Books by Greg:

Comics by Greg:

Media by Greg:

Email the webmaster

News Feed

Blog Feed

Archive for January, 2009

Greg takes on Action Comics

Action Comics #875

Action Comics #875

Greg recently talked to a number of comic news sites about his part in the upcoming New Krypton storyline, and the characters Nightwing and Flamebird.

Greg told Matt Brady at Newsarama:

…No, [Superman]’s not in Action, but everything that happens in Action is influenced by him, and a lot happens because of him. I know that’s going to be small consolation for people who pick up Action to see Superman, because you’re not going to see him in Action, but it’s still Action Comics, it’s still a Superman book, and his fingerprints are all over it. His morality, his ethic, who he is and what makes him Superman influences that book, and certainly influences Flamebird and Nightwing, even though Flamebird and Nightwing believe a very different mandate. They’re very mission oriented, for lack of a better phrase. There’s a specific arc that they’re following over these 12 issues. On the face of it, people may think that this is being set up to really fly in the face of Superman, and it really doesn’t. So much of what Superman is is about methodology – about how he does what he does, why he does what he does, what he’s willing to do, and what he isn’t willing to do. Those are huge influences that will remain in the book.

…And told Jeffrey Renaud at Comic Book Resources:

It’s a mistake to think Action Comics is about the mystery. It’s not. It’s not about “who are they?” That would be really dull. So for that reason, I wanted to give that to the reader up front. I wanted to say, “These are the heroes we’re dealing with. These are the heroes who are bringing this battle forward. And this is what the battle is specifically and this is what they have to do to win it. And this is Superman’s influence on them.

Greg’s part in the New Krypton arc begins in Action Comics #875.

It’s called Work for a Reason

Busy. Been very busy. And, as a result, have allowed all sorts of things that are not strictly classified as “work” to fall by the wayside.

Of note is the fact that I will be attending the New York Comic Con from February 6th to the 8th, signing at both DC and Oni, as well as – I imagine – participating in various panels, including one moderated by Bob Greenberger on “The Hero in Prose,” Friday the 6th, from 6 to 7 pm, in Panel Room 5. There will be more, I’m sure. I’ll post here as the schedule manifests itself. As of my last check, I’m still not listed anywhere on the con’s materials, which – frankly – I’m finding more than a little annoying, especially considering that I registered some five months ago. So for those of you attending the con and wondering if I’ll be there, the answer is, yes, I will be there, barring sudden Acts of God or Similar Deific Interference.

As far as conventions go, I’ll be at Emerald City, as well. Still up in the air about WonderCon.

Short Stories

Contact and Cover

Blue Religion Cover

Blue Religion Cover

Featured in The Blue Religion: New Stories about Cops, Criminals, and the Chase, a collection of stories about officers of the law from the likes of Michael Connelly, Laurie R. King, Alafair Burke, and others. Greg’s story features a familiar face — Tracy Hoffman from Fistful of Rain.

A Good Run

Tales of the Slayer Cover

Tales of the Slayer Cover

In Tales of the Slayer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vol. 1). Into every generation, a Slayer is born…you know the drill, and it’s a fine drill, too.

Read an excerpt from the story.

Simon Spotlight Entertainment paperback October 2001 0743400453
Simon Pulse e-Book (Adobe Reader) June 2003 B0000A1GKF
Simon Pulse e-Book (Microsoft Reader) June 2003 B0000A2U77

Delivered

Odd Jobs Cover

Odd Jobs Cover

Greg’s short story which appeared in Odd Jobs, a Hellboy anthology, along with work from Brian Hodge, Poppy Z. Brite, Nancy A. Collins, Chet Williamson, cartoonist Gahan Wilson, and more. Illustrated by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Dark Horse paperback January 2000 1569714401

Gunpowder

This appeared in the literary journal, Response. Issue ?? 1997 or 1998, when Greg was 12 years old.

A Good Run Excerpt

Tales of the Slayer Cover

Tales of the Slayer Cover

The Slayer Thessily Thessilonikki
The Battle of Marathon
Greece, 490 B.C.E.

She runs.

The ground is hard and dry, littered with stones and the bodies of the fallen, Athenian and Persian alike. She runs barefoot and avoids the bodies, but cannot avoid the stones. They bite at her soles, digging into her skin, and she can barely feel it, but she knows her feet are raw and blistered, and that with each stride she leaves a trail of bloody footprints across the plain. She barely feels anything but a distant and crackling pain from her lungs and a dull hot throbbing from the wound in her side, where the poison entered her body almost four days ago. Her chiton, once white, is now almost black in places, stained with days of dirt and sweat and blood, and linen has torn at her shoulder where a vampire grabbed her while trying to take her throat.

That vampire is dead, as are a hundred others, and she is dying, too, but she keeps running.

She has run nearly three hundred miles in four days, and she is almost finished.

In her right hand she carries her labrys. Perspiration from her hand has soaked the leather-wrapped grip, turning it blacker than her filthy tunic, and fine dust clings to the point of sharpened wood opposite the ax head, the part she uses as a stake when a stake is better than a blade. The handle is scored in several places, where she has used it to block blades or blows or teeth, and the head is chipped. The staking end, however, is still sharp. This is her favorite weapon, the one she has used again and again for almost eighteen years.

But now, and for the first time in her life, the labrys is heavy. The poison riding through her veins makes her hallucinate, and when she hallucinates, she loses her grip. Twice already she’s come back to the present from her dreams to find the labrys dropped and retraced her steps to retrieve it. It matters that much to her.

She runs.

Her name is Thessily, sometimes called Thessily of Thessilonikki, though no one she has ever known has ever been as far north as Thessilonikki. It is simply a name, given to the woman who was once a girl who was once a slave and who is now the Slayer.

For a little longer, she thinks. The Slayer a little longer.

She is twenty-nine years old, and ready to die.

She is twelve years old, and has been a slave all her life.

Her mother is a dream memory who died before she could talk, and Thessily has been raised in the household of Meltinias of Athens, a fabric merchant. She has been well treated, or at least never abused, because only a fool abuses a slave; they’re just too expensive to replace. She has never argued or been difficult, but Meltinias has seen it in her eyes.

Defiance exists in Thessily, and she is biding her time.

Meltinias thinks she is trouble. Smart for a slave, perhaps too smart, and growing dangerously attractive. The girl has hair blacker than the night sky, cold blue eyes that seem to judge everything, and skin that is pale like the skin on the statue of Pallas. Thessily is exotic, and Meltinias has already pocketed several coins by charging other men for the simple pleasure of looking on her. Now that she is getting to be old enough, he is considering other ways he could make more money off of his prized slave.

In truth, he might have done so already were it not for the unblinking stare Thessily so often turns his way. The look is unnerving. He thinks, perhaps, it is a look from Hades. It is a look that will certainly lead to trouble.

But not anymore, because today Meltinias has sold his exotic, Hades-in-her-eyes slave to Thoas, the high priest of the Eleusinian mysteries. Thoas is the hierophant, and if anyone knows how to deal with Hades, it is he. The hierophant, after all, is the one person in all of Greece who can guarantee safe passage into the afterlife.

Meltinias watches them go, the tall, middle-aged priest and the pale-skinned girl. Thoas was almost desperate to purchase the girl, and Meltinias will live well on the sale for months to come. Meltinias breathes a sigh of relief.

And he catches his breath, because Thessily, now outside the door, has turned and looked back at him, and smiled.

And the smile is from Hades, too.

She is seventeen and Thoas, her Watcher, is at his table in their home, pretending to be at work with his scrolls. It is only an hour before dawn, and Thessily is happy and tired and sore, and when she comes inside, Thoas looks up as if surprised to see her. She knows he isn’t; this is his game, and has been since they started. Every evening she goes out with labrys in hand, to patrol and to slay, and always before dawn she returns, and when she crests the rise above the amphitheater, she can see his silhouette in the doorway of their house, watching for her. Then Thoas ducks back inside, and when she arrives only minutes later, he is always at the table, always pretending that he was not worried.

She loves him for this, because it is how she knows that he loves her.

Thoas looks her over quickly, assuring himself that his Slayer is uninjured. If she were, he would hurry to bind her wounds and ease her pain. But tonight she is not, and so Thoas proceeds as he always does, and asks her the same question he always asks.

“How many?”

“Seven,” she tells him. “Including that one who has been haunting the agora, Pindar.”

“Seven. Good.”

Thessily smiles and sets her labrys by the door, then pours herself a glass of wine from the amphora on the table. “There was something new, a man with orange skin and an eye where his mouth should be.”

“Orange skin or red skin?”

“Orange skin. And silver hair, in a braid.”

“How long was his braid?”

“As long as my arm.”

Thoas nods and scratches new notations on his scroll. “Jur’lurk. They are very dangerous, but always travel alone. You did well.”

Thessily finishes her wine and nods and says, “I am to bed.”

“Rest well, and the gods watch you as you sleep.”

She goes into her room and draws the curtain, then sits on her bed and removes her sandals. Before, in Meltinias’s house, she was simply a slave, and not a very good one. Here, living with Thoas, pretending to be his aide, she is the Slayer.

She is damn good at being the Slayer.

She smiles.

She frowns.

It is three nights ago, and she is running through olive groves and down hillsides, trying to protect a man Thoas has told her must not die. The Persians, led by their king, Darius, are coming. They will land their ships at the coast in only three days. Athens has no standing army, and the Persians have never been defeated. It is already assumed that the glory of Athens will fall, that the city will be looted, the men murdered, the women raped, the children taken as slaves. The greatest civilization the world has ever known is only seventy-two hours from total annihilation.

But there is a thin hope, and it lives in the man Thessily follows, a man named Phidippides, who is running to the Spartans with a plea for help. It is 140 miles from Athens to Sparta, through some of the roughest terrain Greece can offer, over rugged hills and through cracked and craggy ravines. Phidippides is a herald, a professional messenger, known for his stamina and his speed, and rumored to have the blessing of Pan. He runs with all his heart, trying to pace himself, yet knowing that time is against him, and Thessily admires him for this, if not for the errand itself.

She understands the wisdom of appealing to the Spartans. They are the greatest warriors in Greece, their whole culture is built around war and honor and service and dying. She knows how fierce they can be in battle, because even though the Slayer is forbidden to kill Men, she has battled the Spartans before.

The Spartans are lycanthropes, werewolves, and though they control their bestial nature, Thessily does not trust them. But because they are werewolves, they can save Athens.

Athens knows only that Sparta is great in the arts of war, not the truth behind that fact. That is why Phidippides runs 140 miles to ask for their help.

Thessily runs because with the Persian soldiers there also travel Persian vampires, and the vampires fear the Spartans. Thoas has told her that the vampires will do everything they can to stop Phidippides from reaching his goal.

Thoas is correct.

The first assault comes only hours into the run, as Thessily parallels Phidippides’s route, staying hidden from the herald’s sight, as the terrain turns mercifully flat for a brief while. She leaps across a small creek, starlight reflected on its flowing surface, trying to stay ahead of the herald, and she sees three of them up ahead, using the edge of an olive grove for cover. The vampires aren’t even bothering to hide their true faces, and without a pause Thessily frees her labrys from where it is strapped to her back, and she flies into them.

She has done this easily a thousand times before, possibly even more than that. Thoas has never found a record of a Slayer who has lived as long as Thessily, who has survived and fought for so many years without falling for the final time. She has been the Slayer for seventeen years now, she has grown up and is growing old, and though her body is not as fast or as strong as it once was, she is still the Slayer, and there are no mortals alive who can challenge her.

She takes the vampires by surprise, and has felled one of them with the labrys before they’ve begun to react. On her follow-through swing, Thessily ducks and spins, bringing the ax up and ideally through another of the vampires, but she is surprised to find she has missed. It is a female, dressed in rags and patches of armor, and the vampire hisses and flips away, and Thessily has enough time to think that perhaps these Persian vampires are a little more dangerous than the ones she is used to when she feels the arrow punch into her side.

It feels like she’s been hit with a stone, and it rattles her insides and pushes her breath out in a rush, and she turns to see the archer, the third vampire, perched in the low branches twenty feet away. Without thinking she drops the labrys and takes the stake tucked on her belt, snapping it side-armed, and the point finds the heart, and the vampire’s scream turns to dust as fast as his body.

Then the other one, the female, falls on her from behind, and Thessily tries to roll with it, to flip her opponent. She feels a tearing of her skin and muscle and the awful pain of something sharp scraping along bone, and she stifles a scream. The vampire has grabbed the arrow sticking in her side, twisting it and laughing. Through sudden tears, Thessily strikes the vampire in the throat with the knuckles of a fist, forcing the once-a-woman back, and it buys her time.

Thessily is out of stakes. Her labrys is out of reach. With one hand, she holds the arrow against her body. With her other, she snaps the shaft in two, turning the wood in her hand even as the vampire leaps at her throat again. Thessily drops onto her back, bringing the splinter up and letting the vampire’s own motion drive the stake home. There is an explosion of dust and the all-too-familiar odor of an old grave, and then the night is quiet again.

Thessily lies on her back, catching her breath. After a second she hears the sound of Phidippides’s sandals hitting the soil in a steady rhythm, the shift of the noise as he comes closer, then passes the grove, then continues on his run. There is no pause or break in his stride, and she believes he has noticed nothing, that she is still his secret guardian, and she is grateful.

She tries to sit up and the pain blossoms across her chest, moving around and through it, and she gasps in surprise. In all the years she has been wounded, she’s never felt a pain like this. She looks down at the remaining shaft of arrow jutting from her chiton, the spreading oval of blood running down her side, and gritting her teeth, she yanks the arrowhead free. Her head swims, and she sees spots as bright as sunlight. She raises the arrowhead and tries to examine it in the starlight, sees only the metal glistening with her own blood. She sniffs at the tip, and recoils, dropping it.

The odor burns her nostrils as she gets to her feet and retrieves her labrys. The straps on one of her sandals have torn, and she discards the other rather than try to run in only one shoe. She turns and follows after Phidippides, and has only gone three strides when she feels the first distant wash of nausea and giddiness stirring.

And she knows that she has been poisoned.

It is hours later that same night, and she has fought eight more vampires, each time keeping them from Phidippides. The vampires are savage and fast, and she is already tired and hurt, and slowing.

She wins each fight.

She runs.

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector (2005)

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector Cover

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector Cover

In the year 2020, sprawling organizations have recruited their own soldiers to fight clandestine battles against one another—a war fought in the boardrooms and won in the shadows, with the public none the wiser.

Ex-bounty hunter Joanna Dark has unwittingly seen the front lines of this war. Her run-in with dataDyne, the world’s most powerful hypercorporation, has left her with a wound that only vengeance can heal. Daniel Carrington, the charismatic founder of the Carrington Institute, has been locked in an ongoing war with dataDyne for year and sees Joanna’s deadly skills as the key to victory over their mutual enemy. But Joanna is young and lost, unable to accept her abilities as virtues or fully trust Carrington’s intentions.

But when an explosive secret is unearthed—one that could finally bring down the threat of dataDyne once and for all—Joanna finds herself thrust back into the fight, one that brings her face to face with her past…and the forces shaping her future.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

PERFECT DARK: INITIAL VECTOR
Tor trade paperback October 2005 0765315718
Audio Renaissance (8 unabridged CDs) December 2005 9781593978822

Interviews

Microsoft Game Studios interviews Greg, part of Perfect Dark Zero Command Center.

Greg Rucka: Seeing in the Perfect Dark (Newsarama)

About the game

Perfect Dark Zero, the video game from Rare, Ltd., is set in the year 2020, three years before the original Perfect Dark. Players of Perfect Dark Zero assume the role of Agent Joanna Dark in a story where the action centers on espionage, conspiracy and a mysterious global conflict. The novel, Perfect Dark: Initial Vector is the first in a line of three novels that will answer those questions and take readers deep into the Perfect Dark universe, building on the game’s rich action and intrigue as they enter into a shadowy world of the near future.

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector Excerpt

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector Cover

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector Cover

Joanna Dark was tired of killing.

Her lungs burned for air, the muscles in her thighs, back, and arms ached, and her mouth felt filled with hot sand. Sweat stung her eyes, blurring her vision, perspiration running freely down her face and neck, soaking her shirt until it felt five pounds heavier in water-weight alone. Blood and smoke burns peppered her skin. The smell of gunpowder and feces and rotting trash assailed her in concert, and she was half-deaf from the repeated sound of gunfire, both hers and that of her enemies. For the first time since her father had taught her to shoot, her hands felt clumsy and thick when she wrapped them around the butts of her pistols.

She crouched on her aching haunches in the alleyway, her back to the wet brick of the nightclub wall, trying to catch her breath. Neon flashed off puddles formed in the uneven asphalt, and overhead, barely heard beyond the ringing in her ears, she could discern the whine of the city traffic as it flew past, cars riding on their self-made pockets of anti-grav. She licked her lips, tasted salt, and hoped it was sweat and not blood, and that, if it was blood, it wasn’t her own.

Jo tried to tally her kills, and realized she’d lost count, but she wasn’t certain when. Somewhere in the mid-sixties, she suspected, when the dataDyne recovery team had ambushed her outside the hotel. That had been a good fight, there’d been eight of them, all in body armor and armed to the teeth, laying down a spray of automatic weapons fire that had drawn sparks like a string of firecrackers along the walls. She’d taken cover behind a Bowman Constellation, one of the new models, just as it had landed, rolled out, and dropped three of them in quick order, all with single shots, two to the neck, one straight through his faceplate.

Then she’d used a grenade, blowing up the rest of them, along with the car and half of the windows on the first floor of the hotel.

Despite her fatigue, the memory made her grin. That had been a while ago, quite a while ago. Maybe in Rio.

She wasn’t certain where she was now. What she could see of the signage on the buildings around her looked Korean. Maybe P’yongyang? Maybe Los Angeles?

It didn’t matter.

Jo checked her pistols, the two Falcons she’d been working with almost exclusively, feeling the heat radiating from their barrels. Good guns, the Falcons. Her father had taught her to shoot on them. Nine round semi-autos that could fire as fast she could squeeze their triggers, and sweetly accurate. When she worked with the Falcons, Jo could make the bullets go exactly where she wanted.

She pulled a last deep breath, filling her muscles with oxygen, then launched herself forward, at the rusted metal door planted in the wall opposite her. She took the impact on her left shoulder, and the door gave way, and Jo pitched through, turning the move into a roll, tumbling through an instant of darkness, coming up again into a low crouch.

It was a Japanese restaurant, all tatami mats and rice paper walls and soft white lighting, and Jo turned slowly in place, swinging each of the Falcons with her, covering her arcs. Silhouettes glided past, hidden by the walls around her, clad in kimonos and robes, and Jo checked her fire, not wanting to kill anyone who didn’t have it coming to them.

Ahead of her, the hallway reached a t-junction, and just as she started to move, a black canister bounced into view, settling on the floor fifteen feet away.

Jo launched herself left, up and through the wall, tearing paper and wood and flying into a private dining room. She sprawled onto a low table, sending California rolls and cups of tea flying. Patrons screamed, recoiling. It wasn’t until she’d made the move that Jo understood why she’d done it, why she’d gone left, instinctively moving in the direction the grenade had come.

The explosion came, tearing flame and shrapnel through the insubstantial walls, and she saw the first target, then, a Caucasian male in gang colors, shotgun in hand, and he was pivoting. Jo fired once, still in motion, and the left Falcon put a bullet into the man’s ear. The screaming around her got louder.

Jo finished her slide, rolling off the edge of the table, turning as she came up, and now she could see three more of them, all in the same colors, all men, two of them with shotguns and the third packing a Liberator submachine gun. She hit the Liberator first, a double-tap with the right Falcon, both shots to the high sternum, and the man dropped without managing a round. She took the first shotgun with the left Falcon, again double-tapping, this time both bullets hitting the groin.

The second shotgun fired and Jo spun out of the blast just short of in time, felt the slap of buckshot as it peppered her right cheek, felt the sting and her own blood starting to spill. She came around, fully to her feet, and the last one was tracking her as fast as he could, trying to get the shotgun around for a second blast, but he wasn’t anywhere near quick enough, and it felt like Jo had all the time in the world. She put both pistols on him, pulled the triggers, then pulled them again, and again, until the body hit the ground and didn’t move again.

Jo stopped, catching her breath, feeling all of her aches return, the slick heat of blood running from her cheek down the side of her neck. Behind her, she heard whimpering, the sounds of the frightened patrons.

Then she felt her head snap forward, the impact of something small and hard and sharp against the back of her skull, and the world flared white, then began to fill with red.

Oh shit, Joanna Dark thought. I’m dead.

Perfect Dark: Second Front (2007)

Perfect Dark: Second Front Cover

Perfect Dark: Second Front Cover

Welcome to the era of the hypercorporation, business entities so sprawling and vast that they field private armies and buy entire nations outright. These corporate empires are constantly engaged in covert battles for market dominance, and the general public sees and knows nothing as they are used as pawns in this global chess game.

Joanna Dark, an operative of the Carrington Institute, has sworn to bring down the dataDyne Corporation, the largest, most pervasive hypercorp in the world. But Joanna’s vengeance is personal: She holds dataDyne responsible for the murder of her father and will do anything to bring them down. Returning from a field operation that turned bloody, she is exhaused, wounded, and in desperate need of downtime…but the murder of two prominent corporate officials have put the Carrington Institute on high alert. Someone out there is single-handedly redefining the term “hostile takeover” and has placed the Carrington Institute—and its enigmatic founder, Daniel Carrington—square in the gun sights of every hypercorp on the planet.

It appears that each murder has been carried out by none other than Joanna Dark.

In hopes of clearing her name, and the Carrington Institute, Joanna must battle ghosts from her past, high-tech mercenaries who want her dead, and a killer who could be wearing anyone’s face…

Read an excerpt.

Release information

PERFECT DARK: SECOND FRONT
Tor trade paperback January 2007 978-0765315724
Audio Renaissance (unabridged CDs) October 2006 159397972X / 978-1593979720

About the Game

Perfect Dark Zero, the video game from Rare, Ltd., is set in the year 2020, three years before the original Perfect Dark. Players of Perfect Dark Zero assume the role of Agent Joanna Dark in a story where the action centers on espionage, conspiracy and a mysterious global conflict.

Perfect Dark: Second Front Excerpt

Perfect Dark: Second Front Cover

Perfect Dark: Second Front Cover

PROLOGUE
MUD BAY—APPROX. 2.5 KM SOUTH-SOUTHWEST OF OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON
JANUARY 17TH, 2021

When the pretty young woman with the dark red hair and the sapphire blue eyes tried to kill Zentek CEO Georg Bricker, Georg Bricker’s suit fought for his life.

It did this in several ways, activating counter-measure after counter-measure in the spread of mere micro-seconds. Sensing its owner’s sudden change in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, Bricker’s clothes correctly concluded that his fight-or-flight reflex had engaged, and dumped a massive dose of designer epinephrine into his system to augment his already natural release of adrenaline. On every out-facing surface of his suit jacket, millions of almost undetectable quills emerged at once, each coated with an artificially synthesized version of tetrodotoxin, the cumulative dose enough to momentarily paralyze an assailant’s central nervous system. Georg Bricker’s vest, which had appeared only seconds before to be a charcoal and gray serge, like the rest of his suit, both thickened and hardened, growing snugger around his torso while secreting a resin that, given the opportunity, would become hard enough to deflect all but the most determined bullet or blade.

While his suit switched into defensive mode and the pretty redhead brought her Falcon pistol to bear, Bricker’s Z-sleeve—the integrated PDA grown into the lower left forearm of his suit coat—automatically switched over to panic mode. It broadcast emergency requests for assistance to all local law enforcement agencies, as well as sending a separate priority transmission to Zentek corporate headquarters in Berlin, notifying Zentek’s internal security of his status, situation, and location—the last by providing Bricker’s GPS coordinates. Additionally, it commenced streaming live a/v to Zentek’s corporate data-hub in Frankfurt, in an attempt to record what was happening for posterity, or, at least, possible future legal action.

And finally, the Z-sleeve emanated a one-hundred-and-twenty decibel oscillating screech, in an attempt to both dissuade the redhead from continuing her efforts, and to alert anyone who might be nearby as to Bricker’s dire straits.

As a demonstration of the integration of technology and fashion, of the inventiveness and creativity of Zentek’s programmers, engineers, organics engineers, and fashion designers, it was a truly flawless display. Under different circumstances, Georg Bricker would certainly have felt a surge of pride at the quality of craftsmanship evident in his corporation’s work.

As a means of saving Georg Bricker’s life, it turned out to be entirely useless.

Bricker’s day had begun at his home outside of Frankfurt, and it had begun poorly, with his Z-sleeve alerting him to an urgent incoming message while he sat at breakfast with his wife and son. The message was terse, stating simply that Zentek stock had jumped on the Tokyo, Sydney, and London exchanges, up sixty-three dollars and seventeen cents. In other circumstances, such a change could only be seen as good news, but Bricker knew better, and with one call to the office, his suspicions were confirmed. Beck-Yama International, the hypercorporation second only to dataDyne in terms of size and power, had gone public in its takeover bid of Zentek, and the stock price had subsequently skyrocketed in anticipation of a buy-out.

The news dismayed Bricker, but it did not surprise him. Since the third quarter of 2018, Zentek had been tottering on the brink of financial disaster. Attempts to revitalize the company over the past two and a half years with the latest iteration of its signature “living clothing line” and by similarly introducing the same biomorphic technology to the home market had failed to staunch the corporation’s financial hemorrhaging. Zentek’s problem, and Bricker knew it but was too proud to compromise the fact, was that the corporation made quality material. Cutting costs meant cutting quality of work, and the thought was anathema to him.

As early as January 2020, almost precisely a year ago, Bricker had seen the writing on the wall—unless Zentek brought to market something as revolutionary as dataDyne’s null-gee technology or as ubiquitous as Core-Mantis OmniGlobal’s “ring rings,” Zentek would go the way of the dodo.

There were board members and CEOs who would have deployed their golden parachutes then and there. Several of Georg Bricker’s own corporate officers already had, in fact. But, in the same way that compromising the quality of Zentek’s work wasn’t an option, fleeing the company he had nurtured and guided for almost twenty years wasn’t one, either. Zentek wasn’t simply his company, it was his family, and he felt a strong and almost irrational sense of loyalty not just to the business, but to his one point two million employees. Beck-Yama wanted Zentek not for its market-share, but for its trade secrets and technology. Of those one point two million people, at most ten thousand would find work under a Beck-Yama controlled Zentek.

It had been in early 2020, then, that Bricker had come to an all-but unheard of decision. Rather than allow Zentek to become the victim of a hostile take-over, he instead decided that some Zentek was better than no Zentek at all, and set about looking to broker a merger with another hypercorporation.

Once he’d come to that conclusion, Bricker had truly only one choice, only one hypercorporation he could turn to. Carrington Industries was even smaller than Zentek—not to mention that Carrington’s “Institute” was decidedly biased against big business. Core-Mantis OmniGlobal, while much larger than Zentek, had its own successful fashion and body-modification lines.

That left dataDyne, the monster of them all, the largest hypercorp on the planet. So big, dataDyne could swallow Zentek whole, absorbing his one point two million employees without so much as a pause.

His conclusion reached, Georg Bricker swallowed his pride and sent a politely worded letter—written by hand—to dataDyne CEO Zhang Li. In the letter he spoke of his admiration for dataDyne’s accomplishments and business acumen, for the quality of its services and its standards of product. He spoke of his belief that Zentek shared these qualities. He concluded his letter with the proposal of a merger of the two hypercorporations, one that could certainly benefit dataDyne. All Bricker had asked was that he be allowed to preserve Zentek under dataDyne’s auspices.

Much to his surprise, Zhang Li had responded almost immediately—or, more precisely, a phalanx of attorneys the dataDyne CEO employed in the Mergers and Acquisitions division had responded—saying that, yes, dataDyne was interested in brokering such a merger. A full accounting of Zentek’s resources and assets was required, of course, and an exhaustive audit, but once these things were in hand, merger language could be negotiated to satisfy both Zentek’s and dataDyne’s needs.

Bricker had been relieved almost to the point of tears. Zentek’s attorneys had gone to work at once, and the immense and tedious task of reconciling the one corporation with the other had begun. Work had been slow, but it had been steady, and Beck-Yama, sensing dataDyne’s interest and not wishing to antagonize the world’s largest—and, not coincidentally, most powerful—business entity, had backed off.

Then Zhang Li had unexpectedly disappeared from public life along with his daughter, Mai Hem, and for much of 2020 there had been nothing from dataDyne regarding the proposed merger. Bricker’s attempts at contact went unanswered, and Beck-Yama once again had begun moving in around Zentek in a manner that could only be described as vultures circling a prospective corpse.

Only to back off again when dataDyne announced the resignation of CEO Zhang and the appointing of Doctor Cassandra DeVries to fill his position. Bricker immediately attempted to contact the new CEO, sending DeVries both his compliments and congratulations, and inquiring as to the future of the merger. Since DeVries’ appointment almost two months earlier, Bricker had made eleven attempts to contact the new CEO. He received no response. Not a letter, not a call, not a memo, not a word.

Bricker didn’t know what to make of it.

But Beck-Yama did, and this morning announced, publicly, their intention to acquire and then dismantle Zentek.

From his home, Bricker flew to the main office in Berlin, where he presided over a meeting of Board of Directors and a video conference with Zentek’s division heads around the world. He declared his intention to fight Beck-Yama, and did his best to rally his troops. Despite his efforts, morale remained low. Back in his office, he once more fired off an urgent letter to CEO DeVries, all but begging for a response, and now all the more certain that one was not coming. Zentek stock had jumped another fifteen dollars and seventy-one cents in the last three hours, now trading up almost seventy-nine dollars from its price of the day before.

Bricker called a strategy meeting with his CFO and the upper echelon accounting staff. Pacing restlessly back and forth past the window-monitors in his office, they discussed options, attempting to build some sort of strategy to keep Beck-Yama at bay. Of immediate concern was the stock loss, and his CFO made it plain that a buy-back had to begin at once, or else Beck-Yama would hold controlling interest before the end of the day. But a buy-back would cost money, and money was Zentek’s problem; there wasn’t enough of it to counter the billions of dollars that Beck-Yama was now spending, eating Zentek stock like a cancer. Worse, the longer the day wore on, the higher the stock price climbed. Something had to be done immediately, or else nothing else could be done at all.

Against all of his principles, Bricker did the one thing left for him to do. He ordered two of Zentek’s manufacturing divisions closed. In so doing, he put sixty-eight thousand of his employees out of work, and freed almost three point two billion dollars to be redirected back into Zentek’s defense. The buy-back began at once, and the stock price began to stabilize. Bricker remained in his office through the night, surrounded by assistants and associates, monitoring trading on exchanges around the world. By midnight in Berlin, Zentek had stabilized, and by three in the morning—mid-day in Tokyo—it seemed that Beck-Yama International was once again backing off, if only for the moment.

Bricker could only guess that he’d taken them by surprise, that in his ivory tower overlooking downtown Tokyo, Beck-Yama CEO Takashi Noto had been given pause, forced to re-evaluate his own takeover strategy.

Bricker left the office at a quarter past three in the morning, boarded his private low-orbit transport, and flew to Seattle. He did not want to go to Seattle. He wanted to return to Frankfurt for some much needed rest and some even-more needed time with his family. But he went, because he felt he had no choice. Playing at the Zee Arena that night was a concert by the performance icon Candee, the concluding stop of her forty-eight city tour of North America. Both the tour and the arena had Zentek’s name on them, and that, combined with the events of the day, made Bricker feel that it was vital he be seen in public, that he attend to show his face and thus show his faith in Zentek’s future. The fact that he loathed Candee’s synth-pop music only slightly less than he loathed the young star herself didn’t enter into it.

In point of fact, he felt he was doing penance. He had spared Zentek from Beck-Yama for a day, perhaps two at the most, but the cost, he felt, had been too high. Sixty-eight thousand men and women out of work at his word; sixty-eight thousand men and women whose lives he had irrevocably altered, if not destroyed.

For Georg Bricker, sitting through two and half hours of Candee’s glass-shattering whining, whinging, and preening about on stage was a small price to pay.

On the ground in Seattle, Bricker was met by null-gee limousine sent by the local Zentek office, and with his security escort, was whisked quickly into the heart of the city. On approach to the venue, Bricker could see the floodlights lighting the dataDyne Spire, where the Space Needle had once stood. dataDyne had purchased the structure in 2010, shortly after Zentek had offered sponsorship of the arena, and in a characteristic fashion had then torn the Space Needle down, only to rebuild it as a much taller, and more commercially successful venture.

The limousine pulled to a stop at the main entrance to the arena, and Bricker emerged, surrounded by a phalanx of Zentek security that escorted him onto the red carpet. Candee Canes, predominantly young women who strove to emulate Candee in all things, right down to her Zentek wardrobe, greeted him with shrieks of delight without having the slightest idea who he was. Their noise and their energy momentarily distracted Bricker, and for that reason, he did not note the media presence until the reporters and their cameras were upon him. He made the walk into the arena with their questions shouted at his back, flashbulbs and null-gee cameras assaulting his vision from every angle.

He spent most of the first set in a private box suite with Candee’s managers, agents, attorneys, and hangers-on. The view, as befitted such exclusive seating, was excellent. On the stage, Candee thrilled the crowd with precision choreography and holographic dance displays, her costume changing from moment to moment, Zentek living fabric sliding over her body to reveal calculated expanses of bare skin and perfectly toned and tanned muscle. More than once, Bricker found himself wondering how it was he had ever been convinced to sponsor such a display of near-pornography.

For the most part, however, he ignored the show in favor of the requisite glad-handing. He smiled politely through insipid conversations, nodded earnestly, and feigned interest. Twice during the first set, he ordered his suit to medicate him, each time with a buffered analgesic.

All the same, when the message from Cassandra DeVries came, it was a mercy in more ways than one.

Candee was just coming off the stage, and the crowd in the private box beginning to move en masse to join her back stage, when Bricker’s Z-sleeve began vibrating. Bricker held back to examine the message now scrolling across the screen, vaguely puzzled. An unidentified caller, no I.D. signature, and that was unheard of; direct access to the Zentek CEO’s Z-sleeve was theoretically impossible, as all calls had to be routed through Zentek Security back in Berlin. No one contacted the CEO without identifying themselves first.

When Cassandra DeVries appeared on the screen, however, any suspicions were immediately forgotten. She was an exquisitely attractive woman, even on the small screen, a porcelain blond with pale blue eyes and aristocratic features, made all the more so by her look of near reproach. Bricker’s surprise immediately turned to concern at the sight of her expression, certain that she was calling to admonish him for repeatedly bothering her, certain that she was about to kill the merger altogether. He hastily pulled the ear-piece for the Z-sleeve free from his collar, fitting it into his ear.

“Herr Bricker?” DeVries was saying. She spoke in German, but with an English accent.

“Yes,” Bricker said. “Miss DeVries, thank you for calling.”

On Georg Bricker’s sleeve, the CEO of dataDyne smiled.

“I must apologize for the delay in responding,” DeVries said. “I’m still getting settled into my new position, I’m sure you understand. Do you mind if we speak in English? My German’s positively dreadful.”

“Of course, yes—”

DeVries continued, as if not hearing him, switching to her native tongue. “And you’ve had quite the day yourself, haven’t you? Beck-Yama can be very insistent indeed. I won’t waste your time, Georg—may I call you Georg?”

“Certainly, yes, you—”

“And you must call me Cassandra. I think, given the circumstance of the day, that a discussion about the merger sooner rather than later might be a good idea, don’t you? You’re in Seattle? Yes?”

“At the moment, but I can—”

“No, no don’t bother. The concert, yes. Listen, Georg, I’m sending my assistant to pick you up, she’ll meet you just inside the lobby of the arena. Her name is Joanna, she’s a lovely young lady, you won’t be able to miss her, hair like copper at sunset, that one. I was in Redmond most of today on business, but I’m at my private retreat near Olympia now. Jo will bring you to me, all right? We can have a late dinner—well, I’m still on Paris time, so I suppose it’ll be, what, a lunch? Breakfast? We can discuss. All right?”

“Miss DeVries, ja, yes, absolutely. I cannot thank you—?

“Cassandra, Georg,” she said, smiling brightly. “See you in about twenty minutes, then.”

The screen of the Z-sleeve went dark, then reset itself to stand-by mode. Bricker removed the earpiece, letting it retract into the collar of his shirt. The box had emptied, Candee’s entourage already making their way backstage. He shook his head, trying to clear it. The whole conversation had taken place so quickly, so abruptly, Bricker wondered for an instant if it had occurred at all.

But it had, of course it had, and here was his chance to save Zentek, and he wasn’t about to keep Cassandra DeVries waiting.

The woman who met him in the lobby was as described, but even younger than Bricker had expected, not more than twenty or twenty-one at the oldest. She wore black leather—pants, boots, jacket, even, apparently, her shirt—and the shock of pale blonde—almost white—at her forelock seemed all the more stark for it, even against the red hair that, Bricker had to agree, seemed to burn like copper. Her hands were empty, and she showed him her palms even as she spoke.

“Herr Bricker? CEO DeVries has sent me to bring you to her.”

Bricker nodded, saying, “You are Joanna?”

“Joanna Dark, yes,” the young woman said, her accent strangely exotic, as if unable to decide if it was English, South African, American, or from half a dozen other spots from around the globe. “If you’ll follow me, please, I have a vehicle.”

The woman, Joanna Dark, turned and lead the way through the doors, stopping long enough for Bricker to reach her side. She rested a hand gently on his elbow, guiding him past the still-screaming throng of Candee Canes and the waiting assault of reporters without stopping. The vehicle was the latest luxury sports model from Royce-Chamberlain/Bowman Motors, a dataDyne subsidiary, sleek and black, and exactly what Bricker expected. Joanna Dark opened the door for him, hovering protectively.

As he took his seat, Bricker glanced up, taking in the dataDyne Spire once more. There were lights splashing along the top of the structure, more than there had been before, and Bricker could make out lances of lightning in the sky beyond, a storm moving in. Lit by one of the flashes, for an instant, Bricker could see what looked like multiple dropships, hovering in a stand-off position.

“Is that our escort?” he asked Joanna.

The redhead glanced towards the Spire, then shook her head, grinning at him.

“That’s something else entirely, sir,” she told him.

They flew for all of fourteen minutes, Bricker in the passenger seat, Joanna Dark at the controls. She flew them quickly, following the proscribed route along what had once been the Interstate south, before banking off and dropping to near tree-top level. The light dome in the sky around them began to fade, then disappeared altogether, and in the illumination from the null-gee vehicles running lights, Bricker could see an expanse of forest spreading out beneath them into darkness.

He glanced over to his driver, and realized that the young woman hadn’t looked his way once during the trip, focused entirely on her flying.

For the first time, Bricker felt a swell of nervousness.

“Where are we going, please?” he asked.

“It’s a secure location, sir,” Joanna Dark answered. “I’m sure you understand why I can’t divulge that. We’re almost there.”

“CEO DeVries makes her home in Paris, does she not?”

“That’s correct, sir. But dataDyne has private retreats all around the world, as I’m sure you know.”

Bricker nodded, looking out his windows again. The hum of the null-gee engine shifted pitch, dropping, and he realized they were coming in to land. He adjusted his position in his seat, trying to get a better look around, and still, there was only darkness, the forest at night.

Then the vehicle came to a rest, and Joanna Dark disengaged the power, shutting down the car. She was out of the vehicle before Bricker could ask any further questions, and opening his door before he realized that he was becoming very afraid, indeed.

“This way, Herr Bricker,” Joanna Dark said, offering him her left hand.

Bricker hesitated.

“If you’ll get out of the vehicle, please.”

Bricker nodded, extended his right hand to take the young woman’s left. As he got to his feet, he saw her other hand, saw the gun in it, the metal barely shining in the darkness.

dataDyne is going to kill me, Georg Bricker thought.

And that was when his clothes tried to save his life.

She shot him four times, square in the chest, and the vest held, but Georg Bricker found he couldn’t breathe. The noise from his Z-sleeve was tremendous, and he realized, in the way that people do when they have more adrenaline than sense running through them, that anything the device might be recording certainly would be inaudible next to the incredible sound of the alarm.

He fell to his knees, and Joanna Dark lunged forward, seeking to take hold of him, and just as quickly she yanked her hand back, swearing in Chinese. Bricker thought that odd, but as he struggled to his feet to run for his life, he thought that Joanna Dark was even odder.

For a moment, the woman had stopped trying to attack him, wobbling almost unsteadily on her feet, the tetrodotoxin assaulting her central nervous system. As she struggled to stay upright, her form seemed to shimmer, the black leather losing its shine, her features blurring. The red hair turned suddenly to black, the tiny star-shaped tattoo on the side of the woman’s neck vanishing. Her shoulders grew out, broadening slightly, and at the same time, she seemed to lose height by as much as an inch, maybe two.

For a moment, just for a moment, the pretty young Caucasian woman who had just shot Georg Bricker seemed to turn into a pretty young Chinese woman.

Then Georg Bricker turned and ran for his life, crashing into woods, feeling the branches scratching at his exposed skin, snagging on his clothes. He slapped at the Z-sleeve on his forearm, trying to silent the awful screeching, and somehow managed to disable the audible alarm without poisoning himself in the process. Or maybe he had poisoned himself and his clothing had delivered the anti-toxin already, along with the extra adrenaline that was making his heart pound in his ears, that was making the back of his throat taste like tin.

He ran, stumbling, and fell hard, tumbling amidst wet pine needles and broken branches. He lurched back to his feet, paused for an instant with his hands against a tree for support, straining to listen. The noise of movement through the forest came to him, quick and light, and he knew the changing woman was now making her pursuit, that she’d shaken off whatever effects the poison had caused.

Bricker resumed running, trying to think. He had no idea where he was, and while his Z-sleeve would have been more than happy to tell him the quickest route to the nearest road, he didn’t dare take the time to ask it. And there was no light, there was nothing, now, as if the whole world was growing dimmer. His chest ached, burning with each breath, and he wondered how badly the shots had hurt him. Bulletproof the vest may have been, but the blunt trauma was still precisely that. The adrenaline in his veins dulled his pain reception, and he realized that he could well have been running with cracked ribs and not have realized it.

He fell again, this time harder than before, and when he tried to get to his feet again, he discovered that his right foot wouldn’t support him. When he went down the third time, the pain finally smashed through the epinephrine haze, and he screamed, his hands going reflexively to his foot. They came back slick with blood, and as he moved his eyes from his now gore-covered hands to look up, he saw the woman, a shadow in the darkness, unmoving, holding her gun pointed at his head.

“Who are you?” Bricker’s voice was hoarse.

The woman moved forward, and again he saw her as she had first appeared. Even in the darkness, the tinge of red hair was visible.

“I told you,” she said. “My name is Joanna Dark.”

“You’re not…you’re not dataDyne. Beck-Yama? But I saw DeVries.”

The woman seemed to think that was funny, and laughed at him.

“This is a hostile takeover,” she told him, readjusting her aim.

Bricker swallowed, trying to find what was left of his courage, thinking that if he had a little more time, he and his suit could still escape.

“Don’t I get any last words?” Georg Bricker asked.

“No,” the woman who called herself Joanna Dark told him. “We’re already taken care of that.”

Then she fired once, into his head, and followed it with a second round, and Georg Bricker died before he had time to even consider what the young woman had said.

Batman: No Man’s Land (2000)

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

Gotham City: a dark, twisted rejection of urban America. Overcrowded, overbuilt, and overshadowed by a continuous air of menace, this gothic nightmare is a breeding ground for the depraved, the indifferent, and the criminally insane. It’s also the object of one man’s obsession. Witness to the brutal murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne has dedicated his life to protecting this city, taking a form to inspire hope in the innocent…and fear in the guilty. He is the masked vigilante known as the Batman.

With Police Commissioner James Gordon, these two men have always fought to preserve law and order, side-by-side, struggling against a pervasive and relentless criminal element, working together to hold the line.

Until now.

Leveled by a massive earthquake that has left thousands dead and millions more wounded, Gotham City has been completely cut off from outside aid, transformed into a lawless battleground—a No Man’s Land—where the survivors are turning against each other, and where the city’s protectors are torn by a crisis that may consume them all.

Gotham now teeters at the edge of the abyss…and Batman is missing.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

BATMAN: NO MAN’S LAND
Pocket hardcover January 2000 ISBN 0671038281
Pocket paperback February 2001 ISBN 0671774557

Reviews

[A] savage millennial tale of urban implosion, divided loyalties and vigilante justice.
—Publishers Weekly

[A] storytelling masterpiece.
—Eonmagazine.com

[A] crisp, compelling, streetwise saga…
—Colorado Springs Gazette

Rucka gets it right.
—Nextplanetover.com

Batman: No Man’s Land Excerpt

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

It had taken them a week of work to get this far, digging out the site only at night, trying to stay safe from watching eyes. The two moved rubble and dug in silence, working mostly by feel. Each of them had more cuts and scrapes on their hands than they could count, and their fingers were numb from the effort and the cold of the air and the bite of the frozen snow.

The elder of the two, Paolo, was only twenty-one. His brother, Nicky, was nineteen. They had arrived in Gotham during the summer, immigrating illegally with their parents, and for a while it had looked good for all of them.

Then the earthquake came, and the tenement they were living in, the room they shared with two other families, was buried under twenty tons of concrete and iron from the building next door. The bodies were never recovered.

When No Man’s Land came, they stayed more out of fear than anything else. There had been soldiers on the bridges, on the roads, in the tunnels. Soldiers with guns, and both Paolo and Nicky had bad memories of soldiers with guns from their childhood in Colombia. As far as they were concerned, the soldiers meant one of two things: either they’d be shot, or they’d be deported. And being deported, that amounted to being shot.

So they stayed.

It had to be past midnight when Nicky heard his brother speak for the first time in hours, the hoarse whisper of excitement.

“I found it,” Paolo hissed in Spanish. “I found a way in, look.”

Nicky moved, checking where his brother pointed. It was a clear night, with half a moon, and in the light and past the shadows he could see where Paolo was indicating, a small opening, just big enough to wriggle through. And inside, the prize, a whole Jiffy Junior convenience store, a mother lode of treasure. Canned goods, batteries, flashlights, aspirin, soda, chips, bread, cigarettes, beer…

“You remember what we do,” Paolo whispered. “You go in, you grab what you can, we cover it up again, then take it to Penguin. He’ll take care of us. But we don’t tell him where we found it, we keep this our secret.”

“I remember,” Nicky snapped. “Of course I remember.”

“Keep your voice down.”

Nicky frowned, then took the flashlight his brother handed him. It was their prized possession, and they had only turned it on once since they’d found it, just to make certain the batteries worked. Now Nicky held it tightly in one hand as he got on his knees, and crawled through the tiny opening.

The stink inside was awful, and almost immediately he wanted to throw up. He told himself it was spoiled milk and meat, and not a body. He told himself it didn’t matter if it was a body, because the dead had it easy right now. He convinced himself to keep going, and managed to work his way out of the hole, dropping down inside the wreckage of the store. His feet splashed in something when he landed, he didn’t know what. It was entirely black inside but for the broken circle of moonlight leaking in from above.

Nicky turned on the flashlight, then turned it off again.

Jiffy Junior stores were open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They never closed. That was their motto, he knew that.

There had been customers inside when the earthquake hit.

From above, he heard his brother’s voice. “Nicky? Are you all right?”

Nicky tried to answer, caught another whiff of the air, and now there was no way to pretend it was anything but death. He felt his stomach buckle, swallowed hard, and managed the words.

“There are bodies,” he told his brother.

“Ignore them,” Paolo hissed. “Hurry, Nicky. We don’t want to be caught.”

“I know that. Shut up, I’m looking.”

Paolo shut up.

Nicky switched on the flashlight again, panning the beam carefully past the corpses, toward the fallen racks. He went for the batteries first, then for the cigarette lighters on the counter. He stuffed his pockets full of all the small things he could find, tiny tins of Imodium and aspirin, bandages, matches, whatever would fit, before switching to the backpack. He was smart about it, he thought, taking another backpack, rolling it up tightly and putting it in the first. Everyone needed a backpack in the No Man’s Land. Everyone had to carry all their possessions with them.

Then he went to the racks, quickly examining the cans, taking only those that were still sealed. Ravioli, soup, beans, tuna, all into the backpack. Two cans of Soder Cola, and another two cans of Brew Beer. He put more and more into the backpack until he was afraid the seams would split, and only then did he stop, zipping the pack as closed as he could make it, then moving back to the hole.

“I’m coming up,” he whispered, pushing the backpack into the opening with a shove. Then he turned back, letting the flashlight track one last time through the store. He switched it off, but the image stayed, the crushed bodies still lit in his mind. He whispered a quick prayer, then climbed back into the hole.

It wasn’t Paolo waiting for him when he came out. It was someone else, a big man, bald, and behind him were three others, one of them already going through the backpack, the other two holding Paolo by the arms. In the moonlight, Nicky could see where his brother was bleeding at the mouth, and it made his stomach shrink. Then the big man was pulling him to his feet, and showing him the pointed end of a machete.

“This is Demonz territory,” the man said. “You’ve just been caught stealing. I should cut off your hands, that’s what I should do.”

Nicky fumbled for the words in English and managed, “It’s not stealing.”

The big man laughed and shoved him back with his free hand. “Empty your pockets, let’s see what you brought us.”

Nicky glanced at his brother, saw Paolo’s jaw clenched tight, more rage than fear in his eyes. It crept into Nicky, as well.

“No. It’s ours.”

The man looked at Nicky, surprised at the defiance, then sighed, cutting at the air with the blade. “You just broke Demonz law, kid.”

Nicky realized that he was going to die, and started another prayer, hoping to finish it before the machete came back down. He watched the blade go up, the moonlight catching its edge, watched it start to fall.

Then the blade was gone and the man was holding his hand where it was now bleeding, and there had been a noise, something hard hitting something meat. Nicky heard another sound, turned his head toward it, and saw the shape, and his heart stopped for a second, because he knew what it was.

He had never seen it before, no one he knew had, and some people had even told him it was a lie, made up by the police, to scare the criminals.

But Nicky had always known it was true, and he knew what it was.

So did the big man.

The shape moved, passing Nicky faster than a shadow hit by light, and there was another sound, and the big man made a noise of pain, and fell backward.

The shape spoke.

“Leave them alone.”

And Nicky thought there was something wrong, then, because he’d never imagined the voice would sound like that.

The big man tried to get up, and the shape moved again, and Nicky heard the snap of another kick. The man made more noise, and then the shape had grabbed him by the shirt, was turning, and the big man was stumbling away while the others stood stunned. Even Paolo, Nicky thought, looked stunned.

But Paolo had never believed.

The shape kept moving, another rustle of shadow, and the gang member who had taken the backpack dropped it, spilling the contents all on the ground. The other Street Demonz, who had been holding Paolo, moved forward, trying to attack.

But you cannot attack a shadow, Nicky thought, and as if to prove him right, their blows landed in empty air. There was another rustle, and the shape was behind them, had one of the men by the arm, had hit him twice in the face, then was pitching him sharply away. Another of the gang members was passing Nicky, as if trying to flee, and the shape turned, and Nicky got a good look then, just for an instant, as the shape reached out as if its arm were impossibly long. The man pitched forward into the street with a cry, then stumbled back up and ran.

The shape pivoted, but the last of the Demonz had already fled.

“Batman,” Paolo said.

Nicky tried to find his voice, to say, no, no, not Batman, at least, not like we were told, but the shape was already crouching at the backpack, replacing the spilled cans, then offering the bag to Nicky. When the arms moved, the cape billowed back, and Nicky saw the shape in the shadow, the yellow outline of the bat on the black chest.

A woman’s chest.

Nicky took the bag, staring.

“Are you all right?”

He tried to speak, failed utterly, and simply nodded.

“TriCorner is held by the GCPD. You’ll be safer there,” the woman said, and then she raised an arm and there was a sound, and it was as if the Batwoman were flying away.

Gone. Just like that.

After a time, Nicky looked back to his brother, saw Paolo was still staring up at the sky, where the woman had disappeared. Then Paolo lowered his eyes, and Nicky saw the understanding there, the awe.

Without another word, the boys began heading south, toward TriCorner.

It began to snow.