Occupation of Gotham City: Day 89
Blake jogged up the E. Henry Street in South Point neighborhood. Miranda Tate stood in the center of the street with her hands in her navy pea coat while Commissioner Gordon and Foley argued on the doorsteps of a modest brick brownstone. "This only gets fixed from inside the city!" Gordon said to the younger man hiding behind the door.
Blake grimaced and stopped next to Miranda. "What's going on?" he asked quietly.
"Deputy Commissioner Foley has lost his nerve," she said just as quietly. "You did not arrive with the other men?"
"I checked on my partner's family over in Randall and left later than I meant to."
The door shut in Gordon's face. He turned back to the street with a bristling mustache. "Glad you decided to join us, Blake."
"Sorry I'm late, sir. Ross' daughter wouldn't let me leave until I had breakfast."
Gordon's face softened. "How old?"
"Five, tough age to say no to."
"All ages are tough to say no to. We'll tackle the convoy that goes down Robinson Avenue first, then tag the Downtown one when it's on Scott Boulevard, and end when the third one is on Montgomery Avenue. Scout ahead and make sure our group won't draw attention."
"I'll call it in." Blake headed down to Starr Bridge, through Columbia Point, and found a block on Robinson made up of apartment complexes. Using the radios was a gamble--they had no reason not to suspect Bane was monitoring the frequencies--so he only said the block numbers. That done, he walked into an alley across the street, climbed up to the air conditioning unit desk that was even with the fire escape, and crouched behind it.
Members of the resistance drifted onto the block in pairs. Gordon spoke to Miranda as he gave her the Geiger counter. What the heck was the Commissioner doing on the street? So Foley flaked out, big deal. Stephens could run this op in his sleep. Blake snorted once.
Miranda nodded that she understood and they took their positions on both sides of the street as the convoy rumbled closer. "Heads up, heads up," Blake told them over the radio when the vehicles were two blocks away. Two men walked out between the Hummer and the bomb truck. The truck hailing the trailers braked for the pedestrians.
Blake lost sight of Miranda as the bomb truck passed between them, but Gordon shifted around the rear of the trailer and threw on the magnetic GPS unit. Did they get lucky enough to find the bomb on the first convoy they hit?
The convoy was four blocks away now and Blake looked back down the street. He brought the radio back up to his mouth. "Mercenaries on your six." The group below moved up to the next intersecting alley, but men in military fatigues stepped out of it and blocked the street. The ones behind them yelled "Stand still! Keep your hands where we can see them!"
One of the mercenaries stepped up to Gordon. "Commissioner Gordon, you are under arrest."
"By whose authority?" Gordon demanded as more members of Bane's Army surrounded them.
"The people of Gotham," answered the smug bastard terrorist. They prodded the group down Robinson Avenue.
Blake remained still. Two terrorists lingered behind in his sight. He couldn't risk moving and attracting their attention. Their lingering was explained when a Jeep squealed to a stop next to them. Armed men dressed in jeans and leathers climbed out, Blackgate Boys. "Sweep this area. If you find any more cops, they are yours to play with." Blake remained silent through the jeers. Of course one skinny thug decided to walk down his alley. Blake didn't dare rattle the fire escape now.
The skinny thug kicked over garbage cans and peered into the dumpster. Unfortunately, he looked up directly under the air conditioner unit Blake hid behind next. "Found one!" He jerked up his pistol. Blake jumped onto the fire escape. The bullets hit the air conditioner. Blake climbed the ladder up to the roof. "He's on the roof!" The fire escape clanged behind Blake as he ran.
He jumped to the next building and sprinted to its roof access door. The cheap lock gave way when he kicked it. He didn't go down the stairs, but pressed his back against the shell protecting the door.
"He went down!" The structure reverberated as the skinny thug slammed open the door and galloped down the stairs.
Blake peered across the two rooftops. No one else had followed the skinny thug. He sprinted to his fire escape lookout. The alley below was empty. He clambered down it. Bruce's pointers did work; no one investigated what noise he made. He crept to the mouth of the alley and peeked out. The Blackgate Boys forced the door of the neighboring building open. They charged inside. He glanced down the empty street and moved across.
"There he is!" A bald-headed thug had lingered in the door.
Blake bolted for the alley opening ahead of him. Two pairs of feet pounded after him. Lessons living in the Narrows beat into him flooded back, only this time, a bullet hit a corner as he dodged around it. The maze of alleys ended and he surged across the street and onto a wooden pier before he skidded to a stop. A coil of rope was tied to the cleat at his feet. He kicked the whole coil off the end of the pier and it fell through the thin ice on the Queens River. The dark water welled up. He looked over his shoulder. The Blackgate Boys hadn't emerged from the alleys yet, but they were not far behind. He dropped off the end of the pier.
The rope burned the palms of his bare hands, but his plummet toward the freezing water stopped. He stretched one arm and wrapped it around the closest piling. He let go of the rope and hugged the treated wooden pole.
The boards above vibrated with footsteps. "Where the hell did he go?"
Blake held his breath and mentally reminded God, angels, or any saints listening that he could use a miracle about now.
"There's no where else he could've gone." The footsteps reached the end of the pier. Blake twisted his neck to look up. The bald-headed thug moved to the opposite side of the pier and sneered. "Found the pig." He pulled out a semi-automatic pistol from his belt.
Blake flinched as the bullet hit the plank above his head and then the ice below. "You missed him?" the shooter's buddy demanded.
"He's in a weird spot!"
"Face it, man, you can't aim worth shit."
The second bullet hit the piling below Blake's leg.
A third pair of feet stepped onto the wooden pier and continued toward their group. "Don't you boys know not to come into my neighborhood without asking politely," Selina said.
"You're just in time to help us out, pretty lady." A switchblade opened with its unmistakable sound. "Screams always make a pig come running."
Blake heard the shuffling feet, the masculine yell, and a body thudding against the planks. The shooter whirled from Blake. "You bitch!" and charged. Blake grabbed the rope and hauled himself up.
Selina moved like a black-wrapped ballerina. Her high kick slammed the bald-headed shooter face first into the planks right next to his buddy, who was tugging the knife out of his ass without letting Selina see it. She squatted between them and punched him in his knit-cap-covered head. "Stay out of the Docklands, boys. And thanks for the gun." She tucked it into the belt around her black jacket as she stood. "Are you in one piece?"
He rolled onto the planks and stared at the overcast sky. "Give me a few." He ignored the frozen-over dock stench as he breathed and then jumped to his feet. "Thanks."
"You should pick better playmates," she smirked.
"Yeah, and we should disappear before the rest of their play group looks for them." Selina headed toward the bunker and he fell into step next to her. "So why you and not Bruce?" He asked when they put a block between them and the unconscious men.
"He and Lucius went to get something from the Bat. Don't know what, I napped through the technical part of the conversation and woke up to intervene with Bruce's security issues." She shook her head. "I saw Gordon meeting you on this side of Midtown, and figured you may need back up."
"The Commissioner shouldn't have come out for this cluster--" He broke off when he realized what she said. "How did you see us?"
Selina stopped in the middle of the street and planted her hands on her hips. "Let's hash this out now because Bruce can't take another fight about it. He likes you enough that he tagged you along with Gordon, and you must have a clue how much he respects that man. So let it all out right now, how much you hate it, and never bring it up to Bruce."
Blake blinked at her while his brain stumbled over it. Bruce had planted a tracking device, implanted since it worked despite how any clothing changes. Bruce's parents were killed right in front of him, his best friend died because no one had reached her in time; that Bruce would track people he cared about made perfect sense. That John Blake ranked up there as someone Bruce Wayne cared about was more surprising. And that Selina Kyle was waiting to divert the hell Blake should raise over it that Bruce deserved. "You really love him."
Her brown eyes blinked. "That's not where I expected this conversation to go."
"You expected what? Take it out of me right now yell instead?"
"That's when I had to break Lucius and Bruce up last night. Thank God, jewelry makes electronic surveillance acceptable." She started walking again, but gave him sidelong glances. "You're really okay with it?"
"It just saved my life from a bullet or hypothermia. And actually I'm more in shock that you're so in love with him you'd protect him from the fallout he's earned."
She snorted. "I've only gone soft on him, so don't push your luck, Birdboy."
Blake shoved his hands into his coat pockets rather than rise to the taunt. "I owe you an apology. When you were at Bruce's house, all I could see is what happened to the Congressman and all the other men in your file."
"And the fact that I had been hired to do whatever they complained about for ninety-five percent of them meant dick."
"It did then." His admission shifted her bitter expression to perplexed. "I thought Bruce was your next target and he deserved better--"
"Better than the best grifting cat burglar in the United States born on the wrong side of the river," she snarled.
That hit a sore spot he hadn't been aiming for. "And I was wrong."
She stopped at the gate to the bunker's shipping yard, but didn't touch the lock.
"I was wrong, and I'm sorry I hurt you with it. You are the better for Bruce. You make him smile for God's sake!"
She smiled as she reached for the lock. "I do. Thanks, John." They entered the shipping yard. "But you still have to tell me what happened that ended up with you nearly falling into the Queens."
"I didn't fall; I jumped." He closed the door and the lift dropped.
"Jen told you to be like this, didn't she? So she wouldn't be the only one getting how-to-know-something-is-too-risky lectures in the future." Selina shook her head as she hung her jacket on the back of the computer chair and set the handgun on the desk. "Now what happened?"
Blake sat on a stool. No sense leaving a mess on the upholstered chairs. "We were looking for the core to tag it. Everybody else got scooped up by Bane's Army. I was on lookout, got spotted and chased by those Blackgate Boys." His frustration boiled up again, and his fists hitting his thighs didn't lower the heat.
"Shit." She slumped against the chair's back. "I don't know what Bruce is thinking, but I wanted their guns aimed at Bane's Army."
He looked at the computer monitors. "How do these trackers work?"
She turned to the keyboard. "Watch the map." He looked at the two stacked monitors on the right end as they zoomed in on Downtown of Gotham City. It stopped when the bottom monitor shows a glowing dot in the Gotham City Exchange." "Gordon's in the Dungeon," she said.
"Great." He almost wiped his face with his hands, but saw his palms before they touched his skin.
"Actually, it is. They don't kill anyone there, and no matter where he gets dragged to, we can rescue him." Selina leaned back in her seat. "I hope it's City Hall."
"Right where Bane's living? Why?"
"It would prove my theory on the hostage taking right." She swiveled the chair to face him. "I'd rather be wrong, but you know I'm not."
"Bane's made it personal with Bruce from the start."
The lift raised and lowered itself, interrupting their conversation. Blake didn't say anything about how her hand hovered over the gun on the desk until the men on the platform were revealed as Bruce and Fox. Bruce didn't miss her meager relaxation. "What happened?"
Blake stood. "We were tagging the core and Bane's Army caught everyone else, including Gordon and Miranda Tate."
"Gordon's in the Dungeon. Safe bet that the whole group ended up there," Selina said.
Bruce glared at the map image on the monitor. "How long do you need, Lucius?"
"Another day," the older man answered, "if we have it." He carried a rectangular box about the size of a large drink cup to a workbench pulled out of the wall near the Tumbler.
"We've had tighter deadlines," Bruce said with a wag of his eyebrows. "Blake, suit up for sparring." He turned to Selina and frowned at the gun. "Where did that come from?"
"I confiscated it from a moron who didn't know the first thing about gun safety." She took the clip out.
"Thought that was better than shoving it up his ass for someone else to find and use. I know you'd hate that more."
Bruce turned to Blake. "Did you get hit?"
That was quick. Blake shook his head. "No, thanks to Selina." He hopped off the stool.
Bruce turned back to Selina. "We need a distraction, but it also needs to send a message to the people of Gotham."
Her lips twitched from left to right. "Big, so Bane and his idiots are staring at it while we're busy." Bruce nodded. "And the message to the people? They have a leader?"
"Something like that."
"Too bad the Batsignal is a hunk of junk right now," Blake said as he pulled off his ruined coat.
She grinned before spinning to face the computer. "Go beat each other up. I need to think."
Occupation of Gotham City: Day 90
The over twenty-four hours spent in the Dungeon wasn't good for anyone's morale, especially the civilians already trapped here. If the Commissioner was captured, who was left to save them? Instead of fueling despair, that fueled Gordon's outrage over the whole situation Gotham was in. By the time he and his men plus Miranda Tate were escorted to the tribunal, he needed an outlet for his indignation. And oh look, there's Jonathan Crane.
"No lawyer? No witnesses? What sort of due process is that?" Gordon's voice projected over the crowd present and they fell silent.
"Your guilt has been determined; this is merely a sentencing hearing. Now, what will it be? Death or exile?" Crane leaned back in his chair at the top of the mountain of desks.
The audience's heads swiveled to Gordon's group. "Crane, if you think we're going out onto that ice willingly, you have another think coming." If he had led his men to death by these terrorists' hands, it would be a clear-cut, prosecutable case of murder not a death that could be blamed on Mother Nature.
Crane frowned as he nodded. "Death, then."
"Looks that way."
"Very well. Death," Crane dropped the gavel, "by exile," he finished.
The crowd cheered as the mercenaries grabbed Gordon and his men's arms and pushed them to the exit. Bane spoke from the sideline. "Bring her to me." A mercenary pulled Miranda Tate from their group and escorted her to the masked man.
That was unexpected, but they could do anything to save Miss Tate as they were shoved into a prisoner transport van borrowed from GCPD. Night had fallen over the city. The armed guards herded them through a tunnel and Gordon took the lead as the guards lined up to funnel his men onto the ice. He heard a couple of men slide as they inched onto the white surface. Industrial lights meant to keep boats from running into the bridge supports lit up the area.
One guard decided they were moving too slow and fired his automatic rifle over their heads. They all flinched down and grouped closer together. Gordon took the lead again, searching his mind for childhood lessons about ice safety. He and Barbara always took Jimmy and Babs to indoor rinks for ice skating.
The ice creaked like the floorboards of an old house. His men fanned out to keep the weight distributed. He looked up at the bridge support that began with a wall of smooth bricks. Why hadn't they built it with a ladder?
His gaze went down to judge the ice's thickness and he spotted a red flare lying next to a shiny chemical puddle. He picked it up. How did this get out here? A game the guards thought up to toy with people because teasing them with freedom wasn't sick enough?
"Light it up." A familiar voice spoke from the shadows, a voice Gordon had nearly given up hearing ever again. He obeyed the order and Batman stepped into the circle of light.
He tossed the flare into the chemical puddle and a line of fire erupted across the ice and up the brick wall. He craned his neck and watched flames blossom into a bat at the top of the broken Cavalry Bridge.
"Where's Miranda Tate?" Batman asked.
"Bane took her. He's holed up in City Hall, surrounded by his army." Gordon heard footsteps behind them and jerked around. Their guards were unconscious on the ground and another figure in black armor stepped around them as he picked up their weapons. The armor wasn't completely black and its blue patches almost blazed in the light. His mask only wrapped around his eyes and did nothing to obscure his dark hair. "Taking on help?"
"That's Nightwing." Batman walked to the shore and Gordon fell into step beside him. "You need to meet Lucius Fox at the dump off Crimin Avenue. He'll have a device to block the remote detonator signal ready for you. Get it onto the bomb before sunrise. They might hit the button when it starts."
"When what starts?" Gordon asked.
"War," Batman answered. Nightwing passed the rifles to Gordon's men, but they walked down the shore away from the tunnel. A large black vehicle loomed in the shadows. "An all-out assault on Bane. Nightwing and I will free the officers from Trillium Park." He stepped up to the open canopy and pulled out a radio mike. "Catwoman, report."
A woman's voice sounded over the speaker. "I report that I am bored because nothing happened here in Chelsea Park and the Batmobile has no stereo system. F.Y.I., I'm putting that on the upgrade list."
"Bane took Miranda Tate to City Hall."
Gordon had been married long enough to recognize the icy tone that frosted over Catwoman's words. He always made sure to bring flowers when he returned home after hearing it. "And you want me to get her?"
"Your theory was right," Batman's growl lightened. "We can't leave her or any other hostages in Bane's grasp." The microphone and speakers were both exceptionally good because Gordon could hear the woman seething on the other end. "Be the bigger woman," Batman said.
"Fine," came out in a feminine growl that matched Batman's voice. "But I loathe hitting the same place twice, so do not let Gordon get taken to City Hall because no way in hell will I go in three times and I doubt you or Nightwing can do it once. Copy that?"
Something like a smirk ghosted across Batman's lips. Maybe it was a shadow, Gordon wasn't positive. "Copy that, Batman out."
Nightwing stepped up the Commissioner. "The keys are in the van's ignition and the Clinton Bridge is clear."
Gordon nodded at him and he continued to the was-it-an-airplane? vehicle. Gordon thought of the task he had been given, and decided to worry about the issue of Nightwing later. "We'll get the bomb."
Batman nodded from the pilot's seat as the canopy closed on him and Nightwing. The vehicle lifted up with helicopter blades underneath it. Gordon turned back to his awestruck men. "Let's move out."
Montoya did not panic. She did not panic when they got trapped down here three months ago. She did not panic when Jensen told them what Batman said when he and Catwoman escaped. She did not panic four days ago when someone dragged the dead body out of the cell, even though it confirmed Catwoman's worst fears about the guard.
So when the growling voice echoed through the hole in the rock slide and woke her up, she swallowed her resentment that welled up. "Don't panic, it's Batman. Who's back there?"
She pushed up to the hole. "Montoya, sir. Kelly and Jensen are working on the tunnel."
"Do you have shelter from an explosion?"
"Sí, going now." She ducked into the tunnel until solid bedrock surrounded her, plugged her ears, and crouched with her back to their camp. She felt the air thrust around her and the vibrations of the rocks sliding and crumbling free trembled through the tunnel. Dust coated her face. She brushed it off her eyelids before opening them.
"Montoya?" A black figure blocked the blazing light. She slitted her eyes against it and latched onto his outstretched arm. The armor plate was smooth and hard under her fingers, but the seam her fingertips found had texture. "Are you all right?" he asked as he held her up.
"Just blinded, sir." She followed his pull as her eyes adjusted.
"There's a ladder up to the basement of the Wayne Enterprises building. It's no longer guarded." He guided her through the shattered remains of the rocks. "We're gathering the police force in Trillium Park to march on Bane at dawn."
She blinked at him and saw concern in his eyes surrounded by black. "I can't speak for Kelly or Jensen, but I will meet you there, sir." Her back straightened. He dropped his chin like a martial artist would bow to an opponent.
Kelly bellowed behind her. "Montoya? What was that? Answer me, Renee!"
She turned back to the door-sized hole through the rock slide. "I'm fine! Batman came back for us. Thank you…" she turned back to the cell. The legend in black was gone. She choked back the chuckle that would sound hysterical if released because she never panicked. "Muchas gracias, Batman," she whispered instead.