ALL OF THE CHARACTERS USED IN THESE STORIES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS. I DO NOT OWN ANY OF THEM, AND I AM NOT PROFITING FINANCIALLY FROM ANY OF THIS. THE SAME DISCLAIMER APPLIES TO ANY IMAGES USED HEREIN.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

KOLCHAK MEETS BLACULA


THE REVENGE OF CARL KOLCHAK
aka "KOLCHAK MEETS BLACULA"


by Chuck Miller
(NOTE: This story begins immediately after "The Vampire" episode of the ABC TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," and incorporates some events portrayed in the motion picture "Scream, Blacula, Scream.")

I DO NOT OWN THESE CHARACTERS. THEY ARE OWNED BY WHOEVER OWNS THEM, WHICH IS NOT ME. I'M JUST PLAYING WITH THEM. THIS WORK IS NOT FOR PROFIT.


Chapter One

Did you really think I’d just let them get away with it?

Well, to be honest, so did I. And I would have, had it not been for an extraordinary set of circumstances.

By “them” I refer to a small group of individuals who once wielded enough political power in Las Vegas to crush and discard a reporter who committed the sin of making them look stupid. Human beings will forgive you for all sorts of transgressions, but politicians never do. They are a breed weaned on vindictiveness and spite for whom “public service” begins and ends with their own careers. Power is the all-important end, pursued for its own sake by any means necessary and/or convenient. And once it is attained, any vestige of conscience... Well, I'd best jump off this soapbox for now. You get the general idea. More on this later.

You can ask anyone who knows me, I’m not the kind of guy whose name you’d expect to find following the words “The Revenge of” in a title. I seem to be curiously immune to personal insult, and indifferent to prospects for vengeance over any personal injury. But, as Hamlet pointed out, “seems” covers a lot of territory. I put a good face on things because I have to. In spite of certain appearances to the contrary, I take my career very seriously indeed, and personal vendettas are lethally unprofessional for a journalist. Generally speaking, I cannot afford to take much of anything personally, at least on the surface.

But I’m also not one to squander a wonderful opportunity when one is dropped into my lap. And that’s what this tale is all about.

My name is Carl Kolchak, and I assume if you’re reading this at all, you know something about me and my journalistic career. If you don’t, let me sum it up:

I’m the one that found a genuine vampire in Las Vegas in 1971, and killed him. That's how I got into the mess I alluded to earlier. The cops and the D.A. didn't much like the fact that I did something they couldn't, and the way I went about it rankled. For a few brief moments, after the vampire was dead, I thought I had won. But, in the way that Vegas is famous for, my high roller status got yanked out from under me in a split second, and I got dumped head first into the shithouse of defeat. Viva Las Vegas!

Anyhow, a year or so later, in Seattle, I grappled with a 144-year-old alchemist who had murdered a couple dozen women during his 80-plus year career. Shortly after that, I moved to Chicago, where I ran afoul of about 20 entities that could be described as being of a more or less supernatural nature. For about a year, I bumped into one right after another.

And yes, I know how all that sounds. If you don’t believe it now, you never will. Approach this account as you would a thrilling piece of horror fiction. Don’t even bother with benefit of the doubt, because it will never work.

In the course of these events, I made an interesting acquaintance. I wouldn’t call him a friend, or even an ally as such. We should have been natural enemies. However, for a time we needed one another, and in the end we both got what we wanted and then some.

And, for once in my life, I got to see how the other half lives. Or doesn’t…


I was headed back home to Chicago from Los Angeles. Catherine Rawlins was dead. I had pounded a stake through her heart just hours earlier. Which was not really murder, or even manslaughter, because she had already been dead for three years at that point. Or dead-ish. The authorities threatened me with a murder rap. Ten or fifteen cops, after all, had seen me drive a wooden stake into her heart. They had an excellent view, too, thanks to the 30-foot tall cross I had set on fire a few dozen yards from Catherine's rented house.

You really had to be there.

I considered my work done. My editor, Tony Vincenzo, on the other hand, would not see things that way. I had connived to get sent to LA on an assignment to interview a boy guru, Amurta Something, from Somewhere Exotic. I had not let that whole thing get in the way of my vampire hunt. Sitting on the plane out of LA, I was not looking forward to walking up the stairs to the offices of the Independent News Service, where the wrath of Vincenzo would be waiting, implacable, pitiless, and more certain than death or taxes. I wouldn’t be able to hold him at bay with a crucifix. I did, however, toy with the idea of a wooden stake and a mallet.

I was filled with dread as I got off the plane in Kansas City for a horribly brief layover. I slouched around in this mood for a little while, wondering if getting drunk would help anything, until I happened to glance at a headline on an LA paper at an airport newsstand.

My Vincenzo anxiety was swallowed whole by a dizzy numbness as I picked up the paper and read the first paragraph. Two more murders. Blood drained, puncture marks in the throats. Early that morning.

An hour AFTER I killed Catherine.

It was a shock, followed by something like relief.

I had to go back. No question. If I got caught back in LA, they’d find a way to get me sent up for the rest of my life. They’d do it if they caught me walking down the street, never mind interfering with an official murder investigation, which I was virtually certain to do. But I had to go back.

Not only that, I would have to joust with Vincenzo again, but at least it would be from afar. Not that it would prove any less lethal, of course, but there would be no immediate physical danger.

Then it hit me. I hit on a scheme so bold, so devious, that it would go down in Kolchak history as the bravest and most foolish act of my career.

I would tell Tony the truth.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

You can keep your Woodwards and your Bernsteins, my biggest journalistic hero was always Nelly Bly. She was the first female reporter to achieve worldwide fame. Her big break came in 1886 when, on assignment from the New York World, she infiltrated the notorious Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum by pretending to be off her rocker. She turned her experiences into a book called “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” which led to the inception of some serious reforms in the system.

I wasn’t that ambitious, but I could see where such a ploy might be to my advantage now. Feigning mental illness wouldn’t be too difficult for me, surely. I always half-suspected that Tony was just waiting for me to hand him enough irrefutable proof of insanity to have me committed. I knew how dangerous my idea was, on a number of levels. Maybe I really WAS crazy, but at least I had a say in it.

Vegas had been the start of a very strange cycle. There, I met and destroyed Janos Skorzeny. Then, in Seattle, I played the same basic script opposite Dr. Richard Malcolm. From there, I went to Chicago. In the year or so I had been working there, I had run up against the original Jack the Ripper, a Haitian zombie named Francois Edmonds, an invisible alien, and now, with Catherine, another vampire. In between these episodes, I managed to also produce a number of really first-rate crime stories. That is why, in spite of everything else, I managed to keep jobs a bit longer than I should have. That’s why Tony Vincenzo had hired me three times, and why he had not yet fired me from my berth at the INS, but I knew how hard I was pushing it. We both did, and we dreaded whatever it was that I might one day make necessary.

While I was an accomplished liar, I was not in the habit of making excuses for myself. I seldom admitted personal weakness. In other words, this was something Vincenzo had never seen before, and I hoped it would take him by surprise. I would tell him the full story behind the Rawlins affair, which was, by any sane standard, unbelievable. From there, it's just a short hop to crazy.

I was constructing a good story in my head, filled with the odd little details that make total bullshit sound plausible. I'd stick to the facts, but shade it here and there and imply a lot more than I actually said. If it worked, Tony would be worried sick, and I felt bad about that.

But if there was another vampire loose in one of the nation's largest cities, a lot of people would be more than worried, and quite a few would be more than sick.

For some reason, I decided to go into a restroom to spruce myself up, as though that would help me over the phone with Tony.

It was then that I made a discovery that chilled my blood.

A cliche, I know. But there's a reason things become cliches, and in this case it's because that's exactly what it feels like. I hobbled on into the men's room and splashed water from the sink onto my face, rubbed it vigorously, then studied myself in the mirror. I had numerous small scratches on my cheeks and forehead, though again it was not enough to command undue attention from anyone.

I rubbed a few of them with a fingertip, noting that they were very sore, but not discolored or swollen. I remembered the vampire on top of me, pinning me to the ground. She felt at once incredibly dense and heavy, and strangely insubstantial. Her skin was so cold you could feel the chill without even touching it. She squirmed on top of me and those eyes and that mouthful of teeth were right in my face. I recall thinking that the worst thing about her was her breath.

Because there wasn't any.

Even when she was right in my face, snarling and hissing like a cat, no air passed her lips. I don't know what powered her vocal chords. She didn't breathe, she didn't sweat. Nor did she stink of the grave, like so many fictional vampires. Which makes sense, since one of the chief attractions of vampirism is the fact that you DON'T decompose. She smelled of nothing, apart from some perfume she must have put on earlier. It smelled just like perfume smells right out of the bottle, with no human scent underneath, no body chemistry with which to interact.

It had been a terrifying moment, and my reaction was one of total desperation. I dropped the large silver cross I was holding onto her back. The burning distracted her enough for me to push her off. I recall mentally congratulating myself and giving thanks to Something that she had not managed to sink her fangs into my throat. However...

By now, you have surely deduced what I'm about to say, so further dramatic buildup is unnecessary. (Pardon my melodrama, but I seldom get a chance in my usual line of work.)

There were two small puncture wounds on the right side of my neck, a bit below and to the rear of my earlobe. My blood did the cliche thing in my veins, and I probably would have done another cliche in my pants if not for the fact that I hadn't eaten anything for two days.

I must have let out some kind of a noise, because a guy I hadn't even noticed standing at the sink next to mine said, "Buddy, you okay?" I glanced briefly at a small man of no particular age, height or appearance.

I was still reeling and very distracted, and I said, "She bit me. I didn't even feel it, but she bit me!" I was twisting my neck around, trying to get a better view of the wounds.

"Who bit ya?" my neighbor asked with genuine interest.

"She was a vamp..." Vaguely aware that I now had an audience, I edited myself a little bit, though I was still pretty frantic. "A hooker. A hooker bit me."

My new friend nodded sagely. "I hear ya," he said. "You never know what to expect. Lucky for you, you can't catch anything just from their teeth."

"This one you can," I said.

"Naah, that's just an old wives' tale. Like getting something off a doorknob. If you're worried, just get your doc to give you some antibiotics. 'The Magic Bullet,' they call it. There was a movie with Edward G. Robinson, he played this Doctor Ehrlich, who invented..."

"You're thinking about a werewolf," I said absently, prodding at the punctures with a forefinger. "Magic bullets are for werewolves."

"Edward G. Robinson wasn't in no werewolf pictures. That was Lon Chaney Jr. He did a bunch of them."

"Maybe it'll be okay," I rambled. "All it is is a bite. It doesn't even hurt. Why, the skin is barely broken. She didn't have a chance to suck me dry."

"Well, then, looks like you missed out on the whole point of the thing. What happened that she didn't do that?"

"I got lucky. I was able to get her on her back. It wasn't easy. either. She almost finished me off right there. But while she was stretched out flat, I pounded my stake into her. God, I pounded harder than I ever have in my life," I said, rotating my right shoulder, still sore from the exertion.

"So it wasn't a total loss, then."

"No," I said, "you're right. I got what I was after. I left her good and dead. I almost got charged with murder. The cops let me go, though, since she was technically already dead before I got my hands on her. But I'm gonna have to pay for that huge cross I set on fire. Do you have any idea how much a thing like that costs?" I turned to my new friend to receive a bit of sympathy, but he was gone, leaving only the men's room door swinging back and forth on its spring hinges to mark his passage.

I laughed as I mentally reviewed our disconnected conversation, imagining what the poor guy must have thought. Encouraged by this impromptu demonstration of my ability to look like a dangerous lunatic-- a successful warm-up act-- I girded my loins for the main event, one Anthony Albert Vincenzo.

TO BE CONTINUED

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Gotham X 3 Part One

THE FINAL CURTAIN
OR: “OH, MAMA, CAN THIS REALLY BE THE END?”
PART ONE
“Dead Children and a Dead City: Happy New Year 2000”
By Chuck Miller

(Note: This story begins the day after the “Millennium” episode of The X-Files, and proceeds to destroy the continuity of every character involved. I am taking it upon myself to tie up all of Chris Carter’s dangling plot threads, and at the same time lay waste to the DC Universe. This will conflict with everything else that comes after it, so consider it an “alternate reality” tale. Enjoy.)
(Further Note 2010: This story was started many years ago, and for some reason never finished. It may never be finished.)

-- Chuck
drsivana99@gmail.com

"Life is short; filled with stuff."
-Lux Interior, the Cramps


LEXCORP TOWER


8:35 a.m.
January 1, 2000

“Would you mind not smoking in here,” Lex Luthor said to the man in the cheap suit and trenchcoat.

It wasn’t a request, so there was no question mark at the end. Luthor had a way of making the most offhand statement come across like an imperial command, and he had only a scant understanding, mostly theoretical, of the concept of asking for something. The other man, however, ignored him and lit up a cigarette. Luthor stared at him for a second, then let it drop. There were more important things on his mind today.

Not many people would dare to behave in such a cavalier manner in Luthor’s presence. There was certainly more to this individual than met the eye, which wasn’t much. To describe him as “unprepossessing” would be a bit too lavish. His bland face was lined and weathered, his clothing clean but obviously inexpensive. He looked like a minor civil servant, an older man nearing the end of a drab, unspectacular career.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Even Lex Luthor, with all his formidable resources, had been unable to uncover much information on the man who stood before his huge mahogany deck, quietly smoking a cigarette. The man had at least a dozen different names, none of which were very likely to be the one he had been born with.

Luthor stared coldly at the man, who gazed through the window, his thoughts seemingly miles away. Luthor shifted slightly in his leather chair, waited another moment, then said, “Well?” The man looked at Luthor. He took a drag from his cigarette
before he spoke.

“I take it, Mister Luthor, that you are now more willing to take me seriously? In light of this morning’s events, perhaps?”

“Let’s not dance around this,” Luthor said sharply. “I have a feeling the time for bulls*** and obfuscation is long past. You’re talking about Seattle, yes? Do you know what happened? Are you involved in it?”

Seattle. That was all anyone had talked about since six o’clock that morning, Eastern time. A cruel damper had been put on Millennium celebrations all over the world by the news from the West Coast.

Seattle was gone.

The man shook his head. “Not involved. But I have a good idea who is responsible. And it won’t stop with Seattle. That was just the opening round.”


Luthor’s eyes narrowed. “If you want to someday walk out of this building alive, I suggest you tell me everything you know. Now.”

The man shrugged. “I have no secrets to keep from you. I need your help. You’ll want to help me. You’re an ambitious man, Luthor. You want power, more power than you have now. But power won’t mean much to you if the world is reduced to a charred husk, will it?”

“No. Of course it won’t. Now, the next sentence you speak had better contain some concrete information, or my patience with you will be exhausted. Do you understand?”

The man nodded. He actually smiled a little as he crushed out his cigarette in a small potted plant. “Tell me, Mister Luthor, have you ever heard of the Millennium Group?”
Luthor raised his eyebrows, sat up straighter in his chair. “I’m listening,” he said.

FBI HEADQUARTERS
11:37 a.m.

Fox Mulder, weary and injured from the events of the previous night, took one look at the folder on his desk and said a very vulgar word.

Dana Scully looked up sharply. She hadn’t fared as badly as Mulder the night before, but she still had dark circles under her eyes and looked tired and disheveled, in spite of a bath, a change of clothes and four hours’ sleep. “What?” she asked, not sure she really wanted to know.


Mulder sighed. “You’re not gonna believe this. Skinner just sent this down. Grave desecrations ...” He looked up at his partner, his eyes ever so slightly unfocused. “Exactly the same as the others.”

Scully’s eyebrows went up. “More FBI agents?”

“No,” Mulder shook his head. “But that’s the only thing that’s different. The blood circles, the damage inside the caskets, that was the same. But the ... can we call them victims? They weren’t FBI at all. They were just kids.”

“Kids?”

“Yeah. Three kids. Two of them were brother and sister, the other one was a friend of theirs. They all died a few days ago.”

“Suicides?”

“No. That’s another difference. They were all murdered.” Mulder thumbed through the folder.

“Let’s see ... We’ve got a Mary Bromfield, a Billy Batson—that’s the brother and sister. They’re orphans; the girl was adopted when she was a baby. And a Freddy Freeman. Seems they spent a lot of time together. Says here they were poisoned, probably while they were at a local… hm, malt shoppe, I didn’t know there still were such things. How Archie Andrews. I wonder if Reggie Mantle can account for his whereabouts. Well... No suspects, no leads… Though the cops did find one odd thing, in the kitchen at the malt shoppe. Says here ‘a worm unknown to science…’ Anyhow, the graves were discovered desecrated yesterday, while we were investigating the others.”

“Where?”

“Near Fawcett City. Halfway across the country.” Mulder gave Scully one of his looks and she blew air through her pursed lips. “So that means ...” she began.

“That we have another necromancer out there,” Mulder continued for her. “But why kids? Why THESE kids?”

Scully sat dumbly, fingering the tiny gold cross she wore on a chain around her neck. What was it Mulder had said to her last night—this morning? “Well, the world didn’t come to an end, did it?” She had agreed with him that it had not. But that was before they got the news about Seattle, what little news there was. Most of the state of Washington was under a communications blackout. Whatever had happened to Seattle had disrupted telephone and power lines all up and down the coast. What they did have was that awful satellite photo which had been running on CNN all morning. Taken from a satellite in geosynchronous orbit above Seattle, it showed ... nothing. A big, black hole where the city itself and several surrounding communities had once been. There appeared to be a considerable amount of debris floating in the waters of Puget Sound, and not a building could be seen standing within a 40-mile radius. The Army and Navy were conducting radiation tests from a distance before sending anyone into the affected area.

“Mulder slapped a hand down on his desk. “I HATE cases like this. I hate cases involving kids. It always reminds me of those three kids who disappeared in Blair, Maryland, five years ago. I hope we make more progress on this case than we did on that one.”

Scully realized she had lapsed into a staring spell, broken by Mulder’s outburst, and shook her head to rouse herself. She stood up slowly. “The name of the town was Burkittsville, Mulder. Besides, that was a witch—supposedly. At least we’ve already whipped one necromancer, so we can go for 2-0 on this one.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. She made her way, a little unsteadily, out of Mulder’s office and to the women’s restroom, where she stood in front of the aluminum sink, ran some cold water, splashed it on her face, rubbed her eyes. They were sore from fatigue and rubbing them felt good. When she opened them, she saw a dark figure reflected in the mirror above the sink. It was a man. A man in a dark suit and a cloak, with a black, wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his eyes. He had some kind of strange-looking amulet hanging around his neck from a heavy chain.

Terrific.

"Sir,” she said wearily, turning to confront the man. “I think you’re in the wrong room ...”

He cocked his head slightly, regarding her with eyes that were invisible under the shadow of his hat brim. “Dana Scully,” he said. “I need to speak with you.” Scully could feel the eyes on her. This wasn’t an ordinary man, she knew immediately. She wasn’t afraid; she felt more weary irritation than anything. She was a bit fed up with mysterious strangers and their cryptic pronouncements. Ever since she finally took the plunge, and began giving credence to ideas that she would once have found out of the question, she had learned that the paranormal is generally more annoying than scary.

”Okay,” she said with a sigh. “Who are you and what cosmic secret do you want to reveal to me or wipe from my mind?” She glanced at her watch. “I really don’t have all day, you know.”

The man seemed momentarily taken aback. Then he smiled, just a little. “I am ... a stranger.”

”No S***.” She looked him up and down. “Well, you’re not the strangest stranger I’ve ever seen, by a long shot. I hope you won’t be offended if I don’t go all slack-jawed in your presence. I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours shooting zombies in order to prevent the Apocalypse, so you’ll understand if my shock threshold is pretty high this morning.”
Now the man, if that’s what he was, was definitely smiling.

”I’ve had many reactions from mortals through the centuries,” he remarked, “but nothing quite like this. I must admit, I find it ... refreshing.”

”I’m thrilled for you,” Scully said dryly. “Now, can we please get to the point?”

”Of course. Oh, may I say that the creatures you fought were not proper zombies. A zombie is a creature animated by a very specific Voodoo ritual process. What you fought would more properly be called a ghoul, or perhaps a…”

He stopped short, having detected the look in Scully’s eyes, a glare that might very well have enough intensity behind it to kill even him. He cleared his throat and began again.

While you and your partner made a valiant effort, I’m afraid you did not ‘prevent the Apocalypse,’ as you put it. Your necromancer was nothing more than a distraction. The Millennium Group has other plans afoot, as I think you knew in your heart they would.”

Scully made a face. It was true, she hadn’t been satisfied with their latest bit of work. From what she had learned of the Millennium Group, she found it hard to believe that the plan that she and Mulder and Frank Black had interfered with was the only one the Group had in place.

The Stranger’s face and voice became grave. “There are awful times ahead, Dana Scully. You will play a role in the drama that is to unfold. You will survive, but the cost will be terrible. Not more than you can bear, for you are strong, but terrible nonetheless.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “I knew it. I knew you were gonna go cryptic on me. I suppose you can’t tell me any of the details because there are some things that it is better for mere mortals not to know, or something like that. Am I right?”

”Uh ... well, yes. Though I would not necessarily say ‘mere,’ although…”

”SO,” Scully snapped, and the Stranger decided that if her eyes didn’t kill him, her tone would. “The point of this visitation would be ...?”

The Stranger became even more solemn. “To tell you not to give up. You will want to. A moment will come, very soon, when you will be tempted to give in, to cease caring. You will doubt yourself and the future. Please, Dana, do not. Much will depend upon the decision you will make. You have great inner strength, more than you have ever been aware of. When the time comes, use it. Look into your heart and you will find what you need.”

Scully nodded slowly. “Yes, okay. Very good. You used to work for Hallmark, right?” She rubbed her eyes again. “I’ll tell you what I’m hoping right now,” she continued. “I’m really, really hoping you are an hallucination brought on by fatigue, a bit of undigested beef perhaps, and when I open my eyes again, you’ll be gone.” She stopped rubbing but kept her eyes shut. “Okay, are you gone yet?”

”No,” came the Stranger’s voice.

”I didn’t think so.” Scully sighed and opened her eyes. Sure enough, he was still there, very solid and real. She studied his face, tried to get a glimpse of the eyes beneath the hat brim. “I’m not going to ask you what you are,” she said, “because I know you’ll say something weird and I’ll be tempted to shoot you. If I find you have mirrors on your shoes, I will not hesitate.”

The Stranger smiled again. “It wouldn’t have much of an effect, I’m afraid.”

” But I’d enjoy it. Really.”

The Stranger raised his hand in a gesture of farewell. “Remember what I have told you, Dana Scully. Everything you will need is already inside you. I have faith that you will make the right choices.”

”Then why did you have to run me down in the ladies’ room?”

“You would like the truth?’

“I would,” Scully said, nodding. “I keep hearing it’s out there.”

“Very well. I have walked the earth for a staggering span of years. I have seen almost everything and been almost everywhere. I have journeyed to hell itself and I have traveled to distant stars. But in all that time, I have never seen the inside of a women’s restroom. I was… curious.”
This succeeded in rendering Scully temporarily speechless. She was trying to frame a response, when the Stranger spoke again.

“Tell me,” he said, gesturing toward the opposite wall, “why are there no urinals in this restroom?”
Scully glanced in the direction the Stranger had indicated and stared blankly at the row of stalls. Her eyebrows went up. She said, “Damn, you really ARE a Stranger.” She turned back around and started to speak. “Are you being serious…”

But the Stranger was gone. Just like that. No noise, no puff of smoke, nothing.

Scully shook her head. She resolved that if she ever met this phantom of the lavatory again, he would pay for his little joke. Not the cryptic prophesy. That was par for the course. The thing about the urinals, though, that was too much.

A fucking comedian.

All that was left for her now was to shrug and sigh and jump back into the meat grinder.

It was going to be one of THOSE days.


GOTHAM CITY
NOON

“I understand, Clark,” Bruce Wayne said into the telephone receiver, with a hint of exasperation. “And you know I’m not
unsympathetic. But I just don’t see what I can do. Whatever happened in Seattle was terrible, but the rest of you are far better equipped to handle it than I am. If you need me, you know I’ll be available. But Gotham is where I belong. This city is just starting to get back on its feet, and after what happened this morning, people are scared to death. And frightened people can be dangerous people.” He listened for a moment, then spoke again. “Of course. You know how to get in touch with me. I know you’ll do your best. Goodbye.”

Wayne hung up the phone on the bedside table and leaned back against his pillows for a moment, rubbing his forehead. He had just had three hours of sleep, which was about average for him. He had long ago mastered relaxation techniques which made three hours of repose the equivalent of a full night’s sleep. A thin shaft of brilliant sunlight streamed through a space between the heavy drapes covering the large windows of Wayne Manor’s master bedroom.
“Happy New Year,” he muttered sourly. He was deeply concerned about what had happened in Seattle, but he had moved that concern to the back of his mind. There was little or nothing he could do about Seattle, but much he could and needed to do in Gotham. The city was in the first stages of recovery from the earthquake that had devastated it a year ago. The previous evening, in fact, had been his first night back in his family home. Reconstruction of the mansion was underway, but it was being done slowly and discreetly by a handful of individuals who could be trusted with the mansion’s secrets.

One of those individuals, who was trusted not only with the mansion’s secrets, but with the Batman’s as well, was Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred was Bruce Wayne’s oldest friend. More family than friend, actually. The only constant in his life.

Wayne recognized the tapping at his chamber door as Alfred’s. “Come in,” he said distractedly, his mind still on the events of the morning. Alfred entered in his usual quiet, unobtrusive manner. Alfred was such a fixture in Bruce Wayne’s life that he sometimes took his manservant’s presence for granted. And whenever he caught himself doing that, he corrected himself as quickly and severely as he could. Taking people for granted was something he didn’t want to get into the habit of doing. The nature of his work—his obsession—sometimes made him self-centered and unnaturally focused. He walked a very fine line
between the man he was and the mission he had undertaken.

“Come in,” Wayne said. He could tell immediately by the expression on the older man’s face that something was very wrong. Alfred handed him a sheaf of computer printouts. “I just received these from Miss Oracle, sir,” he said gravely. “She told me to bring them to your attention immediately.” Wayne thanked him and took the papers. Alfred stood by, an expression of deep concern on his face.

Wayne studied the papers, then looked up into his old friend’s eyes. Alfred gasped. He had never, in all the years he’d been associated with Bruce Wayne, seen such an expression of raw fear on the man’s face.

“My God,” Wayne said. “My ... God.” He stood for a moment, still, silent.

Alfred Pennyworth watched as Wayne’s features slowly hardened into a grim, impassive mask. When he spoke again, every trace of Bruce Wayne was gone. Alfred shuddered. He had watched many times over the years as Bruce Wayne had taken on the frightening persona of his dark alter-ego. But this time was different. Alfred had never seen the transformation so
intense, so complete. The man standing before him now was the Batman, completely and totally.
“This is very, very bad,” said Batman. “Someone killed those children and raised them again. Those blood circles around the graves? That’s necromancy, Alfred. The summoning of the dead. Necromancers can sometimes use the dead they’ve raised to perform certain tasks.”

“Good Lord,” Alfred said. “But, sir. When I say this, I am in no way minimizing the tragedy of what happened to these children. But they were ... are ... only children. What can they do that might be so terrible?”

Batman looked at his oldest friend. His eyes were cold. “There are a few things you don’t know about some of my associates. I don’t suppose I’m violating any confidences telling you this, since they are—technically—dead now. Billy Batson, Mary Bromfield and Freddy Freeman led double lives. Literally. The story is a bit complicated, but what it comes down to is this: Those three children are actually three of the most powerful beings on the planet. The Marvel Family, Alfred.”

“Oh dear.”

“Yes. Do you see the implications? These graves were opened yesterday. This morning at 6 a.m. SOMETHING ripped through the city of Seattle ...”

“Sir, you don’t think ...?”

“I never guess, Alfred. And I never jump to conclusions. There may be no connection at all. On the other hand, I’ve never believed in coincidence. I hate to leave Gotham at a time like this, but I HAVE to look into this thing. I could hand this off to the League, but they’re already busy dealing with the damage that’s already been done. If we are dealing with the Marvel Family under some kind of occult control, we need to know for certain. Or Seattle could happen again. It could happen here. This city has been through enough.”

“I am certain Master Dick and Master Tim can help keep order here, sir.”

“They’ll have to. I don’t want then to know anything about this. It could be far too dangerous.” He took a deep breath, released it slowly. “I’ll be leaving for Fawcett City within the hour. I need you to do a couple things for me before I go. First, find out anything else you can on these grave robberies. Who’s investigating, what they’ve found out, if anything. Second, get me anything you can on necromancy, the raising of the dead, that sort of thing—ESPECIALLY information on how to reverse the process. If that’s possible.”

“Perhaps I should phone Mister Blood, sir.”

“Good idea.” Jason Blood was an old acquaintance of both Bruce Wayne and the Batman, and an expert on occult matters. He also shared his existence with a totally amoral, utterly vicious demon called Etrigan, but that was another story. Batman nodded. “You do that, Alfred, while I go down to the cave and get ready. Oh, and Alfred—“

The manservant was already on his way out of the room but turned his head and stopped. “Yes, sir?”

“I know we’ve never discussed religion. I choose to keep my own beliefs to myself. But you’re Church of England, aren’t you?”

Alfred raised an eyebrow. “You’re stereotyping again, Master Bruce. I am in fact a Unitarian.”

“Oh.” The Batman was silent for a moment, then he said, very quietly, “You might want to say a prayer for me. For all of us.”

And that frightened Alfred Pennyworth more than anything he had ever heard in his life.
Frank Black was tired and confused. He had a horrible feeling of foreboding, stronger than anything he’d ever felt in his life. He was scared, he had no trouble admitting that to himself. Something very big and very dark was happening. And it was just beginning.

He was in a motel room in Portland, Oregon. He’d been on his way back to Seattle, back home, with his daughter Jordan, when he’d heard the unbelievable news.

There was no more Seattle to go back to. No yellow house. No anything. All his friends, his associates in the Seattle P.D ... Gone.

And no one knew why or how.

According to the latest reports on CNN, the Army had determined that there was no danger from radiation. Teams from all branches of the service had moved into the area to find a scene of incredible devastation. Members of the Justice League were rumored to be at the scene, though that had yet to be confirmed. The White House had been silent, save for a routine expression of shock and dismay from the president, a request for national unity in this time of crisis and prayers for the residents of the affected area and their loved ones.

Same old S***. Rumors flew. It had been a sneak attack by China or Russia or Korea or someone else, some new kind of radiation-free bomb. Mongul had returned from the dead and was once again trying to transform the earth into a new Warworld; the inevitable comparisons with the Coast City disaster were drawn by numerous commentators. But, when all
was said and done, no one knew anything.

Except that a city was dead.

Frank sat in a chair by the window, staring blankly at the silent television, aerial shots of the area surrounding Seattle, taken
from news choppers at the very limit of the military-imposed no-fly zone. Fragments of buildings, smashed vehicles, uprooted trees ...
And bodies.

Piles and piles of bodies.

Frank thumbed the remote control and the set went dark. He looked over to one of the twin beds where his daughter lay sleeping. She was so peaceful, so sweet. He was overcome for a moment with sickness and sorrow and anger that she would have to face a world things like Seattle could happen. She didn’t deserve it. She’d already lost so much, endured so much. And now this. What was happening? Where would it lead? How would it affect Jordan?

Frank bit his lip, hard enough to draw blood. God, how he missed Catherine. He still loved her so much. In a way, he was glad she was gone, glad she wouldn’t have to face whatever was coming. But he’d give anything, do anything, just to speak with her one more time. God damn it, Frank thought. God damn it to hell.

Jordan came awake suddenly, gasping, sitting upright, startling Frank. He jumped from the chair and moved to the side of her bed. Her eyes were wide open and so was her mouth. She made small, inarticulate sounds. Frank took her by the shoulders, shook her gently. “Jordan, honey. It’s me, it’s daddy. Are you okay?”

She stared at him for a moment with no sign of recognition, her eyes totally blank. Then she seemed to focus, to come back from wherever she had been, and she threw her arms around her father’s neck.

“Daddy,” she said softly. “I saw them. I SAW them.”

“Who, honey?” Frank asked, stroking her hair. “Who did you see?”

She pulled away from him so she could look him in the eyes. “The three black angels. The ones who killed all the people and smashed all the buildings. I saw them.”

“Black angels?”

“Yes,” the girl said, nodding vigorously. “Three of them. Two men and a woman. They did it. They were killing people and knocking down trees and throwing cars ...”

“Settle down, sweetheart. You had a dream, that’s all.” But it WASN’T all, Frank knew. Jordan had a gift, the same gift he himself had. The gift that made him who he was. The gift he hated.

“No, daddy,” Jordan insisted. “It wasn’t a regular dream.” She became grave. “I know the difference. I SAW them, like it was happening right in front of me. They were black angels and they were very strong. And they had lightning on them.”

“Lightning?”

“Uh-huh.” She nodded again, patting her small chest with the palm of her hand. “Right here. And daddy ...” Her eyebrows came together and she pursed her lips.

“What, honey?”

“They didn’t look like they were alive, daddy. They looked like dead people. Their faces were all purple. They had ... their eyes were lighted up yellow.”

Frank felt a chill and realized that sweat had popped out on his forehead. He wiped it away with his hand.

“And they flew, daddy,” Jordan continued. “They could fly, and they were SO strong, nobody could stop them. The police shot at them, but it didn’t work.”

Frank hugged her to his chest, kept stroking her hair. “I know, honey. I know. It’s bad. You calm down. Try to forget about it. They won’t hurt us.”

Her face pressed to her father’s chest, voice muffled, Jordan said, “Yes they will. They will. They’re going to kill everyone.”

Frank was about to make another meaningless, reassuring remark, one they both would know was nothing more than a comforting lie, when the telephone rang. Frank stiffened. Who would be calling him here? No one even knew where they were. Maybe it was just one of the motel staff calling about something or other. Frank patted his daughter’s head and reached over to the little table between the beds, picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“This is who we are,” came a voice. A familiar voice. A voice Frank had come to hate. “This is what we do.”

Frank Black stood up, turned away from his little girl, spoke softly into the phone. “Peter? Peter Watts?”

“Yes, Frank. It’s me.”

“You sonofabitch,” Frank said coldly. “I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

“But you didn’t, Frank. I don’t blame you for wanting to. You never understood. You weren’t ready, you hadn’t seen enough. Maybe now you have.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Seattle, Frank. I’m talking about Seattle.”

Frank experienced a moment of vertigo, an unsettling mixture of near-panic and physical sickness. His vision blurred and he blinked his eyes rapidly. His breathing became heavy and ragged. “Do you ...” he began, but his voice was nothing but a low, inaudible croak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Do you know what happened to Seattle?”

Yes, Frank. I do. I did it.”

Frank had to sit down on the other bed. Jordan was watching him, eyes wide, her expression one of deep concern. I must look like hell, he thought. “You ... did it?”

“Frank, listen to me. That isn’t important right now. I want to see you. I want to offer you a place in the world that’s coming. I haven’t given up on you, Frank. I want you to survive this. You and Jordan.”

Frank gritted his teeth. “Watts,” he said. “You ... filthy ... you ...” He was as angry as he had ever been. He couldn’t think of a word vile enough to express what he was feeling. He gripped the receiver tightly, wishing it was Peter Watts’ throat.

“Listen to me, Frank,” Watts continued calmly. “What happened to Seattle will happen again. To New York, Los Angeles, Metropolis, Gotham City, Tokyo, London ...”

“Where are you, Watts?” Frank choked out. “Where can I find you? Face me, you bastard. Let me have five minutes with you, you—“

“Please, Frank. I know you’re upset. I understand. But you want a future for Jordan, don’t you? You can’t stop what’s going to happen. No one can. Meet with me. Listen to what I have to say. Please?”

Frank, breathing heavily, stared into his daughter’s face. Her eyes were filling with tears. Frank felt dead inside. “Okay,” he said after a long silence. “I’ll meet you. Where and when?”

LEXCORP TOWER
3:14 p.m.
“I dislike aliens,” Luthor remarked to his visitor. They had been talking almost non-stop for seven hours, with only a short break for a light lunch. Now, they were seated side-by-side at a conference table in a room adjoining Luthor’s office, looking over a stack of documents the other man had brought with him.

“I don’t care for them very much myself,” the other man admitted. “But in this case, they are the devil I know.”

“They want to colonize this planet,” Luthor said. “Take control. Make us into slaves. Or worse.”

“And the Millennium Group,” the man said, lighting another cigarette, “wants to DESTROY the world. Or most of it. They’ve been laying the groundwork for a long, long time. Their secrecy was impeccable, I must admit. It was only by chance that I was able to discover what I have. I don’t suppose you heard about what happened to Ra’s Al Ghul?”

Luthor was surprised. “Happened to him? No, I haven’t heard.” It was Luthor’s impression that things didn’t “happen to” Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s made things happen to other people. Luthor had for years been developing plans to deal with the Demon’s Head, as he was known, should he become a serious threat. It was Ra’s Al Ghul’s ambition to wipe out most of the human race and start over again—with himself as leader of the survivors. Fortunately, every one of his schemes had been thwarted by The Batman. Luthor had never relished the idea of facing off against the powerful leader of the secret worldwide organization known, among other things, as the League of Assassins.

“He’s dead,” the smoking man remarked casually. “For real this time. His body was found a few miles outside of Jerusalem just a week ago. He’d been crucified and decapitated. Also staked through the heart with what some people believe was a fragment of the True Cross. All of his enclaves were destroyed, his followers scattered or killed. His daughter is missing, presumed dead.”

“And the Millennium Group did this?”

The man nodded. “That’s what my sources tell me. Eliminating the competition.”

“My God,” Luthor said. “That is incredibly ... disturbing. That they could dispose of Ra’s Al Ghul as casually as that ...”

The smoking man nodded agreement. “And Seattle. Don’t forget Seattle.”

“They have to be stopped,” Luthor said flatly. “They will be. If we have to get into bed with your alien friends, so be it. That will at least buy us some time. We can deal with the colonists later.”

“You’re a man after my own heart, Luthor,” the smoking man said, smiling dimly. “In that neither of us is needlessly encumbered by one. I always intended to stab them in the back when I got a chance. I just never knew how I was going to accomplish it. I believe you are the man for the job. But, as you say, first things first.”

“Indeed. The Millennium Group has a formidable force at its disposal, if what you say is true, and I have no reason to think that it isn’t. Some of my contacts in the government have informed me that human handprints have been found in steel girders and automobiles inside the Seattle perimeter. Notice I said IN, not ON. Some of them were several inches deep.”

“In solid steel.”

“Yes. So we’re dealing with ... entities ... who can, to coin a phrase, bend steel in their bare hands. It may be a cliché, but I’ve always found that it’s best to fight fire with fire. I think it’s time we had a look at this ‘black oil’ of yours.” He gestured at the papers they’d been studying. “If I grasp the molecular makeup analyses you’ve shown me correctly, I think we can make some suitable modifications.” He leaned across the table to touch a button on the intercom box. “Mercy,” he said. “Have laboratory number four prepared. I’m going to be doing a little work. And bring me the contents of the vault.”

“The vault?” came a female voice from the speaker. “You mean ...?”

“Yes, Mercy. The kryptonite.” Luthor leaned back in his chair, smiling at his guest. The other man lit yet another cigarette, returning Luthor’s smile.

They looked like a pair of sharks who had just found a particularly choice piece of prey.


LEXAIR FLIGHT 401
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WASHINGTON D.C. AND FAWCETT CITY
5 p.m.
Mulder and Scully felt as bad as they looked, if not worse. They were clean and groomed, but nearly slack-jawed with fatigue. Scully felt as though she might go catatonic at any moment. Mulder, his right arm in a sling, stared out the window at the clouds beneath them, occasionally popping a sunflower seed into his mouth. They hadn’t talked much during the
flight. Scully had not yet told him of her encounter with the stranger in the ladies’ room. She still wasn’t certain it had actually happened, but her skepticism had taken so many mortal blows lately that she supposed she could believe just about anything now.

Zombies. Phantom strangers in restrooms. Cities disappearing in minutes. Happy New Year, Dana. Let auld acquaintance be forgot—like sanity and stability—and days of auld lang sine. God Almighty, someone please kill me now.

And the plane lurched so violently that she was almost dumped from her seat.

“I was just KIDDING!” she shouted, then looked around her, slightly embarrassed. Mulder, along with everyone else nearby, was staring at her.
The plane was still vibrating a little, but stabilizing.

“What the hell WAS that?” Mulder asked.

“I don’t know. It didn’t feel like any ordinary turbulence I’ve ever encountered,” Scully whispered, so as not to alarm anyone around them. “And I’ve done quite a bit of flying.”

Mulder nodded. “Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. Maybe we should—“ He was interrupted by the voice of the pilot coming over the loudspeaker.

“Attention, this is the captain. Everyone please remain calm, we just encountered a bit of ordinary turbulence. Everything is under control.” The “Please Fasten Your Seatbelts” signs were flashing. “I would like to ask you to fasten your belts in case we encounter any further ... bad weather.”

Mulder and Scully looked at one another. The pilot’s pause had told them what they wanted to know—or, rather, what they really DIDN’T want to know—something weird had happened.

Without a word, they both stood and moved toward the front of the plane. A pair of stewardesses started to protest, but Mulder and Scully flashed their FBI badges and kept going. The stews followed behind, but didn’t try to stop them as they approached the cabin. Mulder pushed the door open without ceremony and they went in. The pilot and co-pilot both turned and said in unison, “What the hell?”

“FBI,” Mulder said, displaying the badge. “Now I’ll ask you: What the hell? Just happened, I mean.”

The pilot, a heavyset man in his fifties, said, “Look brother, you can’t just come barging in here.”

“Well,” Mulder replied, “seeing as how we just have, how about it? That wasn’t ordinary turbulence.”

“Yes it was,” the pilot insisted. “We hit a ... low-pressure zone,
and --.”

“Oh, hell,” said the co-pilot, a much younger fellow with a blond crew cut. “Let’s tell them the truth. They’re with the government. Maybe the KNOW something.”

The pilot frowned. Finally, he said, “Well, why not? The tower wouldn’t tell us anything.” He turned to face the two agents. “We encountered three bogeys.”

“Bogeys,” Mulder said. “You mean UFOs?”

“Yeah,” said the co-pilot. “But not like regular UFOs. These were WEIRD.”

Mulder skipped the obvious retort and said, “What do you mean by that?”

“They were SMALL,” the co-pilot continued, warming to his story. “No bigger than—well, an average human being, I guess. We didn’t actually SEE them, but the radar painted them briefly. They shot by us, oh, I’d say as close as a hundred yards or so. And they were MOVING. Mach 5 at least. They were churning the hell out of the air in their wake. That’s what we hit. I’ve never seen anything like THAT. And then they were gone. Off the radar screen in less than a second.”

“Damn,” Mulder said. Unable to come up with anything else, he said it again.

“What direction were they heading?” Scully asked.

“Roughly northeast,” the pilot said hurriedly, eager to take the spotlight away from the co-pilot for a while. “In fact, if they stay on the same heading they were on when they passed us, they ought to wind up over Chicago within the hour. That’s the closest major city in that direction.”
Mulder looked at his partner. “Why does this scare the crap out of me, Scully?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I’m right there with you.”

“You don’t have any family in Chicago, do you?” Mulder asked. Scully and the flight crew all responded in the negative. Mulder sighed. “Neither do I. And for some reason, I’m very glad.”

No one could think of anything to say after that. The silence in the cabin became uncomfortable and Mulder and Scully meekly returned to their seats.