The Arc of the Gold Bug

Time to Read:71min
Views:296 (All Time)
Added Date:9/12/2022
Tags: Batgirl

(I)

Batgirl pulled desperately at her bonds, knowing full well that escape was impossible. Heavy nylon straps secured her wrists, elbows, and knees. Overhead, a fragmentation grenade hung from the ceiling, secured to a light fixture by electrical wire. A second thin wire ran from the pin of the grenade to the collar around Batgirl's throat. The wires were cinched so tight that she was forced to stand on her tiptoes to keep from pulling the pin from the grenade. Bound as she was, her balance was precarious and she frequently had to shift on her aching feet to remain upright. A "Mi Cong ballet," her captors had called it.

Batgirl stood in the midst of a high-security vault, stacked floor-to-ceiling with gold bars. The only portion of the vault not lined with gold was the massive door, now locked airtight with its electronic combination completely scrambled. The walls surrounding the young vigilante glowed red from the light of a flare which burned in one corner. Other than shedding eerie light on her final moments, Batgirl knew the flare served a second, more sinister purpose: to quickly consume all of the oxygen in the vault. As the light from the flare grew ever dimmer, so too did the life of the Dark Angel of Gotham City.

And already oxygen deprivation was beginning to take its toll. Batgirl breathed as deeply and quickly as the deadly bondage would allow, but each breath drew less and less oxygen into her body. Her chest heaved beneath her skin-tight costume as every fiber of her 5 foot 7 inch frame screamed for air. Her lovely face was drenched in sweat and, behind the vinyl mask, her large green eyes were glazed and distant. The lack of oxygen made it impossible to focus and Batgirl found her mind drifting back over the events of that fateful evening which led her to this deathtrap.


Just hours before, Barbara Gordon was driving slowly through the blinding snow of Gotham City's first winter storm of the year. The city was eerily desolate; not even snow plows braved the roads. The Darkwar, waged by the Brotherhood of Night and financed by billionaire madman Simon LaMonde had shut down most city services. Thanks to Batgirl, LaMonde was now in jail but the Brotherhood, his creation, was still very much alive. No, no snow plows tonight. Only Brothers -- and vigilantes -- would be out on a night like this.

As she navigated the treacherous streets, Barbara reviewed the facts of her current case. With LaMonde in jail, Ramón "Commander" Careeko, the leader of the paramilitary sect known as the 10th Street Syndicate, had taken control of all Brotherhood fragments between Fulbrite Street and the Gotham East River. Apparently, the cost of this alliance was more than the Syndicate could afford because Barbara learned that Careeko had masterminded a break-in at the headquarters of Magnacorp to help settle his debts. Magnacorp was primarily a bulk metals distributor but also dealt in precious metals, primarily gold. The headquarters building itself was outside of Syndicate territory, but the potential take was big enough that Careeko himself would likely be in on the heist...

Time blurred and she was standing on the roof of a tall apartment building wearing a long trench coat and carrying a heavy metal suitcase. Snow swirled around her as she surveyed Magnacorp headquarters, 300 meters away. Barbara opened the case and withdrew what looked like a small rocket launcher. She dropped to one knee and took careful aim through the telescopic site. A gentle squeeze of the trigger sent the smokeless projectile on its way, dragging a thin high tension line behind it. Barbara watched through the scope as the grapple struck a cement window ledge, exactly where the scope indicated.

"Nice craftsmanship, Bruce," Barbara muttered as she tied the other end of the line off to a metal fixture on the roof. When Barbara had agreed to serve as Batman's "guardian angel" he had given her access to much of his crime fighting gear. Though Barbara thought Bruce often placed too much faith in gadgets, she had to admit that his obsession with quality was reassuring when nothing else stood between her and a 200 foot drop to the pavement.

Once the line was secured, Barbara shed her coat and prepared for the perilous slide to Magnacorp. Beneath the topcoat she wore a sleek midnight blue costume which covered her like a second skin. Her long-sleeve turtle neck body suit and tights were made of a revolutionary self-healing material called "slitex." The glossy, stretchy material closely followed the contours of her body and allowed Batgirl complete freedom of movement. Unlike her original uniform, which was black and featureless, the slitex body suit was adorned with the bright yellow symbol of a bat across her chest. She also wore long gloves and knee-high boots made of a material similar to slitex, but heavier and water-tight. A sturdy utility belt lined with compartments rode low on her hips and a thigh-length cape of shimmery blue fluttered softly behind her in the winter air.

The costume had actually been a "gift" from the treacherous Lady Tarachis, who wanted Barbara dressed in character before being turned over to the demon-machine Bael. Despite its sinister origins Barbara had to admit the style, fit, and function of the new outfit was in every way superior to her original design. Since Barbara had destroyed all her original costumes after Batman's disappearance, it was fortunate that her first would-be assassin was also a leading fashion designer.

Barbara took a moment to put on her mask. Lady Tarachis had replaced the bulky cowl from her original costume with a light, detachable mask that could be easily stowed in her utility belt when she didn't want to be identified as the Dark Angel of Gotham City. The mask covered the upper portion of her face from her hairline to the bridge of her nose with wet-looking blue vinyl. Sly eye holes framed her calm green eyes, and thin spikes of hardened vinyl jutted up from the top of the mask and just peeked above her red forelocks. In truth, almost anyone that knew Barbara Gordon would instantly recognize her behind the mask, but these days who had she to fool?

Her transformation complete, Batgirl pulled a small hand wheel from the metal case and attached it to the line. She seized the hand car with both hands and launched herself into space, hurling towards Magnacorp at breakneck speed...

Batgirl's mind blurred into fast-forward again and she was inside Magnacorp, descending a long flight of stairs, deep into the sub-basement. In Barbara's research, she learned that Magnacorp stored a fortune in gold bouillon on the premises. Apparently, gold had been an obsession of Magnacorp's founder, Anson Greely. Greely had stepped down years ago as chairman, and had passed away only recently. As a service to him, Magnacorp maintained his old vault to protect his precious gold. So where would a rich eccentric want to store the object of his obsession?

"Directly beneath the executive suites," Batgirl whispered in satisfaction. "And it looks like I'm just in time for the party."

Just ahead the faded paint, water-stained concrete, and rusting pipes gave way to a shining steel security door. An access panel in the wall to one side of the door had been removed and several by-pass wires had been soldered in place. Someone had hot-wired the door, and very recently. As she drew near, she could hear male voices speaking excitedly in technical jargon. It could only be the secret language of computer hackers. Wary now, Batgirl edged closer and peeked around the corner.

The open security door led to a small antechamber, commanded by a heavy vault door, now open. Opposite the vault door was an old-fashioned steel-frame elevator which led, presumably, to the executive suites. The room was occupied by seven men: four thugs, two techs, and Careeko. Careeko and his men were all heavily armed with machine pistols at the ready, but their attention was on the two techs who still knelt before an array of sophisticated computer equipment. The computers were interfaced to an electronic access panel near the vault door. The men seemed flushed with victory, as the safe finally yielded to their high-tech wizardry.

<Seven against one, Batgirl thought to herself as the adrenaline began to flow. <Not good odds. I'll need a little cover.

Batgirl pulled a handful of pellets from her belt and tested their heft. With practiced grace she threw the pellets into the room, then charged in immediately behind. The small room was suddenly engulfed in greenish stun gas, and before any of the men could react Batgirl was upon them. As the gas took its toll, Batgirl pressed her advantage to disarm them and zip strip their wrists behind their backs. But just as she finished with the fifth man she heard the tell-tale sounds of movement. She ducked low just as a heavy machete whipped over her head.

"Very clever with the stun gas, Batbitch," Careeko loomed out of the dissipating green mist in a combat stance. "Almost even worked on me."

"Give it up Careeko!" Batgirl leapt to her feet. "I'm taking you in, with or without your cooperation!"

"I would normally have just shot you," Careeko smiled evily. "But that'd be bad business. They want you alive."

At six-four with rippling muscles, Careeko towered over his slender, shapely opponent. Still, Batgirl circled with her opponent casually, unconcerned with the apparent mismatch. "Whose they?"

"You'll find out soon enough!" Careeko shot forward like lightening and lashed out at Batgirl with the long blade. Batgirl slipped back to avoid the machete then nimbly leapt up, grabbed one of the overhead pipes and blasted Careeko with both feet. Careeko staggered backward then lunged again. Batgirl turned and let Careeko's arm slip neatly between her elbow and body, then clamped down. Grabbing his fingers, she snapped his wrist back and the knife went flying. Then her elbow shot back and caught him square under the chin. Careeko dropped to his knees.

Working her way around him, Batgirl glanced into the vault and smiled sweetly. "What I don't understand is how you ever hoped to get all this gold out of Magnacorp."

"Gold? Hahhh!" Hatred seethed in Careeko's eyes as he unleashed a flurry of punches at the red-headed vigilante. Batgirl fully avoided most of them, and deflected the rest. But Careeko used the onslaught as an opportunity to close with Batgirl and seize her arm. Jerking her suddenly into him, he enfolded the Dark Angel in a smothering bear hug, lifting the much smaller woman off the ground.

"Who needs a knife," Careeko hissed into Batgirl's ear, "when I could just squeeze the life out of you with my bare hands. Much more intimate."

Batgirl barred her teeth as she pushed with all her might to break the crime lord's vice-like grip.

"Is this...any...way...to treat a lady?" Batgirl flung her head backwards, striking Careeko square in the nose. He relaxed his hands and Batgirl pressed the advantage to break his grip. Rather than jump free, however, she lunged back into the mobster with a viscous blow to the throat. Careeko landed heavy, clutching at this wind pipe.

"Ohh, you're going to live," Batgirl knelt over him to check his breathing. "Live for a long time in Gotham Penitentiary, Careeko. But in the mean time, maybe we could talk. Unless, of course, you'd like to go another couple of rounds?" Careeko's eyes were crazy as he wheezed for air. He was trying to say something but couldn't muster the wind to form the words. He was pointing to his chest, as if to show her something. Thinking it could be some kind of trick Batgirl carefully patted his chest and felt a round, flat piece of metal beneath Careeko's shirt. It felt like military dog tags.

"I hope this isn't your father's purple heart or some other hard luck story. I'm not interested in your troubled childhood."

She felt for the chain around Careeko's neck and pulled the medal out. But it wasn't a medal, it was a thin blue crystal, with fine silver carvings around its perimeter. Batgirl's heart lurched and she tried to look away, but it was too late. Blue light mmediately seized her attention and prevented her from looking away. She knew she was in grave danger, but the blue light held her transfixed, powerless. Careeko's crushing blow came quickly, lifting her cleanly off her feet and hurling her across the room. Her last conscious thought as she slid across the floor, chilled her to the bone: Careeko wore the Talisman of Pandora.


When Batgirl regained consciousness, she found herself Careeko's prisoner. Her arms had been pulled behind her back and secured with nylon straps. A strap also held her knees tightly together and a collar had been wrapped snugly around her throat. She was laying in the center of the vault, presided over by Careeko. His face was a mask of anger and frustration. When he saw that she was awake he just stared at her, as if he wanted to lash out but was invisibly restrained.

"That was a Talisman," Batgirl said at last. "You work for Pandora?" Batgirl's mind raced. If she had any idea meta humans were involved she would have been infinitely more careful in taking on Careeko.

"Not right now I don't. This is personal, between you and me."

"But Pandora knows I'm here," Batgirl sensed the tension between Careeko and his mistress. "Anyone who looks into a Talisman looks upon Pandora."

"I don't care what Pandora knows!" Careeko bellowed. "She can't save you now. No one can."

Save her? Batgirl had no idea what Careeko was talking about. The battle between Pandora and Batman was legendary. Why would Pandora want to spare Batgirl? But she had to bargain for her life.

"So Pandora wants me alive, doesn't she."

"Shut up! No one ever beats me! Do you understand? Nobody!" The sound of his own fierce voice seemed to strengthen his resolve. "String her up!"

The two guards grabbed their captive by the shoulders and lifted her roughly. The vault was about 8 feet across and 15 feet deep. The walls were lined floor-to-ceiling with display cases full of gold bouillon. Immediately inside the door was a gate made of steel bars. Though the outer lock had been stealthily cracked, the inner door had been crudely ripped from its hinges. Fluorescent lights were set into the ceiling behind metal grillwork.

"So how will you die, Batgirl? Fast like a bullet to the head, or slow like boiling in oil? I leave the choice to you." He pulled a fragmentation grenade from his belt and held it up so Batgirl could see. Then Careeko produced two lengths of long black wire. One wire he wrapped around the metal hoop used to secure the grenade to his belt. The other, he twisted around the pin. The wire fastened to the pin, he wrapped around a metal hoop on Batgirl's collar.

"What are you doing?" Batgirl asked.

"Its called a Mi Cong ballet, Batgirl," Careeko smiled, running the wire attached to the base of the grenade through the grill covering the overhead lights, leaving the grenade hanging in mid air. Very carefully he began pulling up the slack, until the grenade hung tautly between the light fixture and Batgirl's collar. Careeko continued to slowly tighten the wire. "Up on your toes, little ballerina."

Batgirl raised stubbornly up on her toes, and Careeko tied off the wire. Since the beautiful crime fighter was bound at the knees, wrists and elbows, maintaining her balance was difficult. To avoid falling over, she had to frequently reposition her feet. Careeko ran his hands down Batgirl's firm but very feminine body. He came to rest on her full breasts, which were pushed painfully forward by the tight bondage.

"Its unfortunate that I never mix business and pleasure, " he kneaded Batgirl's breasts through her skin-tight body suit. "But here's a little something to keep you warm."

With a grin Careeko lit a large, pinkish flare and dropped it just inside the vault. He then began backing towards the door. "Just 18 inches of stainless steel between you and your next breath of fresh air, Batgirl."

The heavy door began sliding shut, and Batgirl pulled desperately at her bonds. "Careeko, don't do this! Please!"

"No one humiliates me, Batgirl. Nobody. Too bad I can't be here personally, but I'll enjoy the ballet on closed circuit TV." He motioned up to a TV camera in one corner of the vault. "So try not to do anything -- compromising."

Batgirl pulled at her bonds as the door inched closed. Careeko drank in the sight of the bound heroine, clearly enjoying her struggles. But his view was quickly blocked by the heavy door and seconds later, the vault ground shut with a heavy clang that sent ice water coursing through Batgirl's veins. The flourescent lights went dark and Batgirl's tomb was lit only by the flare. Her final dance had begun...


Batgirl snapped back to the present, almost disappointed to find that she was still on her feet. Her arches blazed like fire within her boots as she continued shuffling on her toes, fighting to maintain balance. She pulled at the straps again with all the strength her numbed arms could produce, even risking a forceful tug on the line around her throat. At any moment she expected to hear the 'snick' as the pin pulled free. The mental and physical torture was exquisite, just as Careeko had surely intended.

The rush of the blood through Batgirl's own ears was now almost deafening. Her own racing heart sounded like thunder. The walls themselves seemed to pulsate, as if the light in the stifling vault were wavering. The floor began to sway slowly, and she seemed to be floating. Batgirl's green eyes lost focus again and she slipped away again, this time into delirium.

...Pandora wants me alive... She heard herself saying to Careeko.

Why? Of what use would Barbara have been to a being like Pandora.

Even she can't save you now. No one can.

Pandora was running the Brotherhood now. For some reason she wanted Batgirl. Perhaps she wanted revenge for Tightrope's death. Or perhaps she was trying to complete some work that the arch-fiend had started? Tightrope appeared to consider Batgirl a significant threat, but Batgirl had always assumed that it was simply because of what she represented: the last of Gotham's pre-Darkwar vigilantes. Maybe there was something more.

*They know you've been training at the Shaolin temple,* a voice, not hers, replied in her head. *They know your secret, and mean to use it to their advantage. Use you or destroy you.*

What secret? she asked of the voice, startled by the apparent telepathic intrusion.

Her small flinch of surprise was too much. The floor suddenly pitched up, and Batgirl's rubbery legs slipped out from underneath her. The cord around her neck went briefly taut.

Snick.

The pin dropped to the floor near Batgirl where she lay on her back beneath the grenade. The Dark Angel's oxygen-starved mind was pulled back to reality a final time as she grimly counted down the seconds until the swaying grenade went off. She closed her eyes and stopped her desperate breathing, trying to still herself for the end.

After long seconds had passed, Batgirl opened her eyes. The grenade hung in mid-air just above her. Inert.

The fuse! she suddenly realized, renewing her panting despite its negligible effect. The magnesium fuse needs oxygen to ignite!

Unsure if her body would respond, Batgirl urged her legs to propel her towards the twisted frame of the inner door. Mercifully, her legs responded, inching her towards the line of jagged bars. Her head spun even from this minimal exertion, but tortuously she slipped across the steel floor and turned her back to the bars. Awkwardly she worked her ropes against the sharp metal. The process seemed to require an eternity, but finally her wrists and elbows parted. Summoning the last of her strength, she managed to remove a rubber mask from its compartment in her utility belt. Her arms shook from the effort, but she slowly lifted the mask to her mouth.

The flow of pure oxygen was like the breath of God pouring into her half-dead body. Batgirl lay for a full minute breathing deeply as the life flowed back into her limbs. Her thoughts during that minute, however, were far from triumphant. By surviving the grenade she had only gained herself a few more minutes. Unless she could escape from the vault she as dead.

"Four minutes," she reminded herself, strapping the lightweight mask to her face to free her hands. "Then the oxygen is gone. Not much time to bore through 18 inches of steel."

The Dark Angel rolled up onto all fours and surveyed the small vault. The door took up one entire wall. The other three were all made of clear Plexiglas protecting floor-to-ceiling stacks of gold bars. But one section of the vault was different. The Plexiglas case had been removed and replaced with what seemed to be a locker made of stainless steel. It had a key lock that had been forced open and the locker was partially ajar.

"Whatever Pandora wanted," Batgirl spoke softly to herself, "Must have been stored in that locker." Batgirl stepped over the dimly sputtering flare and opened the locker door.

The locker was a sort of a time capsule, filled with relics from the life of Anson Greely, Magnacorp's founder. It contained newspaper clippings, clothing, files, ore samples, blueprints, and even a bottle of his favorite whisky. Nothing, however, that could help her get out of a high security safe in the next two minutes. One item, however, did catch the beautiful vigilante's eye: a folder which contained an empty optical data disk sleeve on its cover. She snapped the file open and leafed through its contents.

"Medical file, " Batgirl whispered, rapidly assimilating the information before her. "Greely was cryogenically frozen before his cancer entered the final stages. Apparently, the procedure went well. He's not dead." Her attention was drawn to the flare, which sputtered a final time then went out. "But I will be, if I can't find a way out of here."

Inwardly Batgirl knew it was hopeless, but still she groped for any slim chance of survival. The grenade! Batgirl inspected it closely and a desperate plan began to formulate in her mind.

If she could only attach the grenade to the door it might just blow away the inner skin, so she could reach the lock mechanism. She might be able to open the door from the inside. She'd have to save the last oxygen in the mask to fuse the grenade, and build a wall of gold bars to hide behind, to avoid shrapnel. Of course, it would be a long-shot, but...

The Dark Angel worked out the details of the ludicrous plan that would at least occupy her until the oxygen ran out. Then she noticed something. The gold bars just to her right, didn't rest on the floor. For a span of about a meter, the bars rested on a heavy steel shelf supported by vertical steel supports. Slowly it dawned on her, it must be a door!

Not daring to hope, Batgirl flung open the Plexiglas covering the wall of gold bouillon. Very delicately, she ran her gloved hands over the surface of the bars, and along the shelving infrastructure supporting them. Her hand came to rest on a bar which wiggled slightly. She pressed the bar in and the door easily swung open. Lights promptly came on in the room beyond.

Batgirl stepped in, awestruck. The outer vault was only a ruse, like antechambers in Egyptian tombs. Greely's true treasures were here. The room resembled an immaculately decorated study or trophy room, but every piece of artwork was laden with gold and gems. The walls were lined with medieval pictures heavy with gold filigree and tapestries woven with gold thread. Many pieces Batgirl recognized as having been stolen decades ago.

Several long glass cases ran the length of the room, full of jewelry, ornamental weapons, and holy relics. A pedestal in each corner bore a statue, plated with thin gold sheets and decorated with precious stones. Many of these items too Batgirl recognized as being the subject of past infamous robberies. Dominating the room was a large table arrayed with precision instruments for weighing precious metals and for fashioning gold work. The ceiling was lined with black pipes which hissed as air flowed into the room.

"The Gold Bug!" Batgirl wondered, slipping off her mask. "Anson Greely was the Gold Bug!" The Gold Bug had been a notorious thief from Barbara's youth, even before the days of the Batman. The crimes of Gold Bug had never been solved, very few could be positively linked to the same person. Apparently, Greely used Magnacorp to cover all his world-wide crimes and stored the booty in Magnacorp's vault. Unlike most criminals, who were captured while trying to turn their loot into fast cash, Greely hoarded his booty for his own private collection.

Batgirl giggled as she leapt into the room and ran her hands along the trophy cases. If Greely could get in here to fondle his loot, then he also had to have a way out! Batgirl felt along the cases, the display pedestals and the work table until she found a trip mechanism. With a push of the button, she could hear the bolts securing the vault door withdraw. Exhilarated, she sprang to the door and laid into it with all her weight. It swung ponderously open. Batgirl was free!


(II)

After her ordeal in the vault, Barbara wanted nothing more than to sleep for 12 hours. But she had stumbled onto something much bigger than she had anticipated, and with Pandora at large she had no time to lose. The police were certainly no match for the White Witch of Gotham City. Secretly, Barbara wondered if she was herself, and wished for the thousandth time that she could pick up the phone and dial the secret number to the Bat Cave.

Barbara stood unmoving under the shower nozzle, thinking of Bruce and wondering where he was now. She felt a new sense of urgency to return to the Shaolin Temple in Thailand, where she had been training for the three years since Batman's disappearance. Tightrope had whispered to her -- just before dropping her chained into the center of Gotham harbor -- that only at the Temple of the Sky could she hope to save Batman from his fate. She narrowly escaped Tightrope's watery deathtrap, and before finally defeating the Master Showman of Crime at his Circus of Destiny, Barbara had asked him if Batman were truly alive. Tightrope just laughed and said that the Temple would perish long before she could answer that question. Then he was gone, consumed in flames.

Tightrope's words gave her a slim hope that Bruce could still be alive, and if so she would find him. She had trained in the shadow of the Temple ever since, hoping to earn admittance as one of its Protectors. She would be there even now if it weren't for the Darkwar waged by the Brotherhood. True, the words of a madman were small solace, but the alternative was no hope and all.

She had to get back to the Temple, but first she had to rid Gotham of the Brotherhood, and that meant defeating Pandora. Stepping out of the shower and into a silk dressing robe, Barbara made herself a cup of tea before sitting down to examine the material she had taken from the Magnacorp time capsule. Fortunately, Careeko had fled the scene rather than watching Batgirl's entire ordeal so she had the opportunity to photograph most of the documents in Greely's time capsule before leaving. As Barbara paged through the documents she spoke dictation into a small microphone plugged into her computer. Her words were automatically transcribed on the computer screen.

"New file. Title: Trail of the Gold Bug. Item. Perps: Ramone "Commander" Careeko, paramilitary mercenary, affiliated with the Brotherhood of Night and Pandora, the White Witch of Gotham City. Item. Current objectives: unknown. Item. Case history: Led to Careeko on a tip from Jarish Grimes, a strong arm from Zulu Mob, a Brotherhood-affiliated street gang. Grimes reported that Careeko controlled the entire textile district from Fulbrite Street to the Gotham East river, but was cash poor. Understood that Careeko was personally leading a B&E against Magnacorp to steal large gold reserve held in a private basement vault. Would only exchange additional information for immunity from prosecution. Forget that. End paragraph.

"Investigated Magnacorp vault, and interrupted crime in progress. Crime involved five armed men, Careeko himself, plus two safe crackers, probably mercenary and non-aligned with Careeko. Subsequently stunned with a Talisman of Pandora, which allowed all perps to escape. They took none of the gold. Only missing item was a data crystal regarding the current medical condition of Anson Greely, founder of Magnacorp. Grimes' info was in error: money was not the motive for the crime. End paragraph.

"In a related matter, discovered a secret room in the Magnacorp safe filled with golden objects and artifacts. Recognized several as being stolen in well-documented robberies over the last 20 years. Evidence suggests that Greely may have been the international burglar known in the media as the Gold Bug. End Paragraph."

Barbara was silent, sipping her tea and reading through the file. Every page was sealed into her nearly picture perfect memory.

"Item: Discovered a file associated with the missing data crystal. The file documents extensive medical procedure performed on Greely prior to word of his death being published in the media. Greely was cryogenically frozen using a highly experimental procedure involving drugs distilled from arctic sea life and a progressive freezing process.

"Item: A company called Dipole Technologies is frequently mentioned in relation to this procedure. Search on Dipole Technology." A window popped up with a company synopsis on Dipole. It was apparently a legitimate company, performing cryogenic and biomedical research. Their largest research facility was in Gotham City, but no mention was made of experiments in suspended animation.

"Pandora," Barbara whispered to herself. "What do you want with a dead, freeze-dried has-been cat burglar?"

In the microphone: "Item: Frequent references are made to the data crystal in the file. The crystal apparently contains the entire lattice mapping of Greely's central nervous system, as well as the codes necessary to access Greely's storage facility. Facility was a special unit constructed for Greely by Dipole ... in the basement of his Gotham Heights mansion. Close file."

Barbara sat back again, building up her courage. "Damn. They'll be there tonight."

A windowless room at the back of her apartment served as Barbara's modest equivalent to the Batcave. She pulled her costume from the black metal wardrobe cabinet and suited up as Batgirl. The transformation was both mental as well as physical: the deep-thinking, meticulous Barbara Gordon was slowly replaced by the deadly, quick-thinking Dark Angel of Gotham City. The familiar mixed feelings of trepidation and confidence battled within her as slipped the utility belt around her waist and surveyed her dark, lithe form in the mirror.

With no time to lose and almost impassable streets, Batgirl decided to take her cycle, a 700 CC Japanese model with spiked ice racing tires. Shooting through the dark, snowy streets of Gotham, Batgirl arrived at the Greely mansion in less than 20 minutes. Slipping out of her biking leathers and leaving her motorcycle in a tree line, she made her way carefully to the seven foot wrought iron fence that surrounded the estate.

Fortunately, one of the sets of blue prints left in the time capsule was a set of plans to the house. She knew precisely the location of each surveillance camera and guard post. Several heavy weapon positions had been erected to protect the house during the Darkwar, but these covered only major avenues of approach. It was easy for a lone intruder to drift up to the house, lost among the shadows.

Batgirl noticed a new outbuilding which contained storage tanks for cryogenic fluids. Trenches had been dug to lay feeder pipes and the raised earth left visible trails despite the mounting snow. They led directly to one corner of the basement of the main house. Grimy windows sunk in rusted, leaf-filled window wells gave her easy access. Once in the house, she followed the feeder pipes right to the lab.

The laboratory area itself was protected by a heavy door which was slightly ajar. She could hear voices coming from behind the door, and Batgirl was struck with a sense of deja vu. One of the voices she positively identified as Careeko's, so she knew exactly who to take out first. Pulling a number of smoke pellets and bolas from her belt, the Dark Angel leapt into the room.

To her surprise, the room was empty and nothing was apparently disturbed. Control panels blinked serenely encircling three Plexiglas tubes raised up on a metal diaz. Two were clean and empty, but the third was filled with fluid and crusted with frost. Batgirl could dimly make out the outline of a body floating in the center of the tube. The ceiling was lowered just above the tubes and there was a slight rushing noise as fluids circulated through the tank. A LED display on the base of the tube read 2 degrees Kelvin. In the far corner of the lab was a medical treatment facility, dense with advanced equipment centered on a medical gurney.

This time it was Careeko who had the jump on Batgirl. She couldn't understand it: one moment she was standing in an empty room, and the next moment she stood in the midst of four armed men. Her reaction was almost instantaneous, dropping a flurry of smoke grenades and flinging the weighted bola lines with precision aim. Even with complete surprise, the two men directly in front of her found themselves swept off their feet and disarmed.

But the men to either side of her were almost as fast as Batgirl herself. They lowered cannon-like devices on the Caped Crusader and fired. She was struck simultaneously by two expanding masses of black cables. The cables were weighted at each end and, upon striking the Dark Angel, wrapped themselves around her with great force. Batgirl dropped to her knees, bound and stunned from the impact.

She was only vaguely aware of the hands upon her. Her cape was removed while her wrists and ankles were bound with rope. Her captors removed all of the compartments from her utility belt, leaving only the golden mesh of the belt itself and the bat-shaped buckle. As Batgirl's senses returned, she found herself tightly bound and on her knees at the feet of Pandora.

Pandora was tall and menacing, with black hair, milky white skin, and cold blue eyes. She was clothed in long white robes with a golden chain around her waist. She wore a huge amulet of azure blue around her neck. When she spoke, her voice seemed to fill the room with hypnotic waves. The power of her voice was legendary.

"Batgirl, you have no idea how I glad I am to see that you're alive. Its very fortunate for Commander Careeko that you managed to escape the vault," she smiled. "Of course, I expected nothing less."

Batgirl felt immediately like giving in to Pandora's enchanting voice, but she knew that it meant eternal slavery. Instead, she was defiant. "Quite an illusion you pulled to protect this room, Pandora."

"Child's play, really, dear Batgirl. As with many facets of life, the true art is using peoples' own minds against them. You're very visual, Batgirl. I just showed you what you expected to see."

"You mean this entire thing was a set up?"

"Oh, don't flatter yourself, my dear. But your intrusion does present me with a timely opportunity."

"So what do you want with Greely?" Now that the illusion had fully dissolved, Batgirl could see that Greely's body was not in the tube, but was actually on the gurney. Three technicians monitored him closely while six guards monitored the beautiful vigilante.

"Nothing you need concern yourself with. Now, as for the plans I have for you, you may be very concerned."

Batgirl was pulled to her feet. Pandora drew close and eyed her captive up and down.

"I had planned to break you on my Wheel of Decision, Batgirl. But the Greely Foundation has presented me with a more efficient alternative."

"Spare me your compassion, Pandora. I'm not one of your adoring worshipers."

"But you will be, Batgirl. My servant and plaything." Pandora gently pulled back Batgirl's thick red hair and fastened it behind her head with a large jeweled hairpiece. "After, of course, I completely erase your mind. Put her in the tube."

Pandora gestured and her thugs led Batgirl towards one of the empty tubes at the center of the room. The tube slid upward into the ceiling and Batgirl was positioned struggling beneath it. Careeko's men held their captive firm as the tube was again lowered, sealing the Dark Angel inside.

"This is a fascinating procedure, Batgirl," Pandora said. "You might think the freezing process would be quick, virtually instantaneous. But that's too traumatic. The water in your cells expands as it freezes and ruptures the cell walls. Dipole's new procedure is slow and insidious. Your bodily processes grow ever more sluggish, until you just stop. Fully conscious but literally frozen in time."

"You'll never break me, Pandora," Batgirl was defiant even from within the tube.

"I'm afraid the procedure plays havoc with the nervous system, Batgirl. The synapses in your brain and nervous system will be virtually erased. Which is fortunate since, without sedation the freezing process is unimaginably painful. I'm certain that the next hour of your life is best forgotten."

Batgirl probed her crystal prison, seeking a means of escape. She pulled at her bonds, but the ropes held tight around her ankles and wrists. The floor and ceiling were both black metal grillwork, lined with holes. No escape there. Her ears were popping as pressure built up in the tube. She could do nothing to prevent Pandora from subjecting her to the ghastly procedure. Batgirl locked eyes again with Pandora.

"To restore the patient after recessitation, the original lattice structure must be recorded and reloaded into the brain and nervous system. Without this information, I'm afraid you'll be as helpless and malleable as a newborn babe. Batgirl will be no more and I will recreate you as I see fit."

"I'll never give in to you, Pandora," Batgirl hissed. "You had better kill me now, or I'll eventually destroy you."

"Perhaps. But dangerous toys are always the most desirable, don't you think? Please begin the procedure."

The Dark Angel's muscles stood out beneath the thin slitex costume as fluid started slowly filling the tube from the bottom. It was icy blue and thick like syrup, about the same temperature as cold tap water. Batgirl braced her back against the wall of the tube and kicked outward with her bound feet. Each kick caused the fluid to fizzle like soda water and give off a white mist, but had no other effect. Batgirl watched grimly as the water level slowly topped her boots. The blue gel felt slimy against her calves and was already getting colder.

"What do you want with Greely?" Batgirl asked, courageously fighting down her mounting fear.

"Does this constitute your last request? Very well, its the least I could do for all the pleasure you soon will bring me. You are probably aware that Greely was a thief and a liar. Quite accomplished at both, so he grew very rich. But he also had a more philosophical side, a side that longed to travel to the stars. Getting uncomfortable Batgirl?"

Batgirl WAS getting uncomfortable. The fluid was now up to her knees and getting colder as it rose. Batgirl was shivering, and the white mist made her cough. Still, the Dark Angel kept her attention focused on Pandora.

"Soon it will be much worse, I assure you." Pandora pointed to the gurney where Anson Greely's body lay, partially frozen. "Greely has invested his considerable fortune in the Phoenix project, the first interstellar launch system. I plan to use Phoenix for a more practical purpose."

"But what good does .... ahh ..... Greely's body ...... ahhh ... do you?" Batgirl forced out the question despite the advance of the fluid, which had risen to her crotch. The solution was ice cold and getting colder as it rose, and Batgirl renewed her struggles against the tight bondage.

"Just think of Greely as my Trojan horse. But enough business, Batgirl," Pandora walked right up to the glass resting her fingers on the frigid surface. "It seems you have other things on your mind."

"Oh God, " The Dark Angel whispered shivering. "So cold!"

Batgirl was the center of attention as frozen fingers crept slowing up the bat symbol on her chest. Her slitex costume provided no protection against the steadily dropping temperature of the thick solution and already hypothermia was setting in. Batgirl's eyes were getting heavy and her struggles less strenuous. Pandora and her evil entourage watched gleefully as the life was quickly drawn from their beautiful arch enemy.

Batgirl just managed to raise up on her tiptoes as the fluid crested her chin. This pointless act of self-preservation struck Pandora as very funny. She threw her head back and laughed. "A fighter to the very end! I find that petty resistance makes torture all the more rewarding!"


(III)

Pandora and her henchman watched the progression of the frigid blue solution up the helpless heroine's shapely body. As the water level reached Batgirl's chin, the Dark Angel raised on her tiptoes, continuing to tug at the straps. Soon, however, the battle was lost and the young crime fighter was submerged. Though she was now suspended within the tank of fluid, Batgirl still locked gazes with Pandora. Undefeated.

Batgirl continued to work at the ropes hoping the fluid would help lubricate her arms. The cold, however, had quite the opposite effect. As the temperature dropped, the ropes contracted, biting deeply into her wrists and ankles. Pandora rubbed her hands together gleefully.

"Yes, that's it Batgirl, fight for your life! I've looked forward to this for a long time."

Her struggles grew more desperate as the numbing fluid and lack of oxygen took their toll. Long minutes passed and Batgirl held her breath, refusing to breath in the clear blue gel. Soon the guards began to murmur: who could possibly hold their breath so long? But finally, on the verge of unconsciousness, Batgirl reflexively inhaled. She gasped and convulsed wildly as the fluid filled her lungs. But then she slowly relaxed and looked about the room wide eyed. To her amazement she found that she could actually breath the fluid!

"Yes, Batgirl. The fluid is full of oxygen in solution. Its completely breathable, in some ways more so than Gotham's polluted air. Soon, however, you'll wish it wasn't." Pandora walked slowly around the tube, admiring her prisoner. "The chemicals in the fluid will permeate your body, saving you from hypothermia but dooming you to slow, painful petrification."

True to Pandora's word, Batgirl's groggy head was rapidly clearing as she continued to breathe in the fluid. Her clearing consciousness, however, only served to amplify the deadly cold. A strong upward current tore through the chamber suspending Batgirl above the floor. Her nerves, which had been almost completely numbed, were rapidly reviving. They burned with raw fire that grew steadily worse. Pandora caught onto the growing look of understanding and horror on Batgirl's face.

"Yes its getting quite uncomfortable now, isn't it? I can see it in your gorgeous green eyes. But its just beginning I'm afraid. Feel free to scream when the pain gets to be too much."

Batgirl looked down at her body with wide eyes, as if unable to fathom her transformation. Just as Pandora had promised, her entire body burned as if she were being immolated inside and out. The pain was getting steadily worse, horribly so. Her attempts to free her arms were forgotten as she writhed in searing pain. Yet the more she moved, the greater the agony.

"You are feeling your own body's electrical signals, Batgirl, sizzling their way through your cooling nervous system. The more you move, the greater the pain. Don't bother trying to remain still, though. The torture will grow steadily worse regardless. Soon you will lose control of your lovely body altogether. The you will be mine."

The men stared rapt as their beautiful enemy endured the unimaginable agony of being slowly frozen into suspended animation. Suspended in the midst of the tank, Dark Angel's struggles were reduced to ineffective but sensuous thrusts of her body. With her hair pulled tightly behind her head, the audience was privy to the full spectrum of emotions suffered by one sentenced to living death. Behind the thin mask, Batgirl was a vision of agony and beauty.

For 30 minutes the brave vigilante writhed and twisted within the cylinder. Death would have been a welcome release from the insidious process which slowly consumed her. Batgirl's once defiant eyes now pleaded with the onlookers who stood only feet away watching as she was cruelly broken by the unrelenting cold. But Pandora knew no mercy, and Batgirl felt control inexorably slipping away.

After 40 minutes, her struggles had greatly abated. Not because the pain had subsided - quite the opposite -- but because her neurons had begun misfiring, translating her agonized struggles into uncoordinated convulsions. Her young body shook and quivered, still suspended in the blue fluid, which now read at 50 degrees Kelvin.

"Her lattice recording is complete, Pandora, and her vitals are at minimal levels. Neural erasure is imminent."

"Ohhhh, poor Batgirl," Pandora chided the Dark Angel, pressing her hands up against the glass. Batgirl made weak eye contact with her tormentor. "The pain must be unimaginable. But the birthing process always is isn't it? In only minutes, you will be no more. You will be a blank slate, ready to accept my training."

Even as Pandora spoke, a realization struck Batgirl. Though her mind blazed with sheets the pain and horror, a tiny rational voice observed that her hands were contracting as they froze. The rope hung loosely around her wrists. Seizing on this thought, the Caped Crusader fought down the pain and willed her arms to move. Slowly, agonizingly, they responded, slipping free of the bonds, which sunk to the bottom of the tank.

"Look Pandora, she's got her arms free!"

Pandora smiled. "Amazing! She's even more of a fighter than I had imagined. Perhaps I should reload some of her existing lattice after all."

Pandora didn't realize how right she was, but she was about to find out. She watched amused as Batgirl's hand slowly went to her belt buckle. The heroine locked eyes again with Pandora as she lifted the belt buckle free from her waist and depressed a button. A razor sharp projectile shot out from the buckle, shattering the cylinder, and sending cryogenic fluid shooting throughout the room.

Once the super chilled fluid came into contact with the warm air, it exploded into dense white vapor. Pandora screamed with inhuman rage as the room descended into chaos. Men shouted and weapons were drawn. Though the voices were jumbled, they all rang out with a common theme: get Batgirl.

It was all Batgirl could do to cling to her belt buckle for dear life. Her pain had only slightly subsided with the shattering of the cylindrical chamber. Fortunately, there was a small drag line attached to the projectile she had fired into Pandora. An instant after the White Witch was hit she took off like a wild animal, dragging the half-frozen heroine across the room.

When the belt buckle finally slipped from Batgirl's hands, she found herself just outside the door. Pandora was nowhere to be found and her goons still searched for her in the lab. For a moment she laid quietly on the floor, listening to Careeko's urgent shouts. Then, massing her strength, she kicked the lab door closed, sealing her enemies in. She tried to rise to her knees to search for Pandora, but the effort was too much. Batgirl slumped to the floor unconscious.


Barbara slowly opened her eyes, and found that she was in bed. Her costume had been removed and replaced with a hospital gown. An IV tube had been inserted in her arm. Dipole technicians were monitoring her condition at several computer terminals, and a woman stood near her bed, dressed in a conservative business suit.

"Welcome back to the land of the living. How do you feel?"

"Owwww," Batgirl groaned, "Like a truck just ran over me."

"The Dipole techs tell me you'll be fine. You're chock full of fish enzymes, though. It'll take some time to work through Batgirl."

"Please, call me Barbara."

"Very well, then you can call me Erica. Erica Lane, Gotham PD, Organized Crime Unit. Do you mind if we speak privately for a few moments?"

"Not at all. Just stop the room from spinning first."

Erica waved the Dipole techs out of the room and closed the door.

"Impressive bust, Barbara. You've outdone yourself."

"So you got them?"

"Yea. Careeko, one of his lieutenants, three guns, and two techs. They shot up lab and were just getting out when we showed up."

"All men?"

"Yes, why do you ask?"

"Its nothing," Barbara looked lost in thought.

"Nothing the police should get involved with, " Erica finished her sentence. "Yes, well, I've consulted with our legal team and it seems you complied with the terms of Article 51, so there won't be any repercussions from the incident." Article 51 was the unusual statute in the Gotham Civil Code which specifically addressed bounty hunters and allowed them legal protection from criminal prosecution as long as they followed police procedures and wore a "clear badge of authority." The often maligned law was the banner under which all Gotham City's vigilantes practiced.

"I'm glad I could be of service. Is that all then, Detective Lane?"

"I suppose so, " She handed Barbara a card and stood up. "My number in case you need to get in touch with me. I'll call you to arrange for your testimony at the arraignment. We wouldn't need to trouble you if the surveillance system had been operational in the lab. Seems the security guard forgot to load it with tape."

Evidence or not, Barbara was glad her ordeal in the tank wasn't recorded for posterity. Erica made her way to the door, then stopped with her hand on the knob.

"Is there something else?" Barbara smiled innocently.

Erica turned around and walked back towards the bed. "I know I shouldn't admit to this, but I just wanted to let you know that myself and a few other officers have begun practicing under Article 51. You don't have to be alone in these things, if you don't want to."

"You could lose your shield for that kind of thing, you know. It's awfully tempting to work both sides of the fence."

"True, but the Police force is flat on its back right now. We need to take perps off the streets, one way or another. And who knows, if things go well we could wind up with a few vigilantes actually sponsored by the city. Like the Batman."

"I appreciate the offer, Lieutenant. It never hurts knowing where I can get a little back up. What's your operative name?"

"Melee," she smiled. "It was a nickname given to me by my first judo instructor. I decided to keep it."

"At least until you get your first bust and the press tags you with a flattering name like Batgirl," Barbara grinned.

"I suppose so," she stood up. "Anyway, I wanted to drop off this." She handed Barbara a small metal tube, the size of a lip stick. "If you need me just press the button. I can track the signal anywhere within a 30 mile radius."

As Barbara watched the tall police lieutenant walk out the door, she thought of the other similar offers of assistance she had received in the past. Almost all were dead now, or permanently crippled. Barbara couldn't help but wonder if Erica Lane knew what she was getting herself into.

Barbara closed her eyes and relaxed. She must have drifted off, because the next thing she remembered, there was another knock at the door.

"Come in," Barbara welcomed.

The door opened and in walked three people. The first was a fat, well-dressed man in his forties. His expensive suit and serious demeanor suggested he considered himself quite important. Behind him came a beautiful blonde teenager, perhaps 18. She wore an exquisite dark green suit which closely followed the contours of her body. Behind her was a very tall man with a grim face and balding head. He reminded Barbara vaguely of a huge condor. He wore a baggy exercise suit.

"Ahh, Ms Gordon, I'm so pleased you're all right." The fat man took her hand. "They told me what had happened and I came right over. I'm Richard Greely, director of the Greely Estate. My sister, Claudia." Richard struck Barbara as professional and honest. Claudia seemed to be watching Barbara with admiration, perhaps even envy. Barbara was sure she had seen the striking young woman before, though she couldn't put her finger on where. The tall man in the warm up seemed completely impassive. Bodyguard?

"I appreciate your concern, Mr Greely. I'm glad I could help. How is your father?"

"He was only partially recessitated by the intruders. My team promptly put him back in the chamber, so there seems to be no harm done. Your arrival was well timed."

"Did you examine his body?"

"Certainly, during the recryonizing process. He was fine."

"Did you check for any types of invasive procedures?"

Richard smiled. "Ms Gordon, those thugs didn't strike me as the types to perform any type of surgery on a partially frozen man."

Suddenly the wheels in Barbara's mind clicked, she pointed at Claudia. "I remember you. Claudia Debusey! You were the silver medalist in the 9 meter platform at the Port Royal summer Olympics!"

The teenage flashed a radiant grin. "Wow. I never thought anyone remembered aquatic events."

"Of course I do! You were fifth going into your last two dives, and won the silver. How could I forget that kind of comeback?" Barbara also had to admit privately that Claudia was one of the most striking female athletes she had even seen.

"Well it helps having a rich father to build you a complete aquatics facility. But I'm not exactly in the same league as Batgirl, fighting master criminals." Barbara could now see that the look in Claudia's eyes was something more than admiration. It was the same look Erica Lane had when announcing she was becoming a vigilante.

"Regarding your father, I know about his past."

"His past?" Richard did a poor job of feigning surprise.

"Relax, Mr Greely. I'm not interested in going after his estate, only those who might try to subvert it."

"And you've already done that," Richard seemed flustered. "The men are going to jail, and we've decided to transport our father to Dipole's maximum security facility, outside the city. That should prevent any such incidents in the future."

"I also know about the Phoenix project." Barbara's bombshell silenced the room. Richard was clearly taken aback.

"Who told you?" Richard suddenly looked dangerous.

"I didn't say anything to the police. But Carreko wasn't acting alone. They know all about what you're doing and have other plans for Phoenix."

"What kind of other plans?"

"I don't know, Mr Greely, but I'm confident they're very dire. I'd like to help you safe-guard Pheonix against another attack."

"I assure you, that's completely unnecessary, Batgirl. I've taken painstaking safeguards."

"Like you did with your father's body, and knowledge about Phoenix in the first place?"

"There must be a leak in my organization," Richard was frusterated. "Phoenix has grown too large."

"All the more reason for me to be there. You can't go to the police, or they'd start asking questions about where the money came from to pay for your own personal space program. And I'm afraid the vigilante population has fallen on hard times."

"Yes," Richard looked defeated. "Yes I suppose you're right. Very well, I'll add you to the team from Dipole. If you can secure the facility long enough to get Phoenix away, I'll be greatly in your debt. We'll discuss this matter further after you've recovered. You need your rest."

Richard turned to leave but Claudia's gaze remained focused on Barbara. There was a curious gleam in her eye that Barbara couldn't quite figure out. It was almost as if they shared some intimate secret, but Barbara couldn't make the connection. Then it was gone, and the entire Greely family left the room.


(IV)

Deep inside the cavernous Greely training facility, Claudia stared defiantly up at Slim Jim as he prepared her for her evenings ordeal. The heiress stood dressed only in a black nylon bikini and high-heeled pumps with her back up against the surface of a high tech massage table, its padded surface raised to vertical. Her young body, sculpted by years of strenuous workouts and competitive swimming, glistened with oil. Her face was unreadable as if she were preparing for her next dive.

Without a word, slim took up Claudia's wrists and secured them in padded leather cuffs. Then he pulled her arms overhead and secured the cuffs to chains that ran to a winch mechanism installed at the top of the table. With the push of a button Claudia's arms were lifted high over her head. Slim Jim repeated the procedure on her ankles, firmly cuffing them and chaining her to a winch at the base of the table.

Claudia wriggled to get a feel for the restraints, and found them inescapably snug. Slim allowed the young woman a moment to squirm, then turned her head to face him and forced a black ball gag into her small mouth. Powerless to resist, she accepted the gag without protest. Then Jim held before her eyes a large black dildo, covered with rubbery knobs and dripping with lubricant. Claudia moaned softly behind the gag. She watched between her firm breasts as the huge man pulled aside her silky trunks and slowly forced the device into her.

Now that the beautiful Olympian was bound to the table, Slim Jim moved to a control console and flipped several switches. The first activated the dildo, which began to vibrate pleasantly. The second activated the autowinches at the top and bottom of the massage table. The third activated a VCR which played out to a floor-to-ceiling screen directly in front of Claudia.

Claudia had managed to nab the tape for the laboratory surveillance camera before the Gotham police. She assumed correctly that it might contain information on Pandora's plans for Phoenix. But when she played the tape in her rooms she discovered that it also recorded Batgirl's ordeal in the tube in intimate detail. Since then, Claudia had been fantasizing every night about being a superheroine.

The tape opened with a panorama of the lab, populated by some of the most fearsome criminals Claudia had ever seen. While the criminals joked gruffly, three men in white lab coats attended to Claudia's father in the treatment area. They had partially thawed him and were carefully inserting a metal cylinder into his throat. The device, Pandora had told her, would take control of the Phoenix's navigation systems shortly after launch then steer the rocket like a ballistic missile at one of Pandora's enemies.

Though the tape had no sound, Claudia could see Pandora gesture for the men to be silent. The men stood rock still while Pandora's lips mumbled and she made motions in the air. A moment later, Batgirl sprang into the room, then looked around in confusion. Claudia had already watched the tape countless times, and could never understand why Batgirl stood by casually when armed thugs were standing all around her. Still, the ambush was dramatic, and Claudia couldn't help but flinch when the men fired their capture devices at the Caped Crusader.

A thrill shot through Claudia's body as Batgirl was explosively cocooned in heavy black cords. Another thrill shot through her when she felt her own bonds tighten. Just as Slim had promised, the more she moved the tighter she would be stretched. This immediately got her hot, wondering just how tight Slim had set the controls. Claudia would almost certainly find out: she would climax many times during Batgirl's long ordeal in the tube.

Laughing like jackals, Pandora's men extracted Batgirl from the coils of rope, groping her lustily as they stripped away her cape and utility compartments. Claudia imagined rough hands on her as Batgirl was turned onto her stomach and bound at the wrists and ankles with layer after layer of heavy rope. The men took their time, ensuring they had ample opportunity to probe their voluptuous captive. Despite the shock of the blasters, the young vigilante grimaced prettily as her bonds got tighter and tighter.

Now helpless, Batgirl was lightly lifted and forced to her knees before Pandora. In this position Claudia got a perfect view of Batgirl's face. She looked almost feline, with delicate features, a fine neckline and huge green eyes. Her mask was somehow adhered to her face, and looked almost painted on. Batgirl's thick mane of red hair flowed luxuriously from behind her mask and down to her shoulder blades. It shimmered in the light as she shook her head to shake off the blow.

Pandora and Batgirl had a brief exchange, then Batgirl was lifted to her feet. Almost lovingly, Pandora pulled Batgirl's hair tightly behind her head and fastened it into place. Then Batgirl was pulled struggling to the tubes. Claudia's hips began gyrating as she vicariously lived out Batgirl's plight. The anticipation was almost more than she could bear.

Claudia mimicked Batgirl's wide eyes as the tube descended, sealing the ebon-clad crime fighter in the chamber. Standing in profile to the camera, Batgirl was amazingly sexy. Her body suit shimmered beneath the soft lights in the tube, highlighting her sinewy arms, full, firm breasts, and taught stomach. With the utility compartments removed from her belt, Claudia could better admire Batgirl's small waist as well as the delicate curve of her pelvis as it disappeared between her thighs. The back of the Dark Angel's body suit sunk slightly into her buttocks and, as Batgirl struggled, Claudia could see the outline of her close-cropped pussy beneath the tight material of her costume.

Claudia fantasized about Batgirl's thoughts as the small cylinder locked into place. The suffocating walls, the strict bondage, imminent torture, and the jeering audience - the scene was almost too terrifying even to watch. This was no bondage game. Batgirl would soon be writhing in terrible agony. Claudia would have been paralyzed with fear, but the beautiful green-eyed crime fighter did the unimaginable: She began questioning her captors.

Claudia gyrated her hips in passion as Batgirl questioned Pandora even as the deadly blue fluid began to fill the chamber. Through dreamy eyes Claudia followed the progress of the creeping solution up Batgirl's high-heeled boots. The Dark Angel's muscles danced beneath the rubbery costume as she fought both the tight bondage and mounting fear. Inch by inch, the Caped Crusader's body was consumed by the icy tide. Batgirl's nipples grew rock hard beneath the lustrous body suit as her breasts were engulfed. Soon, Batgirl began to shiver uncontrollably and Pandora terminated the short discussion.

As the fluid filled the tube Batgirl was lifted until she was suspended in the middle of the chamber. Claudia's first climax coincided with Batgirl's first breath of the blue agent. The look of dawning horror in the doomed redhead's face sent Claudia hopelessly over the edge of passion. Fully engaged in the fantasy, Claudia and Batgirl struggled as one. Batgirl's chest heaved delightfully as she labored to breath in the thick fluid. Clearly the torture was growing rapidly more intense as Batgirl's struggles for freedom degenerated into desperate flailing.

The brave heroine's struggles were so erotic that Claudia was oblivious to the ever tightening rack which held her. Lost in her own agony, Batgirl's struggles turned into a sort of erotic dance before a leering audience. She threw her head sensously back and forth, one moment slumping over as if unconscious, then throwing back her head in a silent scream. Fortunately, Pandora had pulled back the Dark Angel's hair, giving the audience unobstructed view of her countenance. The sight of Batgirl's lovely face twisted in pain sent Claudia again into climax. In fact, the men watching could not avoid slipping their hands into their pockets as their beautiful enemy convulsed gorgeously in the crystal chamber.

Suddenly Claudia's fantasy was interrupted as the room flooded with bright blue light. Claudia had to close her eyes against the blinding blue. By the time she had recovered, Pandora stood before her, smiling approvingly.

"You're becoming quite the superheroine, Claudia. You certainly have the perfect physique for it."

"Hmmm, Hmmmm, " Claudia tried to talk through the ball gag. She seemed surprised but not the least embarrassed.

"Oh, of course. Forgive me," Pandora gently released the strap holding the ball gag and pulled it from Claudia's mouth.

"Pandora! Do you really think so? Slim has been instructing me in judo for years, and now he's making me a utility belt. Perhaps I could fight for you some day."

"Of course, my dear. In fact, I've brought you a little present." She laid a box at Claudia's feet.

"Shall I get Jim to ...?" Claudia looked at her cuffs.

"Oh no, no, no, I see you're in training. A superheroine must learn to be unyielding in the midst of interrogation, and I'll only be minute." Pandora looked over at the video screen, where Batgirl struggled in the tube. "I just wanted to take care of a little unfinished business."

Claudia's eyes lit up. "Are you going to kill Batgirl? She's convinced my idiot brother to let her protect the Phoenix launch next week."

"I'm not going to kill her, Claudia. You are."

Claudia was exasperated. "Oh Pandora, I don't know. I'm not sure if I can beat her.... yet," she hastily added.

"Fear not, my dear. I have taken care of every eventuality. I will lay the trap. You need only to spring it and take care of some details."

"Oh, I don't know..."

"If you want to fight for Pandora someday, you'll have to start proving yourself now. And just think of it, the Dark Angel under your control, vulnerable to any type of interrogation you deem fit."

Claudia's eyes glowed at the thought, but she was still hesitant. Pandora patted her gently on the thigh and stood up. "I realize these decisions are sometimes difficult. Please think it over, and enjoy your present. If you decide to do it, you know how to contact me."

With that, Pandora vanished in an explosion of blue light. As quickly as she could, Claudia signaled for Slim Jim, who promptly appeared.

"Get me down, " she ordered. "Pandora left me a present!"

Jim promptly complied, removing the dildo and easing Claudia to the floor. Stiff from the stretching, Claudia picked up the box and opened it. It contained her own superheroine costume! It was deep blue like the color of Pandora's blue aura, made of a thin silky material that gleamed like wet latex. She ran her fingers down the suit lovingly, starting at the turtle neck collar and ending at the thong crotch. From deep within the box Claudia produced a thin silver tiara. Dreamily she slipped it on. It was perfectly formed for her head.

"Oh yes, Pandora!! The answer is yes!"


(V)

After Barbara's meeting with the Greely Estate, Dipole Technologies, and Manticore Aerospace she was amazed that the project could have progressed so far in secret. The Greely Estate had spent hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing rocket components, including a French Arriane and an Energia heavy lift booster from the defunct Russian space shuttle. They had spent millions for integration and testing at Manticore Aerospace and yet more to fund university research into navigational techniques for interstellar travel. Given the extent of their activities, it was amazing every supercriminal in the world wasn't vying for a cut of the action.

Richard Greely had reluctantly trusted her with the story behind the Phoenix project. With his ill-got fortune Anson Greely had arranged a complex and very expensive form of interplanetary immortality for himself. He had persuaded Dipole Technologies to preserve his body in suspended animation, and had hired Manticore Aerospace to launch his body towards Landis Sol, the Gold Star. Since Dipole's equipment would certainly fail before reaching his destination he designed the spacecraft so that after leaving the orbit of Pluto he would be exposed to deep space and his body would be perfectly preserved at only a few degrees Kelvin. Anson was convinced that he would be revived at Landis Sol upon his arrival a million years in the future -- the only interstellar ambassador from a long extinct race.

With such an imaginative if far-fetched "retirement" planned, Anson was almost gleeful when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He eagerly set about executing the Phoenix Project. Dipole built a lab in the basement of the Greely Estate and used it preserve Greely's body. Since Anson was legally killed by the procedure, he trusted the launch phase of his plan to his most reliable child, Richard. The launching of Phoenix would bankrupt the Greely Estate, but Richard faithfully carried out his part of the bargain and initiated the launch contract with Manticore Aerospace. Richard knew, however, that not everyone associated with the Greely Estate was in favor of spending all their money on an interstellar space launch, so he had the critical information regarding Anson's preservation stored at the Magnacorp vault.

Anson Greely's capsule had been loaded into the payload bay of the Arriane rocket just after the incident at the Greely Estate. If anyone wanted to get at Greely, they would somehow have to get to the huge rocket, hidden deep in Manticore Aerospace's subterranean launch complex. Since the complex was once a top secret weapons facility, security was virtually air-tight. If anyone planned to interfere with the launch, it had to be an inside job.

This made Batgirl's job easier. She dedicated her first days at Manticore to studying every possible access route to the rocket. The fact that it would remain in its underground bunker until launch limited the number of access points to a handful: maintenance hatches, electrical conduits, exhaust vents, and fueling facilities. She planted Bat sensors at all of these locations. If anyone tried to get to the rocket she would know about it.

The rest of her time she spent observing the staff. Posing as a researcher with the Dipole team, she closely monitored all the people she came into contact with, storing their psychological profiles in her photographic memory. She obviously had extensive experience with super criminals and could often spot the type of individual vulnerable to recruitment or blackmail. But on the eve of the launch she still had no leads. No one acted even remotely suspicious. They all seemed to be dedicated, hard-working, talented scientists and engineers almost giddy at the prospect of participating in the first interstellar launch project, no matter how outlandish its purpose. Barbara was beginning to doubt if there would be another attempt on Greely after all. And the implication of this was simple: whatever Pandora was after, she got it the first time.

Barbara finally resolved to sneak onboard the rocket herself and have a look at Greely. With the launch only 12 hours away, the titanic fuel tanks were already filling with dangerous propellants. Entering the launch tube itself would be treacherous, but she had identified a catwalk near the top of the rocket that would remain connected until almost the moment of launch. With any luck , she could get across the catwalk and sneak into the payload bay without being detected.

That night, she slipped into her Batgirl costume. Running her hands down her curving flanks made her tingle with excitement. During her three years in Thailand she had forgotten how addictive her Batgirl personae could be. The danger, the adrenaline, the hypnotic mixture of fear and power, the knowledge that there was no one to save her if she stumbled - it was almost like a drug. She doubted if she could turn her back on Batgirl again, whether or not she rescued Batman from Tightrope's trap.

Reluctantly she concealed her costume beneath a rag wool sweater, slacks, and her trusty Dipole lab coat. Barbara had just picked up a clipboard and was heading for the launch tube when she noticed a note under her door. It was from Claudia Greely, the young Olympian whom Barbara had occasionally seen with Richard. The note read:

Barbara,

I think I may know why criminals want my Father's body. I know more about Father's past than Richard, and I'd like to keep it secret from the family. I need to tell you, however, so you can protect the Phoenix mission until the launch. It's too dangerous to write anything down on paper, so I must meet with you in person. I will be in the pump room beneath the liquid oxygen tanks at midnight tonight. If you don't show, I will understand.

Regards,

Claudia Greely

Barbara read the note carefully. Claudia in danger? Who could Barbara have missed that could threaten Claudia into silence? Perhaps Pandora had "agents" in the compound that weren't human. Could Claudia be trying to lure her into a trap? Too many questions and not enough information to go on. Still, it was Batgirl's first break in the case. Claudia might be able to spare Batgirl the dangerous journey to the cargo bay and, if not, there would still be enough time for the Dark Angel to check out Greely's body and get off the rocket before launch.

At the appointed hour she made her way down to the small room beneath the massive liquid oxygen tanks. The sound of the pressurized fluid churning through the huge pipes in the frigid room was almost deafening. It was a good place for a secret meeting --- or an ambush.

"Batgirl, thank God you've come!" Claudia seemed absolutely exasperated. "You've got to stop him! You've got to stop him!"

"Who?"

"Him!" She pointed behind Barbara. She ducked instinctively just as a heavy pipe whizzed over her head. In the same motion she swept with a leg and caught her assailant off-guard, dropping him to the ground. The pipe swept back and Barbara nimbly jumped over it, moving out of the man's range.

It was the condor man who Barbara had taken for Claudia's body guard. He got up quickly swinging the pipe like a home run hitter. At the end of one of these swings, however, Barbara suddenly sprang in at him, catching him off balance. This time Barbara clamped down on the huge man's wrist and dug into sensitive nerve endings. The bar dropped from his hands as Barbara swept his legs out from under him again. She delivered a staggering knee to his chin even as he dropped. The huge man completed his journey to the floor and was still.

"Who was he..." Barbara turned to regard Claudia, but the words caught in her throat. She could tell that the ball point pen in Claudia's hand was actually a small needle gun. In a flash a Batarang appeared in Batgirl's hand and she hurled it at Claudia. With uncanny accuracy, the Batarang knocked the pen from the shocked young woman's hand. But it was an instant too late. A small cloud of needles shot from the pen. Two on the periphery of the cloud struck Barbara.

"What is this?" Barbara pulled one of the needle from her throat. Claudia edged toward the door, fearing that the needles might not have worked. But she got bolder when she saw Barbara starting to stagger.

"A little present, Batgirl, compliments of the White Witch."

The room was spinning and Batgirl sank to her knees. She had fallen into Pandora's trap again.


When Batgirl woke up, she found that she was tightly bound in the midst of a huge, squat hexagonal room made entirely of rusted iron grillwork. Her costume had been removed and replaced with another, much more erotic superheroine costume! She now wore a tight high-neck body suit made of a black, rubbery material with an almost metallic sheen. Her arms and legs were clad in tight fitting gloves and high-heeled boots of the same material. Ultra-sheer hose covered her long legs between the top of the thigh-length boots and the high-cut body suit. A scarlet sash was wrapped snugly around her thin waist, and a short silky cape ran from her shoulders to just below her buttocks. Her face was partially concealed behind a small black mask and around her throat was choker of black ribbon bearing a deep red stone. Batgirl's luxurious dark red hair was pulled behind her head in a thick rope and she had been sprayed heavily with an exotic perfume.

Her arms were tied behind her back at the elbows and wrists. A wooden trapeze ran behind her back and through her arm pits holding her suspended in a standing position with her feet resting on the floor. A rope was coiled several times around her waist and pulled tight beneath the sash. A crotch rope ran from her bound wrists between her legs and up to the waist rope, preventing her from slipping off the trapeze. Heavy steel manacles were secured around her ankles. Thick chains attached to the manacles disappeared through the grillwork of the floor and pulled down on her legs with considerable force. She could lift her legs but only with great effort.

Batgirl's attention, however, was drawn not to her own predicament but to Claudia. The young heiress stood before her dressed in a similar costume, except that her's was deep blue with long sleeves. Her stiletto boots, gauntlets and tight belt were gray, as was the bandoleer-like strap that ran from her left hip, between her breasts, and over her right shoulder. Her silky blonde hair was pulled back in a French braid and sprinkled with glitter. She wore a thin silver tiara at her forehead and a small mask which concealed nothing.

As Claudia walked slowly around her prisoner, Batgirl was awed by her grace and beauty. Beneath the glossy, skin tight costume Claudia was in immaculate physical condition. She was long and lean with graceful arms and firm breasts. Muscles stood out on her legs and taut abdomen. The thong back of Claudia's body suit sunk deeply into her buttocks, highlighting her shapely buns beneath the shimmery hose. The mask framing her huge blue eyes only served to accentuate her striking face. Under other circumstances, Claudia could easily pass for a vigilante. One of the most beautiful Batgirl had ever seen.

"I knew I would have to eliminate you the moment I laid eyes on you, Batgirl." Claudia grinned. "Nothing my simpleton brother could say would keep you from the truth. My father was a fool for wanting to throw away our entire fortune, but my brother was an even bigger fool for thinking you wouldn't catch on."

"You sold out to Pandora?"

"I merely dealt with the highest bidder. I've managed to salvage just enough to keep up my training, while the rest of the Greely Estate goes up in smoke!"

"Claudia, you don't know the kind of people you're dealing with..."

"Nor do you, Batgirl. Actually, I've been looking forward to this all week. Watching you suffer in the cryogenic chamber got me so excited. I couldn't stop fantasizing about being a superheroine, so I got a costume of my own." She motioned to her body. "It really does feel dangerously sexy, but there's always been something missing: you. When I learned that you would be joining the Dipole team, I had Pandora design a second uniform for you. If I may say, you look even better in it than I had imagined." Batgirl looked down at the costume. The thin fabric highlighted every detail of her feminine body. The sight of the

taught crotch rope biting deeply into her pussy sent an unexpected chill down her spine. She couldn't understand it, but it excited her.

"I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but..."

"That's exactly it! You and I are going to play a game. We're going to act out my fantasy," Claudia's beautiful face glowed. "I knew I'd never be able to smuggle you out of the Manticore complex, so I had Slim Jim bring the fantasy to us. Of course, I had to find a place where we wouldn't be disturbed..."

"Where are we?" Batgirl looked around. The chains which supported the trapeze ran up to a spider web lattice of rusted grillwork some 15 feet overhead. Perhaps 20 feet in front of Batgirl hung another trapeze with a matching set of leg chains issuing up from the floor. Directly in the center of the room between the two trapezes there was a pulley system secured to the ceiling. A heavy chain ran down from the pulley and attached to the midpoint of a heavy wooden beam reinforced with iron. The chain was slack and the beam rested on the floor, running the full length between Batgirl and the far trapeze. The chamber smelled of rust and carbon, as if they were in a giant barbecue grill.

"We're in the exhaust chamber at the bottom of the launch tube. No one ever comes down here, because its so hard to get to. We're a hundred feet deeper than the rest of the building, so no one will hear us. Plus, in 3 hours the rocket will launch and vaporize anything in this room. No evidence of our little games will be left behind for the police."

"So what game are we playing?" Batgirl bit her lip watching Claudia run her gloved hands down the flanks of her own costumed body.

"I call it 'Shadow Woman and Nightcat,' " Claudia's voice trembled with anticipation, "You're Shadow Woman, and I'm your partner Nightcat. We've been captured by our arch enemy, Dr Sadista," she motioned to Jim, who bowed, "while carrying secret information. We're going to be tortured -- tit to tit so to speak -- until one of us breaks."

Batgirl had never noticed Jim until that moment. She wrenched her gaze off Claudia's hypnotic visage to see the same man she defeated beneath the oxygen tanks; Claudia's trainer from the estate. He had a hard gleam in his eye of the sort she had seen in many hard-core criminals she had taken down. He smiled at her coldly, and the Dark Angel wondered just what kind of training he did.

"And if we both keep quiet?"

"Then in three hours we truss you up nice and tight and leave you here for the rocket. But don't worry about that now, think about surviving the next three hours!" Nightcat came forward and began running her hands down Batgirl-Shadow Woman's curvaceous flanks, then nestled her lips against Batgirl's ear. Both women had been heavily perfumed and Nightcat's odor was intoxicating. "We need a secret to keep from Slim. The secret code is 15-45-13-69. Got it?" Batgirl nodded uncertainly, her body tingling from the soft kisses.

Claudia lingered. "I asked Slim to invent a new torture for us, to test my limits. I've told him to keep up the interrogation no matter how much I beg him to stop. Honestly, I'm a little nervous."

"Claudia don't do this," was all Batgirl-Shadow Woman could say. Despite her best efforts to remain calm, her body was slowly coming erotically alive.

Nightcat backed away and put her hands on her hips. Her silky blue cape lazily waved behind her body. Batgirl looked on Claudia longingly. "Okay, Sadista, we're ready."

No amateur to sexual role-playing, Slim Jim suddenly underwent a dramatic transformation and seized Nightcat in a bear hug. The deadly gleam Batgirl had spotted earlier was now concealed.

"There you are, Nightcat!" he boomed, "thought you could save your partner, hugh? Well, maybe you should just join her, instead."

"Let me go Sadista! " Nightcat squealed and struggled as Slim-Sadista tied her arms behind her back in the same fashion as Batgirl and carried her to the far trapeze. "You'll never get away with this!"

"Nor will either of you be getting away!" Sadista slipped Nightcat's slim ankles into the heavy manacles and snapped them shut. By releasing two pins, the short length of slack chain was pulled through the iron grillwork of the floor, transferring the full force of the weights below to the superheroine's ankles. Nightcat tried to move her booted feet but it was almost as if she were cemented to the floor.

"You two are far from the Capital City," Sadista wrapped a rope several times around Nightcat's waist then pulled it tight. Slim Jim was clearly, if nothing else, a bondage expert. "You have no hope of rescue. Perhaps you would tell me the secret code you are carrying and spare yourselves a great deal of discomfort?"

"Never, Sadista! " Nightcat said with perfect, melodramatic inflection. "We'll never give in to your twisted schemes!"

"Just as I hoped you would say," Sadista smiled crookedly, producing an additional rope and securing it to Nightcat's wrists. "Gives me an opportunity to share with you my latest invention." Sadista ran Nightcat's arms over the trapeze, then ran the rope from her wrists down between her legs and threaded it into the waist rope. Nightcat winced as he slowly pulled the rope taught then gave it a final tug before tying it off. Nightcat and Shadow Woman now stood facing each other similarly bound with arms pulled behind their backs, chests thrust forward, and crotch ropes pulled deeply into their pussies.

"I'd be insulting your courage if I asked you to talk again now. I'm sure you would accept nothing less than the harshest punishment before surrendering any information." Sadista pulled out two black ball gags and forced one into Nightcat's mouth. He secured it in place with a leather strap behind her head. "I'll even help you keep your silence."

After similarly gagging Shadow Woman, Sadista set to work preparing the rest of his "invention." First he went to the chain in the center of the room and took up the slack. The heavy beam raised awkwardly off the floor and came to rest up against the each superheroine's outer thigh, with the sharp edge up. Near each woman, the beam had three features. Right at the point where the heavy shaft rested against their legs, there was a vertical hole drilled in the wood, threaded like a screw hole. About two feet in front of the hole was a stout metal ring protruding from the top of the beam. A second ring was mounted some two feet behind the hole, near the very end of the bar.

All of this detail, however, was lost on Shadow Woman. She could only stare at her beautiful new partner whose muscles danced as she fought against her bondage. Her attention was only torn away from Claudia-Nightcat when Sadista came to stand before her holding a monstrous dildo of stainless steel, dripping with lubricant. She looked away while her captor screwed the dildo into its hole along the beam. With dawning realization of the horror they were about to endure, Shadow Woman watched while Sadista screwed a second somewhat smaller dildo into the beam before Nightcat.

"There," Sadista laughed. "A comfortable perch for each of you."

The young heiress shook her head in disbelief as Sadista repositioned the beam between her legs. The huge man released the crotch rope securing Nightcat's wrists and quickly retied the rope to the steel ring at the back of the beam. Nightcat arched her pelvis to avoid the steel dildo as Sadista produced a second rope and ran this cord from the vigilante's waist rope to the ring in front of her. Despite her struggles, he positioned the lubricated shaft just in front of Nightcat with its cold tip rubbing against her silken body suit. Lovingly, Sadista pulled the thin fabric aside to expose the Olympian's close-cropped vagina. By pulling in

the slack of both ropes simultaneously, the madman drew the device up until 3 inches of its 10 inch length was inside Nightcat. With the flip of a switch the dildo began to vibrate. Nightcat pulled at her bonds madly as the stimulation shot through her body.

Fear and mounting passion filled Shadow Woman as she watched her "partner" prepared for their ordeal. Though Claudia was too absorbed by her fantasy to notice, it was obvious to Batgirl that Slim Jim planned to kill them both. This was not a trap designed for a simple bondage fantasy. It would be cruel and possibly fatal. Batgirl and Claudia would have to work together if they were going to survive, and the Dark Angel grimly wondered if her beautiful but gullible ally would be up to the challenge.

Despite her insight into Slim Jim's true motives, she could do nothing except watch as Pandora's henchman secured her to the beam as well. As with Nightcat, he removed her crotch rope and retied it to the ring behind her, forcing her arms straight back at a 45 degree angle. Then he threaded an additional cord through her waist rope and ran it to the front ring. He tied a slip knot at the front ring and began pulling in both ropes. Carefully, he positioned the dildo.

"Pandora asked me to make yours extra large, " Slim Jim whispered. "to thank you for the little stinger you gave her back in the lab."

With wide eyes Batgirl-Shadowoman stared at the monster now rubbing against her crotch. Despite her fear, Batgirl actually ached to feel the cold shaft inside her. Nightcat's sensuous gyrations were driving the young red-head crazy. Slim Jim pulled the crotch of Batgirl's new costume aside to reveal her wet pussy. She struggled erotically as she was slowly impaled on the stainless steel shaft. The vibrating rod sent shivers of pleasure through her body.

"Of course the game is simple, its a teeter-totter," Sadista rested his hand on the beam. "You're comfortable now, but when I raise the chain, only one person can be on her feet at a time. The other will be suspended on the beam. The weights attached to your feet are 40 pounds each, which means 80 pounds plus your body weight will be pulling the bar into your pussies. Who must take the punishment and for how long I leave up to you."

Shadow Woman and Nightcat eyed each other with sex-clouded sympathy as Sadista pulled up on the chain at the center of the beam. Both woman sighed as the dildos buried themselves in their pussies. The wonderful sensation of the dildos, however, was soon mixed with pain as the bar split each woman's labia and bit deep. By the time their high heels left the floor both were moaning through their gags, completely impaled on the huge dildos with their full weight plus resting directly on their sex.

The two doomed heroines hung suspended for a time, balanced by their nearly equal body weights. As fate would have it, it was Shadow Woman who won the game with inertia first, and her feet began dropping to the floor even as Nightcat accelerated upward. As the pressure eased off, Shadowoman got to watch Nightcat endure the suffering that soon would be hers. Tears streamed down the cheeks of the lithe blonde as she threw her head from side to side. The weights around her ankles pulled straight down, ensuring that young woman's legs and pelvis remained centered over the sharp beam despite her struggles. She could move her legs slowly forward and backward but this caused the weights to sway, increasing the pain. Batgirl could tell from Claudia's eyes that she was in shock. She never expected Slim Jim's "new torture" would be anything so terrible.

Batgirl-Shadowoman fought furiously at the ropes, trying to use the short respite to her advantage. With her feet on the ground she had good leverage and could work at the knots. Once suspended in the air, any motion would be extremely painful and probably unproductive. But Shadow Woman could see that Nightcat's suffering got progressively worse the longer she rode the rail. Batgirl realized in frustration that freeing herself from the ropes would take time and time was something they would have to share to survive. She could only hope that Claudia would reciprocate.

A gentle push of her legs was all it took to send the finely balanced bar upward. The feeling of being completely impaled on the dildo was almost indescribably delicious but was closely followed by the bite of the sharp rail is it crushed against her most sensitive flesh. As she ascended, her pleasure rapidly mixed with pain. By the time she came to a stop some 9 feet in the air, agony and ecstasy waged a war within her. Nightcat thanked Shadow Woman with her eyes as she descended, finally touching the floor.

Sadista smiled. "I see you two understand the nature of your new relationship, so I'll leave you to enjoy my little toy." He walked over to Claudia-Nightcat and turned her head towards him in his familiar style. "The White Witch wishes to thank you for your support, but your services are no longer necessary. I have strict instructions to destroy all the evidence, including you."

Claudia looked up at Slim Jim like a trapped animal. He smiled and held her face tightly, allowing the full weight of her betrayal to sink in. "Relax, it will only be for three hours." He inclined his head toward Batgirl-Shadow Woman, who writhed beautifully at the far end of the teeter-totter. "If I were you I'd just leave her up there, and spare yourself the pain. Enjoy your last few hours romping on your friend there and watching Batgirl suffer. That's what you really wanted anyway, wasn't it?"

"HMMMMMM," Claudia tried to protest against Slim Jim's stinging words but he had already turned away. Despite herself, she thrusted her pelvis against the vibrating dildo. Her whole body was alive.

"Oh yes, one more thing. Those dildos are loaded with explosives. If you try to remove them. BOOM! So don't even think about trying to escape." With that, he disappeared into the maintenance hatch and was gone.

Claudia's attention turned back to Batgirl, who's green eyes were fixed upon her. The tight bondage, which had seemed so erotic, was suddenly deadly and suffocating. The huge rocket nozzles just overhead were now terrifying. The woman on the other end of the teeter totter was suffering because of her for her. Batgirl had even voluntarily traded places with Claudia to give her a break from the rail. Batgirl's eyes were intense, but not pleading. Still Claudia could see the Dark Angel's mounting pain. The young Olympian suddenly felt horrible, used, and helpless. Yet, she could not bear to face another ride on the rail. She turned away from Batgirl.

Batgirl struggled to remain calm as she confronted the likelihood that she would ride the rail for the full three hours until the rocket ignited. Like many times in the past, she quickly made peace with her situation and pressed forward. Since pain would increasingly cloud her judgment she had to work quickly to find some means of escape. To have any chance at all she had to free her hands. And with no help from Claudia, she would have to do it while riding the beam. Forcing the pain from her mind she started working the ropes

Claudia noted in her misery that Batgirl wasn't even looking at her any more. It was is if she had already written the teenager off as incapable of providing any help. Tears flowed down Batgirl's cheeks as she rolled her pelvis painfully across the rail while trying to work her wrists free. And yet the Dark Angel struggled with grim concentration, unbroken by the hopelessness of their situation. Claudia was impressed by her red-headed idol anew, even more so now that Claudia could fully appreciated what Batgirl was going through.

Claudia's resolve slowly hardened. She was being played for a fool by Pandora, and she was doing just what Pandora wanted her to do: ensuring that Batgirl suffered until the moment of both their deaths. Even if it was a futile effort she would not sentence Batgirl to all the pain meant to be shared between them. For the first time in her life she did the non-selfish thing. She pushed up with her legs. The dildo buried itself deeply in her pussy and she felt the now familiar burning as her weight settled on the rail.

The amazement was clear on Batgirl's face as she felt the teeter-totter lowering. She looked up and saw Claudia with something akin to genuine remorse in her eyes. As the Dark Angel's boots touched the ground her pain rapidly subsided, even as the young blonde stiffened in misery. Claudia-Nightcat's unexpected act of courage - not to mention her sculpted form writhing on the rail -- gave Batgirl a jolt of pleasure as the monstrous dildo partially withdrew and vibrated life back into her vagina. In the back of her mind, Batgirl wondered if Claudia didn't have the makings of a superheroine after all.

Unfortunately, Claudia's act of heroism did little to alleviate their dire predicament. Far from sport bondage, Slim Jim had clearly bound the two young women for death. He had tied Batgirl's wrists with eight coils of tight rope. The circulation in her gloved hands was all but cut off. Her waist rope involved six coils and was also punishingly tight. The rope securing her to the front ring was doubled over so there was no knot at all at her waist. The only appendages the Dark Angel could move were her feet, and only with great effort. She tried swinging the heavy weights attached to her ankles chains towards Claudia's in hopes that the impact would knock the weights free. Each attempt, however, only met with failure and additional pain.

The next two hours was a marathon of passion, self-sacrifice and pain. While fighting to get free, the two heroines fell into a rhythm of rapidly teeter-tottering back and forth. This minimized the period of time each was forced to ride the rail without a break, but it forced each woman to perpetuate her own mechanical rape or leave her partner to suffer on the rail. As each beautiful vigilante landed on her feet the dildo withdrew until only its tip remained inserted. As they accelerated upward the phallus once again buried itself completely, filling each woman with maddening sensations of pleasure. Just as the pain of the rail grew truly excruciating, they would be back on their feet again. Batgirl lost track of the number of orgasms she had experienced while suffering in Slim Jim's deathtrap at 15.

One hour from launch time the lonely chamber echoed with the doomed heroines stifled moans. Endorphins coursed through Batgirl's veins and each thrust of the dildo seemed to raise her to even greater heights of arousal. But immediately after each peak of pleasure she would be plummeted into horrific depths of pain as the rail ascended. In fact, after two hours the two sensations of unbearable pleasure and intense pain were virtually inseparable. The two women were paralyzed by the tide of sensations surging through their young bodies. Unable to endure the torrent for long, they both drifted in and out of consciousness.

Batgirl was drawn back to consciousness a final time by the raw pain emanating from her crotch. Claudia was slumped over at the bottom of the teeter totter leaving Batgirl suspended in the air. The chamber was now filled with white mist. It was as if a dense fog had settled over everything. Batgirl's head ached and throbbed as she pulled pitifully at the straps. Exhausted and beyond hope, she fell slack in her bonds. Violated, tortured, and humiliated, her will was all but broken.

"It was the perfume you know."

Batgirl's eyes snapped open. At the foot of the teeter totter, shrouded in fog, stood a beautiful, frightening, woman in long flowing robes. Pandora. Batgirl felt the strap holding her gag go slack. With great effort she forced the ball free. She tried to say something but her jaw was almost locked open. Besides, her pussy blazed like fire.

"The perfume you and Claudia are wearing is a strong aphrodisiac." Pandora looked concerned. " Ohhh, poor dear, let me help you. "She raised her hand and teeter totter started its way down. With a sigh of relief, the rail separated from Batgirl's body and the dildo slipped partially out. Pandora waited patiently for Batgirl to find her breath.

"So you're here in astral form to watch me die?"

"On the contrary Batgirl, I'm here to give you a new lease on life."

"Whatever it is I don't want it, Pandora. I'd rather be vaporized by the rocket."

"Such rash words, Batgirl, when you don't even know the rocket's destination."

Looking deeply into Pandora's eyes, Batgirl suddenly knew the answer and it sickened her. "The Shaolin Temple!"

Pandora was obviously impressed. "Very good Batgirl! Just as I would have expected. The implant we lodged in Greely's throat will attach itself to the cabling for the guidance system shortly after lift-off and retarget the Phoenix directly at the Shaolin temple. All your new-found friends will perish."

Batgirl looked sickened. "But... why?"

"Surely, you already know. Otherwise why would have spent two years of your life on the Temple steps taking their silly fighting classes hoping to learn the secret that will gain you admittance to the Temple Master."

"So Tightrope was right," Batgirl's green eyes shone. "The Master of the Temple does know of the Darkling. He can bring Batman back!"

"We always seem to learn the truly important things far too late for them to be of any use. For example had you just told the Temple guard the password, "Ellesium" they would have granted you audience. Now, within the hour, the temple itself will be cinders. But you don't have to suffer the same fate..."

"What do you want, Pandora?"

"I'll gladly release you from your bonds, if only you grant me one small favor." She produced a small glass vial which contained a small golden insect. Pandora withdrew the object and held it before Batgirl's face. On closer inspection it looked like a perfectly rendered golden beetle.

"A gold bug!" Batgirl whispered.

"Very poetic, don't you think. I designed it just for you, Batgirl but it can only be activated of your own free will. Just say the word, 'Hamospha' and I'll set you free."

"CLEAR THE LAUNCH FACILITY," an amplified voice blared as if on cue. "SEVEN MINUTES TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION!" Batgirl looked behind Pandora, the chamber was now dense with choking fumes.

"What will it do?" she asked, hopeless.

"Why, it will bring us closer together."

"So I die free or live on as your slave."

"Just as you must say the word of your free will, you must also come to me of your free will, Batgirl. I can be immensely persuasive, but the choice is yours."

Batgirl stared at the beetle for a long time. The room was quaking with slight tremors. Pandora looked at her smiling pleasantly. "Better hurry Batgirl. Its almost time."

Finally, Batgirl's lips parted. "Hamospha."

Lightly the wings of the gold bug spread and it lifted from Pandora's hand. It floated for a moment before Batgirl's beautiful face, then suddenly shot into her nose like a dart. The Dark Angel of Gotham City screamed in agony as the enchanted insect began tunneling into her sinuses and into her brain. She writhed helplessly in the tight straps as the gold bug dug its agonizing tunnel. Her vision grayed and she went slack again.


When Batgirl regained consciousness, her body seemed light as a feather. The chains fastened to her ankle manacles were gone. The ropes around her wrists were all but cut, and a stiff pull freed her hands from the rail. At first she thought perhaps her encounter with Pandora had been an illusion, but then she felt her upper lip. Blood still eased liberally from her nostril. Pandora, or at least the image of Pandora, was nowhere to be found.

Quickly Batgirl untied the rope around her waist and removed the rest of her bonds. She carefully eased herself off the madly vibrating dildo. It suddenly stopped vibrating with a click, and Batgirl froze in sudden fear. She had forgotten that the dildos were filled with explosives. But then she relaxed and went about her business with grim confidence. Surely Pandora wouldn't have saved her from the rocket only to be killed by a back-up booby trap.

As the rocket rumbled ominously overhead Batgirl went to work freeing Claudia from her bonds. The blonde teenager regained consciousness just as Batgirl released her ankle chains. She looked on her rescuer with bottomless appreciation while Batgirl finished the job. It took only about a minute before Claudia was free but during that time both women became acutely aware of the groaning titan above them.

"FIVE MINUTES TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION," the voice thundered, "CLEAR THE AREA IMMEDIATELY!"

"Which way out?" Batgirl asked over the rising dim of the Phoenix rocket.

Claudia still couldn't speak, but led the way with awkward steps towards one of the walls. They came upon a heavy iron blast door which apparently covered some sort of service entrance. Batgirl turned the wheel on the door and pulled outward with all her might. Grudgingly, the door swung open.

Batgirl helped Claudia into the small escape tunnel. Then she looked up at the rocket above her and started closing the door.

Claudia's eyes were wide with amazement. "You're not coming?!"

"I've got to try to stop this rocket. You should be able to make it topside before ignition. If you wait in that tunnel, you'll fry."

"Batgirl?" Batgirl halted the slow progress of the door. The two woman eyed each other, both knowing that Batgirl would most likely not survive the rocket blast. "I'm sorry."

Batgirl nodded and pushed the door shut.

With the blast door sealed, Batgirl was left alone to her impossible task. There was no time to make it back to mission control, and no communication system she could access to talk to the control room. Her only chance was to force the launch system into automatic shutdown. The good news was she knew the location of the electrical gantry that connected mission control to the on-board central computer. If disconnected before main engine ignition it would most likely halt the countdown. The bad news was that it was 300 feet above her head.

Trotting back the center of the launch tube, Batgirl seized the chain secured to the center of the sinister teeter-totter and shimmied up to the main launch level. Slipping her lithe body through the rusted grating she emerged just below the center engine. Blasts of ice cold smoky air shot out of the nozzle.

"FOUR MINUTES TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION!"

A number of titanium ladders ran up the walls of the launch tube. Batgirl oriented herself with the rockets design and selected the ladder closest to the electrical gantry. Then she began to climb.

After the ordeal on the teeter totter, climbing was extremely painful as her abused pelvic bone got a work out. But the climb would have to be the fastest of her life, for in only minutes the rocket would ignite filling the chamber with heat, fire, and poisonous fumes. There was no turning back: she would stop the rocket or die.

After more than a minutes and half, the exhausted vigilante caught site of the gantry. As she expected it was still connected to the rocket, though the catwalk that once allowed workers access to the panel had been swung away and stowed. Batgirl's legs burned and she simply couldn't catch her breath.

"ONE MINUTE TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION. OPENING LAUNCH DOORS."

Overhead, huge steel doors began swinging away to reveal the cold but clear blue sky. Icy wind shot down the tube, chilling Batgirl to the bone. Despite her shivers, she forced her body onward until she at last came level with the electrical gantry.

The gantry seemed slim and impossibly long as it spanned the 25 feet from the wall of the tube to the rocket. It basically consisted of a hollow steel tube that carried several thick cables to the side of the rocket. At the far end, the cables plugged into an access panel with a spring loaded hatch. The leap from the ladder to the gantry was some 8 feet.

With no time to lose, Batgirl began swinging from the ladder. She would only get one chance to seize the gantry. If she failed, the metal grill work waited for her hundreds of feet below.

"One two THREE!" She sprang from the ladder and caught the bar with both hands. It bowed under her weight but it held. Batgirl wriggled as she positioned her hands for a better grip then swung a leg up onto the bar and began shimmying toward the rocket.

"THIRTY SECONDS TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION!"

Directly in front of Batgirl's face were four lines leading into the rocket. Three were thick black cables and one was for compressed air. Despite her study of the rocket systems she had no idea which cable, if disconnected, would override the launch. Perhaps any of them would. Perhaps none.

"15 SECONDS TO MAIN ENGINE IGNITION."

"10 9 8 " With time running out the Dark Angel hooked her legs over the gantry and dropped down like a catcher from a trapeze act. This freed up both her hands. With no time for hesitation, she went to work on the line that would determine her life or death. She disconnected the pneumatic line.

The line leapt out of her hand and soon as she got it free. The gush of compressed air caused it whip around like a mad snake. Still the countdown continued. Her heart sank as she was forced to confront for the first time that she might die.

"5 4 3 2 PNEUMATIC RELEASE FAILURE IN CPU GANTRY. LAUNCH SEQUENCE AUTOMATICALLY ABORTED."

Batgirl let out a deep sigh of relief as the engines started winding down, then started to giggle. She had beaten Pandora. The White Witch had told her the password to the Shaolin temple, confident that it would be destroyed by the Phoenix rocket. Her next stop was Thailand, where she would confront the Doorman of the Temple. If Pandora's password was correct, she may have the answer to Batman's mysterious disappearance within a week.

That is, if she had a week. Batgirl's head throbbed and blood still oozed from her nose. She had cheated Pandora out of her prey, but only at a terrible cost. The Dark Angel could only guess at the sinister purpose of the golden scarab, but knew it would almost certainly kill her eventually. She only hoped to live long enough to see her love one final time, before Pandora had the last laugh.

THE END