Trigger: Part III
Impossibility stared Batman in the face. He looked out onto Gotham and the people that inhabited it. One of those people contained the detonation switch for a bomb that would destroy the entire city. When that person heard a certain word, he would push the button and it would be all over for the citizens of Gotham.
"We have a problem," Batman said.
"No kidding," Wayne agreed.
"You heard the whole thing?" Batman asked.
"All of it," Wayne replied.
"What do you suggest we do?"
Wayne thought for a moment. "We need to approach this logically. Spellbinder said it was a man, so that narrows down our search a little."
Batman tried to clear his head and run over everything Spellbinder had said, searching for the smallest clue. "He said it would decimate all of Gotham," he said. "That would take a lot of bombs."
"Or a very large one," Wayne suggested.
"A nuclear explosion could do it," Batman said. "But where's he going to get a nuclear warhead?"
"A good question," Wayne said. "I'll start searching the internet for any missing nuclear explosives."
"But that still won't tell us where it's hidden," Batman said, "or who is rigged to detonate it." He thought for a moment. "Is there any way to detect whether someone has a hypnotic suggestion planted in their brain?"
"I have no knowledge of the technology being used here," Wayne said. "However, I could access the Mind Workings Research computers and download Dr. Wellman's files."
"Do that." Batman's eyes scanned the city once again. There was one possibility he hadn't mentioned. Maybe this was all a ruse, he thought, to send me on a wild goose chase. That would be Spellbinder's style. Still, I can't take that risk.
He descended back into Spellbinder's lair to search for clues. Maybe there was a file on a computer that would help him out. He accessed the computer but found that all files but one had been wiped.
Batman opened this one file and an image of Spellbinder filled the screen. "Now, now," he said, "I don't appreciate you touching my stuff."
"Do you think I care?" Batman asked.
The recording continued. "I can assure you that you'll find nothing of use on this computer. In fact, this computer is so useless that I'll save you the trouble of having to trash it yourself. When you opened this program, it sent a signal to the explosives hidden in the basement. By the time I finish this sentence, they will have detonated. Bye!"
But Batman didn't wait for the sentence to finish. As soon as he heard "explosives," he grabbed the computer and ran from the building. He made it out the door just as the blast occurred, throwing him away from the building. He tumbled along the ground as flaming bits of the building fell around him. When he had stopped, he turned to see the smoldering wreckage. No chance of finding any clues there now.
Next to him lay the crushed computer that he had saved in hopes of performing a data recovery. That possibility was also gone. He flew away before the firemen arrived and rested on a building adjacent. He needed to think of another plan.
A voice on his cowl-link interrupted him. "Nice night, isn't it?"
"Spellbinder," Batman said threateningly.
"The one and only," he replied. "Is that a fire I hear in the background?"
"How did you get the frequency I'm using?" Batman asked.
"It was easy to obtain while you were unconscious," Spellbinder answered.
"What else did you do?"
Spellbinder ignored the question. "So, now that you discovered nothing at my hideout, what will you do next?" Batman was silent. "Okay, you've convinced me. Since I'm enjoying this every bit as much as you are"--Batman growled--"I'll give you a hint to help you along. If you go to Gotham Central Park, you'll surely find the man with the detonator switch there. That's all I'm saying." Then he was silent.
Batman quickly changed the frequency of his cowl-link before considering what to do next. Should he follow Spellbinder's hint? It might just lead to a dead-end. But then again, he didn't have much else of a choice. The decision made, he flew off into the night.
Gotham Central Park looked eerie under the moonlight. Batman glided overhead, looking at all the people and wondering which one was rigged to blow up the city. Then he saw a familiar face and immediately knew who it was.
Greg was sitting on a bench and reading a magazine when Batman swooped down and landed right in front of him. Greg calmly set the magazine down and looked at Batman. "Hello," he said.
"Listen, Greg, Spellbinder has-" Batman started, but stopped. "You don't look surprised."
"Spellbinder said he'd lead you to me," Greg replied.
"But why?" Batman asked, then noticed a sound behind him and turned to see Jokerz advancing towards him. "Big deal. I've beaten up their kind before." He returned to the main point he was trying to get across. "Listen, Greg, you're wired to explode the city."
Greg looked confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Spellbinder planted a bomb in the city," Batman explained, "and someone has a hypnotic suggestion planted that will make them set it off."
"Spellbinder never said anything about that."
"Of course not. He left you here to do the job."
Greg's face hardened. "You're lying to try to freak me out."
The Jokerz had arrived and were standing behind Batman. "Excuse me while I deal with a distraction," he said.
Greg just smiled and said, "Good night." The hypnotic suggestion planted in Batman's brain took effect, and he fell into unconsciousness.
A Joker picked Batman up and slung him over his shoulder. "So," he said to Greg, "how much are we getting paid for this?"
"Let me check with my boss," Greg said, and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed Spellbinder's number and waited while the phone rang. It didn't stop. Nobody picked up on the other side. Confused, Greg turned off the phone and put it away.
"Well?" the Joker asked impatiently.
Then Batman's words hit him, and Greg knew with horrifying realization that he was right. He instantly took off, leaving the Jokerz behind.
"What's up with him?" one asked.
"Who knows," said the leader. He shifted Batman on his shoulders. "We'll talk to him later. Right now there's some fun to be had." The Jokerz took off, cackling.
Wayne looked at the results for the internet search. No nuclear weapons were missing. That lead had led nowhere. Could Spellbinder have made his own nuclear reactor? Bruce speculated. Not likely. Maybe he's just making this all up.
A call came on the vid-phone. Wayne answered it and saw Max's face. "Hi," she said. "I've got some information Terry was looking for, about hypnosis. Seems there's this guy at Mind Workings Research named-"
"Dr. Wellman," Wayne interrupted.
Max was taken aback. "How'd you know?"
"We've already checked him out," Wayne said. "He was fooled by Spellbinder into trying to make a machine to hypnotize people through TV channels."
"Oh," said Max. She was silent for a while. "So, have you stopped Spellbinder then?"
"Not quite," Wayne said.
Max waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she said, "Well, aren't you going to tell me any more?"
Wayne's stony gaze didn't flinch. "Why should I?"
"Because I'm part of the team," Max said.
Wayne was about to object, but then he realized that they needed as many people working on the problem as they could. A different viewpoint might give them the answer. Wayne went on to tell her the whole situation.
Her eyes widened in horror as the problem was explained to her. Then she settled down into thinking mode, her mind sorting through the data, trying to find connections. "Well," she said after some time, "it seems to me that you should stop trying to defuse the bomb and instead take out Spellbinder. Then you can make him tell you where the bomb is."
Wayne was surprised, though his face didn't show it. That was a very good strategy, and one that he hadn't thought of. "I'll tell Terry that," he said, his voice not conveying the new light he saw her in.
Wayne went to contact Terry, but nothing happened. He didn't respond. Wayne replayed the microphone recording and listened to the last conversation between Terry and Spellbinder. He must have changed the frequency, Wayne realized, so that Spellbinder wouldn't hear anything else. Still, I can't talk to him if I don't know the correct frequency.
Wayne activated the suit locator program, designed to track the homing beacon installed in the batsuit. To his surprise, Terry wasn't in the park, but instead was heading into a run-down area of Gotham frequently prowled by gangs. Had he found some lead? Without talking to him directly, there was no way of knowing.
"So," said Max, "is there anything else you need me to do?"
"No," said Wayne, activating the vid-link to the batsuit, "I think I can take it from here." Then the vid-link picture appeared, and he swore when he saw Jokerz crowding the screen. And from the angle of the camera, it looked like Terry was being carried.
"What?" Max asked, alerted by Wayne's language. "What's the problem?"
"Jokerz," Wayne said between gritted teeth. "They've got him." He stood up and started to walk away.
"Hey!" exclaimed Max. "Where do you think you're going?"
Wayne turned and looked at her. "To help Terry."
Max shot him a yeah-right look. "You, the derelict old man?"
"I've handled them before," Wayne said, remembering the first time he had run into Terry.
"I don't think so," Max argued. "I want to get a piece of the action."
"No," Wayne said firmly.
"Do you think that I can't handle it?" she asked loudly. Then a thought hit her, and her voice grew softer and more spiteful. "I get it," she said. "You think you're some high and mighty god who has to do everything himself. You'll never even give somebody else a chance to try and prove themselves." She sat back, folded her arms over her chest, and glared at Wayne. "I understand perfectly."
Wayne sighed and bowed his head. This girl was going to be a real pain; he could see it. However, there were more important things at the moment. Besides, he was conscious of his old age, and if there were a lot of Jokerz, they could be more than he could handle. If he sent Max, he could still help by remotely operating the Batmobile.
He sat back into his chair and started typing commands into the computer. "I'm sending the Batmobile over to your place," he said, not looking away from his work.
Max smiled broadly. "Thank you," she said.
Wayne turned to glare at her. "You have one chance," he said before ending the call.
Max gleefully hopped into the Batmobile. She looked at all the controls. "How do I fly this thing?" she asked.
Wayne's face appeared on a monitor. "You don't," he said. "I'll control it from here."
Max folded her arms over her chest and glowered at him, but she supposed she should be glad that he had conceded this much. There was nothing to do but wait in silence as the Batmobile raced through the city.
It reached its destination and stopped in the air. Max looked out the window to see a building below with much of the roof collapsed. In the middle of the floor was a big bonfire, and the howling of Jokerz could be heard loud and clear.
"Great," Max said. "Now what do I do?"
"You fight them," Wayne said, and the Batmobile descended rapidly.
"Wait!" Max cried. "Don't I need a weapon or something?"
Wayne smiled. "You should have thought of that beforehand."
Max growled. "You are so going to get it! When I get my hands on you, I'll-" She was cut off when the drop hatch opened and she landed roughly on the ground.
She looked up to see dozens of Jokerz staring at the newcomer. Over in the corner, Batman was chained upside-down to a steel rafter, still unconscious.
"Well, well," one of the Jokerz said after a long silence, "what do we have here?"
Max said nothing, but instead started running for Batman. Two Jokerz quickly blocked her way. "Where are you going?" one of them asked. "The fun's just begun." She kicked him in the gut, grabbed his arm, and swung him into his partner.
Another Joker grabbed her arms. "Whoa!" he exclaimed. "Feisty little thing!" She promptly kneed him between the legs.
By now, the Jokerz had realized that she meant business. A few of them brought out knives, and a couple mounted motorbikes and started circling around her, swinging chains over their heads.
"You come to beat us up?" a Joker with wild pink hair asked threateningly. "We'll mash you into pulp!" He whipped his chain at her and lashed her across the arm, making her cry out. This made the other Jokerz laugh.
"Do that again and I'll hurt you," Max threatened with more confidence than she felt.
The pink-haired Joker turned his bike to face her. "You think you're tough?" he asked. He gave his engines a rev and sped toward her. "I'll turn you into roadkill!"
She danced away at the last moment and stuck out her leg. The Joker was knocked off his bike and hit the ground hard. The motorbike didn't stop and drove straight into the bonfire. It exploded, causing many of the Jokerz to hit the ground.
Max used the distraction to her advantage and ran straight for Batman. She was almost there when a strong arm grabbed her and spun her around. She started to struggle but stopped when she felt a cold knife at her throat.
"Make one move," the Joker said in a deep voice, "and I'll slit your throat."
A black gloved hand grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. "Excuse me," Batman said, "but I don't think the lady likes you handling her like that."
The Joker roared and swung his knife at Batman. He easily dodged and in one swift motion grabbed the Joker's arm and flung him into a crowd of advancing Jokerz.
"Thanks for the assistance," Max said.
"Don't mention it," Batman replied. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to rescue you," she said with a smile.
"Looks like you're the one that needs rescuing," Batman said, looking at the Jokerz. Some of them had gotten guns and were shooting at them. One shot grazed Batman's arm.
"That's our exit cue," Batman said. He grabbed Max, spread his wings, and launched up and away from the building. The Jokerz yelled after them, but they couldn't follow. Batman arrived at a rooftop and set Max down.
"Are you okay?" Batman asked.
"I'm fine," she said breathlessly. "How about you?" She pointed to the place where he had almost been shot.
He glanced at it. "Just some damaged circuitry," he said. "I'll have Wayne fix it when I get back to the Batcave. So, how did you find me?"
"Wayne brought me here," she replied matter-of-factly.
Batman did not conceal his surprise. "He actually let you do that?"
"It's a long story," she said. "We have other things to worry about right now."
"Right," he said. "I know who is rigged to explode the city. It's Greg."
"Yeah. He must have gotten connected with Spellbinder recently and is now working for him. He has no idea about the whole scheme, which is a good sign he's a part of it."
"Makes sense to me," Max said. "Where do we find him?"
"I have no clue," Batman replied, "but we have to do it fast."
"Right," Max agreed, "or this whole city goes up in one big boom."
She started to leave, but turned to see Terry frozen there, a strange look on his face. "Are you okay?" she asked.
He said nothing. Instead, he reached to his left arm and pulled up the sleeve, exposing the detonation switch for the bomb. Max had little time to think before he pushed the button.
Spellbinder felt a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when he received the radio transmission. The detonation switch had been programmed to send a second radio signal to him, along with the one to the bomb, to let him know when it had been activated. Wonderful, he thought with supreme pleasure. And he'll never even know he did it.
Spellbinder couldn't contain his laughter. It was so ironic! Batman, the defender of Gotham City, was now about to kill them all!
Wayne watched from a camera mounted on the Batmobile. He saw Max's fight with the Jokerz, saw them escape without much trouble, and was now watching them as they stood on the rooftop, talking about something. He was about to send the Batmobile over to them when he saw Batman reveal the detonation switch.
A chill of horror ran through him. He realized that Spellbinder had fooled them all. Now they were going to pay the price.
Max held her breath, waiting for the explosion. It was all over. They had lost.
Tentatively, Max started breathing again, unsure if it was safe to do so. Batman seemed confused, and pushed the switch again. Still nothing happened. He brought it up to his face and saw that it had been damaged and was unoperational.
Thank you, Jokerz, Max thought. The shot that had grazed his arm had saved all of them from destruction.
But the determined look on Batman's face didn't go away. Instead, he spread his wings and flew away, catching Max by surprise. She watched as he soared off into the night. Where's he going to?
The Batmobile landed next to Max. She quickly hopped in and it raced off to follow Batman. "What happened?" Wayne asked.
"The Jokerz broke the detonation switch," Max explained.
"So why hasn't he snapped out of his trance?"
"I don't know," Max said with confusion on her face. "He must be programmed to do something else."
"That might be it," Wayne said. A thoughtful expression came upon his face. "Spellbinder may have anticipated the possible failure of the switch. Therefore, he put a backup plan in place to ensure the bomb would be detonated. But as for what that plan is..." Realization dawned on him. "He's going to set it off directly!"
"Wonderful!" Max said without a hint of sarcasm. "He'll lead us straight to the bomb."
The buildings started to change around her. She noticed that they were heading into the power plant district. Batman hadn't slowed down a bit and headed straight for a nuclear power plant.
Max gasped. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "Spellbinder planted a bomb inside the nuclear power plant. That way, the chain reaction would unleash a nuclear explosion onto the entire city."
"I can't believe I didn't see that," Wayne said.
"Don't be hard on yourself," Max said. "The important thing now is that we figure out how to stop him."
"That'll be easy," Wayne said.
Max didn't have time to ask him how. Batman landed next to a building and rushed inside. Max quickly grabbed a two-way communicator headset from the Batmobile before dropping out and following him.
"Follow closely," Wayne instructed through the headset. "Tell me when you see the bomb."
Max followed the orders and raced after Batman. However, he was sprinting through the complex, and Max was having a hard time keeping up. "I've got to work out more," she said to herself as she walked through what seemed like the millionth door and saw Batman heading straight for one of the reactors. At its base was the bomb.
"I see it!" Max shouted. "He's going to detonate it!"
Batman suddenly froze. Max rubbed her eyes, making sure he was seeing things right.
"Well," Wayne said, "did it work?"
This brought Max to her senses. "Yeah," she said. "But what did you do?"
"It's a safety feature I built into the suit," Wayne explained, "in case anybody stole it. The suit is frozen and incapable of movement."
Max breathed a sigh of relief. "Then it's over?"
Spellbinder growled in frustration. A camera placed in the same room as the bomb showed Batman stopped in front of the panel. Why was Batman hesitating? He was so close!
Spellbinder sighed. There must have been a flaw in his hypnotic suggestion. Apparently, the subject couldn't take his own life. That Terry kid hadn't killed himself, and now Batman was also incapable of ending his own life. What a shame.
But Gotham City was going to blow up one way or another. Spellbinder reached for the remote detonation switch on his console.
A crash startled him. He whirled to see that the door had been shot down, and Greg was holding a gun in his hand. "What do you think you're doing?" Spellbinder asked, annoyed at the intrusion.
"I helped you set up this base," Greg said. "I knew where you would be hiding from the bomb you planted in Gotham."
"So what brings you here?"
"You were going to kill me," Greg said. "You just left me in Gotham to die with everyone else."
"And your point is?"
Greg aimed the gun at Spellbinder. "No one messes with me."
"I'll make a note of that," Spellbinder said while he reached his hand under the console and grabbed his vision-eye. Before Greg had a chance to shoot, Spellbinder whipped it out and flashed Greg with it. He would now believe he was in a jungle.
"You aren't going to pull that trick on me!" Greg shouted, and started firing wildly. The shots missed Spellbinder, but they ravaged his equipment. He took one look at the damage console and his missed chance to kill Batman, then quietly stole away, leaving Greg still shooting madly.
Terry sat on the medical table, his batsuit back in its case. He watched as Max wandered around the Batcave, examining every little object and making remarks about how cool all of it was. He turned to Wayne and saw him also observing her. "Does she have to be so noisy about it?" Wayne asked.
"Hey," Terry said, "many people would love to get a look at all the stuff in here."
Wayne grumbled. "This isn't a museum."
"Then why else are you saving it?" Terry asked. "Doesn't the possibility of opening a Batman museum intrigue you?"
Max returned before Wayne could answer. "This place is so shway," she said. "It's unbelievable."
"Remember it well," Wayne said, "because you probably won't get a chance to see it again."
Max laughed. "Are you kidding? After what I did tonight, you're just going to throw me away? You said you'd give me a chance, and I managed to save Gotham City from total destruction. Are you really going to let go such good super-hero material?"
Wayne shot her a quizzical look.
"Oh, come on," Max pleaded.
"The only reason I used you tonight was because Batman was unavailable," Wayne said. "End of story."
Max glared at him. "Nice way to show your appreciation."
Terry quickly changed the subject. "So, is anyone else still worried about Spellbinder?" he asked. "He still has that hypnosis technology."
"Maybe not," Wayne said. "An anonymous phone call brought the police to a building outside of Gotham filled with destroyed machinery similar to what Wellman had been making. Thought we can't tell if that was all the equipment Spellbinder had, it's pretty safe to say that he won't be doing much for a while. Also, Dr. Wellman is now working on a way to detect hypnotic suggestions. If he succeeds, we won't have to worry very much about another episode like tonight's."
"But if we do," Max chimed in, "you can be sure that I'll be there to help out."
Wayne made an exasperated noise. "Don't you have something else to do?" he asked, and stalked off to the computer.
Max huffed, but let Terry lead her away. "What's his problem?" she asked when they entered Wayne Manor.
"He just has a hard time showing appreciation," Terry said. "And besides, you were pushing a little too hard. He won't do anything if you try to force him into doing it."
"But how can I convince him that I'm worthy to be Batgirl?"
"I think you'll need a lot more training to get that far," Terry said with a laugh, "but you did good tonight. You showed promise, and Wayne won't forget that."
Max was thinking while Terry drove her home. When they arrived at her place, she stopped before leaving the car. "Terry," she said, "do you ever feel afraid while you're out there?"
Terry smiled and patted her on the shoulder. "Run along now," he said. "We have to get ready for school."
Max reluctantly left the car and watched it drive away. Terry hadn't answered, but maybe that was an answer in itself. Then she remembered that she had saved Gotham City last night, and she smiled.