In a darkened cavern under the suburbs of Gotham City, a low humming sound grew louder, and a glow lit one corner of a room carved from the rock. The sound and light came from a cylinder eight feet tall and four feet in diameter. Within the glow, a cloaked figure faded into view. The humming stopped, and the glow quickly faded, replaced by light from fluorescent fixtures hung throughout the cavern. The cylinder opened, and the man inside stepped out and quickly looked around. Noting that all was as it should be, he strode out into the wider expanse of the cavern’s main chamber.
The Batman was home.
He walked over to a large desk that wrapped around in a half-circle, surmounted by three rows of six computer and television monitors. Removing his gloves, he sat down, hands dancing across a half-dozen keyboards and six control panels. Feeds from cable news channels around the world came to life on a dozen of the screens. He had begun running searches on news and police databases on five of the remaining screens when he heard a discreet cough behind him.
“Good afternoon, Alfred,” said Batman, reaching up to push his cowl up and off of his head.
“Good afternoon, Master Bruce.” Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family butler, placed a tray on the desktop, a steaming pot of tea and a plate of sandwich wedges on it. “I do hope that whatever task you have set yourself upon will not keep you from the Wilson Academy Awards Banquet this evening. Master Jason would be rather disappointed.”
“Rightly so, old friend,” replied Bruce. “He’s worked hard these past four years, and he’s earned the right to brag a little bit. Making both the National Honor Society and the State All-Star Baseball Team, both in his sophomore year, is pretty impressive when you consider that — just four years ago — he was a home-schooled circus performer.”
After spending two years in North Gotham Junior High, a public school, Jason Todd had transferred to a private school called the Wilson Academy for the remainder of his high school years. Once this semester was done, he would be moving on to Grade 12 with honors and had a promising future ahead of him. Even though they were now at different schools, Jason and his girlfriend Rena were still dating. Unfortunately, Rena was visiting relatives with her family and wasn’t able to see Jason honored at the banquet tonight.
Bruce Wayne turned around in his chair. “Have you heard from Silver? She’s going to be back in time, right?”
“Yes, sir. Her plane touched down at the airport about thirty minutes ago. She should be here momentarily.” Alfred pointed at one of the screens. “It looks like you’ve found something, sir.”
Bruce turned back to the screens. “This is just the preliminary search, Alfred. The Justice League has just been alerted to a possible undercover invasion — the substitution of several people around the world with Martians — hiding here in plain sight until the time comes to put a plan of attack into action.”
“And what is that plan, sir?”
“That’s the problem. We know the agents are here, but we don’t know how many there are, what they are going to do, or when they will strike. Various members of the team are trying their own methods for locating these sleeper agents. I’m looking for aberrations in the behaviors of famous people over the past few years. Perhaps I can spot a pattern in them. Once I get the parameters set up for searching the news databases of the major news agencies for the past ten years, this search will probably take all night to run.”
“Very well, sir. I will leave you to your work and make sure your clothes are laid out for tonight.”
“No, I think this is your night, so you can choose.”
“Seriously? Anyplace I want?”
Bruce and Silver Wayne laughed as they walked out of the Wilson Academy auditorium behind Jason Todd Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. “I think he meant it, Jason,” said Silver St. Cloud-Wayne. “Better choose quick, before he changes his mind.”
“Pizza Villa!” exclaimed Jason, eliciting groans from Bruce and Alfred.
“Well, I guess we asked for it, sir,” remarked Alfred as he led the way through the parking lot to the dark blue Lincoln Town Car. Opening the back door, he waited as Silver and Bruce entered, while Jason slid into the front passenger seat. As the older man took his position at the steering wheel, Jason started rattling off directions. “I assure you, Master Jason, I know my way there.”
“I heard from Dick while you were gone,” said Bruce, turning toward his wife.
“How are they?” she asked.
“Better. They’re following Leslie’s advice, and taking things slowly. He says it will probably be another month or so before they come back to Gotham.”
“After what they’ve been through, that seems reasonable.”
“Master Dick has always been rather resilient, but I have never seen him pushed so close to the breaking point as he was this time. As for Miss Barbara, well — my word!” (*) The car lurched as Alfred yanked the wheel to the right. “How rude! That motorcycle cut right across both lanes!”
[(*) Editor’s note: Details of the ordeal of Batwoman and Nightwing will be revealed in an upcoming story.]
“For good reason, Alfred.” Bruce was peering out the window. “I don’t know who the driver is, but that’s one of the Tweeds in the sidecar. Watch out for a second cycle.” He was already unbuttoning his shirt. “I think dinner is going to be postponed a bit, Jason.”
“Fine by me,” replied the teenager, pulling his sweater up over his head to reveal a red tunic underneath.
“There is an alley right up here, sir,” added Alfred. “And one of the foldaway cycles is in the boot.”
In the back seat, Silver had opened a panel on the back of the seat in front of her, revealing a radio and a small television. As she turned a dial, there was a burst of static followed by the droning voice of a police dispatcher.
“–Capital Trust on West Andru Boulevard. When last seen, one pair was headed north on Giella Avenue, and the other was headed east on Andru. Witnesses at the scene report that the guard came out of the building behind the perpetrators, very disoriented.”
“Take the cycle, follow up Giella. I’ll go after the cycle we just saw,” said Bruce as he took the cape and cowl from under his seat and pulled it on. “Alfred, pop the top as soon as we’re down the alley.”
“Very good, sir.” As the big luxury car turned down a narrow alley, the roof parted down the middle, and the panels swung up on either side. Robin leaped up and over the back of the car, coming down just behind it as it came to a halt, and the trunk popped open. Meanwhile, Batman fired a grappling line from his gauntlet, felt it find purchase above, and let the micro-winch in the gauntlet lift him up and out of the car.
“Be careful, boys,” whispered Silver as she watched them depart.
“So, which one are you?” asked Robin as he sped through the streets of Gotham on a lightweight motorcycle. Two blocks ahead, he was able to catch occasional glimpses of a bright green motorcycle and sidecar carrying his quarry. Not that there’s much difference, he thought. Tweedledum and Tweedledee were cousins, nearly identical, both of them barely five feet tall and nearly as wide. With a penchant for Victorian clothing and larceny, they popped up from time to time to harass the people of Gotham City.
The Teen Wonder twisted the throttle on the cycle forward, weaving between the two lanes of northbound traffic. Seeing the motorcycle turn to the left up ahead, he grinned under his red-tinted helmet. Spotting a break in the southbound traffic, he turned down an alleyway and revved the bike up to just over eighty miles per hour. Halfway down the second block in the alley, he braked and turned right, streaking over a scorched concrete slab where a building had stood weeks before. Glancing down at a small screen mounted on the gas tank, he saw a radar image of the street ahead.
Nobody on the sidewalk. Good, thought Robin. He shot across the sidewalk and back out into traffic, two cars behind his quarry. Reaching up, he touched a stud on the side of his helmet, then spoke aloud. “GCPD, this is Redbird, in pursuit of Capital Trust perp, northbound on Colson, two blocks west of Giella. Expect to be bagging this one within the next three blocks. Please have units converge on intersection of Colson and Broome.”
The voice of a Gotham City police dispatcher crackled in his ear. “Acknowledged, Redbird. We have three units in vicinity, a fourth coming up behind you.”
Up ahead, the portly passenger in the sidecar turned his head back. Robin could see the bulbous nose and buck teeth of the Tweed, but he was too intent on driving to read the criminal’s lips as he muttered something upon seeing the young hero.
In the opposite lane, a low, streamlined sports car came cruising toward Robin. The young man jerked the handlebars to the left and accelerated directly toward the sports car. Just before impact, the Teen Wonder yanked up on the handlebars, lifting the front wheel up enough to clear the bumper of the low-slung car. The cycle zipped up the front of the car, the rear wheel bumping only slightly over the front bumper.
During the four seconds the cycle was airborne, Robin grabbed a batarang from slots on either side of the main handlebar stem and flipped them at the fleeing motorcycle. One struck the back of the driver’s head, and the other sliced though the cycle’s rear tire. Without waiting to see that the thrown weapons had struck their intended targets, Robin grabbed hold of the handlebars once more and jerked upward, bringing the bike down first on the rear tire, then on the front tire as he struggled to keep the bike both under control and aimed away from any other vehicles. He brought the cycle to a quick stop, then flipped over the handlebars and onto the other cycle. He shoved the unconscious driver over onto the sidecar, knocking the yelling and gesticulating Tweed cousin further down into the seat. Cutting power to the engine, Robin steered the cycle over to the curb.
“Why you foolish, insignificant little brat!” exclaimed the Tweed, shoving his henchman aside. “What business have you, knocking out my driver and endangering my li–?!” The Tweed was cut off by a green-gloved fist crashing into his face.
Robin looked around, spotting the flashing red and blue lights of Gotham’s finest closing in from ahead and behind. A battered brown car with a flashing blue light atop it pulled up, and the driver’s door opened.
Harvey Bullock stepped out, flicking ashes from the wide cigar held in one hand. He looked at the still figures in the sidecar, then around at the folks in stopped cars, clapping their hands and cheering.
“Heh. Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. Though I think the owner of that Corvette back there might be after ya to pay for repainting his hood.”
“The Police Department knows where to file those claims, Lieutenant. And thanks, but I better get going.” As Robin swung his leg over the compact cycle, he froze for a moment, and Bullock saw the young man tremble briefly.
“Hey, kid, you all right? I heard the Tweeds was using some kind of ray-gun that left the guard at the bank feeling woozy. He getcha with that?”
Robin turned, his head cocked at an angle. “No, I didn’t see any kind of weapon. You may want to check on that.” Then he turned, straddled the bike, and drove off.
As the micro-motor-powered winch in his gauntlet lifted him up and out of the car, Batman scanned the surrounding area for signs of his prey in the early-evening twilight. As he cleared the top of a lower building, he could see eastward along Andru Boulevard for several blocks. A few blocks distant, he could see that traffic was snarled up.
Pointing with his left hand at a building in that direction, he fired another line, releasing the first as soon as he felt the second grab hold. His body dropped downward, his fall becoming an arc as the winch in his left gauntlet hurriedly drew in the excess promethium line. As he reached the top of that arc, he fired with the right hand once more, releasing the left. This last swing brought him out in front of the motorcycle and sidecar that was fouling traffic on the three-lane-wide eastbound side of Andru. From a height of thirty-five feet, he released his line and dropped down, kicking off from the top of a tractor-trailer in the right lane, nimbly landing some fifty feet ahead of the speeding cycle.
“Dumfree! Have your man stop now, and nobody gets hurt!” he called, one hand out in front of him.
“The one getting hurt, Batman, will be you,” snarled the rotund criminal as he raised a small, oddly shaped pistol and pointed it at Batman. “One shot with this, and you won’t have the sense to get out of the way!”
Batman leaped into the air, hurtling over the beam and coming down just a few feet in front of the speeding motorcycle. As he landed, he bent his knees, then sprang upward again, this time nearly horizontally at the cycle. His fists slammed into the faces of both driver and passenger. The driver slipped out of his seat on to the road. Batman grabbed the handlebars and swung himself onto the saddle, trying to take control of the cycle as an irate Tweedledum beat at his arm and back with the pistol. “Why didn’t it work? Why?!”
“My guess is a loose nut at the trigger,” replied Batman, snapping his right fist into the felon’s face as he brought the cycle to a stop. Twisting the cycle’s key to the off position, he glanced over to see that Dumfree Tweed was unconscious. He keyed the throat microphone in his cowl. “Robin, what’s your status?”
“Umm, finished up with Tweed, and headed for home.”
“Home? But what about your night out?”
“Yeah, ah, I remembered something I have to do back at the cave. I’ll see you there.”
As the earpiece went dead, Batman frowned. Something didn’t sound right.