head for a brief moment and slammed into her back. The blow knocked her off Lady Blackhawk.

The stunned crowd went ape.

“What is this, ladies and gentlemen?” the ring announcer asked. “It appears the Diva of Darkness has been holding out on us with her telekinesis!”

Lady Blackhawk had no idea what the man was prattling on about. She was just thankful for the breather.

Prima Donna lunged for the hovering chair but it jerked away from her reach and slammed into the side of her head. The blow sprawled her into the muck once more. The chair raised high into the air again and came down swiftly but Prima Donna caught it. She stood and seemed pleased with herself as she studied it for trickery. Satisfied with the results of her quick inspection, she raised the chair over her head to hit Lady Blackhawk. Before she could strike, her left leg was swept from under her and she fell on her face.

Lady Blackhawk wasted no time in pressing her sudden advantage. She jumped on the woman’s back and beat her head into the floor beneath the mud. She was reluctant at the start of the match to hurt the woman but now all bets were off.

The slippery Prima Donna rolled onto her back. Lady Blackhawk socked her across the jaw, batting her head from one side to the other repeatedly but thanks to the E2 she shrugged them off as quickly as they landed. She freed a hand and threw Lady Blackhawk off. Again her attack was swift. She grabbed Lady Blackhawk and hoisted her high into the air with her super strength.

“Oh crap!” said Lady Blackhawk. “This can’t end well!”

A moment later Lady Blackhawk was face down in the mud once more. This time she was slow to get up.

Intent on finishing her opponent, Prima Donna charged her like an angry rhino. She nearly reached the addled Lady Blackhawk but at the last moment the ring announcer’s microphone shot from its mic stand on the announcer’s table and stretched its cable tightly across the ring. The cable clotheslined Prima Donna onto her back. When she arose angrier than ever it appeared someone kicked her in the back, knocking her through the ropes and into the frenzied crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen! We have a winner!” the ring announcer bellowed. “Give it up for the Diva of Darkness!” He rushed to Lady Blackhawk’s side and hoisted her muddy left arm into the air in declaration of victory.

The house went wild but there was no time to enjoy the adulation. If anything the unexpected bout prevented her from working the floor for information about Leonard’s killer. Nearly naked, bloody, sore, and covered in mud, Lady Blackhawk slinked out of the ring and approached a security guard.

The guard, a hefty, black woman in her mid-40’s, looked Lady Blackhawk up and down. “Have you no respect for yourself?”

Lady Blackhawk shook her head. “Right now, no. I’d feel better with a shower though.”

The security guard pointed Lady Blackhawk to a locker room used when the convention center hosted fights. The woman instructed her that a clean bathrobe was waiting for her as well. Lady Blackhawk thanked the woman and made her way to the locker room to change.

Once inside the locker room Lady Blackhawk peeled off her muddy string bikini and stepped into the shower. She flipped the controls to the left and stepped into the hot stream. Dirty, grayish-brown water flowed from her long blonde hair first, ran down her face, and puddled at her feet. It felt good to wash the muck away.

“Shower feel good?” asked a familiar voice.

Lady Blackhawk covered herself in shock. “Don’t do that! Where are you?”

“I brought your clean clothes,” Gypsy replied as she materialized.

“Thanks,” Lady Blackhawk replied. “I appreciate it.”

“Don’t mention it,” Gypsy answered. “You’ve suffered long enough in the bikini.”

Lady Blackhawk turned off the water and grabbed a towel. She wrapped it around her and grabbed another for her hair. “True, but I was talking about helping out there in the ring. That woman would have killed me if you hadn’t stepped in. Do you need a shower too?”

Gypsy laughed. “A step ahead of you already but all I needed to do was wash my feet.”

“I suppose you found out about the E2 as well?” Lady Blackhawk asked as she sat on a bench to put on her clothes.

Gypsy nodded. “The game is a gateway drug.”

Lady Blackhawk tugged a white blouse over her head. “To gaining super powers. I got that part the hard way on my own.”

“But there’s more,” Gypsy countered. “Not everyone is offered the drug. The game is used to identify potential recruits willing to work for the various crime syndicates.”

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. The door opened. “Are you decent in there yet?” asked a voice Lady Blackhawk recognized as Ernesto, the man she met earlier who offered her the E2.

Gypsy blended into the background.

“Mostly,” Lady Blackhawk replied as she stood and tugged her jeans up her legs. “Come on in.”

Ernesto was alone. “Great match out there, girlie. First time anyone’s ever manifested telekinesis!”

Lady Blackhawk slid her feet into a pair of black flats and smiled. “Leave it up to me to be the oddball.”

Ernesto got straight to the point. “Some of our, shall we say clients, are very interested in meeting you.”

“That’s very kind of them,” said Lady Blackhawk. “But I need to get home to my grandmother. The poor dear depends on me for just about everything.”

Ernesto tucked his hand into his coat.

Lady Blackhawk’s first reaction was to duck and charge him. She saw too many guns pulled from beneath an Italian suit in her day. She was pleasantly surprised when Ernesto retrieved a handful of one-hundred dollar bills. “Perhaps this would make grandma’s life a little easier?”

Someone wanted to talk to Lady Blackhawk badly. She smiled and took the money from Ernesto and tucked it into her bra. “I think grandma would be pleased.”

“We’re hosting a private party for these clients,” Ernesto explained. “Meet us at the helipad in fifteen minutes. We’re on a tight schedule. Don’t be late.”

“Don’t worry,” said Lady Blackhawk. “I’m just dying to meet them.”

Inside the Streets of Gotham, Inventory Warehouse

Calculator was thrashing Black Canary and Batgirl. The outcome was inevitable. He was czar of his artificial environment and held all the trump cards.

Black Canary picked herself off the ground but wasn’t sure how much more she could take. Calculator knocked the breath out of her with his last kick and may have broken a rib – or two.

Calculator delivered a vicious uppercut that nearly took Batgirl’s head off her shoulders and sprawled her to the floor next to Canary.

“Are you ok?” Canary asked her friend.

“Peachy,” Batgirl replied. “We need a new strategy.”

Black Canary blew a clot of blood from her nose. “I suggest a strategic retreat.”

“We’re too close,” Batgirl argued. “If we back out now Calculator can rewrite the program to where we’ll never find our way back into the central engine.”

“The way we’re getting our butts handed to us, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing,” said Black Canary. “We’re like two Brownie scouts fighting Solomon Grundy.”

Calculator laughed. “What an excellent idea! Computer!” He slapped his hands together twice in machine-gun rapidity and both Batgirl and Black Canary’s costumes morphed into Brownie Scout uniforms.

Batgirl looked disgusted. “Really?”

Black Canary grabbed Batgirl’s sash. “On the bright side you received merit badges for computer science and crime prevention. I have only the crime prevention one.”

“You can work on the other,” Calculator mocked. “Assuming you survive this.”

Batgirl ripped off her sash but another one took its place. She tried again but once more the sash stretched from her right shoulder to her left hip and wrapped around her. “Fine! Ever had your ass handed to you by a couple of Brownies?”

Calculator laughed. “At least Canary has a sense of humor about it. But if you insist on your previous fashion faux pas, I’ll humor you.”

Their regular costumes appeared once more.

Batgirl removed her zip line and fired it at the pipes overhead. The zip line wrapped around a large pipe and she fingered the control to lift her into the air. The motions were swift and almost simultaneous, affording enough momentum for her to swing toward Calculator. With lightning fast reflexes he grabbed her by the ankle and jerked her from the zip line. Another quick jerk of her ankle and Canary heard bones crack.

Batgirl screamed in agony.

“Going for that music badge now?” Calculator taunted. He tossed Batgirl aside like someone heaving garbage into a dumpster and turned his attention to Black Canary. “”Such a shame your sonic powers fail you in this environment, no?”

Black Canary readied herself for the attack and Calculator didn’t disappoint. He closed the distance between them and grabbed Canary in an arm bar. A second later he landed a devastating blow to the back of her elbow. She refused to allow him the pleasure of hearing her scream. Instead she used her free arm to hit him in the groin.

The blow doubled Calculator over and Canary landed a knee to his chin that sent him reeling backwards. This time he fell but didn’t stay down long. “This ends now!” he hissed in defiance.

With a burst of speed that rivaled the Flash, Calculator seized Black Canary in a bear hug, pushing the breath from her lungs. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t breathe or even scream for help. The vice-like hold forced her broken ribs into her lungs. Her health meter plummeted rapidly.

Batgirl rose up with a Bat-a-Rang. “Put her down, Calculator.”

“Or what?” Calculator taunted. “You’ll strike me with that child’s toy?” He squeezed even harder.

Black Canary was getting tired of playing the victim but she couldn’t move.

Batgirl hurled the Bat-a-Rang and it sailed wide of Calculator’s head. “You throw like a girl, Oracle!”

Batgirl smiled. “Maybe I wasn’t trying to hit you.”

Calculator dropped Black Canary and turned to track the errant Bat-a-Rang His smile faded quickly. “Oh no! What have you done, witch?”

The Bat-a-Rang was buried in a fuse box in the corner. Sparks flew from it in every direction. Every light but the emergency lighting went dark.

It was Batgirl’s turn to boast. “While the fight stroked your ego, it gave me time to study your engine. That box is its heart, no? With it crippled the Streets of Gotham is dead in the water.”

Calculator rushed to the fuse box and tugged at the Bat-a-Rang. It popped free from the fuse box. He slammed it to the ground and worked feverishly to shore up the damage. “You hope to bring down this environment with a simple Bat-a-Rang? Have you lost your mind?”

“Did I mention that my Bat-a-Rang is really a virus I designed especially for your game?” Batgirl asked. “You aren’t the only one who can disguise code as everyday objects. All it took was time to analyze a few of these objects and the rest was easy.”

Black Canary grabbed her broken ribs and managed to stand. “Heh, way to go, sis! I knew you had a plan all along!”

Calculator watched helplessly as the warehouse graphics sputtered. Crates and shelves disappeared from the virtual environment. “No!” he screamed. “Those are worth millions!”

“Time is short, Kuttler,” said Batgirl. “This environment will soon crash and with your super powers history there’s only one thing left for me to do.”

Batgirl slugged Calculator with a big right hand. His avatar fell to the floor and started blinking.

“Is it over?” Black Canary asked.

The warehouse faded from view and left every one floating in nothingness.

Batgirl nodded. “It is. We’d better be on our way.”

And like that the women disconnected from the game and rejoined the real world.

Somewhere Outside Gotham

Lady Blackhawk sat behind Sonny and Ernesto and stared out the window of a Black Hawk MH60-K helicopter. Thunder rolled in the distance as downtown Gotham disappeared behind them. Given the weather, Lady Blackhawk wished the men would move aside and let her take the cockpit but that wasn’t possible without blowing her cover. Gypsy occupied the seat beside her but remained camouflaged. High winds rocked the Black Hawk to and fro.

“Rough weather out there, huh boys?” Lady Blackhawk asked.

Sonny piloted the aircraft. “Don’t you worry little lady. I’ve flown these babies since back in Desert Storm. A little weather is nothing compared to being under fire.”

“Besides,” Ernesto added. “We always have your telekinesis if something goes really wrong!”

Lady Blackhawk could guarantee her “telekinesis” wouldn’t save them. “I just feel badly for that poor girl I wrestled. I passed her in the hallway and the drug was wearing off. She was crying.”

“Nothing the paramedics can’t handle, I’m sure,” Sonny laughed. “That’s why you’re the lucky one.”

“What do you mean?” Lady Blackhawk asked.

“The drug is based on a street version of Miraclo. That’s why the effect is so short-lived,” Ernesto explained. “But it is highly addictive. I’m surprised you aren’t slobbering for more already.”

Lady Blackhawk wanted to deflect suspicion away from her. “Will she be ok?”

The men laughed.

“Maybe,” Sonny answered. “Again, that’s why you’re the lucky one. We’ve got all the muscle freaks you can shake a stick at but you’re the first to exhibit telekinesis. We pegged you for the invitation win or lose.”

Lady Blackhawk flashed a flirty smile. “Guess I am the lucky one, huh? Where are we headed, boys?”

“Our operation just north of Gotham,” Sonny replied. “We’re meeting some clients from Honduras for a demonstration. I’m sure you will amply impress.”

The cabin fell silent as Sonny willed the Black Hawk through the turbulent, stormy skies. Gotham disappeared behind them and soon they were over woodland. At last Ernesto announced, “We’re here.”

Lady Blackhawk looked below and spotted a heavily-guarded factory. It was older, an eyesore that would have been right at home in the city’s industrial sector. Twin smokestacks on either end of the complex belched coal-ash into the night sky like a dragon’s nostrils. Even at night the place was busy. Two limos waited outside. In the distance a tractor-trailer snaked down the hilly road toward the Turnpike.

“Company’s here,” said Ernesto. “Right on time.”

“I don’t like the looks of ‘em” said Lady Blackhawk. “They look heavily-armed.”

“They have pop-guns darling,” Sonny replied. “Not only is this baby loaded with the standard .50 millimeter machine guns but it was modified to include Apache-style rocket launchers firing 100 millimeter AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and we have eight of the bad boys loaded and ready to go! Just let ‘em get cute!”

Lady Blackhawk sprang from her seat and slugged Ernesto across the jaw. “You had me at Hellfire, handsome!”

Ernesto fought back but Lady Blackhawk had the drop on him. He pulled a gun.

“Not in here!” Sonny cried.

Lady Blackhawk bit Ernesto’s hand and took the piece away from him.

Sonny reached across the cockpit and grabbed Lady Blackhawk by the hair with one hand and wrestled the helicopter with the other. He slammed her face into the center console. “What are you doing you crazy bitch?”

Gypsy materialized and kicked Sonny’s arm forcing him to release Lady Blackhawk’s hair.

Sonny glanced over his shoulder in disbelief. “What the hell? Who are you? Where did you come from?”

Lady Blackhawk pistol-whipped Ernesto into submission and handed the gun to Gypsy. “Say hello to my telekinesis.”

“You mean?” Sonny asked, trying to put the pieces together.

Lady Blackhawk turned her attention to Sonny. She reached across the cockpit and wrestled with him for the controls. “Explains why I’m not, how did you put it, slobbering for more, huh?”

“What are you trying to do? Kill us?” Sonny shrieked. “Turn loose of the controls!”

Sensing something was wrong in the air the thugs on the ground opened fire. Bullets pinged off the armored copter.

“Surrender control of this aircraft to my friend,” Gypsy ordered.

Sonny steeled his face. “No way in hell I do that, little lady!”

Lady Blackhawk smiled. “Gypsy, grab a parachute and get the other piece of filth off the ‘copter.”

“What are you going to do?” Gypsy asked.

“Just do it,” Lady Blackhawk ordered. “And take the gun!”

Gypsy wrestled Ernesto out of the cockpit. She quickly found the parachutes and slid one onto her shoulders. Bullets flew into the cabin when she opened the jump doors. She grabbed Ernesto under his shoulders and wrapped her arms around him. “Are you sure about this?”

“Go, now! I don’t have much time!” Lady Blackhawk barked.

Using Ernesto’s body as a human shield, Gypsy jumped from the helicopter.

As Lady Blackhawk wrestled for control of the helicopter she watched Gypsy and Ernesto descend. When their chute opened she knew they were clear of the helicopter and turned her full attention to gaining control of the aircraft.

Sonny stopped fighting and reached for a gun hidden beneath his vest.

“Different rules for you and your partner?” Lady Blackhawk mocked. “Do you really want to fire that in here? If you miss me you may hit something important.”

Ernest threw his gun at her but Lady Blackhawk ducked and the two continued their struggle.

“Last chance,” Lady Blackhawk warned. “Surrender the copter now and there’s a chance you come out of this alive!”

“I’d rather die first!” Sonny spat.

“If you insist,” said Lady Blackhawk. She released her hold on the control with one hand and reached across Sonny and engaged the engine kill switch. The helicopter jerked hard twice and rolled to the right toward the factory.

“My god! You are nuts, lady! Freakin’ bonkers!” Sonny scrambled out of his seat and slid down the fuselage. He caught himself on one of the crew seats and managed to grab a parachute. The Black Hawk’s tail dipped sending him reeling to the back of the craft. He hit hard but adrenaline pushed him toward the open bay doors.

“For god’s sake, don’t jump now!” Lady Blackhawk cried over the fury of the blades and the storm outside. “I can still land us safely!”

“Only a handful of pilots in the world could land this thing now!” Sonny yelled back. “Adios… bitch!”

At the same moment Sonny jumped, the helicopter reeled once more and nearly barrel-rolled. Blood splattered on the windshield, letting Lady Blackhawk know Sonny never made it to the ground.

“Idiot,” she spat as she reached for the engine switch. The helicopter continued its barrel roll and when she engaged the switch the rotors roared to life once more. Lady Blackhawk was completely upside down. She pushed hard on the flight controls jamming the tail rotors earthward. She was still in free fall but the maneuver straightened the craft to a vertical position with the cockpit oriented skyward. The move bought her the slim chance she hoped for. Again she reached for the engine kill and engaged it. The cockpit tumbled earthward straightening the craft into proper horizontal flying position. Once more she fired the engines and the rotors were quick to respond. She was still losing altitude dangerously fast but at least she had a fighting chance as the stub wings mounted atop the fuselage provided some resistance. At last the rotors created enough of a downdraft to lift the helicopter away from the ground.

A moment later, Lady Blackhawk was in full control. She rose into the air and brought the weapons systems online. She targeted the smokestack closest to the road and fired a Hellfire missile.”Hawkaaa!”

The building never stood a chance. The explosion ripped through the concrete and steel structure and shot flames at least a hundred feet into the air. A second launch gutted the other end of the building. The fire spread quickly and the entire complex was soon consumed in roaring flames. The men below scrambled to their vehicles.

Lady Blackhawk smiled as she chased after one of the limos with guns blazing. “And that’s how it’s done Blackhawk style!”

The Yesteryear Nightclub, Gotham City

The music was atypical of most nightclubs in Gotham. The Yesteryear was a 1940’s themed establishment complete with a live band pumping out classics of the decade. The thin-lipped crooner onstage looked like Joey Bishop but his voice was pure Nat King Cole as he crooned “For Sentimental Reasons”. Couples dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns swayed slowly to the easy beat.

It was good to get out with the girls every now and then and relax. They certainly earned this one. This night there were no codenames, just Barbara, Cindy, Bette, Dinah, and Zinda. They too were dressed to the nines.

“Not my usual soiree,” said Bette as she sipped White Zinfandel from a crystal glass. “But I like it. Good call, Zinda.”

“Not many places like it left,” Zinda replied. “It reminds me of a time when men were men, ladies were elegant, and the world made sense.” She fingered the strap on her sequined evening gown. “I miss dressing like this.”

“You look beautiful,” said Barbara. “All of you do.”

A handsome Clark Gable-type approached their table. He took Cindy’s hand and kissed it. “I would be most pleased if you joined me for this dance.”

Cindy blushed and turned to her teammates. “Gosh, I’m not sure…”

Barbara smiled at her and nodded. “We’re here to enjoy ourselves, Cindy.”

Cindy stood and smiled. “I’d love to.”

As the man led her away by the hand, Bette leaned across the table. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find you guys after I logged back in. I wish I could have been there to help with the Big Bad.”

“You were great,” Barbara replied.

“Did you ever piece the whole thing together?” Dinah asked. “How did your friend fit into the puzzle?”

“Leonard got himself into debt with the Stallion’s Lair but sealed his fate when his character learned too much about what was happening offline with the E2 drug ring,” Barbara answered. “He couldn’t pay his way out of that one!”

“And Calculator?” Bette asked. “What did he hope to gain by setting up such a scheme?”

“Calculator is a businessman first and foremost,” Barbara replied. “Henchmen are a dime a dozen, but super-powered ones? There’s a market for that.”

“And an app too apparently,” Bette replied. “Or there was before you got done with it.”

“Thanks for the sample of E2 Zinda,” said Oracle. “Batman should get back to me by the end of the week with a detailed analysis.”

“I just wish I could have stopped that truck that got away from the factory,” Zinda replied. “It’s gonna be trouble when that stuff hits the streets.”

“But you bought us a heads-up,” Barbara replied. “We’ll be ready.”

“One last thing, Skipper,” said Zinda.

“Yes?” Barbara asked.

“Unless there’s a tropical paradise involved, I never want to see another bikini as long as I live,” said Zinda.

Barbara, Dinah, and Bette chuckled.

“You’re a trooper, Zinda. All of you,” said Barbara. “Whether on the real streets of Gotham or the video game, I’d charge the mouth of hell with you girls.”

“Give me the real McCoy,” Zinda answered. “I’ll leave the video games to you guys.”

“Oh no,” Barbara answered. “I’ll take concrete over programming code any day myself.”

Bette raised her glass. “Ladies, I propose a toast - to the real thing!”

The other women clicked their wine glasses against Bette’s. “To the real thing!”


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