It was a dick move, Nightwing thought while perched 40-feet-high in a tree overlooking a girl, alone on a weather-worn bench in East Gotham Park. Two of the three nearest street lights had gone out and stood guard over the park like giant spent matches. Up above, the night sky covered the city like a blanket of black ice, while a gust of biting wind stung his face as he watched the girl dig through her purse and fish out a cell phone. She was blonde and pretty, and as he watched her name and phone number flash by on the heads-up-display of the lenses in his mask, he couldn't help but feel a stab of regret. He'd set her up. There was no getting around it.
Over the past several weeks, five women had been raped in East Gotham Park. All of them blonde. All of them pretty. In a normal city this would have been enough to get the police heavily involved, but not in Gotham. Here, it barely registered a blip on the radar. It didn't help that none of the women had been able to describe their attacker. Cerise Holiday, Kendall Kwik, Trudy Badger, Dolly Sorbie, and Jasmine Kramer were the first five victims. Yesterday he made a quiet promise to the women of Gotham City that there wouldn't be a sixth. So, he, in his civilian guise as Dick Grayson, college student, seduced one of his blonde and pretty classmates and invited her to a rendezvous in the park, after dark. Never one to stay abreast of current events, she accepted, and here he was, watching her, waiting for his prey to arrive and take the bait.
As he observed her from the trees, he mentally checked his supplies. It had already been a busy night and he was running low on firepower. A grappling gun, a few smoke capsules, a single tear gas pellet, a gas mask, four miniature, anesthetic-tipped batarangs, and an electro magnetic pulse device(on the offhand chance that he might run into a giant, murderous robot. And let's face it, this was Gotham, it could happen) marked the full extent of his remaining supplies. That, plus a lifetime of acrobatics and combat training and he was confident it would be enough to handle a serial rapist no one could identify.
Twenty minutes passed and he felt bad for the girl, shivering in the cold, clutching a cell phone whose call he wouldn't be answering. He felt bad that he'd used her for bait. It was a move right out of Batman's playbook. He often railed against the notion that he was just like his mentor. He would fight anyone who even suggested it. But, then he went out and did something like this. You're no different, he thought to himself. You're no better.
He didn't get to wallow in self-pity for long, because at eleven-thirty-one a possible suspect came into view. Approaching from the west, he wore a trench coat and a sand-colored fedora, and he walked with his hands jammed into his pockets. Nightwing had the park bench wired for sound and he heard the man speak with a gravelly voice. "Excuse me miss," he said. "Do you have the time?" Then he tipped his hat and a painfully loud, high-pitched scream threatened to shred Nightwing's eardrum. Uncoiling powerful legs, he leapt from the branch and used the retractable fabric "wings" under his arms to help him glide through the air like a bat. When he reached his target, he retracted his wings and dive-bombed the trench coat-wearing rapist, feet-first, driving the heels of his boots into the man's back. It was a hard blow and it sent the man sprawling into the grass with a dull thud.
"Go," Nightwing said to the girl as he landed deftly in front of her. "Run."
He watched the girl take off, then turned his attention back to her attacker, who was slowly rising to his feet. The man took off his trench coat, and as the coat fell to the ground, Nightwing realized the man didn't have any feet. Or legs. Or a torso. Or...anything! He was completely invisible. "So," Nightwing said, "you're invisible. How about that." He retrieved the twin escrima sticks from the sheaths that criss-crossed his back. "I don't suppose you're wearing invisible underwear too? Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?" His answer came in the chuff, chuff sound of feet running on grass and he ducked low, spun on his heel and whipped his leg out. He felt the jarring impact of muscle and bone and was rewarded with the sound of the park rapist crashing into the pavement behind him. Followed by pained cursing.
"Hate to break it to you pal," Nightwing said, as he rose to his feet and stalked his invisible prey. "But, this aint my first rodeo." He switched to the infrared setting on his HUD and could see the invisible man on his back and propped up on his elbows, bathed in red and orange hues.
Nightwing knocked the escrima sticks together in menacing fashion and glared down at the park rapist. "I'm gonna enjoy this," he said. That's when an orange-red fist crashed into his jaw from the side and sent him careening down the trail off balance. He tasted blood, then he ate another blow, this one to the gut. "No fair," he coughed as his attacker launched a roundhouse kick at his ribcage. With his head still swimming from the cheap shot, Nightwing checked the blow with his bent arm and countered, taking out the man's back leg with a hard kick that deposited him ass-first on the hard, black pavement.
"It gets worse," Nightwing heard a man say, and as his vision stabalized he found himself surrounded by a dozen orange-red, man-sized figures.
He toggled the infrared vision off and saw nothing but trees, and grass, and park benches. Oh, and a dozen floating knives and baseball bats. He toggled it back on. Twelve men. Armed. Inching closer. Surrounding him. "A trap," Nightwing said. He felt himself relax as a razor sharp focus set in. "You raped all those women, just to get to me?" he called out. "You're a monster."
"Oh, no," the man said, and Nightwing located the owner of the voice. Ten o'clock. "We wanted Batman, but we'll settle for his sidekick."
Nightwing cringed inwardly at the word sidekick. He hadn't been Robin the Boy Wonder, aka Batman's sidekick, in more than three years. "There are easier ways to get his attention. Why rape?"
The leader cocked his head in a thoughtful manner. "I of course, detest rape, but my men…well… my men…must be entertained."
Nightwing couldn't see a smile through the infrared, but he heard one in the man's tone, and it filled him with anger. "You'll pay for what you've done," he said.
The leader stepped forward. "No," he said, simply. "What I will do, is have my revenge."
"Revenge for what?"
"Does it really matter?"
Abruptly, the wall of men that surrounded Nightwing, began to move closer and closer. He felt his pulse quicken and his palms grow moist. He then flashed back on a drill Batman made him do every day during his initial training to become a crime fighter. He was twelve years old, thin as a beanpole. Short too. His black hair needed cutting and constantly hung in his face. The room was dark. Pitch black. And he stood in the center of it, in a relaxed fighting stance. Because, according to Batman, "True speed comes only when you are relaxed." To a twelve-year-old who just wanted to beat up bad guys it had sounded like something out of a fortune cookie. But it would prove to be true. As he waited in the center of the black room he found himself listening for footsteps. He was trying to track his mentor, so that he could gain some kind of advantage. "Side kicks," Batman called. His booming voice seemingly came from every direction. Then the light flashed from off to his right and he slid his left foot and thrust his right foot sideways at the light, calling out, "Hiyah!" as he did. Then the light flashed in front of him and he pivoted, slid and fired his lead leg at the light again. And so it went, for a very long time, every day. He would go into the dark room and the light would flash. From the left, from the right, from the front, from the back, even from up above, and each time he would throw whatever attack had been commanded of him. Until his ability to perceive movement and react with speed had been honed to a near superhuman level.
As he waited in the center of the circle of death he prepared himself to make good use of that training.
First, let's even the playing field, he thought as he produced three smoke pellets from his gauntlet and smashed them on the ground. The capsules broke open and thick, white smoke shot out blanketing that section of the park for ten meters in every direction.
Nightwing's infrared vision was unaffected and as he watched the invisible men choke, and gasp, and stumble about blindly, one of them wandered within range and he dropped him with a precise blow to the head from his escrima stick. Then he caught another flash of movement at five o'clock, and just like he'd been trained with the flashlight, he slid his back leg and fired a side kick that caught the man in the stomach and sent him jack-knifing back to crash into the park bench, where it cracked and folded like a house of cards. More movement flashed, at three o'clock this time, and as the man's fist shot out to deliver a blow, Nightwing hammered his elbow, then drove his escrima stick into his windpipe. The man hit the ground clutching his throat. Then another came, from straight ahead this time and tried to tackle the hero. At the same time Nightwing noticed two more men angling in to flank him, so he shot forward and vaulted the charging man, extending both legs in an extremely acrobatic and devastating scissor kick that sent two more men crashing to the ground. In the next 10 seconds, six more bodies hit the ground unconscious with broken teeth, ribs, noses, legs, and arms. And when the smoke cleared, there was but one standing: the leader.
"What now?" Nightwing said as he watched the leader hold up one hand. "What are you doing?" Then he flipped off the infrared for an instant and recognized a detonator floating mid-air. "You've got to be kidding me."
"You have a decision to make. Save them," he said. He hit one of the buttons and the eleven other invisible men began to make beeping sounds.
That's not good, Nightwing thought.
"Or you can try and capture me. You can't do both, and if I were you, I'd make my decision quickly," he said, then he took off running.
"The EMP is only for emergencies," he could hear Batman saying. "Use it in the wrong place and you'll cause more harm than good."
I'm surrounded by invisible men rigged to explode, while a raping psycopath holds the detonator and makes his escape. If this aint an emergency, I don't know what is. He slipped the EMP from his gauntlet and pressed the button. The whole world flashed blue-white, then went dark.
Nightwing felt an instant calm fill him from his toes to the top of his head. He was comfortable in the dark. He'd been raised in the dark. The dark was home.
His night vision adjusted and he was on the leader in no time, raining quick, titanic blows on any unprotected body parts. The criminal's fingers frantically jammed the detonator, but to no avail. "Impossible," he managed to gasp, before one final blow to the head sent him spiraling into unconsciousness.
The "Batcave" stretched out all around them like a dark, cool, fortress. A holy sanctuary of crime fighting, packed with giant supercomputers, a state-of-the art crime lab, a world class, fully-stocked gym, and a hangar loaded with super cars, an attack helicopter and a speed boat/submarine, all bristling with the best weapons modern science had to offer. It was everything the Dark Knight needed to wage his nightly war on crime. It was also home.
"You used the girl as bait," Batman said as they sat in front of a massive computer monitor that displayed newsfeeds from every major outlet on Earth. The flutter of bat's wings could be heard from above. "You had no choice. I would've done the same." His gaze never left the monitor.
Like I said, Nightwing thought to himself, it was a dick move.