Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #9-9.5

Gotham has a fever that will not break. It is relentless, pervasive and utterly wasting. For the past two weeks, temperatures have been skyrocketing, breaking records left and right. Home and business fires have been on the rise as overtaxed air conditioning units break down and the heat sets electrical circuitry cooking. Those who are without the means to properly cool themselves have been herded into relief centers around the city to avoid heatstroke.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before those relief centers were under siege.

First there was Phosphorus Rex, an insane mutant with pyro-kinetic capabilities. Flourishing in the hellish temperatures, Rex began setting overcrowded relief centers ablaze and ushering those who attempted to escape them along to an even worse death. You are Damian Wayne, the son of the Bat and his successor, and as such could not allow Gotham’s people to be so terrorized. Having taken care of Rex, however, you patched into O.R.A.C.L.E. to find that the night is far from over.

Two-Face-Two has been taking his slice from the relief centers, promising protection from Rex and his ilk in exchange for… Well, everything.

Max Roboto has been cleaning up in the financial districts, attacking unguarded exchange towers and withdrawing funds en masse.

William Cobblepot has been extorting the masses for entry to his Iceberg Lounge, charging exorbitant entry fees despite the city council declaring the club a relief center and as such open to the public, free of charge.

Despite the city’s many other and ongoing woes, you decided Two-Face-Two was the biggest threat and made your way to his location.

The heat is unbearable, the very walls sweating as you approach the last door in a hallway of the relief center that Two-Face-Two has taken hostages in. Behind you, a squad of Gotham city riot cops are standing by to intervene. Can’t let that happen; Dent’s successor will kill those people if he gets so much as a whiff of a badge. Above, Ro-Bats swarm the rooftop, diving and screeching, communicating via binary and monitoring the building top-to-bottom.

Two-Face-Two demanded that you meet him alone here, so it’s a trap. Obviously. The trick is figuring out how to spring it and walk away with the hostages intact.

You reach the door.

You attempt to jerryrig a connection between O.R.A.C.L.E., the Ro-Bats above and your cowl output, put it’s no use. Whether the temperatures are playing merry hell with the signals or the execution is just beyond your expertise, you can’t tell.

You raise a gauntlet to the cheap pressboard door, rap a few times on it. After a moment, a shrill, child-like voice answers. Two-Face-Two’s darker persona.

“I would ask who’s there, but I know it’s you. I can hear you thinking.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. You know it’s me because you’d blow a hole in anyone else who came down this hallway and you made sure good people knew it. People that couldn’t let that rest on their conscience.”

Laughter, again with that child-like quality. But underneath it, the keen edge of madness.

“Why don’t you come in, detective? We have much to discuss.”

“I’ve had enough tricks played on me by Joker to know better than to open a door that one of you is standing on the other side of.”

“Don’t speak the Clown’s name, lest he hear you.” Screeches the little voice. But after a moment, its tone softens. “Yes, perhaps I can have the big one do that. If of course you promise no trickery, sneaky Bat.” There’s a scuffling then, and you hear a series of locks click open. Must have been expecting you to come at him full tilt. You have to admit, it was a tempting prospect.

In the next two seconds, you hear the final tumbler click aside, the door creak open and the click of a handgun’s action. You have a fraction of a second to react. Luckily, there’s already a Batarang in your palm.

Closing your eyes, you will the world around you to slow, to enter a metaphysical state as the League of Assassin’s taught you. You see Two-Face-Two’s human face slack, eyes rolled back, drool dangling from his jaw. The gun, pointing at you from inky blackness, set to fire.

And you throw.

The shard of razor-sharp steel slices through the air and glides gracefully into and through the villain’s flesh. He howls as it does, staggering back. You bash the door in on him to increase the effect.

The thing in control of Two-Face-Two’s body howls like an spoiled brat. You kick him in the ribs to establish the tone. Then you step over his body, lean down, grab him by the collar and growl into his face.

“Little Face never was much for planning, was it?” You mock. It squeals at you, unrepentant. “I want to talk to the man in charge.” You slam your armored cowl into the mutant’s face. It rocks back, then hangs slack in your hands for a moment before the other side takes over.

“Wh…What have I…? Ba–Batman. Of course it’s you…” His eyes slide out of focus for a moment, then come back wild and desperate. “Listen to me, Batman. Father would have wanted me to help you in this. This man, the Instigator, is planning something so terrible that not even the Little Face would participate.”

Commence Issue 9.5 -Ed.

The heat has not yet broken in Gotham city. Despite a slight decline in temperature when the sun passed down behind the towers, the aging metropolis has remained a furnace, threatening its citizens with flash-fires and the inevitable onset of heatstroke. Instead of being out there, where father would be, helping the people, you are forced to remain here, in a dark room at the end of the hall in an abandoned relief center. Interrogating a pale reflection of one of yesteryear’s most infamous.

Two-Face-Two.

You’ve managed to bring about the ‘good’ side of the psychopath through brute force, knocking the hideous mutant perched irremovably on his face unconscious and restoring control to the fair side of the coin. He’s talkative. More than usual.

“I’m sorry, Batman. I can’t control him. If I sleep–” he pauses, shudders, “–I can’t sleep. But if I don’t sleep, I die. What then? What happens when I’m asleep for good? What if he’s not?”

You’ve never given much quarter to your rogues, never listened to their twisted reasoning. Father used to do that… One of the rare quirks you considered a weakness. Criminals are simple: they’re cowards.

“Then I’ll put him down, too.” You growl. “Now talk. What was the play here?”

“You know I don’t know the specifics. It doesn’t work that way. But I have a limited window of consciousness while he’s in control. I nudged his choice of hostages to try and warn you.”

“An old hobo and a six-year-old… Past and present? What kind of warning is that?”

“’Past and present.’ That’s what he said. A man in a black, oiled leather suit. He met with the Little Face… They made some kind of deal–” you lunge forward, pick him up and slam him against the wall.

“What was his name? What was the deal?” You scream.

“He said the girl was Gotham’s past, and the bum was its future!” He stammers. “S–said he was going to make you choose.” The freak’s eyelids begin to droop, so you bash him against the wall again.

But it’s no use. You were too aggressive, brash as always. Two-Face-Two’s eyes roll back in his head as he loses consciousness and Little Face takes control.

“His name,” he says, sliding an undetected weapon out from his right sleeve, “was the Instigator.”

Click.

You bat the weapon aside as the trigger is pulled, its ammunition burying itself in the drywall behind you. Despite your efforts, however, Little Face keeps his hold on the weapon. Staggering backward, he makes ready to fire again.

With a practiced surety, you reach for the third pouch from the buckle on your utility belt and flick a series of razor-sharp Batarangs at Two-Face-Two’s wrist. The first takes his ring finger, the second buries itself in his forearm and the third ricochets off the pistol, sending it spinning through the air, clattering to the floor somewhere in the dark room beyond. He howls and swings at you with his good arm, but the approach is haphazard and you easily deflect and counter, sweeping him off his already unsteady balance and pinning him to the ground.

“I’m not playing with you tonight, Little Face.” You growl, twisting the Batarang in his forearm. “Tell me everything you know about the Instigator.”

“I know you should show him more respect than you do me, dark knight,” the twisted face rasps, “and you’re gonna find out why.”

You wrench the Batarang again, tearing muscle.

“Now you’re bleeding to death. The other guy wondered what would happen to the other if either of you died. Want to find out?”

“Aghhk! I don’t know! He wouldn’t tell any of us the specifics! Ask the Bird, he’s your only hope.”

You straighten, wipe blood off your coat. Little Face looks up with you an expression that could be described as pleading.

“You’re not gonna leave me here… I gave you what you wanted. Get me to the goddamn hospital!”

You know what you should do… What father would have done. Knock him out, tie him up and get him help. But that other side of you, the one you struggle to suppress, says leave him. He made his choice.

If it weren’t an artificial intelligence, you’d be certain O.R.A.C.L.E. was testy at being left to wait for so long. The system has brought back several reports, foremost of which are the Penguin and Max Roboto situations. William Cobblepot, Oswald’s heir, continues to charge exorbitant entry fees to his Iceberg Lounge, which the city has declared to be an emergency relief center and thus free and open to the public. As always, the Cobblepot family grows fat on Gotham’s suffering. Max Roboto has been moving systematically through the city’s downtown financial quarter, draining the abandoned markets of digital currency at an alarming rate. He’s almost reached what you’ve determined to be his end point.

Curiously, the marked statue which you last knew to be in the Instigator’s possession has moved again.

An urgent message blinks on the Malone account from the Machinist’s proxy.

Deciding time will be needed to weigh your options, you key in the distress signal for the GCPD and make yourself scarce. A few minutes later you’ve reached the rooftop and take a moment to find your direction.

You set O.R.A.C.L.E. to triangulating the tracer signal’s new position and gathering as much information on the area as possible, then pull up Max Roboto’s dossier. You already know it by heart, of course. What little there is to know. He appeared suddenly and without explanation a few years ago. You’ve pieced together since then that he may have been the son of an officer Bailey of the GCPD, bu that’s purely conjecture at this point. As for his goals, they’re fairly simple by super villain standards: make as much money as quickly as possible regardless of the legality. This heat wave has been a blessing in disguise for him, allowing him access to untenanted downtown financial towers and all the secrets they hold. His cybernetics would allow him to interface directly with the bank systems. Hacking those systems would be elementary for him, like picking a cheap lock.

In minutes, a Ro-Bat has carried you across the city to Roboto’s last known location. Elliot Financial, an irreplaceable landmark of the financial quarter. Despite the skyline having risen above it long ago, the building’s greatness is little diminished.

You patch into your eavesdrop on GCPD traffic, try and get a fix on where the action is. From the sounds of it, all hands have responded to either the hostage situation with Two-Face-Two or to properly contain Phosphorus Rex. Even without those considerations, the force is stretched thin responding the riots and fires across the city. Sounds like you’re on your own here.

The Ro-Bat drops you off on the building’s helipad (a decadent addition for the time it was constructed in, now long disused), and you scan the roof for entry points. There’s a secure access door that leads into an emergency stairwell, a mechanical shed that might have some kind of entry point inside and a large ventilation shaft, blowing cool air out into the baking night.

The lock on the access door was sophisticated when it was installed, but hasn’t been updated in years. It yields quickly under your ministrations, and the door swings wide. You begin your descent of the switchback staircase, pausing every so often to listen. You hear only the echoes of your footfall. So long does the silence last that you begin to wonder if you have misjudged Roboto, if perhaps he resisted the last big score and is long gone to some obscure hell or other that you’ll have to track him to. But no. After the sixth flight of stairs, the lights snap on and you freeze. Somewhere, an emergency intercom crackles to life.

“It appears we have a rodent in the emergency stairwell…” Coos Roboto through the speaker.

“Where are you Roboto?” You demand, your voice rebounding off the concrete walls. “I don’t have time to play games with you tonight.”

“I think you do. That’s why you showed up, after all. It must be terribly drafty in that stairwell. Why don’t I turn up the heat?”

The intercom clicks off. After a few moments, you resume your descent, only to pause a few flights down.

The central air supply has stopped.

Testing the crashbar of the door to the twenty-first floor, you are surprised to find it unlocked. Part of you fears a trap, as Roboto is not the kind to hack an entire building’s security systems just to leave a stray door ajar. Still, the stairwell is too easily made a coffin under the right circumstances. It’s getting hotter in here.

The twenty-first floor turns out to look much like any other floor in a tower of business: clean, sanitized, painfully dull and with an unmistakable and pervasive air of desperation present even when those who toil in this place are gone.

A phone on a desk starts to ring.

Despite the risk, you connect to the landline via your cowl uplink and answer the call.

“What?”

“Why did you leave, Batman? We were only just getting started. Besides, you can’t run from me. Not here.”

“You’re not very bright, Roboto. I’m not running from you. I’m running toward you.”

“And what makes you think I’ll let you get anywhere near me?” The cyborg hisses over the line. Seconds later, you hear the slam of magnetic locks securing themselves all around you. Then you’re alone in the dark, cut off even from adjoining rooms.

“There, now. Safe and sound in your cool, dark cave…” Crows Roboto. “… Well, dark anyway.” He mocks. It’s true, too: the temperatures in the building have continued to climb, and there’s a mechanical impulse behind it. Not only has Roboto deactivated the air conditioning, but he’s turned on the heater, too.

You throw your shoulder into the floor-length glass walls that look out onto the city, but it’s no use. These things are built to withstand a lot more than you’re prepared to throw at them right now, physically. While the miniaturized glass-cutter you carry with you isn’t powerful enough to punch through a strength-blend like this, you do happen to have four eraser-sized pieces of semtex tucked into the rear pouches of the belt. You begin fixing them to the four corners of a window panel.

As you do, a phone begins to ring.

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