“It’s started,” came the cool voice of Batwoman over the radio. “Keep an eye for any activity at your assigned areas.”
Overlooking the front entrance of Wayne Industry’s corporate headquarters building, Ragman acknowledged. “Good here at post one. Fear Factor’s been scouting the ground around the building; nobody’s been in or out in the past two hours.”
“Thomas Wayne Stadium is quiet,” said Man-Bat, cruising over the sports facility on the north side of the city. “No games tonight, and the neighborhood’s been quiet.”
“Nothing happening at the Wayne Art Gallery,” added Robin.
“Hang on, I think I’ve got something.” Prototype pressed a finger to a stud mounted near his temple, and there was a barely audible hum as the surface of the polymer visor under his mask shifted. “I’ve got a pair of black hang-gliders converging on the Martha Wayne Hospital. Two men dropping from each one.”
“I’m closest,” said Robin over the radio link. “I’m on my way.”
“The rest of you, converge on the Foundation building,” instructed Batwoman. “Two-Face is there himself, so he’s probably got a small army with him. Robin, Prototype, yell if you need help.”
From his vantage point on a water tower, Prototype watched the four men touch down on the roof of the hospital. They turned away from him and walked toward a door leading into a stairwell on the top of the four-story building. He pulled a stave from its holder on his thigh and pointed it at the building beyond the hospital. The press of a button released a tightly coiled spring, launching a slender shaft trailing a nearly invisible line. When it struck the wall of the other building, slender tendrils slapped the wall and stuck there, held by microscopic fibers. A servo-motor in the stave started retracting the line immediately. Prototype jumped, letting the line pull him out toward the hospital. He swung out into the air, falling until his weight was caught on the line. His cape trailed out behind him until he reached the spot he wanted. Pressing another button on the stave, he released the grapple from the building, and it was retracted in an instant. He reached up and grabbed the edges of the cape, using it to drop slowly to the roof behind the attackers. He landed with a soft thump, but it was enough to betray his presence.
“What the–?” cried one of the crooks, turning with a pistol in his hand. Spotting the cloaked and armored figure, he took aim. In response, Prototype raised one arm and pointed it at him. There was a popping sound, then a ball of blue lightning erupted on the other man’s chest. He fell to the roof, twitching.
“Looks like the sparkers work,” whispered Prototype, seemingly to nobody.
“Told you they would,” came a voice over his earpiece. “What about the acid shots?”
“Haven’t tried them yet.” Pressing a stud on his gauntlet, Prototype aimed at one of the others. He pressed the firing stud, but nothing happened. Glancing down at the weapon built into the gauntlet, he saw smoke curling from one of the raised sections on his arm. “Damn! Looks like it burst in the chamber!”
“Disengaging gauntlet lock from here. Drop it, Dad, quick — that stuff will eat through in seconds.” There was a soft metallic chink, and Prototype felt the bands holding the gauntlet on his right arm fall away. He shook the arm, and the weapon fell free.
“Problems?” The voice was high and clear, drawing the attention of all of those on the rooftop. Looking up, Prototype spotted Robin dropping from an awkward-looking flying device. It looked like a chair with an oversized fan attached over the top. He had heard reports of the whirly-bats being sighted around Gotham before, but had never believed such a contraption existed. Now he knew better.
“Let them go, Harvey. I’m the one you’re after.”
“Oh, yes, ever the noble one, Bruce. Never fear, I have no intention of keeping Gotham’s beautiful people here. God knows, I was never all that crazy about them when I was district attorney. Why should I want them clogging up the works now?” He turned toward the rows of partygoers, raised his left hand, and fired the pistol that he held. “Go on, get out of here!’ he yelled.
A half-dozen thugs roamed the room, prodding the slower among the crowd. Those who protested were knocked unconscious and carried out. Two men held Bruce Wayne at gunpoint as a third wrapped duct tape around his arms and legs, securing him to the chair.
“Oh, Lord, Bruce, look at you, the preening peacock of Gotham. Damn it, man, I had such high hopes for you!” Two-Face stopped his pacing of the dias and looked directly at Bruce. “Such high hopes.”
“Look, Harvey, you were the one who cleared me of the embezzlement charges. Why come after me now?”
“You don’t get it, do you? This has nothing to do with that — this is about your betrayal!” screamed Two-Face.
“Betrayal? What are you talking about?”
“Bruce, Bruce, I had such hopes for you. Top of your classes at Gotham University, with some of the highest marks in law and criminology in the history of the school. Your internship with the District Attorney’s office showed such promise, especially those briefs you wrote on the Rafferty case. I was just an assistant at the time, and I was responsible for recruiting the best of the law classes. You were at the top of my list when you up and took off on your trip around the world to find yourself.” The split-faced criminal sneered. “Bah! Instead of the crusading champion of justice I thought you would become, you’ve become just another millionaire playboy.”
Bruce sat stunned. Two-Face didn’t realize that he had, indeed, become a champion for justice. As a student of law and criminology, he had come to realize that his quest for justice would forever be hampered by the restrictions of the court systems. Instead, he had left to travel the world, continuing his twelve-year-long quest to learn the secrets of the world’s greatest detectives, escape artists, espionage agents, and martial artists, all of which culminated in his becoming the Batman.
“So, now you’re paying back those who you feel betrayed you during your career as a district attorney? Those who you felt escaped justice, somehow?”
“That’s right, and after you’re dead, I’ll be able to rest easier, knowing that I have at last returned to the side of justice, even if only for a short time.”
“You’ll rest easier in a cell at Arkham.” The members of Two-Face’s gang turned to see an athletic figure clad in dark blue and gray looking down from the hole in the ceiling. “Bet we can find room for all your friends at Blackgate, too.” Looking down at his mentor, Nightwing smiled.
Back across town, Robin found himself fighting two of the criminals who had tried to attack the hospital. Prototype was fighting the other, hampered only slightly from having lost one of his gauntlets.
“Must be something wrong with the interlock. When I released the right one, I lost telemetry on the left as well. That shouldn’t have happened.” The voice in his ear sounded slightly desperate, and Prototype could hear the sound of typing on the other end. “Try a manual load and fire.”
Prototype pressed a stud in the palm of his left hand with his thumb, watching the display projected on the inside of his visor. A pointer moved through a series of tick marks. When it reached the third one from the left, he stopped and aimed at his foe. Pressing the firing stud on the side of his index finger, he was rewarded with the quiet pop of the rail-gun mounted on his forearm firing. A hollow metal pellet struck the criminal in the chest and burst open, releasing a cloud of mist. In the strong night breeze, it dissipated before it could have any real effect.
“Partial success,” he murmured. “It loads and fires, but I was trying for a concussive pellet and got a sleeper.” He brought his arms up before him to block a swing from his foe. He stepped away from the blow, letting momentum work against the other man to throw him off-balance.
“So, what was the plan, here, boys? Placing a bomb in the place? Poisoning the oxygen supplies? Making them actually eat the hospital food?” Robin danced around the two larger criminals, looking for an opening. His bo staff was opened up, blocking attempted blows and seeking sensitive spots on the bodies of the crooks. The staff swept up, striking one of the men in the forehead. He staggered back, then collapsed to the rooftop. “One down, one to go.”
Above them, a quiet craft flew toward the hospital. It was a small airship, a rigid dirigible painted black for night camouflage. As it approached the hospital a second time, its pilot activated a rack of missile launchers mounted under the cabin. There was a roar as two missiles launched, then struck the building. One struck in the middle of the roof, while the other stuck the wall just under the corner where Robin stood. Prototype watched in horror as the young hero disappeared over the shattered edge of the roof.
In the nearly empty ballroom at the Wayne Foundation building, all heads turned toward the hole that had been blasted in the ceiling. There, a handsome masked face grinned down at them, eyes darting to assess the situation.
“You’re slipping, Harvey. Nine thugs? An odd number?” Nightwing launched himself through the opening and dropped to the floor.
“Don’t you get it? He’s got three thugs, squared.” Again, all eyes looked up as Batwoman dropped through from above, landing back-to-back with Nightwing. “And, in keeping with the theme, they’re going down to the two of us!”
From around the edges of the room, gunfire erupted. The Dynamite Duo dropped to the floor, letting the bullets pass over them. Bruce Wayne suppressed a smile as two of Two-Face’s hired guns fell to their compatriot’s shots. Nightwing rolled to one side, his feet catching the leg of a chair. The chair sailed across an open space, smashing into one of the gunmen who was advancing toward the prone Batwoman. Unseen under her spread cape, Batwoman’s hand pulled a handful of capsules from her utility belt. She rolled over, pitching the capsules around the room in one deft move. Small explosions shook the building, bowling over four more criminals.
“Idiots! Kill these interfering sidekicks!” Two-Face screamed, grabbing hold of Bruce Wayne’s shoulder. “And keep an eye out for Batman — he can’t be too far away!”
If you only knew, thought Bruce, his mind playing through possible moves. With both arms and legs bound separately to the chair, rather than to each other, he was limited in his options. The heels of his dress shoes held vials of sleeping gas, and there was thirty feet of silken line wrapped around his waist. At the moment, both were useless. He looked first at Nightwing, then at Batwoman. Her eyes caught his, and a brief smile played over her partially exposed features.
As she jumped to her feet, Batwoman let another capsule fly. This one bounced off a wall and skittered under the chair where Bruce was held captive. As the shapely woman in black kicked out with one leg at a gunman taking aim at Nightwing, the capsule exploded. Bruce felt the blast lift him off the ground as he flexed the muscles of both arms and legs. The chair, weakened by the explosion, broke apart.
Across town, Robin plummeted toward the street. With only seconds before he impacted in the alley below, his mind raced for a way to slow his fall. Unconsciously, his thumb brushed the button that collapsed his bo staff. The feel of the staff snapping down into itself gave him an idea. The buildings on either side both had fire escapes, and the space between them was only about five feet.
The Boy Wonder’s eyes darted from one side to the other, gauging the positions of the fire escapes. He twisted his body so that he was diving head-first toward the ground with his hands extended before him. Just one chance, he thought as he passed the third floor. Part of his mind was screaming with impatience, while another, more rational voice within told him to wait. Wait. Wait. Now.
His thumb pressed the release button on the bo staff. It snapped open, and the ends caught in the framework of the fire escapes on either side. The staff slammed into the cross-braces. Robin felt the impact right up to his shoulders as his body swung around the staff once, twice, three times before he felt his momentum had decreased enough to let go. He arched his body and sailed upward, tucked and rolled once, and came down to land on his feet.
“Man! Feel like I dislocated both shoulders on that one!” He looked up to see Prototype staring down from the shattered edge of the building. He let out a loud whoop and raised both arms with his thumbs up.
In a corner of the ballroom at the Wayne Foundation building, Two-Face stood with his two remaining henchmen. Batwoman and Nightwing faced them as Bruce Wayne slowly backed toward the door to the kitchen. One of the many costumes that he had stowed in strategic locations around the ballroom was in a compartment over one of the large ovens.
“Give it up, Harvey. There’s nowhere to run.” Nightwing stood with his feet apart, hands splayed out to his sides, ready to lunge to either side should Two-Face or one of the others make a move.
“That’s what you think, you miserable Batman-wannabe!” Two-Face reached into the jacket of his half-tuxedo and pulled out a radio unit. “Southeast corner of the building, second floor,” he said, glancing expectantly toward the windows behind him.
“Got it,” came the reply. One of the henchmen gestured with his gun, warning Batwoman back a step.
“Did you think I wouldn’t have a second team ready to help out? A twin-diesel fire truck with an aerial ladder is waiting on the street, and they should break through for us in about, oh, five, four, three–”
The windows behind Two-Face shattered inward, accompanied by the fluttering of leathery wings. “SKREE! Sorry, your friends are too scared to come up. Maybe I can lend you a SKREE! wing?”
“What the–?” Two-Face turned and fired at the large, bare-chested figure coming through the window. A second figure, shrouded in darkness, came jumping upward through the opening into the line of fire. The tattered cape that seemed to swirl around him reached out like a living thing, its tendrils seeming to catch the bullets before they could reach their target.
“Whoa, man, that was weird,” murmured Ragman, landing gracefully and lashing out with a savage right hook at an astounded Two-Face. Man-Bat brought one wing down on one of the henchmen as Nightwing and Batwoman double-teamed the other.
Unseen by the brawling crowd of heroes and crooks, the kitchen door opened just long enough to allow a shadow to slip out. It crossed the room and sprang off one of the tables, long ebony cape unfurling as it sailed over the remaining distance. Two-Face barely had time to register the dark shape coming at him before the Batman collided with him and sent him sprawling across the floor.
“This ends now, Harvey! I heard your little speech about Bruce Wayne’s betrayal of justice. As if you have any cause to talk about justice!” A devastating left cross struck the divided criminal, snapping his head back. He fell back onto the floor, unconscious. Looking around, Batman’s lips turned up in a grim smile. “Where’s Robin?” he asked.
“Two-Face sent another team to the hospital,” replied Batwoman, touching a gloved finger to the earpiece under her cowl. “He was there with Prototype.”
“Then it’s taken care of.” It wasn’t a question.
“Rob called in, said he’s a bit sore, but the job is done,” said Batwoman. “Some minor damage on the roof. Prototype had some technical issues, but Robin seems impressed with the job he did.”
Police officers and ambulance attendants started filing into the room. Batman slipped back to the kitchen, and moments later, Bruce Wayne was found under a broken table. As he was led over to a table to be checked out by a tall, red-haired woman in the uniform of an ambulance attendant, he spotted Dick Grayson and Silver St. Cloud coming into the room and gave them a quick smile.