Chapter One - Batman – Time of the Wolf
Five days ago - CIA Headquarters – Langley
The CIA are actively tailing 767 people worldwide and monitoring 1,234 organisations that might be a front or used for foreign intelligence or terrorist activities. They also have a database of currently 33,543 names that if they turn up in America they will be refused access. They also use advanced face recognition software based on 36 points of reference. If one of these people turns up "on the grid" it immediately sends e-mail to members of the 14 groups of the American Intelligence community and then immediately inform the local security services by an automated phone message and an e-mail to detain the individual or individuals. Unfortunately 2 hours before this individual touched down in Boston airport the servers went down in the CIA headquarters. The IT department in the building immediately subscribed this to a lightning strike affecting the power. This was to hide the fact they had put an untested patch onto the servers requiring an immediate rebuild of the system. Whatever the reasons that were throught for this, both incidentally wrong,in this two hour window of opportunity a man currently calling himself Alex Slade entered the country via Dulles International Airport and started to make his way to Gotham, a city he hadn't been back to in 15 years…
The huge wolf loped through the darkened streets of Gotham. Its mouth was a mass of yellow teeth. A red tongue licked some blood off its snout as it started sniffing the air.
Nick Benson pulled his collar up round his neck and shook with cold. His shoes had holes in and were letting in the rain. He had spent his last couple of dollars on a hot coffee that was not deserving of either word. He had walked out of his home two years ago when the bills kept piling up and his job packed in and it seemed like he had been walking ever since.
"Lousy weather," he muttered to himself. The cops had kicked him out of the shop doorway he had been dossing in and now he had to find somewhere else to stay. He sneezed loudly and messily onto his sleeve and looked around at where he was. "Lousy cops. Lousy weather. Lousy Gotham."
His foot started squelching in something sticky on the ground. "Eerrhhh! Lousy dog walkers can't clean up after their filthy flea bitten mongrels." He looked at his foot. Whatever it was on his feet, it was not from a dog. "What the hell?" He reached down a grimy nicotine-stained finger and poked what it was. "Is that a shirt? Goddamm fine quality as well. What sort of freak would leave that about?"
Lightning flashed above him and silhouetted the scene. "Geez. It's a person. Don't lie in the street; you'll get pneumoniaks or rheumaticks. You should doss in a shop doorway, there's some round here." He lifted a hand and that moved the person's head, which lolled back like a broken marionette showing a huge red bite mark. "I'd better get the cops or something. You got a phone or a quarter or something, pal?" His practiced hands frisked the corpse and found a wallet, a mobile, some loose change, and a comb, which he threw back on the street. He had the kind of hair that ate combs.
He heard a growl behind him. "Wassat?" In the alleyway was a pair of eyes that were glowing by the glimmer of a flickering streetlight. He picked up the comb and threw it at it. The eyes retreated. "Lousy stray. Lousy weather. Lousy Gotham. Lousy junkie." He kicked at the corpse at his feet. "Whatchoo got in here then?" He opened the wallet. "Adrian Thornberry eh? Poncy name for this part of Gotham. Lessee about getting you some help." He dialled in 911 to the mobile. A voice answered after two rings.
"Which service do you require?"
"Some guy's lying dead here, darling, what do you think?"
"I'll get an ambulance, sir."
"Bit late for that, darling."
"Can you give me your location, please, sir?"
There was a silence in which it was obvious he would not be more helpful. "Where in Gotham, please, sir?"
"Corner of seven and nine. Goddamm stray." The pair of glowing eyes started studying him again.
"Will a police presence be required, sir? Is the man a victim of crime?"
"Who do I sound like, Bat bleedin'man? I ain't a detective, darling, but unless he chewed his own neck off I would say he was. That's a big dog. Get back, you flea bitten mutt, unless you want my fleas to fight your fleas. Geez!" There was a ripping sound and then the sound of a phone hitting the sidewalk followed by a larger thumping sound…
The oily black water of the Gotham River slapped against the harbour walls. A century ago this had been a busy thriving port, the lifeblood of Gotham. Huge warehouses lined the harbour. Each of them now abandoned and rotten. Home only to families of drunks or drug addicts.
This is a part of Gotham that few visit; even to the police it is off limits. The gangs deal with any crimes in their own inimitable way. Like cavemen of old, people set up fires outside the doors of where they have taken up shelter. The glowing of fires inside the building gives some of the buildings a hellish look, which is very apt considering some of the denizens in them.
At the top of the building was a horned shape accompanied by another smaller demon.
"There it is," said Batman, pointing down at the end of the pier.
They released a couple of high tensile lines and rappelled down the building. In seconds they were stalking up the pier. The whole building was silent and Batman sensed that people were watching, unseen, through the windows.
The car was silhouetted against the moon, looking skeletal in the half-light. The rain was just beating out the flames and the oily black smoke curled in sinister shapes by the light of the full moon.
"We're too late, it's been burnt out," said Robin. The boy sniffed around the car. "Some sort of accelerant has been used."
"Good," said Batman. "What kind?"
Batman gave a small almost imperceptible shake of his head. "No, think before you speak."
Batman did not say a word.
"Lighter fluid," Robin said more firmly.
Batman nodded his head once imperceptibly.
"Why's it been burnt out?" said Batman. "Why here? Why did he burn it out? The locals?"
"Because it's cold, wet and spooky round here?"
Batman tried not to smile. "Look at the car…"
"I'm looking at it. Not much to see." In the lightning flash he could make out the tires that had melted to the frame; inside he could see the CD player was warped to the dashboard by the heat. The glass had shattered in the heat and the bonnet had twisted.
Several dark silhouettes started to appear in the doorways, all wielding various makeshift weapons.
"What's wrong with this car in this area?"
"It's a nice car. Decent wheels. Too good for this area. So it was stolen, so what?"
Batman sounded disappointed. "You think it was stolen. What else do you think?"
"I think I wanna get out of the rain, Batman. I'm meeting Angela in an hour. We've lost the guy. It happens. Let's go."
"Come on, Robin. Think."
"It still has its tires and the CD player."
"So if it was stolen why not take that out first?" He swept an arm back to show the buildings behind them. "These people would take them first."
Several shadowy shapes started to surround them. "We don't like costumes here! Freak boy!" One of the men was huge, over seven feet tall. He was wielding a huge metal bar like a broadsword of old.
Batman ignored them. "Why do you think he burnt it out?"
"I'm going to cave your head in, Batfreak!"
"To hide evidence? He knew you were after him?"
"Where would he put the evidence?"
"I said I'm going to cave your head in, Batfreak!" he said in a more petulant tone.
"In the glove compartment?"
Batman smiled. "Take a look."
"It's melted shut," said Robin, trying to lever it open.
"Are you two listening to me?" The rain was dripping off the huge man as he lunged at Batman with the metal bar.
Without even looking behind him Batman grabbed the man's arm. The metal bar swished millimetrically over his head and crashed against the burnt out car, popping open the glove compartment.
"Thanks," said Robin. Another thug swung at Robin with a baseball bat that had several rusty razor blades stuck in the side. A foot lanced out from under Robin's cloak and hit a nerve centre under the thug's arm, making him drop the club and yelp in pain; a roundhouse kick knocked him out of the game for good. Another unseen foe threw a half brick at Robin from the darkness. He swept an arm round, plucking it from the air before it would have brained him, and sent it back into the darkness with an unerring aim. There was a shout from the darkness and a thump sound as it knocked him out.
He turned around to see Batman talking to the seven-foot thug. Well, talking brings to mind a civilised chat. If your idea of a civilised chat is an arm around the neck and a boot in the small of the back whilst black-cloaked man hisses instructions in your ear, then you probably need a dictionary. This was not civilised.
"Where did the man go who burnt out this car?"
"I'm not telling you anything, man!"
"You don't understand your situation." Batman pushed the man's face down against the moss covered concrete. "If you don't start talking here, I'll start breaking bones. You got ten fingers to start with."
"I'll tell you, man! I'll tell you! He was a big guy. Taller than me! Wearing a black raincoat with a yellow rubber mask on or something. He had a chainsaw with him. Bill tried to stop the freak but he killed him, man, he sliced him clean open!"
"What were you going to do to him?"
"Just rough him up a bit, say we don't like visitors sort of thing."
"You're lucky any of you are alive. Which way did he go?"
"I can't point, man, you've got my hands behind my back."
Batman loosed his grip and the big man got to his feet. "He's heading to the East side."
"Thank you, sir, you've been very co-operative; if he returns I suggest you stay indoors." Batman turned to his partner. "What was in the glove compartment?"
"Looks like the remains of his driver's licence and passport. It's too charred to read now."
"Bring it with us, we might be able to analyse it later. Find out who we are dealing with." Batman pressed a button on his belt and there was a roaring sound from the darkness and a twin glow, like eyes.
The Batmobile cruised towards them, scattering a group of junkies who were huddled round a burning barrel. The doors hissed open on the car and they leapt in. The car doors hissed shut behind them. "Where next, Batman?" asked Robin. "I've got a date tonight."
"Where would you go next?"
"You're the detective."
"You're meant to be learning."
"I'm tired, cold and wet. I wanna go home."
"We catch him, and then we go home."
"Geez Bruce, were you ever young?"
He chuckled. "Once, a long time ago. Come on, where next? Time is against us."
"Well, he was heading towards the East side, that's the shopping centre. Won't be open at this time of night."
"So why are we back in the car?"
"Exactly." He pressed a button on the console. "Oracle, this is Batman. We're trailing the killer; he's heading up the East side on foot. Can you patch into the CCTV cameras?"
"What's the description?"
"Over seven foot tall and a black coat."
"This is Gotham, a few more specifics please?"
"Still not helping."
"Wearing a Homer Simpson mask."
Batman sat still, looking at the rain running down the windscreen as they cruised down a Gotham street towards the East side. "Got him, Batman. Looks like he's just chain sawing himself into a Ford motor showroom. You'd better put that foot down before he gets mobile again."
The last few words of Oracle were drowned out by the throaty sound of the Batmobile as it leapt up the street, dodging the few pedestrians that were about in such a grim night.
"Where were you planning on taking her?" asked Batman.
"Angela, who do you think?"
"I dunno, movie and some fries or something?"
"Do you like this girl?"
Robin went red. "Let's just get this murderer, right, Bruce?"
Batman chuckled and then grimaced as he looked at the road in front of him. Earlier in the week the road had caved in and fallen into the subway below, along with sewage pipes, huge bundles of electricity cables and the water pipes. The city engineers said it was a mixture of age and the constant vibrations of traffic that the engineers of nearly a century ago hadn't planned on. The only reason no one got killed was it happened at 3 am. If it had happened at rush hour it would have been carnage.
One of the more imaginative of Gotham's citizens had daubed a huge clown's face on the awnings surrounding it and the words "Hah! Hah!" in purple paint. The Batmobile screeched to a halt and they both leapt out of the armoured car and ran down the one open pavement past what was now a building site.
The showroom was just on the other side of the pit. There he was! A huge black shape loomed in the doorway of the building, a chainsaw in each hand. He hissed at them and retreated into the blackness of the car showroom.
A cry of, "D'oh! It's Batman! Why you little…" could be heard echoing around the showroom.
"You keep the exits clear," said Batman, not looking at Robin.
"What are you going to do?"
"Going in after him."
"I'm supposed to be learning, how can I learn out here?"
"You can learn by doing what you're told." Batman clicked down the starlight lenses on his cowl and stalked into the doorway. The world seemed to have an ethereal green glow to him. The shapes of cars loomed up over both sides of him.
Where was he?
He went back to the doorway and began to start a coordinated search around the showroom. There was two reasons for this, firstly to get an idea of the layout of the building, possible hiding places his quarry could be in, and thus to be able to cut him off. The second reason was to hopefully encounter his prey at a strange unexpected angle. Not just walk up to him.
Batman walked as quietly as a breeze. His fingers nervously clutched a batarang in each hand.
Where was he?
A door slammed shut in front of him and Batman ran towards the sound. That was the door to the roof!
The chainsaw lanced towards him from the side. Somehow he ducked it and rolled into a combat position. He struck out twice, blows that would fell any mortal man. The shape staggered back and his mask fell off.
Batman felt cold and literally staggered back in shock. It was a face he had not seen in fifteen years.
"D'oh!" The man sniffed and grinned. "Nice to smell you again, Wayne." He raised a chainsaw above his head and lanced towards Batman for the killing stroke…
Caught by a trap that wouldn't fool a girl scout. He cursed to himself and could see a chain saw above his head about to be dropped for the killing stroke…
Fifteen years ago…
The limousine purred up the concrete semi-circular drive to Gotham's finest private school. Already several expensive cars were disgorging the children of Gotham's elite. A row of oak trees surrounded the entrance way and a painter was just busy touching up the sign outside. The rain was clearing and Bruce clambered out of the limousine to school.
"You have your sandwiches, Master Bruce?"
"I'll be fine, Alfred."
"You have your homework?"
"It's in my bag, just stop mothering me."
"As you say, sir." Alfred glanced over at him. "I'll be here at 4:15, sir."
"We've got the school trip today; I dunno what time I'll be back. I'll walk back. I'll walk. Honestly, I'll be fine. I'm not a little kid anymore; I can look after myself."
"Your parents would not have wanted you walking the streets of Gotham on your own, sir. Please call me when you need collecting."
"Please spare me the guilt trip," said Bruce. "I'll see you later… Possibly."
"Goodbye, sir." said Alfred.
He worried too much, thought Bruce as he watched the black limousine drive off. Ever since his parents had died he seemed to have appointed himself his unofficial guardian. He put his rucksack over one shoulder (only geeks used both straps) and strolled under the triple arched portico entranceway to the school grounds.
Two boys were waiting for Bruce. "Hey, Brucey boy, how's it hanging?"
Bruce gave a grin. "Slightly to the left. Depends which way the breeze is blowing. All right there, Thornberry?"
"Middlin?" asked Bruce. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Is Alfred still mothering you?" said Adrian Thornberry.
"You know what he's like." In the corner of the school could be seen four boys kicking a boy on the floor. His face darkened. "What are they doing?"
The other boy, a rather overweight lad, said. "They're playing kick the Kevin." He giggled a bit. "If you're called Kevin you have to be kicked unless you answer the question."
"What's the question?"
"I think the last one was do you want to be kicked 47 or 48 times?" said Adrian. "They're kicking him until he answers, basically."
"Someone will get hurt."
"Oh, don't worry about that; they're using their shoes, they won't hurt their feet."
Bruce cracked his knuckles together and walked up to the group. He pushed the two bullies back off their victim. "Back off, Carson."
"Back off yourself, Wayne. Your butler isn't here to mother you now."
"You want to try kicking me, Carson?" He pushed him back and stared in his eyes. "You wanna try it? Come on, Carson. Push me about. Try it. Come on."
"Back off, Wayne, you're a psycho. I don't wanna fight a psycho." At the end of this he launched a punch at the side of Bruce's head. Bruce's vision exploded in a blaze of light and his mouth tasted of tin. He was thrown back onto the playground and rolled himself up to his feet in a second and was just about to launch a punch of his own when he heard a voice shouting.
"Mr Wayne and Mr Carson, I will not having fighting in my school. See me after school."
Bruce and Carson turned round sullenly and said. "Yes sir." They waited for the headmaster to turn around and Carson turned to Wayne. "I'll get you for that, Wayne. After school."
"Like I'm scared."
"You should be, Wayne, you should be."
Bruce glowered at Carson's back as he loped off into the school. "You need to control your temper, Bruce," said Adrian. "You could get hurt if you don't watch out. Come on now, let's get to class."
Two hours later they were on a coach heading out of Gotham on a field trip. The teacher had banned most of the songs the children had tried to start singing and they were now singing a halfhearted "100 green bottles hanging on a wall". Even with this one Adrian managed to add in a few extra side comments to riotous displays of cheering from the rest of the boys.
They filed out of the coach. The teacher blew a whistle and they all formed up in a line. "Okay, you will all team in groups of four." He pulled out a register. "First four is Carson, Wayne, Thornberry and Buckler." He quickly teamed all the others up into groups of four. "Remember, you are doing a phase one environmental survey of this area. We are very lucky to be here. This area has belonged to the Military for the past fifty years and is pretty much untouched since then. You have a map and you have the guide. Meet here in two hours time. Any questions?"
Adrian and Lou immediately put up their hands.
"About the task in hand," carried on the teacher. "I don't want any questions about where do babies come from or anything of that ilk." Adrian's hand stayed up.
"Are there any unexploded bombs about?"
"No, it was not used as a firing range."
"Are there any tanks about?"
"No, as far as I know this area was just for survival training exercises."
"Will we have to eat worms and stuff?"
"If you like, just get on with it please. Any other questions?" he asked quickly. "Splendid. Carry on then…"
"I don't want to be in your team," muttered Carson.
"Well, we don't want you being in our team either," said Bruce. "Just shut up and we'll get on fine."
They grabbed their rucksacks and started to walk into the woods, twigs and leaves crunching underfoot. "Hey, shouldn't we be making notes?" said Bruce.
"We'll start off over here first of all." The woods loomed up over their heads. The distant cry of crows could be heard in the distance. "Well, this bit is obviously woods."
"Yes, but what type of woods is it?" said Bruce. "We should take a leaf sample."
"A tree's a tree's a tree," said Carson. "Who cares?"
The sound of the rest of their classmates soon disappeared into the background. The trees were knotted and moss covered. Several creatures disappeared into the branches and the mournful cry of a crow was in the distance.
"This has to be far enough to get started," said Bruce. "Let's start identifying trees."
"Screw that," said Carson. "We've got a day without the teachers; let's have a bit of fun. You need to lighten up a bit, Wayne."
"We don't want to get lost," said Adrian.
"Shut it Thornberry," said Carson. "I never liked you either." He suddenly stopped and started listening. "What's that noise?"
"What noise?" said Bruce.
"That noise, dum dum." Carson started walking towards a pile of rocks in the middle of the forest.
"There's no noise," said Bruce. "Come on, we've got to get started."
"Yes there is; it's coming from under these rocks."
Bruce looked at the rocks. They seemed to be covering a huge hole in the ground. "It's a rabbit hole, moron."
"Anybody got a torch?" said Carson.
"We're on a field trip in the day time, why would any of us have a torch with us?" said Thornberry.
"I've got one," said Bruce.
"Why'd you bring a torch with you, muppet?" said Carson.
The light pierced the stygian blackness of the pit. "I've got a bad feeling about this," said Thornberry. "Why don't we just get started on this project and get back to the coach?"
"What the hell is that?" said Carson. "Hey Wayne, take a look at this." Carson pointed with his torch into the cave. Bruce looked over the edge of the cave to see and suddenly he was pushed. His hands scrabbled for a handhold but there was nothing there and he fell into the stygian blackness of the cave. The laugh of Carson was ringing in his ears as he fell into the inky blackness…