Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #20-20.5

A panic has taken Gotham.

City-wide curfews are being enforced. When the sun goes down, so do the shutters. The streets are abandoned, but for the occasional squawk of a squad car’s siren. Dark things inhabit the hidden places, once human but transformed by the powerful grip of a madman’s psychotic drug. The “Addicted.” They move through back alleys in packs, breaking windows and flimsy doors… and anything they find inside.

Cyril Hobbes, the interim commissioner from Metropolis, claims to be doing all he can to clamp down on the problem. But he’s addressing the symptom, not the sickness. He sends goon squads in search of the Addicted, beats them down, throws them in holding. Notices are posted, paperwork is processed by overworked officers, families are notified in the few cases that identification can be verified.

No one has ever claimed an Addicted.

So eventually they’re let go, or in the case that they’re believed to be dangerous instead of comatose after a week of discovery, sent to Arkham. That hellhole is broiling over, set to explode. Worse still, there are rumors of apex predators arising, nameless horrors that take innocent and Addicted alike.

And the source of the problem goes unchecked. Hush, and whoever else is working with him, is still running rampant, creating more monsters. You have to find him, stop him. Luckily, you’ve had help triangulating the patterns of the spreading illness from some of the best. Lucius Fox and Tim Drake have been working around the clock, giving you free hands to pursue the surgeon’s people.

You’re atop Wayne Tower, taking a rare break to ingest carbohydrates and water. You’ve begun adding caffeine pills to the mix. You’ve put an end to four incidents since the sun went down, and those were just on the way in. Time to head back out.

Vaulting rooftops and grappling over wide, rain-soaked streets, you head for downtown. Tim answers after a few seconds of paging on the secured frequencies.

“Batman. You’re on your way?”

“A few minutes from your location, Red Robin. Start the rundown.”

“I’ve been rooting through the downtown for the last few weeks, so when you mentioned the human trafficking, it struck a chord. There’s been a number of abductions, mostly street beggars and subway musicians. It’s happening all over the city, yes, but there’s a marked concentration in this area. I loosened some lips and got word of something big going down tonight. Lots of players, including a mask.”

“Who?”

“Informant didn’t say.”

“Where?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

“I never do.”

“Blackgate.”

You pause.

“You knew about this and didn’t tell me?”

“It was small-time gossip at first. Didn’t see the bigger picture until I got your files.”

You drop down from the shadows above as he finishes his sentence.

“Next time, bring something like this to me. Let’s move.”

It’s another twenty minutes with Tim by your side before you reach Blackgate. Tim seems content to let the silence last.

“You’ve read the information we’ve compiled so far. What’s your take on it?”

Drake takes a baseball slide through some pipe grating, then launches onto a lower elevation before answering.

“Well, it seems obvious that Hush and Scarecrow have it in their heads that by working together, they can do more damage. Which, of course, is true.”

You grunt. No use denying it; the fact that the city’s psychopaths tend to have homicidal personality quirks has worked to your favor more than once. Lock them in a room together, and it’s an easy guarantee that only one will walk out. If there’s a plan big enough that they’ve decided to set aside their differences, it’s bad news.

“The problem I see with it is the Gordon angle. From what you’re telling me, neither Elliot nor Crane ought to have the knowledge necessary to crack that security encryption. But it’s clearly connected.”

“That implies another player.”

“Exactly. And what’s their endgame with all of this, anyway? What comes after the Addicted?”

Not something you’d considered. As far as you’d been able to figure, the Addicted were the endgame, not a means to it.

Commence Issue 20.5 -Ed.

Gotham rain lashes heavily on the brickwork of Blackgate Penitentiary. That grim edifice is a glaring embodiment of all that is wrong with the once great city; a cancerous boil, filled with poison. Tonight, you fear it just might burst.

Tim Drake, your former protégé and the current Red Robin, has brought you here on suspicion that Hush’s thugs might be preparing the madman’s masterstroke. Worse still, the young man’s brilliantly intuitive mind has brought to bear the suggestion of yet another player in the game. Who it is, neither of you can say for sure.

It seems you’re not the first to pay a visit to Blackgate tonight. Outside the building are several patrol cars and a number of unmarked vehicles. All is quiet inside as far as you can tell.

You signal for Drake to follow you, then begin moving toward the penitentiary. The downpour is deafening, a double-edged sword: no one can hear you, but you can’t hear them either. You begin ghosting around the patrol cars, just beyond the edge of the light, straining to find a way in. Nothing on this level. It’s a fortress.

Tim grabs your shoulder, points upward. All of the windows are barred of course, but those on the ground and near it are more heavily fortified. Maybe, if you could get up there, you could figure something out.

You nod to Drake, then hold your arm out to put him behind you. A second later, your grappling wire hurtles through the air, finds purchase on the steel grating, holds fast. Tim takes the hint and does the same on a separate window. On your signal, you both key the retraction buttons on your gear, and scale the slick stone wall. You’re on the fourth floor, looking into a darkened room. Can’t make much out between that and the rain out here. Drake is three windows to your right, waiting expectantly.

There’s protective grating to prevent any would-be escape artists, so a glass cutter isn’t viable right now. Instead, you reach into your utility belt and go for the plastique you had commissioned from Fox recently, constructed from a template designed on the theory used in Batwoman’s own kit. You noticed the gadget when you paired up with the woman to storm GCU and free Scarecrow’s victims there. Swinging to the right on your cable, you fasten the explosive at the base of the grate’s four anchor points, then put some distance between you and open communications with Tim.

“Red Robin, keep your distance. I’m going to make a hole.”

“Won’t that alert whoever’s inside?”

“Not this. It’s self- silencing, more of an intense, sustained heat than a big bang.”

“Can I-”

“No.”

A few seconds later, the plastique detonates, fizzing loudly in the rain as it builds heat. After a moment, the anchors groan and give way. Before the grate can crash to the ground below, you and Drake catch it and secure it on his grapple line. All according to plan.

You nod to Tim.

“I’m going in first. Secure your line, then follow me.”

Another dive into the utility belt yields your glass cutter. You sketch a hasty diamond-pattern in the glass, pushing the plate inward and to the side. It’s a close thing, getting yourself through to the other side, but you manage it. Dripping on the window sill, you slip down and survey your surroundings. The room is tiny, not much bigger than a cell. What differentiates it is the desk: not elaborate, made of cheap wood, but more than any inmate could ever hope for. This is what passed for an employee’s office. There’s a bookcase on the far end of the wall, and a door with a crazed glass window pane overlooking what you assume to be the central walkways. It’s impossible to tell what exactly is going on out there, but there are lights and raised voices. As you ponder the possibilities, Drake slips in behind you.

You glide across the office floor soundlessly, pressing up against the door for a better listen.

“-fering with a police investigation.”

“I understand that sir, but with all due respe–”

“This is not a point of debate, warden. You will comply or I will have you charged.”

“Who exactly do you think you are? Jim Gordon and I have been friends for fifteen yea–”

“Which is more than enough to have you charged as accomplice once he’s brought down.”

“You son of a–”

“Officers. Arrest the warden.”

You recognize the warden’s voice surely, but the other is hard to place… Maybe someone you don’t know. Tim slides up to the other side of the door, and whispers.

“Batman? Anything about this seem odd to you?”

You pause, give him a questioning look.

“No alarms. We should have triggered something with our entry. No bells, no hazard lights. Nothing.”

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