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Taylor stood tall on the alien planet's surface, alert for any danger. His gaze wandered across the barren world. The rock was a rusty red color. Many things could be hiding camouflaged against that rock.
He was in the middle of a rock forest. Stone structures curled in random shapes around him. He cautiously walked around the twisting forms, his finger resting on the trigger of his gun. All his senses were on alert. His eyes searched for the faintest telltale shadow, his nose detected all the dusty odors, his ears picked out the whistling of the wind and…
He froze. There was a faint hissing sound, and it was growing louder. "Rock snakes!" he shouted like a battle cry, as the dreaded creatures came to the surface.
He ran through the twisting rock formations, firing at any rock snakes he could see. The hissing was all around him, drowning out all other sounds. One snake surfaced in front of him and snapped its jaws at him, but he dodged and blasted it. Another snake descended from a rock arch above and sank its fangs into his gun. He tossed the useless weapon aside and continued running.
He could see the base in the distance and put on a surge of speed. Jaws snapped at him from all angles, but he consistently avoided them. The only thoughts in his head were running and dodging. Just a little further, just a little bit further.
There was a hoop formation of rock before the open ground to the base. He jumped through and prepared for the final sprint, but his foot caught on the bottom. He fell flat on his face, and the rock snakes closed in for the kill.
Taylor disgustedly pulled the vid-helmet off his head. The virtual world of the game Terrain: Xeno was replaced by Cheesy Dan's Pizza Parlor. He looked around at the line waiting to use the game and saw Terry, Dana, and Max standing at the front. "Tough luck," Terry said.
"Think you can do better?" Taylor challenged.
"We'll see," Terry replied with a shrug.
Taylor looked at the scoreboard. He was number five on the top-score list. "Someday I'll make number one," he said, and walked away.
"Well," Max said to Terry, "let's see how good you can do."
"Ladies first," Terry said, indicating the way for Max.
Terry watched as she walked up to the console and grabbed the vid-helmet. She was about to put it on when Terry heard a disturbance behind him. He turned just in time to see Taylor knock down another guy. Then he pounced and started beating him.
Terry ran over to help. "Hey, what's the matter?" he asked Taylor. Taylor ignored Terry and kept punching the fallen guy. Terry grabbed Taylor's arm to make him stop, but Taylor shoved him away. Terry picked himself up and rammed into Taylor, knocking him into a table.
Taylor groaned and rubbed his head. Terry stood nearby, wary of attack. "Wh-what happened?" Taylor asked groggily.
"Maybe you should explain that to me," Terry said.
"What are you talking about?" Taylor asked, sounding genuinely confused.
"You were just pummeling that guy over there," Terry said, pointing to the man still laying on the ground.
Taylor just shook his head. Two adults walked up to Terry. "We'll take it from here," they said. Terry gave Taylor one last look before returning to where Max and Dana were waiting.
"What's his problem?" Max asked.
"I don't know," Terry said. "I don't know."
The next day at school, Taylor wasn't there. Max pointed this out to Terry.
"Yeah, so?" he asked.
"So," Max said, "that means something's really wrong with him."
"I figured that when he pounced on the guy and started trying to beat him to death."
"I know, but it doesn't seem like him. He's just not a mean-tempered person."
Terry turned back to his schoolwork. "I heard his parents were having troubles. Maybe he was under a lot of stress."
"Yeah, maybe," Max said, sounding disappointed. She returned to her history questions.
Terry didn't say it, but he felt a little suspicious as well. He was most puzzled by Taylor's reaction after the incident. It didn't make any sense. Terry sighed. It was probably nothing. But if it was something, he would hear about it eventually.
"So, who is this girl?" Terry asked.
"She's new at our school," Dana replied. They were driving to Cheesy Dan's for dinner and Dana had invited someone to come with them. "Give her a chance, Terry. She doesn't have any friends. We started talking in Biology today and I think the two of you will have a lot in common."
They arrived at the pizza parlor. Terry parked the car and saw someone waiting at the door for them. She was instantly recognizable by her electric blue hair.
Dana ran to greet her with Terry walking casually behind. Dana turned to talk to him. "Terry, this is Krystal," she said.
"Hi," Krystal said timidly, a complete contradiction of her hairstyle.
Terry nodded. "I like the hair," he said.
Krystal said nothing and turned away.
They made their way inside. Dana held back and nudged Terry in the ribs. "Be nice to her," she whispered. "I want her to like you."
They sat down at a table. "I need to use the restroom," Dana said, and shot a look at Terry before she left.
"So," Terry said, looking at Krystal, "how are you doing tonight?"
"Fine," she answered.
Terry coughed and tried to think of something to say. He noticed the long line of people waiting to use the Terrain: Xeno vid-game. "You ever tried that?" he asked, pointing at the game.
"Only once," she said. "I failed miserably. I'm no good at vid-games."
Dana came back to the table. "So, what did I miss?"
"Nothing much," Terry said. "So, Krystal, why did you dye your hair that color?"
She blushed. "It was supposed to be brown, but my hair reacted weird with the dye."
"I think it looks good on you," Dana said, giving a sideways glance at Terry.
He got the hint. "Yeah," he said. "Very shway."
Krystal's face brightened. "You really think so?"
"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't mean it," he said. Dana smiled at him.
"Man, what's taking them so long to serve us?" Dana said. "Let's go see what's the holdup."
She and Krystal walked off together, leaving Terry at the table. He let his mind wander, gazing up at the ceiling. He wondered how many bank robberies he'd have to stop tonight.
His thoughts were interrupted by screaming. He turned to see Krystal attacking Dana with a knife! What the hell? he thought, and raced to help his girlfriend.
Dana was lying on the floor and trying to block Krystal's stabs with a plate she'd grabbed. Terry ran up and tackled Krystal, forcing the knife from her hand. She kicked and tried to break loose, but Terry held strong. Dana stood up and watched the struggle, her breath trembling.
People had formed a circle around them. Finally, Krystal stopped struggling and Terry got off of her. She sat up and looked around with a blank stare. "What happened?" she asked. "Why is everybody looking at me?" Terry just glared at her.
"So it happened again?" Max asked, her voice sounding astonished over the phone.
"Yeah," Terry replied.
"It's just like Taylor. He suddenly started attacking someone without warning and didn't remember a thing afterward."
"I know," said Terry. "Dana said she was talking about some TV show when Krystal picked up a knife from a nearby table and started attacking her with it."
"Do you think she's just under a lot of stress, too?"
"I don't know what to think," Terry said. "That's happened twice in the past couple of days. Something strange is going on here. I'm just not sure what."
"Well, keep thinking about it." Max decided to change the subject. "So, are you ready for the field trip tomorrow?"
"The Gotham Museum of Anthropology? I've visited it a couple times. It's a popular stop for burglars."
"I wasn't asking Batman."
"This clay pot was made by the Incas," the tour guide said in a monotone. "The pictures on the pot are thought to tell a story, though some argue that they were merely for decoration."
Terry tried hard to stay awake. They had been looking at boring old stuff for an hour, and the guide's voice was lulling him to sleep. "Max," he whispered, "help me!"
She giggled. "What, did you stay up all night or something?"
"That's not funny," he said. "Besides, what's the point of looking at this old stuff?"
"It's a window into the past," she replied. "With these artifacts, we can discover what humans were like a long time ago."
"So why do they have to torture us with it?"
Max shook her head. "Don't you find any of this interesting?"
"Only you could find a cracked cup interesting."
"The robbers seem to find it interesting," she countered.
"Touché," Terry said. "Still, it's just useless junk to me."
Max froze, a strange expression on her face. "Max?" Terry asked. "Are you okay?"
Max suddenly sprang into action and knocked Terry against a display. Glass shattered and alarms started blaring. The rest of the class turned to see Max pull Terry out and fling him against another exhibit.
Terry's mind was spinning. What was Max doing? He blocked her punches and grabbed her arms. She struggled against his grasp, then started kicking him. Terry pushed her away, noticing the wild look in her eyes.
Two security guards arrived. They noticed Max attacking Terry and pulled her away. She broke out of their grip, grabbed a gun from a guard's belt, and leveled it at Terry.
"Max!" Terry shouted, his eyes wide. She ignored him and started firing. Terry ran frantically, hearing shots pass close to him. Then the firing stopped, and Terry saw one of the guards grab the gun from her hand. The other guard grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back. She crumpled to her knees.
The wild look left her eyes, and she shook her head. "What's going on?" she asked, looking around at her surroundings.
"Come with us," the guard holding her said. "No sudden moves."
"What's happening?" she asked hysterically as she was led away. "Terry, what are they doing?" Terry shook his head, utterly confused.
Wayne listened to Terry finish his story. "Very strange," he said.
"That's all you can say?" Terry asked.
Wayne turned to the computer. "There have been four other similar cases," he said, typing some keys. Four pictures were displayed on the screen. Terry recognized Taylor and Krystal.
"All suddenly reacted violently, and none of them remember doing it," Wayne explained. "Psychological tests showed nothing wrong, and brain scans were normal. No explanation has been found for their bizarre behavior. They have been returned to their homes under close surveillance should something happen again."
"So what do you think?" Terry asked.
"It reminds me of something," he answered. "Do you know what hypnosis is?"
"Yeah, that's where they swing a watch and you get sleepy."
"That's only in cartoons and TV shows. There used to be traveling hypnosis shows, where a person would hypnotize members of the audience and make them do whatever he wanted. A word would trigger someone to act in a very unexpected way. It was the rage a while ago, but then interest died out."
"So you think that's what somebody's doing? Hypnotizing people?"
"It's a possibility," Wayne said.
"But who would do something like that?" Terry asked. Then the answer came to him. "Spellbinder," he said, pounding his fist into his hand.
Wayne nodded. "He'd be into that sort of thing."
"So, how do I stop him?" Terry asked.
Wayne tapped some more computer keys. "There's no pattern to follow. These incidents show no connection, except the fact that they were all young people and they reacted violently. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to find out how he's doing it."
"I'll talk to Max tomorrow," Terry said.
"Until then," Wayne said, "it's getting late. You're needed out there."
Terry nodded and went to change into the batsuit.
Batman gripped the controls to the Batmobile and gave the engines a little boost. A button beeped and Wayne came up on the communicator screen. "Gothcom Telecommunications Equipment was just robbed. The robbers are fleeing down Clark Street."
"I'm on it," Batman replied.
"Be careful," Wayne said. "You're in for a race."
Race…the word echoed in Batman's mind. He pushed the thrusters to full blast, heading in the wrong direction.
"Terry?" Wayne asked.
He ignored the old man. A tall skyscraper appeared in the distance. Batman gunned the engine and headed towards it at full speed. He knew with total conviction that he had to kill himself.
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