SideKicks

Issue 22: Less Than Zero I

The Coming of Nihil

It’s been eight months since Batman left Gotham, four months since the Zeroes’ acquisition of ProtoCorp, Inc. and three months since the disappearance of Tom Albertson.

The Mayor’s office is embroiled in scandal after a memo surfaced suggesting that Gotham PD and members of the Mayor’s administration worked in collusion to willfully distort the city’s violent crimes rates. Leaked in the rash of some of Gotham’s most brutal murders, the media is tearing Janet West’s administration apart and the Mayor is desperate for a solution to save her political career. The media narrative is simple: the city is without its heroes, the crooks are no longer afraid, Batman is never coming back.

Mayor Janet West requests counsel with the Zeroes and proposes they become the new guardians of Gotham, that they restore faith and optimism to the city, that they join her in ushering Gotham into its new century and overshadow Metropolis using ProtoCorp technology to futurize the city, “to do what Wayne can’t!” West explains the first thing they need to do is to put an end to the recent series of murders being sensationalized in the media. The Zeroes respond with mixed reactions, some rejecting the Mayor’s proposal outright sensing West’s political intentions whereas others seem to agree conditionally. The Mayor’s phone rings abruptly with news of the latest murder having taken place at the Gotham American, an apartment in a revitalized district of the city.

Teen Lantern provides transportation to the Gotham American where the Zeroes meet with Gotham PD’s Bullock who noticeably smells like a cheap Italian Cold Cut. Bullock explains that inside the apartment they’ll find some grisly stuff, that he’s happy Gordon isn’t here to see it and that “even Batman would have the Boy Wonder cover his eyes for this one.” The lights are down and against the far wall facing the windows lies the body of a woman in her early 30s. The floor is dark with blood. The blood is smeared all across the floor and adjacent furniture suggesting she was wrestling with her assailant. She’s suffered obvious trauma to her head with clumps of blood and brain matter staining her once blonde hair. The woman has a terrible wound in her abdomen. Her eyes are wide open. Brainchild examines the body more closely determining that the victim was pregnant and that the fetus was crudely removed. Brainchild also recovers fragments of an uncommon material from the wound, likely material from whatever implement was used in the murder. Schism notices his lack of hunger around the corpse and feels a familiar presence in the scene.

The Zeroes quickly research the woman’s background identifying her as Talia Redding. They immediately suspect her husband’s involvement with the murder. Kinetic Kid speaks with the buildings’ facilities managers and reviews security tapes feeling fairly confident that he’s spotted the murderer and a potential accomplice. Unfortunately the tape quality is below average and only offers that the suspects are a man in his early 30s and a woman possibly the same age. Upon leaving the apartment the Zeroes notice the word, “Nihil” painted on the wall in Talia Redding’s blood. Bullock states that this is the sixth time that word has shown up at a murder scene in Gotham.

The party splits up: Pastor Ted Haas investigates the other murders and learns that in each case the victim lived in an affluent section of Gotham and that each murder has resulted in the removal of a body part or organ. Haas later goes to Gotham PD Headquarters to speak with Otis Redding, the husband of the deceased. Haas mindprobes Redding and confirms he was not involved in the murder, that Redding was on a business trip to Metropolis the night the murder occurred. He also learns that Redding is an accountant at ProtoCorp. Pastor Ted Haas asks if Redding is familiar with the term “Nihil.” Redding explains it means “nothing” and preceded the concept of “zero” in mathematical value.

Schism and Brainchild go back to Protocorp to analyze the materials found at the crime scene. Analysis shows that the material shares characteristics of both crystal and basalt – Brainchild is able to confirm the material is not from Earth. Schism recalls it as a “fundamental” material in his dimension but cannot remember what it was used for.

Kinetic Kid and Teen Lantern visit Harvey Dent at the old Zeroes hideout. Harvey is growing irrational and offers them nonsensical notes about investigations he’s been working on. He explains he’s failing Batman, that his poor mentorship of the Zeroes is evidence of that. Kinetic Kid suggests he takes a break and offers him the ProtoCorp suite.

Hybrid leaves the Gotham American, adopting canine features, and follows the scent of the murder back to the New Gotham Arts District. The scent terminates at a large sewer grate. Hybrid enters the sewers and becomes lost in the mazelike tunnels. Hybrid later obtains a map of the latest build out of Gotham’s sewer system.

Overnight, Brainchild has a disturbing dream reliving her interview with Prototor eventually having visions of him rigging up the explosions which resulted in her current state. The dream flashes again to a domestic setting where she’s in the Brainchild body, talking to Prototor when an adult Victoria Langely enters the dining room asking that Brainchild go help her sister. Prototor tells Brainchild that they can speak at anytime but that for now he would like for her to listen to her mother and help her sister. Brainchild is woken up by Vicki. Vicki gives Brainchild her mail and discusses, in brief, the invitation to the Gotham Archaeological Society gala saying they should really go, etc.

Vicki then informs Brainchild:

“I think I’ve cracked it. I won’t lie. I borrowed your hypothesis, not that it was genius or anything, and you’re probably right. Its mitogenesis. Proteus accelerates mitosis. Proteus introduces special proteins which engage in the cell division process, resulting in super cells of a sort. In short, it introduces new genetic material and tells cells to grow, BOOM, at a rate that even the FLASH couldn’t even keep up with….no telling when it stops either….we’ve had a culture going for 24 hours now….its unclear what short term effects are, combined metastasis and mitosis at this rate is in essence, cancer,…..there’s no way to predict its effects or what powers it gives; its dependent on the sample I would assume. We’ve heard of all sorts of effects…..The question is, if we can pinpoint metahuman qualities to these proteins then who the hell did they get them from to begin with?

Brainchild later researches the history behind the GAS event and uncovers a brief article written by Richard Tulley. She shares this information with the Zeroes who proceed to research the whereabouts of Will Herzog, the Department Chair of Anthropology at Gotham University who oversaw the archaelogical dig resulting in the findings to be exhibited at the GAS event. The Zeroes learn that Herzog committed suicide. They contact Joe Webb for information about Richard Tulley and learn that he’s a minor reporter at the Times and that he lives in the New Gotham Arts District and runs a personal blog covering the Gotham Arts scene. Joe assures Brainchild he can arrange for all the Zeroes to attend the event.

Later, Kinetic Kid is contacted by Captain Sylvia Savage of the ProtoForce. She checks-in to confirm whether or not ProtoForce should assist in any current operations. Kinetic Kid asks that she prep the troops for certain operational maneuvers. He also requests that Savage setup a security team for the Gala event and that she attend herself as Haas’ guest. Kinetic Kid learns that Tom Albertson left Savage as his first officer. She explains she was an external hire and that she wasn’t with ProtoForce until after the Zeroes took over. Kinetic Kid looks up her personnel record and learns she’s served in a number of private armies.

Teen Lantern has spent most of his time patrolling Gotham, preventing various crimes, and notifying Gotham PD of criminals he’s captured, etc. At some point he becomes overwhelmed with a strange focus of anger and determination emanating from a particularly crowded section of the New Gotham Arts District. Teen Lantern eventually narrows the source of this energy to a single individual and follows him to a sewer grate. When the individual attempts to lift the grate Teen Lantern seizes him, taking him to the rooftop of a nearby building for interrogation.

Teen Lantern picks up on behavior that suggests the hipster is possessed. He takes him to the lab for evaluation by the hipster’s own volition. Pastor Ted Haas successfully mindprobes the hipster and creates a mindlink which all the Zeroes tap into. Early visions into the hipster’s mind show his day-to-day activities followed by him entering the sewers. Haas and Schism eventually sense that a force is attempting to block their efforts, keeping the vision limited to the mazelike tunnels of Gotham’s sewers. Not everyone remains with the link – Schism collapses as he struggles to sustain the connection. Only Pastor Ted Haas stays in long enough to see visions of the hipster emerging into a lit opening where he sees a group of 30-40 persons congregated around something. The vision ends there. KK fashions a Psychic Field Disruptor with the hopes of being able to break any mass psychic link they encounter.

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