Wall of Death, Chapter 1-The Battle

Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
But this is the nearest to being alive
Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

Wall of Death, by Richard Thompson

PRESENT DAY

The field was dark, blasted black with char and cinders. Stumps of burned trees broke ground here and there, with barren spikes of bushes twisting in the rain. A hundred dark bodies huddled in the wasteland, some still gripping weapons in their hands, motionless in the mud that would bury them. A single figure moved from body to body, stopping to check one, rolling over another, finding no signs of life. The figure stood upright, tall in his long black cape and cowl, stretching exhausted muscles, then spotted another body and swiftly ran to it. A young man, lithe and athletic, lay in the mud. His hand stretched in front of him, clutching at the air as if calling for help. Spots of red blood spattered his back and his clumped in his dark hair. The caped figure rolled him over, gently brushing the mud from the young man's face and grateful for the rain that helped wash the dirt off. Not him. The Bat sighed with relief, then wearily looked over the field he
had yet to cover if he were to find his eldest son.

He heard a whistling sound and felt the breeze as a large blue and red figure thumped to earth next to him. Without bothering to look, the Bat said, "I know you think this is pointless, Clark, but I'm not quitting until I find Dick."

Superman put a hand on Batman's shoulder. "I would expect no less from you, Bruce. But..I have some news."

Bruce Wayne, aka the Batman turned to his old friend. "Have they found him? Where?"

"He's been captured," Superman's voice sounded worn, even for him. "I'm sorry, Bruce, but J'onn says they're torturing him."

Batman straightened up. "He's alive, then. Where is he? I'll go get him."

"It's not that simple," Superman folded his arms over his chest. "He's behind enemy lines and even I can't go there. They've infused their barricades with kryptonite, apparently quite plentiful on their planet. And you know the state of their defenses. Hell, you planned our first strike!"

"Just because they beat the crap out of us on this run doesn't mean that a small team can't get him out. Or one man," Batman said evenly.

"Okay," Superman tried again. "How will you get him out again? You know he's probably injured and I doubt he's mobile."

Batman frowned heavily. "I'm going, Clark."

"Suppose you do go," Superman growled in frustration. "You know why they want him. He knows the codes to the computers in the batcave. He knows our encryptions; he should, he designed them! If the enemy gets you, they'll have the rest of the ball of wax,. Our tactics, weapons, plans. Bad enough that we've lost Nightwing. If we lose you too, the war is lost."

"We haven't lost him yet," Batman persisted. "He hasn't told them anything."

"They've had him for a day and a half. Bruce...He won't be the son you raised when you get him back," Superman said gently.

"He's my son and I'm going after him. And he knows it," Batman insisted. "Now get the Hell out of my way if you aren't going to help!"

TWO YEARS BEFORE

Batman and Robin crouched on the rooftops overlooking the alley in Gotham City. On patrol one rainy night, they had seen a man drag a woman behind some dumpsters. Batman had already pulled out his infrared binoculars. Lucius Fox had already begun to create schematics that would put infrared functionality into the lenses in their masks, but it was still on the drawing board. It would be good to have one less gadget to worry about carrying.

"Batman, I can take him. He's directly below me and all he has is a knife, right hand. His left is in shadow, but it's probably around the victim. I'll get the drop on him and he won't even feel it." Robin sounded confident, almost cocky. Cocky was bad. Over-confidence kills.

"You don't know what's in his left hand, Robin. Don't engage until you know all the variables…damn.." Robin had jumped off the roof and landed on the back of the perp, forcing him down to the ground, fist reaching out to club the knife from the man's right hand. As the perp fell, Batman caught the flash of the second knife in the man's left hand as it swept up and back to embed itself into Robin's left shoulder. The woman, freed from her attacker, shrieked and ran away, apparently unharmed.

As soon as he saw Robin make his move, Batman was sweeping down from the opposite rooftop. He landed just as the knife hit home and pushed Robin away from his attacker, the knife coming loose and clattering to the ground. Batman grabbed both the perp's wrists and kicked both both weapons out of reach. Restraining the perp with a foot planted on the back of his neck and both wrists cuffed, Batman spared a look at his partner.

"How bad?" He ran a sharp eye down his partner's arm where the blood was dripping to the fingertips of his left gauntlet.

Robin held his upper arm with other hand and grimaced. "Looks worse than it is. Alfred's gonna kill me when he has to clean this uniform, though. It's brand new."

"Okay, put pressure on it and we'll take care of it in the batcave. I'll call Gordon and have his men pick up our friend here. Since his victim's made tracks, he'll probably only get a night in jail," Batman sighed. Crime-fighting was often made more difficult by the victims themselves. He reminded himself to be patient; people didn't ask to be victimized. It wasn't their fault when they reacted against their own interests.

Robin pulled a gauze pad out of a belt-pouch and held it tightly to his upper arm. Batman waved him out of the alley first, then lifted his foot from the back of the perp's neck, leaning over him. "Try that again and you'll hurt worse the next day than you did tonight. Understand?" The man looked up at Batman blankly and nodded vigorously. Satisfied, Batman followed Robin out of the alley and to the batmobile.

The ride back to the batcave was quiet. Robin knew he'd blown it. He'd gotten sloppy and Batman would be right to call him on it when they got back. He'd been Batman's apprentice since he was nine years old and still wondered if he'd ever be able to hit Batman's standard. Or if anyone could, except for Bruce of course. He leaned back against the head-rest, still applying pressure to his arm. He'd been lucky that guy hadn't been carrying a gun instead of the pig-sticker he'd gotten him with.

Batman said nothing, glancing at his young partner periodically. Robin already knew he'd blown it but didn't understand the severity of the problem. He'd been careless lately; disobeying orders, not thinking things through, ignoring Batman's safety protocols. That had to stop, for the boy's own safety.

When they arrived at the batcave, Batman was silent. Instead, he went over to the medical area and opened the first aid kit. "Up here," he gestured toward the examining table. Robin sighed and took a seat. Batman remained silent as he carefully slit Robin's sleeve and examined the wound. "Puncture, about an inch deep." Changing into sterile gloves, Batman washed out the wound and put a bandage on it. "You're up to date on your tetanus shot." It was a statement, not a question.

"Okay, when are you going to say it?" Robin couldn't stand the silence any more.

"What do you want me to say?" Batman's voice, as always, was controlled but Robin had years of experience reading the emotions lying underneath.

"You're mad at me because I blew it out there. You're right. I didn't check for another weapon before I jumped. I'm sorry," Robin slumped a bit, ashamed that head been so stupid.

Batman was still silent. "Well, aren't you going to yell at me?" Robin said finally.

"No. But I do want to point out to you that you should know better by now," Batman pulled off the sterile gloves and began to clean up the used swabs. "You heard me and you jumped anyway. You ignored my instructions and you could have been killed by a lucky blow from that knife."

Robin looked up, frowning as he pulled his domino mask off. "But I wasn't. I've been your partner since I was nine years old and I've survived this long. Bruce, I can handle myself. I'm not a fragile soap bubble that's gonna pop if I get hit with something. I didn't get killed tonight. Or last week when that thug clocked me. Or a month ago…"

Bruce pushed back his cowl, blue eyes icy and lips compressed. "You've been getting sloppy. I've discussed your failings with you but I'm not seeing any improvement. Do I need to bench you to convince you that you need to exercise caution when you're out there with me?"

Dick glared at his father until he finally had to look away. Deep breath. "Okay, Bruce. I'll try to slow down and catch your signals better. I just…get amped up, you know? It's such a rush, what we do. It's like flying on the trapeze, the ground so far away and nothing but you and the bright lights.."

Bruce's expression softened. "All right. Hit the showers and we'll work on this some more. I'll see you upstairs."

"Okay, Bruce," Dick hopped off the table and headed for the shower area, feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the conversation. He still thought that Bruce was over-protecting him again but it didn't do to say so. It was Bruce's way or the highway. At least until he could persuade him that Robin had good ideas, too.