Occupation of Gotham City: Day 85
The doors of the relief supply truck were opened and the driver nodded to Captain Jones. Jones grabbed a bag of rice and stepped down onto the snowy street. He scanned the area. People lined up on the sidewalk waiting for the store to be stoked. He stepped inside the door labeled Don's Mart. Jones set the food onto the counter of the empty store. An older woman stood behind the cash register. A teenage boy leaned on a broom between the empty shelves. His head swung in the direction of a door between the coolers on the back wall.
Jones and the two other members of his team descended into a fluorescent-lit basement storeroom. A group of about a dozen men waited with the stacked chairs and cleaning products. Deputy Commissioner Foley stood in front of them. "Do you have I.D.?"
"Course not," Jones answered with a scoff.
"Then how can we trust you?"
"We don't have any choice," a man interrupted from the shadowed doorway behind Gotham's resistance group. The dark-haired and mustached man stepped out.
"Commissioner Gordon, Captain Jones Special Forces." He shook the hand of Gotham's only civilian leader left standing.
"Captain, glad to have you here."
"It's our job, sir. Now, how many of you are there?"
Gordon looked over his men. "There's dozens, but I'd rather not say exactly. But the men trapped underground number nearly three thousand."
"What kind of condition are they in?"
"They've been getting food and water."
"Can we break them out?"
"Yes, sir," a younger man interrupted. A dark-haired Caucasian stepped from behind Foley. "Take out the mercenaries guarding the outflow out of Trillium Park, blow the rubble, we can make a hole big enough for ten at a time. I'm in contact with my partner who's down there. They're just waiting for the day."
Jones' second, Novick, pointed out the first issue. "Men who haven't seen daylight in three months."
"Police officers who haven't seen daylight in three month," the young officer said.
"What about the bomb?" Jones asked. "Satellites can't pick up any radiation hot spots."
"Well, they keep it on the truck," Gordon said. "It must have a lead-lined roof. They move it constantly."
"So you know the truck?"
"It's one of three; we've been tracking them. The routes don't vary much."
"Okay, what about the triggerman?"
"No leads." Gordon huffed. "It's a bluff. Bane wouldn't give control of that bomb to someone else."
"We can't take that chance. Until we have the triggerman, we just track the device." Jones pursed his lips.
"And meanwhile, Gotham lives under a warlord, like some failed state?" The young officer's anger laced every word. The men behind him crossed their arms in solidarity.
"Dial it back, officer." Jones infused his voice with as much sympathy as he could. "This situation is unprecedented. We can't do anything to risk millions of lives."
The young man looked at Gordon. "You gonna tell him? You gonna tell him what's really going on?"
Gordon sighed. "Captain, the situation is more complicated than you think. There's someone you need to meet. Detective Blake, show them the way."
The young hothead nodded and led the way out of the basement and through the back door out of the store. They took a maze-like path through the alleys and side streets not in use. Jones moved alongside Blake. "I'd like to see one of these bomb trucks. We brought a Geiger counter."
"We'll pass a convoy on the way." Blake consulted his watch. "Come on."
Halfway across Midtown Island, they crossed paths with the semi-truck escorted by Hummers. His two men guarded the other end of the alley. Jones faced the building and hid the Geiger counter with his body. Blake watched the convoy approach as he faced the building.
"Decoy," Jones announced before pocketing the counter. Blake drew a bat symbol on the side of the building with a thick stick of chalk, Gotham's freaky urban legend, right. "You don't really think he's coming back, do you?"
Blake stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. "Doesn't matter what I think."
They crossed the empty street. "Actually, it does. You should put your faith into something a little more real."
A smile lifted Blake's entire expression. "Batman is real, Captain. He saved my life when I was a kid."
"And then he disappears after murdering people and pops back up to boost the news ratings," Jones said.
Blake shook his head. "Bane figured out how to outmaneuver us all. But he hasn't stopped Batman."
"What if Bane already has?"
A bleak expression passed over the boyish face before it hardened. Now the thought occurred to Jones that it may have been kinder not to imply that Blake's childhood hero was dead. "Then won't he be surprised when Batman comes back." Blake's harshness vanished. "Here we are." He waved for Jones' men to catch up.
The building was tall enough to be a short skyscraper. Letters spelling out Gotham National Bank hung above the glass door Blake pulled open. "Came upstairs looking for a vantage point. Found the people who run the corporation living up here."
"What corporation?" Jones asked as they climbed up the marble steps from the lobby to a walkway of columns.
"Wayne Enterprises," Blake answered. A young man stood guard behind a column. "You good?" He nodded at Blake. Two more men guarded the elevator at the end of the walkway, but they moved aside for Blake.
The power was still on, but the people living on the floor they stopped on didn't depend on it. Fire barrels formed the centers of huddled groups on the lower floor as they looked over the balcony walkway. Blake's progress down the walkway was stopped by an African-American, elderly man and a younger Caucasian woman who stepped out of a curtained boardroom. Both of them wore layers against the cold.
Blake didn't waste time with introductions. "Mr. Fox, would you like to brief the captain?"
The old man didn't miss how the soldiers' eyes shifted to the woman. "Ms. Tate is fully aware of the situation," he began.
"And as CEO of Wayne Enterprises, I have to take responsibility for it," she said.
"Why?" Jones asked.
"We built it."
Jones blinked at Ms. Tate. "You built the bomb?" Wayne Enterprises had done some experimental weapon designs but the report he had been given said that had ended when Bruce Wayne took control of the company.
"It was built as a fusion reactor," Fox explained. "First one of its kind. Bane turned the core into a bomb and removed it from the reactor."
"Here's the important part," Blake said.
"As the device's fuel cells deteriorate, it becomes increasingly unstable to the point of detonation."
Blake translated Fox's jargon. "This bomb is a time bomb."
"And it will go off in sixty-five days, regardless of Bane's revolution or what we or the outside world choose to do," Fox added.
"So your appeasement plan might not be as practical as you thought," Blake said.
With this news, Jones no longer wondered why the detective had the cranky disposition. He focused on Fox. "Could you disarm it?"
"I could reconnect it to the reactor. Stabilize it."
Jones nodded and turned to his men. "Let's move away from this location and call it in."
"Right, let's go."
Jones stopped Blake. "No, no, we'll take it from here. You stay and look after these folks." Blake didn't protest, and the three soldiers entered the elevator alone.
"They're bound to be monitoring our frequencies," Novick said after the door closed.
"Command has to know before we start anything against Bane."
The elevator door slid open in the bank lobby and Jones led the way through the columned walkway. Gunfire erupted and Rucka fell. Jones and Novick took cover behind separate columns, pulled out their guns, and returned fire. But the mercenaries had them surrounded on this floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Jones saw Novick fall.
They pelted his column with bullets and he moved toward new cover. Bullets slammed through his meat and bone and dropped him to the marble floor. The gunfire stopped as he lay there. The masked mercenary loomed over him. "I'll die before I'll talk," Jones promised him.
"I'm on your schedule, Captain." Bane knelt beside Jones and pressed his knee onto Jones' throat.
Jones' eyes bulged as he pushed up, but he had no strength to push Bane's bulk off. His lungs couldn't pull air past Bane's knee, no matter how hard they tried. The world darkened and his hands slipped to the floor.
Fox took a deep breath. Truth was, he had worse meetings with military officers, and was about to say so when gunfire erupted below them. The three of them looked over the balcony as the crowd below screamed and ran. Men fired into the air as they pushed their way through.
"Someone sold us out!" Blake pulled out his handgun.
Fox pushed Miranda toward the back stairwell. Blake moved with them until one of Bane's Army strode onto the hallway balcony. Fox shoved the younger people. "Go, go, go!" He stopped in the hallway and put his hands behind his head. Behind him, the stairwell door slammed.
The mercenary shrugged and prodded Fox toward the elevator. Fox didn't resist.
He didn't see Miranda or Blake in the crowd gathered in the lobby for transport to the Dungeon, and the crowd was only half of who had been housed here. Some got away. He ignored his dry mouth as he climbed into the open bed of the truck. He hoped they got away.
The truck crossed Gotham River over the Narrows Bridge. It circled around Trillium Park by going through Cobble Hill and East Park Side. The streets collected the evidence of peoples' parties, debris still recognizable under a layer of snow.
They idled the truck in front of City Hall. Two mercenaries in camouflaged clothing and red bandannas tied around their necks climbed into the truck bed and brandished their guns. "Bane wants Lucius Fox."
Jessica surged to her feet as Fox stepped between people. "You can't have him!"
Their guns pointed at her. He grabbed her thin arm. She turned her brimming eyes to him. "It's all right. I need you take care of everyone here."
Her lip and chin trembled but she managed to say, "Yes, sir," before sinking back onto the bench.
The mercenaries flanked him as he climbed down out of the truck. Its engine revved and it headed up the block as they escorted Fox up the steps. Past the glass doors, a few desks and chairs had been scattered around the marble-lined rotunda. Bane flexed his meaty fingers over a fire barrel. "So we meet again, Mr. Fox."
One of the mercenaries pushed Fox closer. "Why here and not in Crane's tribunal?"
"You were the technical expertise behind the Batman."
How did he know that? But Fox was too experienced with stockholders, directors, and reporters to show his surprise or confirm Bane's guess.
"I am in need of technical expertise," Bane continued in his distorted voice.
Fox took a deep breath. He may die here thanks to his mouth, but he wouldn't be a traitor. "I saw what happened to your last expert."
The large mercenary perched against the desk. "The outside world has interfered, but we do not want to use the trigger. We want to speed up the decay of the core."
"I don't even know if that can be done." Boiling rage that this monster would order this like deciding what to have for a meal collided with glacier fear for everyone in the city. The resulting steam fueled his recklessness. "Why? Is sixty-five days until the end of Gotham too long to wait?"
Bane ignored Fox's question and looked past him to the mercenaries standing guard. "Show Mr. Fox to his rooms and give him all of Dr. Pavel's papers." He turned back to the fire. "We will get what we want one way or another."
City Hall still had electricity for the elevator. Fox and his guards got off on the top floor. The door they opened was labeled Councilman-at-Large. The corner office still had the desk, sofa, shelves, and filing cabinets from its previous function plus a camping cot with a sleeping bag set up in front of the desk. A third mercenary pushed his way inside. He set a plastic file box on top of the desk and followed the other two out. The lock clicked once the door shut.
The windows showing the wintry city did not open. The second door was to a private washroom. Fox sighed as he returned to the desk. Might as well see what kind of mess Dr. Pavel made out of Bruce's reactor. He opened the file box and pulled out the first notebook.
Blake unlocked the apartment door. Miranda Tate slipped inside before him. She wiped a finger against the TV screen as he locked the door. "You haven't been here for a while."
"No, keeping my neighbors safe by staying away." He moved to the kitchen and turned on the faucet. Water sputtered but ran clear. "Plumbing still works and Bane won't think to look for you here."
"That is true." She picked up the remote on his beat-up coffee table and turned on the television.
GCN turned on and their camera focused on the cable supports of the broken Calvary Bridge. Blake came up behind the couch as the camera zoomed in on three bodies among the cables. Engle's voice spoke over the scene. "Bane's Army has cordoned off the entire East Park and Cobble Hill areas to present anyone from disturbing the bodies of the outside interlopers."
A low growl filled the room. Miranda clicked off the TV and whirled to face him. His fingers dug into the back of the couch as his anger reverberated in his throat. He choked off the growl and scrambled for his mask of calm. "Sorry," he barked at her as he let go of the couch.
"Detective, don't blame yourself. Those men knew the risk of entering Gotham City right now."
He took a deep breath before looking at her big, grey eyes. "That doesn't make any of this right. And it also doesn't mean I didn't screw up somehow." He shook his head. "Maybe they spotted us at the bomb convoy."
She circled around the couch. "That is blaming yourself, John. We should concentrate on how to best help now."
"You know how to dismantle the bomb?"
"No," her grey eyes hardened. "There must be something else I can help with in your resistance."
Blake glanced out the window at the darkening city street. "Not tonight. I'll take you to Gordon in the morning. Bedroom and bathroom are through there." He pointed at the door beside his fridge. "I'll take the couch."
Her hand caught his and squeezed it. "Thank you, John, for helping me." She drew out letting him go until they had to separate as she headed down the short hallway. His arm dropped back to his side.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Blake rubbed them and looked out the window. No danger on the street below. Miranda Tate was a beauty and was probably very grateful for his navigation through Gotham's alleys, but Father Reilly raised him to be a gentleman. He tossed himself on the couch and pulled the blanket off the back.