“Hello? Anybody home?”
“I’m in the basement, Dwayne! Come on down!”
Dwayne Fontana dropped his backpack on a kitchen chair and rushed downstairs. There he found his father busy in his home workshop. “How’s it coming?” Dwayne moved up to look around his father’s tall, broad frame.
“The auto-feed mechanism is working thanks to that idea you had last night. Voice command and the glove controls are working. Still having some trouble with the fail-safe, though.” Paul Fontana sat at the workbench, magnifying goggles on his face and a laser torch in his right hand. His left hand held what appeared to be a mechanical hand on the bench. “I think that’s got it.”
“Want me to test it?” asked Dwayne, eagerly.
“No; the voice control is keyed for my voice.” Paul slid the metal gauntlet on over his right hand and forearm. He hefted a section of armor and placed it on his shoulder, and connected it to the gauntlet with a wide bundle of tubes. He then turned and pointed his hand down a long tunnel cut into the wall of the basement. Fifty yards away, a target hung from a cord that ran the length of the tunnel. A red pinpoint of light appeared on the target, then disappeared as a hole was punched in the sheet of paper.
“Yeah!” Dwayne touched a switch that brought the target up to them. “Right through the center!”
“Good. Now, how did the radio check out last night?”
“Steve and I rode out to each of the far suburbs. No problem, except a time or two when the aliens had their signal-damper running.”
“So we have all of Gotham covered?”
“Pretty much. I can’t be sure how it will work if you get into some of the buildings.” Dwayne picked up a small box with an antenna on it. “You could carry these, stick them on the side of a building to relay the signal.”
“I’ll remember that,” said Dwayne’s father with a smile. “Looks like it’s a go for tonight, then.”
“Look, Dad, are you sure you don’t want me to do this? I know you’ve kept yourself in shape since you left the Army and all, but, damn it, you’re forty-two years old!”
“I appreciate your concern, Dwayne. Mom’s checked me out and cleared me for it. And you don’t know the other equipment like I do.”
“Yeah, I know. You worked on development of this stuff at Queen Industries and now at WayneTech. A bunch of canceled military projects, and you took the experimental models and finished them.”
“That’s right, and I don’t feel comfortable with anyone else taking it out and using it just yet. For now, I’ll be the prototype.”
“Sounds like a good name for you to use.”
Paul Fontana smiled. “I suppose it is at that. One less thing to worry about.” He started gathering up equipment. “Tonight, Prototype hits the streets!”
By night, Gotham City was darker than usual. Power was out in several parts of the city, and there was little traffic on the highways of the city. In the middle of the city, Robinson Park teamed with life — but not with Earthly life. Row upon row of small aircraft were lined up on the once-pristine meadows of the park. Beyond them, larger troops ships and fighter-carriers were parked around the lake. Surrounded by this dual phalanx of smaller craft, a Gordanian star-cruiser perched above the surface of the lake on landing legs that extended down into the water. Pontoon barges served as walkways to and from the ship.
All of this was observed by a lone figure near the west entrance to the park. Clad in piecemeal body armor with a dark gray cape that came up over his head, he perched on a tree limb watching and assessing the situation. Under his hood, a black scrim obscured the mask on his face. The mask held integrated goggles with lenses that were swapped out with the press of a button on his collar. Now they allowed him a clear view of the alien encampment a quarter-mile away.
“Stationary guards along the paths and roadways. Roving guards in the open spaces between. Looks like at least six watchtower posts up on the big ship in the middle. They don’t mess around.” All of this was said in a low voice, for there was nobody around him to hear.
“I’m sending you the map I’ve sketched out. Does that look about right?” This voice was in his ear from a small device pressed against his skull just behind and under his earlobe. A ghostly green image appeared, floating in his field of vision.
“That’s it. Anything on those city plans we found?” Miles away, Dwayne Fontana thumbed through a heavy sheaf of blueprints that were marked Gotham City Department of Public Works.
“There’s a water line that enters the park to feed the pond about twenty yards to your left. Manhole in the street outside the fence.”
Prototype turned to look out at the street. “No good. They must have found it; they’ve got a pair of the big pink goons stationed at the manhole.”
“There’s another line that runs out to the river. Could be a drain, could be an old line for filling the pond. The notation isn’t too clear.”
“Maybe I can — wait a sec. Something’s happening in the street.”
Prototype twisted around, one hand ready to shoot, watching. The two Khunds in the street turned toward the building across from the park, apparently having heard something there. His left hand moved up to touch the controls for his goggles, changing the magnification and activating an ultraviolet-sensitive viewing enhancement for the goggles. In the shadows of the building’s entrance stood a tall, thin man dressed in a double-breasted black suit. A homburg-style hat was perched on his narrow head, with a black cloth mask draped from the hat. Aside from the mask, the only thing really out of the ordinary about the man was the bulge around his waist and the silver pistol in his hand.
Looks like someone else is stalking these aliens tonight, thought Prototype. Maybe I can give him a hand. Leaping from the tree to the top of the fence, he ran thirty feet along the top of the fence before dropping lightly to the ground. His right thumb pressed a button in his right palm twice, then pressed a button on the side of his index finger as he pointed his arm at the Khunds. An inaudible pffft was lost in the night breeze as a quarter-inch sphere shot out of his gauntlet. It struck one of the aliens, releasing a brief electrical burst.
“Yarrrghh!” The Khund whirled, his blaster rifle held at the ready. His partner started to turn and missed the well-dressed stranger firing the gun in his hand. A stream of liquid shot across the street, dissolving into a fine mist as it reached the pair of aliens.
Prototype crouched, then leaped to one side as the Khund spotted him and fired. The fence was destroyed by the blast that lit up the night. Tapping the stud in his palm again, Prototype turned and fired again. This time, the pellet struck with an explosive charge, ripping the arm from the second Khund. “What the heck?” Prototype watched as both of the aliens fell to their knees, as if terrified.
“Go ahead. Finish them off, if you have the heart for it.” The stranger in the suit walked calmly up to the scene, kicking one of the blaster rifles over to Prototype even as he picked up one of them. He paused expectantly.
Prototype barely felt a kick from the weapon as he fired at first one, then the other of the Khunds.
“You surprise me. I took you for one of the more heroic types.”
“Yeah, but I’ve had to do my share of killing in the past. This is war, and niceties don’t work in a war.” Lowering the rifle, he looked at the thin man. “You can call me Prototype. What about you?”
“Heh. I’m no hero, but for tonight I’m on your side. You can call me Fear Factor.”
As the cloaked and armored Prototype bent to lift a manhole cover from its place, his companion heard a familiar sound behind him. The sound of a cape swirling through the air, followed by the barely audible thud of a gymnast landing on the street. “Good evening, Batman,” said Fear Factor in a low voice.
“Not quite,” replied a distinctly female voice.
The tall, thin man in the black suit turned, then made a slight bow. “Ah, the distaff side of the Bat-family. I suppose it was inevitable that we would meet up.”
“Really?” asked Batwoman as her head turned to see what Prototype was doing. “Planning something that will land you in jail?”
“Hardly, m’dear. My newfound friend, here, and I are about to stage something of a counterstrike against the creatures overrunning our world.” He gestured toward the Star Cruiser in Robinson Park. “You do know, of course, that this is their primary command post for the eastern part of North America?”
“We do. We also are planning a non-lethal attack.” Batwoman gestured toward the still-smoking bodies of the Khund sentries.
“Are you nuts? This isn’t some bunch of nuts from Arkham running around playing tricks.” Prototype stepped up alongside Fear Factor. “I’m sure your ethics serve you well in dealing with the crooks and kooks who run around this city, but this is a whole new ball game.”
“Nevertheless, Batman, the others, and myself don’t–”
“Where is Batman now? If I know him, he’s out in space with one of the groups that was rumored to take off. Out in the cold vacuum of space, battling these creatures. What do you think happens when Batman or Superman or Firestorm takes apart one of their ships? You think they have airbags in space?” His voice had been steadily rising. He paused a moment to get himself back under control. “And what do you think happens if these creeps nail the ship that Batman is in?” he asked in a low voice.
Batwoman didn’t have an answer for him. Inwardly, she shuddered at the thought. It had only been two years since Supergirl, one of her closest friends, had died in an otherworldly realm, one of many casualties of the Crisis that had driven her to stretch her capabilities, to make the leap from casual crime-fighter to full-fledged bringer of justice. As described by the faceless figure before her, this was just the next step — a step she wasn’t sure she was ready to take.
“Rather goes against your scruples, doesn’t it?” asked Fear Factor.
“Hey, Batwoman, who’re these guys?” All three looked up as a figure in red, green, and gold dropped from a line to land beside the heroine.
“I, uh, didn’t catch their names, Robin.” At this, introductions were made all around. She continued, “Apparently, they have a plan to bring down the command post in Robinson Park.”
“Cool! What do we do, and when do we start?”
“We were about to go in,” said Prototype, emphasizing the word we. “Are you up to the job?”
“Robin, they’re using lethal force,” cautioned Batwoman, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Of course they are, B.W. Situation like this, you gotta.”
“But even Batman carried a gun when he started out.” Robin looked at her, waiting for a denial or other reaction.
“All right. I had forgotten that.” She looked at the others. “Let’s do this.”