“Signalman! I was right! The cops must be on to us!” The high, cracking voice carried throughout the half-empty warehouse. A lone man, dressed in a patchwork costume of every color imaginable, made his way through the aisles in the dark. The helmet on his head projected a combination of infrared and ultraviolet light. To most people it appeared as a faint glow, but he was able to see by it through the optical sensors on his specially modified helmet, which plugged directly into his brain. “Are you sure that rocket contraption you left on the roof is safe? I’d hate to escape all those flat-foots, only to blow up in midair!”
“To hear you talk, Quilt, I’d almost think I was in a bad Cagney movie.”
“Who was that? Come on, show yourself!” The former artist known as Crazy-Quilt glanced around, bathing the cavernous room with the eerie light from his lenses.
“Oh, we’ve met, but I wasn’t particularly chatty.” The voice seemed to come from the opposite direction. Quilt turned toward it. In his peripheral vision, he just spied the small cylinder sitting on a stack of boxes before he was blinded by what appeared through his goggles as a searingly bright burst of light.
“Aaaiiieee!” His hands went to his eyes through force of habit, and he pulled his helmet away. Spots seemed to swim before his eyes, but he, of course, found himself in the dark now that he was totally blind without his helmet. He groped around, looking for something solid that would at least let him decide which way to run, but it was already too late. His hands closed around clothing, a lightweight fabric that was draped over a tall form.
“Thanks for playing guinea pig. I suspected that those electromagnetic flares that I use to disrupt electronics would play hell with ultraviolet sensors. Guess I was right.” A hand held Crazy-Quilt’s wrist in a vise-like grip, and a foot swung up into his stomach as he was pulled across and into the path of the kick. A swift karate chop to the juncture of neck and shoulder, and the garish crook dropped to the floor.
The Batman pulled a radio from his utility belt. “Commissioner? Send your men in. One is in the office, and I have the other one in the warehouse. Send a couple of men up to the roof, too. Apparently, Signalman left some sort of escape rocket up there. Tell them to be careful, though: this guy’s toys aren’t known for their safety.”
Moments later, the lights of the warehouse came on, and a number of police officers made their way through the stacks of crates and boxes, seeking the Batman. He called out to them as he walked toward the sound of the largest concentration of officers.
“Holeee, would you look at that?” said Harvey Bullock, pushing his battered hat back on his head.
“I heard they were bringing the top of that new lighthouse in as a single piece, but I just couldn’t picture it,” replied Commissioner Gordon. In the middle of the warehouse, a huge glass and steel dome sat, lashed to its pallet.
Seeing it, an idea began to form in Batman’s mind.
The first hints of dawn were just lighting the eastern sky as the Batmobile wound its way through the tunnels leading into the depths of the Batcave. As ever, Alfred was waiting in the garage area when the Dark Knight arrived.
“Good morning, Master Bruce. I heard the reports on the police band. It sounds like a successful night.” The faithful butler served a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea and took his master’s cape and cowl over one outstretched arm.
“I’d say it was, Alfred. Possibly a great deal more than successful. I may have found a solution to Gotham’s plant problem. I need to check the files on Mister Freeze’s ice gun.” Bruce made his way over to the main console for the Batcave’s supercomputer.
“Ice gun, sir? Oh, I believe I see.” A debate played itself out in Alfred’s mind over whether the news about Natalia Knight should have taken precedence, but he decided that Batman’s train of thought was vital to the well-being of the entire city and therefore was more important.
For the next three hours, Alfred kept a steady supply of tea, cold water, and fresh muffins coming to the Batcave. Each time he approached, Bruce had yet another simulation running on the Cray Supercomputer that was normally only used to run the massive criminal database that the Caped Crusader relied upon in his battle against evil. This morning, however, the great electronic brain was being pushed to its limits as Bruce Wayne tried to devise a way to cleanse his city of the Swamp Thing’s great green legacy.
Finally, Bruce sat back in his chair, running his hands through his sweat-soaked hair. “That’s all I can do for now, Alfred. It will take a few hours for these simulations to finish. When they’re done, I’ll compare the results and see if any of the configurations I came up with will work.” He turned to face his oldest friend. “I think I’m ready for a shower and about five hours of sleep.”
“I took the liberty of rescheduling all of your morning appointments, sir. You will, however, need to put in an appearance at the Wayne Foundation at noon today. You should be able to get in three hours of sleep and still make it in time.” Alfred started up the steps.
“Make it two-and-a-half. I can’t get to bed without a shower first. I didn’t break a sweat in that warehouse with Signalman and Crazy-Quilt, but all this computer work makes me feel like I’ve just run five miles.” Bruce followed the butler up to the study in Wayne Manor above. “By the way, Alfred, I saw the cycle in the garage. I take it Jason got in last night?”
Alfred stopped in his tracks. “Oh, yes! He got in around two AM. And there’s news, sir, about Natalia. Apparently, she’s alive! He’s waiting to talk to you about it. Apparently, someone found her and has sent a note to Robin, directing him to come and retrieve her.” He started back up the stairs, and together they made their way to Jason’s room. “I didn’t disturb him, since there is no school today.”
Bruce opened the door and stepped into the bedroom. He came back out almost immediately.
“He’s not there, Alfred. That bed hasn’t been slept in for days.”
“Dear me! Where could he have gotten to?”
“Apparently Jason decided against waiting for me. He must have gone off to find Natalia himself.” Bruce Wayne shook his head ruefully. “Can’t say that I blame him, actually. With everything else going on, I haven’t made as much of an effort to find her as he might have wanted.”
“Actually, sir, he confided in me that he was grateful for all you’ve done. He may seem rather careless and headstrong, but he does have an exceptional understanding of what your priorities are, and his seem to be aligned with yours quite closely.”
“Thank you, Alfred. I think I needed to hear that. Now, let’s get back downstairs and see if we can determine where he’s going and how he’s planning to get there.”
A few minutes later, the two men were gazing at a map of the Middle East.
“Right smack in the middle of Qurac. Dear God, what is Jason getting into here?”
“How could Miss Knight have reached Qurac from Gotham in a hot air balloon, though?” asked Alfred. “Surely, she must have been intercepted somewhere, then taken there.”
“That, or it’s just a ploy to get Robin as far away from Gotham as possible.”
“Just Robin? Or does the perpetrator expect that Batman shall follow?”
“As night follows day, old friend. However, that doesn’t mean that Gotham will be left defenseless. I’ll speak with Batwoman, Ragman, and Kirk Langstrom before I leave Gotham. They’ll keep an eye on things here.” The Dark Knight turned to a computer console. “Now to figure out how he might be traveling.” His fingers flew over the keyboard, and within moments the schedules of all flights leaving Gotham with connections to the Middle East were displayed on the screen.
As he did this, Alfred glanced at the tell-tale lights that indicated the status of each of the Batcave’s garage, docking and hangar section. Each was glowing green, indicating that their vehicles were in their proper place. However, on closer examination, the faithful Wayne family retainer spied a single wire that shouldn’t have been there.
“Master Bruce, I don’t think it will be necessary to check the airlines.” As Bruce turned his attention to the status board, Alfred reached up and pulled a jumper wire out of the edge of the circuit board. As he did, one of the tell-tales glowed bright red. “It appears that he took the Batplane.”