Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #4

Gotham is sweating tonight. The heat wave that has mercilessly beaten upon the weathered city’s brow for the past week shows no signs of abating. Street crime has been climbing steadily, along with a general sense of unrest that radiates from the city’s sweltering heart all the way out to the palisades. Your Cave, however, remains cool. As you did the night before, you stand near to the falls there and listen to the water crashing down, eradicating all conscious thought, inviting clarity in. It’s been a hell of a week.

It started with the Narrows killer, a case you’ve since solved. Waylon Jones, better known to the civilized world as Killer Croc, had been under the effects of an incredibly potent, mutated strain of the Scarecrow’s fear toxin. The toxin caused Croc to become even more unstable than usual, and altered his choice of targets. Instead of his customary demographic, being the rich, wealthy or otherwise powerful citizens of Gotham, it instead began preying upon the weak and helpless, those the social pariah might normally sympathize with. Preliminary reports from Arkham suggest that he killed the five people from the Narrows to “save” them from a greater fear. One that he believed was coming for him. You believe you were the root of that fear. In that way, the deaths of those people are your cross to bear.

Shortly after Croc began killing in the Narrows, your friend and ally Jim Gordon came to you for help. Someone had been accessing the MCU’s system and authorizing the withdrawal of riot gear from the lock-up under Gordon’s personal ID. The crimes were perpetrated in such a way that Gordon believes whoever’s behind it is targeting him specifically, not just making use of his high priority clearance. Since you discovered the withdrawals, the story has been leaked anonymously to the press, you can only guess by the same person that’s pulling the strings. Gordon has been crucified in the public eye, and it won’t be soon before a summons to Gotham’s courts arrives on the commissioner’s doorstep.

Finally, Dick Grayson has been missing for nearly two weeks. His last known location was at a Bat bunker in Paris, and even that connection is tenuous at best. He went to France in pursuit of the assassin Deathstroke, whom he had failed to stop from assassinating a Gotham big-wig a month ago.

You cross the large platform that serves as the Cave’s primary workspace and access the database. The files pertaining to Jim Gordon’s predicament have been updated three times since last you looked before turning in for the day: twice automatically and once by Alfred. The document states the nature of the crimes likely to be alleged against the commissioner (all federal in nature) and an attached feed pings the net for the appropriate tags, then filters out the garbage, leaving only what it deems pertinent and syncs the new information with the document.

Most things are as you’d expect: Gotham’s press is having a field day with sensationalist headlines shamelessly accusing Gordon of all manner of indecency, and they’re not the only ones: all major radio and television news outlets promise ongoing coverage of the situation until its resolution. The one thing that leaps out at you is the addition made by Alfred, which simply states “Michael Donahue lambasts Batman, previously indifferent.” There is a small audio clip attached in which Michael Donahue, a Gotham politician and the city’s darling for the next mayoral election, vehemently attacks the Batman and demands to know what the current administration is doing about it. It’s all show for the press, of course, but what intrigues you is that, in your prior surveillance of Donahue, he had seemed neutral to or even sympathetic toward the Batman. You sigh in frustration and pinch the bridge of your nose between forefinger and thumb. As you glare at the monitor, as if you might somehow coerce it into providing answers, you are reminded of the sensation of wrongness that you felt in Jim Gordon’s office. It was as if everything was too perfectly arranged, like a doll house.

Or a crime scene.

Perhaps the MCU bears investigation.

You decide to head for the MCU to start, then patrol Gotham’s south side for signs of Jonathan Crane. You’ve cut down the trip into the city from the palisades by six minutes since last week, a marked improvement. At least some good has come of the past few days.

When you reach the MCU, you find its rooftop swarming with activity. Men and women in unremarkable blazers and caps move about, some carrying heavy gear, others working on something large and some that appear to be patrolling a perimeter. After a few minutes’ observation, you conclude they are doing just that. A minute or two more and you catch the bulk of concealed firearms on the guards. Unfortunate. Guns are always messy.

You turn your attention to the unarmed workmen, and finally realize exactly what they’re doing. They’re taking apart the Bat-signal, carting it off piece by piece. That’s a bad sign. How far off can Gordon’s reckoning be if they’re already removing the searchlight he had installed? It also presents a problem: your usual method of entry to the MCU is an air duct accessible from the roof. One that is now heavily guarded.

Gordon’s situation is becoming desperate quickly and Scarecrow can wait… Even if you lose the trail now, psychopaths like him can’t help but do something to attract your attention. He won’t stay hidden long.

You do a circuit of the buildings surrounding the MCU, looking for a break in the patrol patterns. Everything is fairly tight, even by your standards, which is a surprise coming from the Gotham PD. Any other day you would have found six ways in before you hit the second rooftop. Now you struggle to find one.

Even accounting for guard rotations, you manage to find only a single way in. The air duct that is your customary entry point is unobserved for roughly ten seconds every fourteen minutes. That might be enough time to unscrew the duct cover, get into the access shaft and get gone without being seen. Barely. You don’t like it, but you don’t see another option.

You wait another two minutes for the next rotation, then bow your legs and launch yourself off the highrise you were observing from and begin to count.

One…

With wind streaking by you, you snag the steel covering on a window one floor beneath the rooftop with your grappling hook and lock your muscles as they take the full strain of your weight plummeting towards earth. It burns, but you hold on.

Two…

You brace yourself against the wall and begin your ascent, fingers aching with the effort of holding on. Slowly, step by step you climb.

Three…

You haul yourself over the edge of the roof just in time to see one of the suits round the corner. Damn. They switched up rotations. Like they knew you’d be watching. Without thinking, you launch yourself forward and onto the guard, pinning him beneath your wait and silencing a scream. You tense your fingers and jab a nerve cluster. The man convulses briefly, then blacks out. He’ll survive with one hell of a headache.

Four…

A door opens and you know the regularly scheduled guard is on his way back up. Less than no time now, have to be faster than planned.

Five…

The screws come loose, but not without difficulty. You almost lose your patience and haul the whole thing off, but remind yourself that that would only make it obvious that someone had been there. Finally, you get the panel off…

Six…

… And remember that you left the injured and unconscious guard in plain sight. Quick thinking has you wrap a grappling line around his ankles and roll him over the edge of the roof. The line goes taut as it catches on the steel bar below. The guard will be fine, though they’ll have a hell of a time getting him back onto solid ground.

Seven…

You’re into the vent and pulling the covering back on. A screw slips and clatters to the ground not far from you. No time to get it now.

Eight…

The man rounds the corner and casually strolls by the air duct… Or would have, had he not paused behind it to use it as a windshield whilst lighting a cigarette. He notices the screw on the ground and cocks his head to one side, then kneels and picks it up, rolling it over in his fingers. He glances back at the vent, then begins walking back toward it.

But you, of course, are already gone.

Two floors below, you’re back in your element. The MCU is dark, the few lonely lamps lit by detectives doing overtime notwithstanding. You slip by the exhausted men and women hunched over their desks easily, their awareness weighted down as it is. In moments you’ve reached Gordon’s office. You reach into your utility belt for a lockpick and begin working the door, only then realizing that it wasn’t locked to begin with. Strange. Jim never leaves his office unsecured. On a hunch, you press your ear to the door and listen intently.

There.

You were right. There’s a rustling coming from Gordon’s office, and… Voices? At least one voice that seems to be addressing another person. Deciding that monitoring the conversation may be useful, you move down to the office next door and remove the cheap paneling that serves as the major crime unit’s ceiling. That done, you hoist yourself up and find anchor points that can support your wait. With infinite patience, you then inch over the weak panels until you’re positioned where you’d approximate Jim’s desk is in the room below.

“Hurry up, he’s not going to like it if we’re late.”

“What do I care? As long as he pays up I don’t care what the psycho likes.”

“Oh, really? And I imagine you’d say this to his face?”

“Shut up and let me work.”

“What does he want this time, anyway?”

“He says the other freak needs more tear gas canisters. So I’m taking the whole thing.”

You hear what might be laughter, brief and insincere.

“Wouldn’t want to be Gordon when the press gets a hold of this.”

The conversation seems to end on that remark. There’s some inconsequential chatter about previous jobs these two, who you assume to be low-level thugs, perhaps specializing in tech crime, worked together on. It seems that things have only started to get ugly for Gordon.

You can’t let this garbage heap more allegations on Gordon’s good name. Quietly, you slide back the panel beneath you and peer down into the dark office below. The two thugs are bathed in the cold light from Gordon’s computer, one seated at the keyboard while the other is perched on the desk, shooting imaginary targets with a riot shotgun. One that’s supposed to be in the MCU lock-up. One that’s supposed to be loaded with bean bag rounds. Wouldn’t count on that assumption. Time to go to work.

Fate is a fickle bitch. As you prepare to drop onto the hereto unsuspecting thug, he yawns, stretches and looks up at the ceiling, where he sees a black void in place of the panel that used to be there.

“What the f–Mikey! He’s here!”

The thug fires a hasty shot at the dark, which you manage to avoid the worst of by throwing yourself backward. Unfortunately doing so both put you above the office next door and gave you enough momentum to crash right through the cheap pressboard ceiling. You recover and manage to not land badly, rolling to absorb most of the impact. There’s no time to self-congratulate, however, as buckshot begins tearing through the MCU’s thin walls from Gordon’s office and you’re forced to dive once more to avoid being shredded. The response from the detectives burning the midnight oil in the bullpen outside is immediate. You can already hear authoritative barks demanding that the unknown assailant disarm himself and surrender. You also hear the pounding of feet on the roof above you; seems you’ve just kicked the hornet’s nest. You wait for the scum next door to load a few more shells and start shooting again so he’ll be distracted when you break through the wall.

Then you break through the wall.

A number of startled expletives are exclaimed as you crash back into the room. This time there’s no room for error. You catch the shotgun as it swings around to fire on you, then grab the thug’s wrist and jerk his arm forward, which you then break at the joint with a rising elbow. He screams in pain and you toss him aside. You decide he must have been the muscle after the one seated at the desk surrenders immediately. That doesn’t stop him from getting what he deserves. Just as you finish with him, you hear the detectives outside again.

“Come out with your hands up! You are surrounded and will be fired upon if you do not comply in sixty seconds!”

A bit vicious, but you can’t blame any cop in Gotham for an itchy trigger finger.

Seconds later, the two thugs stagger out of the office with their hands bound, propelled by your kick. Both lose their balance and end up in a heap on the floor. Then you step into the light.

“Batman?! Get on the ground and put your hands behind your–“

“No time,” you interrupt, “Get these men to interrogation and have the men upstairs assist in a sweep of the entire buildi–“

“Upstairs?” Their turn to interrupt. “What men upstairs?”

At that moment, the door to roof access bursts inward and several of the non-descript individuals come pouring through, all having retrieved some form of weapon from their uniforms. There is a moment of complete silence as the detectives look back in stark confusion at the newcomers.

Then the men in gray open fire.

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