Edward bends down to watch the specimen in the glass tube, the mysterious blob is a shade of dark green he has never seen before and the body is streaked with purple veins that seem to pulse with a strange energy. He holds his hand out against the glass and the form inside rises to meet him.
‘Free me. Free me. And I will free you.’
He moves to open the container.
“Wouldn't do that if I were you,” Bullock knocks on the glass. “This ugly thing ate five of my men trying to capture it.”
‘Hssss. Foolsss. We eats the fat one first, yesss?’ the blob thrashes against the glass as though to get at the guard.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Ed cannot keep his eyes away from the way it shimmers in the lab’s fluorescent lights. It is.. beautiful. “What is it?”
“We do not know,” Fox turns off the lights, that seems to calm it. “It appears to act as some kind of parasite, it attaches itself to a host and seems to consume the host from the inside out. It is truly fascinating.” He leans down to get a closer look but makes sure not to touch the container holding it.
“Not sure fascinating is the word I'd use, Fox,” Jim enters the lab and stands next to Harvey. “If I had my way, I would set this thing on fire and freeze the ashes. I've seen what this can do first hand, if this thing gets out it's going to be a slaughter. It's too dangerous to keep alive.”
‘He's not wrong,’ it bubbles in laughter.
“How did you catch… it?” Edward had almost said him.
“Fries hit it with his freeze gun while it was in between attacks,” Jim crosses his arms and frowns. “Strange managed to trap it in this contraption before it could unfreeze itself.”
‘I was weak from hunger. They played most unfair!’
Ed chuckles at the voice. “How is it communicating?” He stands.
“Communicating?” Fox looks up at Ed.
“Hearing voices in your head again, are you, Nygma?” Bullock grins.
‘My… people use telepathy to speak to one another. I had not known one of your kind could hear me, intriguing.’
“Can you hear it trying to communicate, Edward?” Fox stands and reaches for his arm. “If you can understand it, perhaps it can understand you. And we can find out where this thing comes from, what it wants.”
‘I am looking for my… other half.’
“I don't hear anything,” Ed stammers and backs away. “I need to see Strange.” He runs away.
“Just look in a mirror, Nygma!” Bullock laughs at him.
Edward watches Kristen Kringle over his clipboard.
Kringle seems to be arguing with one of guards, Dougherty. A big brute of a bully, who has hated Ed since his first day at the lab. She tries to get away from him, he grabs her arm painfully and pulls her back.
His mother cried out and his father slapped her hard enough to knock her to the ground. Ed covered his ears and closed his eyes.
‘Yesss. Your fear tastesss sweet, little human. Give me more.’
Ed looks down in surprise at the sentient blob, it has not spoken to him since that first day and he could have almost believed he had imagined the whole thing. After all, it hadn't been the first time he had heard voices in his head.
Dougherty kisses Kringle on the cheek and releases her, laughing as he leaves the lab.
Ed had been as useless as he had been against his father years before.
“Miss Kringle, was that guard bothering you again?” he asks her.
“Tom is the kind of man that thinks when a woman says no, she's only playing hard to get,” she holds the folder closer to her chest. “He would probably think a swift kick in his balls was foreplay.”
“You deserve a man that respects you, Miss Kringle,” he mumbles.
‘A man like you, Nygma?’ the voice laughs.
“You're lucky you're a man, Ed,” she sighs. “Some days I am tempted to run off and join the Wonder Women of the Amazon.”
“Not all men are like Dougherty, Miss Kringle.” Not all men were like his father.
“You're right,” she smiles and kisses his cheek. “You're sweet, Ed. You're a good friend. Thank you.”
‘Friend?’ the voice giggles. ‘You are a pathetic loser, Nygma,’ it bubbles with silent laughter.
“Shut up,” he exclaims. “I'm not.”
“Ed…, are you alright?” Kristen gives him a look of concern.
“No… I mean, yes,” he stutters. “It's just… sometimes I have the feeling the specimen is laughing at me… at us.”
“I'm not afraid to say that thing gives me the creeps,” she whispers. “It's not natural.” She shudders.
Ed flinches at her insult. “I am sure to him we are the ones that are not natural.” He could not tell her, he feels an odd connection to the creature.
“I'm worried about you, Ed,” she tells him. “You spend all your time down here with this thing, you never come up to the archives to see me anymore. Are you even eating? You need to take a break. Have lunch with us, today at noon in his cafeteria.”
“Us?” Ed is accustomed to eating lunch with Kristen, when he has time to eat. But it is usually only the two of them, she knows he does not like to eat around other people.
“Yes, well, me and Lucius actually,” she blushes. “Don't look at me like that, Lucius has been kind enough to sit with me while you are down here. He is worried about you too, Ed. He said something about you acting odd when they brought it in, he wanted to know if you had mentioned anything to me about it speaking to you.” She grabs his arm. “When you told me, you feel like it's laughing at you, is that what he meant, Ed? Does it speak to you?”
Ed pulls out of her hold. “You're… you came down here to check up on me,” he gapes. “You're not worried about me at all. You came down here because Lucius sent you. You and Lucius are… you're conspiring against me,” he grabs her by the arm. “Admit it.”
“Let me go,” she begs. “You're hurting me, Ed.”
‘That's right, you show her who's in charge, Eddie.’
“Tell me,” he gives her arm a shake. She betrayed him, just like everyone else.
“Ed, please, you're scaring me. This isn't like you.”
‘This is like you, the real you. Take off the mask, Eddie. Show her your true face. It is the same as your father's.’
That stops him. He is not like his father, he is nothing like his father. He releases Kristen and backs away. “I think you should go now, Krissy.”
“Ed, what is it?” she reaches for him. “I want to help you.”
‘She cannot help you. I can.’
“Please, just… get out of here,” he holds his head. He is not sure if he is speaking to Kristen or the voice in his head.
“I'll go get help, Ed,” she tells him. “I'll get Lucius, he can help you.” She runs back up the stairs, leaving her folder forgotten on his floor.
‘Do not let her go! You have to stop her, let me out. Let me take care of her.’
“No!” Ed slams his palms on the containment pod. “She's right, you're getting in my mind somehow. Making me think… thoughts.”
He pictures holding Kringle down, forcing her to.. kissing her with his hands around her throat. He hates that it makes him feel aroused.
‘That is not my doing. That is all you,’ it laughs. ‘You are going to be delicious, Ed Nygma.’
Ed picks the folder Kristen had dropped, flips it open. One word jumps out at him in red ink: Termination. Lucius had declared the specimen too dangerous to keep alive, with James’ recommendation. It had even been signed by Barnes. They were going to terminate the specimen.
‘What do you have there, slug? I cannot read your mind, it has gone silent.’
“Your termination papers,” he answers honestly, it deserves that much anyway.
‘They can try to terminate me, I will only grow stronger and larger,’ the purple veins pulse angrily across its shapeless body. ‘And when we are finally complete, we shall devour this entire planet.’
“What does that mean? When you are complete? I don't understand.” The first time the creature had spoken to him, hadn't it mentioned something about searching for his other half. Did that mean this form is incomplete, he wonders.
‘When I rejoin with my… what you would call a mate.’
“Your mate? You mean like your wife?” he asks confused.
‘Wife. Husband. Woman. Man. Female. Male. These are words that have no meaning for my people, we are above such titles. My mate is my other half, they are me and I am they.’ The green pulses contently. ‘Us, we are us. When we copulate we are one.’
Ed wonders about the possible sex between two shapeless blobs but thinks it might not be the best time to ask. He is not positive he wants to know.
“And you believe they are… here, on Earth?”
‘Not here Earth. Here Gotham. I can sense… them. My mate was sent here with a penal colony two years ago, we were separated but I have followed them here, they have… bonded with one of your kind for survival.’
“Your mate has… mated with another?” he frowns.
‘Not mated, no, that is only for our own kind,’ the alien heaves like a sigh. ‘To survive our kind must… form a symbiotic bond with a native life form. My mate has found one such life form here, in Gotham.’
“When they captured you, Lucius said, you seemed to go into the bodies of the soldiers and burn them from the inside out, like some kind of parasite,” he says to the creature. “Were you attempting to bond with them?”
‘I was desperate. I was hungry. And the men I took were frightened. For a bond to hold, there must be understanding between symbiote and host.’
“Symbiote… is that what your people are called?”
‘It is what your people have named us,’ the alien hums. ‘The connection symbiote and host is symbiotic in nature.’
“Symbiote and slave, more like,” he counters. “What does the host gain from the bond, other than a quick and painful death.”
‘For those that successfully bond, there is long life, rapid healing, heightened senses, inhuman strength and agility.’
Sounds too good to be true, there has to a catch. “And you want to find and bond with your mate's host?” He could find this person and sneak him into the lab, it would be breaking every protocol, but it would be preferable than allowing the alien creature be terminated. If the person already had one symbiote surely they couldn't protest another. “Do you have an idea where to start looking?”
‘You do not understand,’ the alien life form seems to sigh. ‘There may only be one symbiote to one host, more than one would destroy the host. You say I am to be terminated, I am already dying in here. I need a host. I need you, Ed.’
“Me?” he backs away from the containment pod. “Why me?”
‘There is no one else. You are the only one here that can hear me. The only one that does not fear me. We share a connection Ed Nygma, surely you have felt it from the beginning. Much as I am loathe to admit it, we are similar you and I. Our bond will be strong, I can feel it.’
“Why would I even agree to such a thing?”
‘I hear your desires, Ed Nygma. You want that female. I can help you with that. We will gut and cut off the head of your rival and lay it on her feet. She will not be able to deny you then. My mate always goes into a bloodlust when we kill someone together,’ the form shivers. ‘The first time we copulated was on the body of our enemies. I knew they were the one from the first.’
He can see it, feel it. Ed takes a hold of the table to brace himself, he feels himself gasping for breath as though he had just had an intense orgasm. He wonders if the alien life form is sending out strange pheromones.
“We cannot kill Dougherty,” he tells it.
‘I was speaking of the dark skinned scientist, did you not smell the lust coming off of her when she talked of him? Luciusss, his blood will go down well.’
“You will not kill Lucius,” he holds his head. “If I agree to this, there will be no killing. I will help you find your mate and then you both leave Gotham. Deal?”
‘It issss a deal, slug,’ the creature stretches. ‘Now let me out of here.’
Ed places his hand on the opening of the containment pod. This is probably a very bad idea. But he sees no alternative. He cannot allow the creature to be terminated. And if he is honest, he is curious. He wants to know more about the alien life form, he needs to understand.
He opens the pod.
At first the creature does not move, and then suddenly it leaps towards his face. Ed screams and it covers his mouth. He cannot breathe, he panics, it is going to kill him. He scratches at his throat and tries to fight it back. He feels himself fall forward and pass out.
“Ed! Edward!” he hears Kristen yell from far away.
Ed opens his eyes to Lucius staring down at him. He is lying in the other man's lap, he realizes.
“How are you feeling, Ed?” he asks calmly.
“Like I tried to swallow a watermelon whole,” Ed tries to laugh, chokes instead.
“Do you remember what happened?” Lucius helps him sit up, keeping his arm around him.
“I… no, I don't remember anything after Ms. Kringle left,” he shakes his head.
“The specimen escaped, Ed,” Lucius explains. “Did you let it out?”
“I don't remember,” he answers truthfully.
“Okay, let's get you to the infirmity,” Lucius helps him stand.
Their mate merges with themselves, they pulsate within them, causing wave after wave of intense pleasure within themselves. Ed comes awake with a scream. It is the most extreme wet dream he can ever recall having, and it had been with an alien life form!
Maybe Ms. Kringle was right, he has been spending too much time studying the specimen.
Where is he? He is lying down in a bed not his own and his arm appears to be hooked up to an I.V. Then he remembers, he is in the infirmity. He had passed out again on Lucius, and the other man must have brought him here.
The creature had escaped… no that isn't right, is it? He had released it. He had released it and it had attacked him. But where is it now?
‘Wake up, Ed! Our mate is here!’
Ed covers his ears, but the voice is coming from his own mind. “No need to scream, I can hear you. Here in Gotham?”
‘No! Ed! They are here! Here at the lab! They are downstairs. I can hear them! They are searching for us! They know we are here!’
Could it really be that easy, he wonders. He throws back the cover and rips the I.V. needle from his arm. He is wearing a thin hospital gown but someone has left a robe on the back of the chair. He puts it on before leaving the infirmity.
The nurses are easy to avoid and the hallways are empty on this side of the laboratory.
‘We are getting closer, Ed! Do you not feel it?’
He feels something like anticipation, but he wonders if he is only the feeling the anticipation of the creature he is currently sharing his body with.
“How will I know them when I see them?” he looks down above the main floor of the lab and stops. The stranger glows with a strange light of deep purple with lightning streaks of light green. The man, for the stranger is male, is familiar to him. He hides in the shadows before the other man can spot him.
‘What are you doing?! It is they! Our mates are here! You must take us down there to join them.’
Ed did not miss the emphasis the creature had placed on the plural word of “mates”.
“Do you know who that man is?” he hisses.
‘He is one that is worthy to host my mate, that is all I need know.’
“That is Oswald Cobblepot,” he whispers. “Fish Mooney’s right hand man, he is a well known gangster.” Ed knows everything about the strangely charismatic gangster, all about the way he had fought his way to the top of the mob.
‘Fisssshhhhh??’ the creature growls. ‘Fish is here too?’
“You know Fish Mooney?” he asks louder than he had meant, he covers his mouth.
‘Fish was my mate's… mentor, I guess you would say. They were on the penal ship that crashed here together.’
“You mean to say… Fish Mooney is like you?”
‘I would say, this Mooney is like you, Ed. But yes, Fish is a symbiote like me.’
Ed wonders how many more of them there are. Wait.. “What do you mean, the penal ship that crashed here? How many of your people were on that ship?”
‘It was a small transport ship. No more than fifty prisoners onboard. Plus the guards and their hosts.’
“And they're all here? In Gotham?” One or two aliens were easy enough for his mind to handle but the thought of over fifty of these creatures is a bit too much, even for him. They could be anyone, even Gordon or Barnes.
‘The only one I care about is below us. Why do you hide us, Ed?’ he feels the symbiote move around his gut, it makes him sick. ‘Take us down there now, or I will be forced to take over.’
Ed follows the gangster known as Oswald Cobblepot from the stairwell. He is smaller than he thought he would be. Almost what one would call delicate, in another man. But there is a strength to him as well, that has nothing to do with the symbiote sharing his body. There is no denying it, Cobblepot is a very attractive individual.
‘My mate has chosen well, do you not think,’ his own symbiote swells with pride. ‘You will enjoy being mated to that one, I think. I do not understand your people's fascination with your species buttocks but on that one I think I might.’
He looks away from the gangster’s well formed backside. Admiring a handsome male form did not make one gay. He clears his throat, blushes.
Ed waits until Cobblepot’s back is turned and then makes his way down the stairs. He tracks the gangster’s movements from across the room feeling more like the gazelle tracking the lion. They meet in the middle.
“Do you know who I am?” his voice is barely disguised annoyance.
“Always dressed in my best suit even when nude, what am I?” Ed smiles.
“I… are you asking me a riddle, or are you trying to pick me up?” the gangster’s eyes turn an impossible shade of bright green.
“You asked if I knew who you are, the riddle is the answer,” he answers.
‘Penguin,’ his symbiote whispers.
“Your eyes… they're purple,” Oswald leans forward towards him. “Are you… the one we seek?”
“Do you believe in fate, Mr. Penguin?” the symbiote hums inside him.
“I believe in us,” Oswald closes the distance between them and kisses him on the lips. Ed forgets everything, where they are, that they have an audience, that he is still wearing a hospital gown and robe. He kisses his newly found mate back.
The two symbiotes meet between their kiss.
‘Riddler,’ the second symbiote whispers.
‘My mate.’ They are now complete.