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BATMAN: Like Father, Like Son…By Guest Author Rob Richardson

Gotham City

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The Following Story Is From Guest Author and Fellow Columnist at World of Superheroes.com

Robert Richardson – @robbrichardson on twitter

and is an exclusive at wordworld

To Arthur James – Daddy will always keep the monsters away…

 BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part One: The Chase Begins

One quick Batarang was all it took to disarm him.

I personally shared my mentors dislike for guns. I saw why people used them and I understood their necessity in modern policing, well, sometimes anyway. But I hated it when they used guns.

That said I also hate it when they use glass, scalpels, knives, hooks, claws and teeth.

That’s why the Batarang was so useful in times like this.

This one had given himself the moniker of The Tattoo. It wasn’t a given by the press, this guy had signed his first victim “With thanks, The Tattoo” behind the left ear.

Before posting the ear to Gotham Major Crimes Unit.

It had taken me longer than I expected to pick up the trail. A few squeezes down Crime Alley usually gave most of the answers but this time most of the scum had been less than forthcoming. I got on quite well with the tramps and bag ladies of Gotham, a few dollars here and there and they pretty much spilled any information they had – whether it be useful or not. I used a softer approach with them. They didn’t need to fear my presence when all they had to fear was the lack of cash I ‘donated’ for my resources.

The local drug peddlers and petty thieves were the easiest to glean information from. I didn’t even need to show my face with these. A flick of the cape and a grunt from the shadows usually worked. If it didn’t, I had other methods, but I could rarely get any answers from an unconscious criminal.

Still nothing however.

Within one week of the ear being delivered an eye was sent by courier to the GMCU. This time the cornea had actually been signed by The Tattoo. Upon further analysis I determined that it had been in fact tattooed not by a conventional needle but a tiny shard – probably glass or Perspex – that was designed not to pierce the eyeball. Also upon genetic diagnosis, the eye and the ear were from different victims. The process used to tattoo the eye was obviously off keen design and purpose so it was apparent that I wasn’t dealing with Gotham’s usual class of criminal. Maybe another glory killer wanting to make his name and be up there with the likes of Dr Crane and The Joker? With neither myself nor Commissioner James Gordon’s crime unit finding a first body it was time to extend my claws.

If anyone knew sadism and butchery it was Victor Zsasz. Looking at the tally scars he cut into himself was enough to turn most people in a raging mess of anger and violent retribution but I had to distance myself from what the marks stood for. He was carved from head to foot in five score marks, each representing five victims he had tortured, raped and killed in anyone of the cycles he chose to attribute that particular spree – if there was a cycle at all, often it was for pleasure or for a sense of power. More than not the victims were children or young women. I remember once catching him trying to upturn a homeless woman in a wheelchair, scalpel in one hand, penis in the other, ready to cut and abuse purely because a limited new flavour of candy was available in the retailers for five weeks. At least with The Joker it was chaos and without reason. I’ve often wondered if he isn’t the sick one. Then again…

Zsasz was more than forthcoming. Gordon knew when it was beneficial to give me five minutes to myself with the inmates of Gotham County. Lucky Zsasz had gotten himself into solitary for an attempt on another prisoner’s life two days ago. “Why not?” He’d told me. “With so much meat on offer?” It took me exactly one minute and fifty two seconds to glean information about The Tattoo. That was a minute and forty seven seconds after I’d disarmed Zsasz of his shiv, crudely constructed of a razor and a toothbrush, and broken his nose. I counted three fresh slices on the inside of his upper arm. Upon my exit I warned Gordon.

Two more to go.

I’d found The Tattoo in the car park of basement of Gotham General. He was a surgeon called Howard Gate who was actually quite an unassuming gentleman. When he spoke it seemed he was a man of breeding and intelligence. He wore fashionably expensive shoes, finely cut Italian suit and didn’t seem as if he even had the weight behind him to subdue a victim. But they never do, do they? Another lesson I was taught: never make an assumption based on an appearance. It was one of the more important ones. Take Killer Croc, Waylon Jones, for instance. To look at his was hideous monster capable of snapping a man in two but then again what was his crime of choice? Smuggling. Murder by circumstance for some poor unfortunate if they got in the way but killing it was not his MO. Still, not a man to be trifled with by any means.

Gate’s first reaction was surprising. I crept around the cars and also used the girders above to disorientate him as to my whereabouts. When I dropped down behind him, silently, he merely stopped still and laughed. “Perfect.” He said with a chill. “Finally the recognition I deserve.”

“The only thing you deserve is to be locked up with the rest of Gotham’s scum.” I replied. “Now tell me where they are Gates.”

He smirked again. “You thought I was just one of the usual ones. What did you think you were looking for? An addict with a penchant for tattooing down on Crime Alley?” He rolled his sleeves up exposing his white arms. “Not a single bit of ink on me. I want to be one of the famous ones. A radical” The glint in his eye betrayed the madness underneath. I was embarrassed at having to quiz someone like Zsasz to get hold of this maniac. His trail should’ve been much easier to follow, especially with him being this unstable.

“You want to be famous? Then you shouldn’t have let me catch you!” It was with that remark that I pounced, leaping across the car park towards him. He laughed wildly and pulled a 9mm revolver from his inside jacket pocket. I flicked a Batarang from my utility belt and took him down, whipping the gun from his hand. As my weapon followed through with its momentum it hit him in the temple, knocking him to the ground.

As he fell I realised it’d probably take an hour or so for him to come round. An hour further from finding any of his victims. I walked towards him and knelt over his unconscious body, checking the tiny details for clues. A scuff mark with a distinct colouration could reveal a location, a smell could identify a district but there was nothing.

The hand which held the gun lay outstretched to his right but his left hand was clenched tightly as if clutching something. I prized it open and revealed something startling.

There was a tattoo on his palm.

It read: To the Batman, your presence is requested for an audience at the Asylum. Yours Sincerely R. K. Langstrom.

Lots of things flew through my mind at once. What did this mean? What could Langstrom, of all people, want? Why use possibly a murder, definitely a psychopath, to get my attention? And most importantly, especially under such bizarre circumstances, did Langstrom somehow know my secret?

My name is Richard Grayson.

I am The Batman.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Two: New Beginning?

            I liked to travel across the rooftops. It was something I’d always enjoyed. Of course the car had always been amazing but the view across Gotham’s skyline was spectacular. Skyscrapers loomed menacingly over The Narrows, churches and cathedrals looked jealously with their differing levels of grandeur at one another, whilst the monorail travelled like a giant, mechanical vein throughout Gotham’s body connecting it all to the central hub which grew out from Waynetech. Lights dappled the skin of the city like thousands of tiny eyes looking towards the night sky, nightclubs and bars beat out the city’s pulse. I could nest on this particular gargoyle, close my eyes and open my ears to Gotham all evening if Batman didn’t have a job to do. I think I would come up here even if I had to hang up the cowl. That would probably be a long time coming anyway.

And one light across the night sky was summoning me in particular.

The Bat Signal was now one of Gotham’s tourist attractions. People would travel all the way from Coast City and neighbouring Metropolis to just catch a glimpse on their vacation – some travel agents even promised it as part of the holiday package. The light beam showed the silhouetted symbol of the bat distinctly against the clouds. Sometimes Gordon chose to angle it against some of the buildings if the night was clear. It was exactly the symbol Bruce had one; one that commanded fear and rightly so. It let the criminals know that Batman would be out tonight.

It didn’t take me long to get to Gotham Central Police Department. Travelling topside swinging from line of tensile steel made me feel like Robin again. I loved the rush of dropping from a crane, rolling across a roof and leaping out into nothingness, grappling over to a skyscraper wall, crawling upwards and around then running the tracks of the monorail. I had memorized the city from above years ago and it was something I had never forgotten. The quickest way to my destination was up through the docks, a quick detour through the monorail supports, up and over the museum to the roof of Waynetech, grapple across to the ramparts of the small, but hardly insignificant, Church of St Dumas then a jog across a few overhangs, using the cape to glide, to the roof of the police building. It took about fifteen minutes.

I approached the building from the west so as to drop in behind an air conditioning vent and perched on the side of the roof behind Gordon. Another important rule: never let them see you coming; one of Batman’s most important. He was stood, smoking his pipe, looking out across the skyline. He was still an imposing looking man for his age, broad frame, well toned physique and gruff demeanour. His close cropped hair and long brown Mac gave him the look of a thirties style private eye. A lot of people found him intimidating but I’d always liked James Gordon. There had always been a twinkle of mischief in his eye and he had always been kind to me when I had been Robin.

“I always know you’re there, you know?” He didn’t turn round. “I’m used to it now.” On the last word he turned on his heel and I could see a smile on his face. He began to walk over so I dropped off my perch and went over to meet him.

“Anything on the ink?” I asked as we met. I had to sound like Bruce now. I wanted to say “How’s the wife?” or “Does Barbara need anything installing at home to make things easier?” but that’s not what Batman would do. Barbara was Gordon’s daughter. She had been crippled and confined to a chair due to a bullet from The Joker. She now ran Watchtower under the cover of Oracle and was my knowledge base. Anything I needed and all I had to do was patch her through on the earpiece. I could ask for anything from sewer schematics to birth certificates and I’d have them in a flash. For someone whose life had nearly been destroyed by Batman she was utterly devoted.

“You thinking of getting a tattoo?” Quite good for Gordon but I remained stoic. “Normal tattooing ink. You can get it from any tattooists in Gotham. As for Gates; no previous, nothing at his home address to give a location of the victims, no odd bank transactions. Apart from the attacks the guys a saint.” Shrugging, Gordon passed me Gates file to scan. He was right. Nothing.

“I’ve arranged a meeting with Langstrom at Arkham tomorrow evening.” I said. “I spoke to Cash. Apparently he’s only been in two days. They found him rolling around the clock tower.”

“So long enough to indulge in a spot of tattooing?” Gordon raised an eyebrow as he looked at me then dropped it when I didn’t react. “Anything to link them?” He volunteered after an uncomfortable silence.

I walked around him. “Nothing as yet. Gates was a surgeon so they could have met in Langstroms former career as a medical professional. I’ve checked college and university records and they never crossed paths there. Gates studied at Gotham whereas Langstrom was schooled in England. I can tell you though he’s no tattoo artist. I’ll find out more at Arkham.” I stopped and pointed to the rooftop entrance. “And who is that man?”

A figure stepped out of the shadow of the doorway. New suit, perhaps for this occasion, thin build, walked with a limp. He had dark brown hair – modern cut – with deep, green eyes. Like lizards eyes. His face was quite drawn and he was pale. I had never seen this man before.

“Sorry,” he said as he walked to meet us. “I was engrossed.” He was well spoken but beneath his trained speech there was an eastern-European drawl, maybe even Romanian? His accent was too well trained. He held his hand out to me which I refused to shake.

“You breathe too loudly to be a spy so I’m assuming you knew he was here?” I asked turning to Gordon who was looking at me sheepishly.

“Yes.” He gestured towards The Thin Man. “This is Powell Wilkins. He’s working with the Gotham PD at the moment. Powell asked if he could be here tonight. He wants to meet Batman.”

“And what if I don’t want to meet you?” I walked over to him. To him I may have appeared as though I was about the strike but I was really trying to pick up any clues on his clothing or features that might give him away or tell me where he was from and what he was doing. “Why not introduce yourself at first? If I wasn’t preoccupied I could have just hit you in the face and talked to you when you came round?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt you.” He didn’t step away from me. It was almost challenging how he stood defiant. “I’m from Seraph. You won’t have heard of us.”

He was right. Seraph was completely new to me.

Wilkins smiled. “I’m working with the Gotham Major Crimes Unit to see about re-evaluating their efficiency as a police force.”

“Don’t stop there. He’ll only ask you to explain.” Gordon added after Wilkins’ pause.

“Explain.” I demanded and I looked over to see Gordon’s smile creep quickly across his face and then disappear. Of course I’d said it on purpose.

And the weasel of a man continued to do so. “Seraph wonders what the purpose of a fully human police force is nowadays. With so many meta-human crime fighters like yourselves –“

“I’m not a meta.” I interrupted. Meta-humans were those with powers. I have none.

“However, you do associate yourself with such people.” Wilkins continued. When he said “such people” I was sure I noticed an element of disdain but I let him proceed. “My job is to see how effective it would be to just assemble a meta-human police force to enforce state law. You alone solve the majority of major crime in Gotham.”

“With the aid of the Commissioner.” I couldn’t do this job without Gordon. It would be impossible. “There are many super-human associations around the world that deal with criminals already. I still don’t understand why you’re here.”

Wilkins shuffled uncomfortably for a moment. “This isn’t about setting up another Justice League. Seraph wants to create a fully meta-human localised police force under government controls and restrictions.”

“The men and women of Gotham’s police force already do a fine job of policing the streets. The Commissioners records department can help you with that. There’s no reason for you to be here.” I turned to walk away.

“But they do need help – you’re proof enough of that Batman.” Wilkins shouted over my shoulder but I didn’t turn.

“Commissioner, I will need you at Arkham to provide me with a warrant to interview Langstrom. I’ll inform you how my meeting goes once I’ve done with him. In somewhere less crowded.” And with that, I dropped off the roof.

Gordon walked over to Wilkins. “He’s always like that,” he said and he walked towards the roof entrance, lit his pipe and grinned from ear to ear.

I stopped on for a minute in front of the glowing white “W” of Waynetech.

I hadn’t liked that. Gordon had obviously been told to keep that mans presence from me. Wilkins was sly, that much I knew. I didn’t like what he stood for already and I knew nothing about him.

Unfortunately what he said had been right. With the rise of meta-human and violent crime and the turmoil of the last few crises’ that had happened in the last few years there was only so much a regular police force could do. But Gordon’s troops were excellent police. They were true heroes everyday. But a meta-police force could solve so many problems. It could be a new beginning for modern policing and possibly even an end to crime as we knew it.

I pressed the earpiece inside my mask. “Oracle? I need everything on a man called Powell Wilkins and a group known as Seraph.”

Barbara replied. “Trouble?”

“Possibly, all depends on what you find.” Powell didn’t seem like much of a threat. What he was proposing would never stick anyway. There would be uproar in the police stations of the world and the super-hero community would never agree to being sanctioned. I had a more important issue to address at the moment anyway. I had to find those missing people. “Also, I want all the files on Robert ‘Kirk’ Langstrom pulling from the archives. I’ve got a bat in my belfry that’s driving me crazy…”

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Three: Remembrance

            Alfred Pennyworth walked into the small café and looked around with his nose upturned and his British sense of disdain openly visible to the rest of the patrons. I smiled to myself, looked down and stirred my coffee.

I had always liked this particular area of Midtown Gotham. The south east area of Reatton was close enough to the South City Park for a picturesque view of the lake but also near enough to the Narrows so I could keep my watch on the Asylum without having to don the Batsuit and make my presence felt. It had always puzzled me why Amadeus Arkham had built the Asylum on that particular island in the river and not on one of the equally as big areas of land further out on the coastline.

Bruce had enlightened me with one simple sentence. “So it’s easier for you to get away if all hell breaks loose.”

And it had done. On many occasions.

Normally I would have been trying to figure out how to find the missing victims of the Tattoo or what Langstroms strange request meant, and believe me it was going round in my mind, but I wasn’t Bruce Wayne. I was Dick Grayson and I couldn’t be Batman all the time. That’s why I welcomed Alfred’s weekly chats. “Sometimes a welcome distraction can help focus the mind.” That was one of Alfred’s.

The Scenic View was a café Bruce had brought me to as a boy several times for lunch and training. He wanted me to observe people; pick up on the tiny details. He taught me to watch for unusual behaviours in people, funny smells, and odd stains on clothing. I could tell which business men had stayed out ‘at work’ all night by the faint discolouration on their ring finger where the wedding band had been removed. I could pick up on the stink of cannabis smoked slyly round the street corner by schoolboys on lunch break just before they entered the restaurant. I noticed blood on shirt sleeves and the attempts to conceal it from public view. Some of our best work had been done here and we hadn’t even been in costume.

“Master Bruce would have certainly approved of your choice of venue.” Alfred sat across from me in the snug booth I had picked and raised an eyebrow. “I, on the other hand, most certainly do not. Why don’t you just visit the Mansion once in a while Master Richard?”

“I can’t yet Alfred.” It was the truth. I had lived their since I was 10 until I became Nightwing. I had become Robin their under the expert tutelage of Bruce. But that was one of the reasons it was so difficult to go back; it wasn’t the same anymore. There was no Bruce. I was scared of the emptiness. Whenever I had been before there had always been a sense of Bruce being there, be it as Batman in the Batcave or as the trust fund millionaire Bruce Wayne and his entourage of lovely ladies, business people, expensive tastes and expensive cars.

But more than that it would remind me of my loss.

It was enough that every time I went out into Gotham as Batman I felt a fraud but to return to Wayne Manor and him not be there would devastate me even further. The man who I considered my second father, the man who had taught me so much, the man who had loved me as he would have loved a son would not be there. And I felt that loss everyday.

“I’m sorry Alfred, I just can’t.” I ran my fingers through my hair and took a drink of my coffee. The waitress came over and asked for Alfred’s order.

“You may not have it dear but I would love a Twinings Breakfast Tea? I work in the service industry myself and I know how difficult serving people can be but I simply don’t have time to bother at home.” He smiled at her, instantly winning her over with his English good grace and charm, and she grinned back.

“I’m not promising but I’ll see what I can do Hun.” And she walked off into the back.

With another raised eyebrow and another look of disdain the butler turned to me. For a moment he looked to the floor and then uncomfortably up to meet my gaze. “I’m there though Master Richard. And I get lonely too.” For a moment I saw tears but then it was gone and the stiff upper lip returned. “Have you heard from Master Timothy?”

“Yes, I’m worried about him.” Tim Drake had really taken the news of Bruce’s death hard. It was difficult for all of us but Tim had been particularly hurt. Tim had idolised the whole idea of the Batman for years before he became Robin and Bruce was nothing if not his ultimate hero. He had tried to discover the identity of the Batman for years wanting to be ‘The Worlds Greatest Detective’ himself. He had been dedicated to this goal since I had assumed the role of Robin. The thing with Tim was he was particularly childlike and innocent sometimes. The evils of Gotham had on occasion affected him deep inside on some level. When Bruce died it was like his heart had been ripped out and it was as if something inside him snapped. “He has started on a sort of crusade…”

Alfred furrowed his brow. “Please explain. I worry about that boy.”

I sighed as I began to rationalise the idea myself thinking how insane it was and how much turmoil it was causing Tim. But I supposed on some level it was keeping him focussed. “Tim has come across some information that has lead him to believe that perhaps Darkseid’s Omega Rays didn’t kill Bruce. They merely destroyed his physical form but sent his consciousness scattering somewhere across time and space. He’s currently scouring the planet for any clues of Bruce’s whereabouts.”

Alfred’s tea arrived and he took a sip. “Amazing.” He said as he placed the cup down.

“I know.” I could hear myself saying it knowing full well I had pursued some lost causes myself. “The ideas preposterous and God forbid anyone who gets in his way. I tried to make him see sense but he won’t have any of it. I think he’s gone out of control. Its just we all loved Bruce so much we’d do anything to bring him back!”

“Not that – they’ve actually got Twinings!” Alfred smiled. “Master Richard, no cause is a lost cause if it teaches one something. And like you said, it’s keeping him focussed on something rather than drawing him in on himself. That itself could be much more dangerous.” He stopped and leaned over at me. “I didn’t want to bring this up, but we’re not the only ones who miss Master Wayne. I fear it’s starting to get to young Master Damien more than ever now.”

“Why?” It was my turn to be inquisitive now.

Damien was Bruce’s illegitimate son to Talia Head, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the former leader of the League of Assassins. They were an ancient order of assassins who were formed to bring balance back to the planet whenever things began to get out of control; it didn’t matter whether it was for good or evil, yet it was the League who always deemed themselves the ones to make that decision.

Damien had been trained to kill since birth. He had never been given the chance to be a little boy, to play and make friends. His existence had been kept from his father for years. Damien knew no other way and could often be aloof; very matter of fact and almost without feeling. He was also Robin to my Batman. Tim showed nothing for disdain for the boy, perhaps even jealousy, but he did not see in him what I saw.

Damien was the Batman without the Bruce.

“He has begun to dream Master Richard.” Alfred took another sip of his tea. “He can be as aloof as he wants to you and me but his misses his father. I have walked the halls of Wayne Manor many a night to hear the boys’ cries in his sleep. He talks to him in his dreams. He plays with him while he is asleep. You should talk to him.”

“I will Alfred. I just need to crack this case I’m working on.” I looked away ashamed of what I’d just said. Of course I wanted to help Damien but I feared my own secret had been discovered by, well by someone unstable enough to be in Arkham Asylum anyway.

“You really are becoming the Batman, Master Richard.” Alfred stood up and looked down at me with disappointment. He shook his head. “If you let it consume you, you will shut out all those who you care for and who care for you. He used to tell me he regretted how much he had missed when you were growing up. I will be the first to tell you he was a great man but try not to become him before it is too late. Please be careful at the Asylum later. Good day Master Richard.”

And with that he turned and left.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Four: Clipped Wings

            I drove slowly through the asylum gates and passed a sign which had been vandalised and now read “Arkham Asylum: Gotham. Thank God You’ve Just Left The Madhouse” It wouldn’t be the first time it had been defaced and it wouldn’t be the last. I thought it was quite witty though.

I continued up a narrow roadway lined with tattered old oak trees. Funny but I could never recall seeing any leaves on the trees. Probably just reading too much into things. Bruce had avoided taking me to Arkham if he could. He said it was no place for me to be visiting. And he was right. There were more than just psychos and crazies in here. Real monsters were locked up behind these doors.

People didn’t realise how big the Asylum was. It was actually made up of several wards which were housed within different buildings kept separate around the small island. I don’t know whether it was to add to Amadeus Arkham’s sense of grandeur or if its open areas had a calming influence on the patients, some even believed the layout of the buildings had a supernatural context.

Whatever the reason, it kept them apart which was good enough for me.

I skidded the Batmobile to a halt outside the door to the main holding area next to a police squad car where Gordon was waiting for me, pipe in his mouth, smoking away nervously. I got out and walked over, locking the car with a touch of a button behind me.

“Car looks well,” Jim Gordon said gesturing towards my vehicle. The sleek design of the car was completely custom. I had lowered the back fins slightly to compensate for the speed I drove at and modified the grappling hook but it was essentially the same, long, low snub nosed vehicle with a jet engine propulsion system it had always been. Oh, I had updated the sound system.

“What’s wrong Jim?” I asked. “You never talk about the car.” I walked over and saw immediately what was bothering the Commissioner as Powell Wilkins got out of the squad car to greet me. Oracle had, as yet, been unable to come up with any information on him or his organisation. That was bad news to me. People with good intentions laid all their cards on the tables. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t like his poker face.

“I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see you at work Batman.” Wilkins outstretched one cold, slimy hand for me to shake. I declined.

“All the arrangements have been made?” I turned and asked Gordon. He nodded and I turned back to Wilkins. “We have to go through maximum security to get to the Aviary. It has been retrofitted to support Langstroms needs. He is highly unstable, by all accounts, so you will not be permitted to see him or interact with him.

“You’ll see things in here that may disturb you. You’ll hear things that will upset you and you will be made to feel uncomfortable. That will just be from me. As for the patients… Well, you are unauthorised to accompany me so the Commissioner is responsible for you once we’re inside. Get in my way and I will put you down. Understand?”

Wilkins stood firm, yet again in defiance of me. “That’s fine. I only want to observe your methods. If I see you abuse or harm anyone without due course I will invoke the Mental Capacity Act and you will be arrested on sight. Understand? Now which way in?” He set off to walk in the direction of the old manor building, resplendent as it was with its gothic minarets, gargoyles and clock tower.

Gordon coughed, shook his head and gestured towards where I was headed – a bunker with huge doors. They had installed facial recognition systems, figure scanning, voice recognition and a three foot thick steel door with multiple magnetic locks to keep the inmates, sorry, patients in. Two guards armed with pistols stood by the doors. Both nodded at me whilst I stood waiting for the Commissioner and Wilkins to catch up. I had no access but Gordon did.

He stood in front of an optical scanner and waited it to read his iris which was then followed by a full body scan. He then showed his warrant to both guards before they keyed in a code on a key press. From behind the doors was a whirring sound and the doors began to shift. Once the doors had opened we stepped inside.

A well built guard was waiting to greet us wearing the blue and grey Arkham uniform, much like a New York cops. I believed the similarity was not coincidence. Unlike the other guards he wasn’t armed with a weapon. He raised his prosthetic claw arm when we stepped inside.

“Aaron.” I nodded towards him and walked over. Aaron Cash had had his arm ripped off by Killer Croc on one of his previous escape attempts and he had a claw installed ever since. He took the attack personally and had one day vowed that he’d get his revenge on the Croc.

“Bats.” He nodded back. “You here for a party bringing all yo’ friends wit you?” He whipped the claw out at Gordon and Wilkins.

“One friend.” I replied. “Where’s our mutual reptile today?” Obviously referring to Waylon Jones, the Killer Croc.

“My boy? I keep him locked up tight in the sewer system now.” I raised an eyebrow. “S’ok.” Cash continued. ”We turned it into a big cage, every entrance an’ exit closed off. Throw some meat down every so often and he’s happy. To be honest though I wants him to try escape again. I owe that son bitch one.” He looked at the prosthetic. “Anyways, I take it we’re going to the Aviary. You think he knows ‘bout them missing people?”

“I think he’s connected.” I said as the four of us began walking. “But it’s not Langstroms MO to murder or hurt people intentionally.”

We got to a large cell door. Cash looked over at Gordon and Wilkins. “I know you been here before Commish but I just need to tell you that once you’re beyond these gates Arkham takes no responsibility for whatever happens in here. You here and you’re responsible for no one but yourself.” He smiled as he unlocked the gate and waved us in. “Insurance policy, that’s all.” He pointed up to a sign above the gate which read: Maximum Security.

I walked ahead of Gordon and Wilkins, the latter looking around wide eyed at the empty, rusty cells; electrified floors and ceiling; scratch marks and scribbling carved into the walls – funnily enough most of those mentioned me.

My cape wrapped completely around my body, barely revealing any of my body to anyone who was looking. It made me formless. Gordon was pointing inside the empty cell of Amygdala who had clawed an image into the wall using his nails which pretty much promoted the image I was currently portraying.

There was shuffling and scratching up ahead. This was where the patients were all currently gathered. It was still a fair distance to the Aviary however. I beckoned Gordon and Wilkins over.

“Don’t look at them or talk to them. Definitely no eye contact. Whatever they say ignore it.” I pointed to a door which said Aviary above it. “Walk in a straight line over there and face straight ahead. If I go first it’ll cause even more of a riot. Go.”

They set off down the corridor and I began to hear the taunting.

“Hey, pencil dick! Over here!”

“Gordon, you pipe smoking fuck! You put us in here. Let us the fuck out!”

“I’ll kill you. I’ll eat your eyes. He he hee!”

“You both got kids? You’ll see ‘em in heaven again once I’ve done. Bet I fuck ya wife first though, you skinny little fuck!”

They spat and tried to urinate through the cages as they shouted, the obscenities getting louder and more confused as the two men got closer to the Aviary door. I could see Wilkins panic and he ran the length of the corridor and began to bang on the Aviary door.

“ENOUGH!” I spread my cape and began to walk the hall. The inmates ran to the back of their cells, screaming, desperately trying to hide in the corners. Some covered themselves in their bed linen. One put his toilet bucket, full, over his head. The voices changed this time.

“No, no, no, no, no, no!”

“S-s-s-sorry Batman. Not again!”

“Not the Batman. He’s a fucking demon. A fucking monster!”

“SILENCE!” I commanded again. From my utility belt I dropped a small, smoke grenade and filled the room with a dense fog. I rushed over to Gordon and Wilkins and ran through the door with them.

The skinny man was shaking in his boots. I asked Gordon to get him a drink and take him up to the observation lounge above the Aviary.

The giant cage had once been designed to hold thousands of tropical birds and animals as Arkham had believed these had a calming effect on the patients of the Asylum. Now it was black and empty. I tried to look through the mesh that had been rigged up between gold plated bars but I couldn’t see anything. There was faint scratching inside but that was all.

I gently tapped my ear piece which connected me by Bluetooth to the observation room. There was a loud buzz and then I heard Cash’s voice. How he had gotten there I did not know.

“Your boy here is pretty shaken but he wants a damn tour of Asylum later!” Cash said with a laugh, obviously referring to Wilkins. “What’s up Bats?”

“What state was Langstrom in when you found him? I need to know in case I have a fight on my hands.” I still tried to spot any movement but there was none within the cage.

“He ain’t doing no fighting Bats. He was rolling round the clock tower like he was having some damn seizure. Only took about four or five of us to get him here. He asked to be locked in the damn thing. Said it was where he wanted to be.” Cash sounded puzzled. “They always saying they shouldn’t be in Asylum; never had one volunteer themselves in before!”

“No what state was he in?” I asked again.

“Oh, I get you. He isn’t a big bat if that’s what you mean.” Cash pressed a switch; there was a loud buzz and a light winked green next to the cage door. I had to walk across a bridge to get there, beneath which was a large expanse of water. I could hear splashing down there and I wondered if this was all part of the Croc’s lair. I looked over but could see nothing.

Once inside the cage I came face to face with Doctor Langstrom.

On the floor was a large, shaking shape. It was roughly man sized but covered in rags which I realised were the doctors shredded clothes. He was shivering uncontrollably. I walked over and shone my torch over the pile.

I nearly recoiled in horror.

The man, if I could call him, shot a look in my direction. His eyes were completely black, the right side of his face was still quite human but the bones below his face were moving constantly, trying to change shape. The left side had nearly become the bat. His ear had grown outstretched, ridiculously larger than it should have been and pointed at the end, his fangs protruded from his mouth and he had grown brown fur. He tried to lift his left arm but that too was in the middle of transformation. He reached out to me with long distended and misshaped fingers, each connected by black, skin which was beginning to become one of his wings. From what I could tell his toes and lower legs had already become talons. He shook from head to toe and screeched when the light hit his face.

“Kirk, what have you done now?” I backed away.

Robert Kirk Langstrom was an esteemed doctor and scientist whose research into bats and their DNA was hopefully to find a cure to his own deafness. Unfortunately when his experiments failed to yield satisfactory results for the university his funding was cut and was forced to experiment on himself causing the transformation in Man-Bat. The transformation was becoming harder to control and I had thought the Man-Bat personality had taken over when Langstrom witnessed his wife get shot.

“H-h-help m-m-me…” A voice came from the creature. It tried to shuffle towards me but the effort was too much. Langstrom began to spasm for a few seconds before gaining his breath. “I h-help yo-yo-you.”

I knelt before him. “You know about the Tattoo’s victims?”

“Y-y-yes. I t-t-tell. Y-you g-g-g-g-get my b-boy first.” His right arm shot out and I watched as his fingers began to elongate and the skin grow between them. Another wing was forming. I didn’t have much time.

I had thought Langstroms son had died after being hunted down as a wild animal. He had been born to Francine in Man-Bat form and had promptly disappeared.

“Body in f-f-flux. B-b-boys D-D-D-D-DNA w-w-will cure.” He began to shake again. The effort to control the transformation must have been incredible. “I t-t-t-tell w-w-where g-g-irls are then. SCREEEEEEE!”

I stepped back. The Man-Bat was beginning to take over. I couldn’t rationalise with him and get any information out of him while he was this far gone. My only choice was to look for the boy.

I needed to leave. I couldn’t fight him in this cage but at least if he was in here I knew where he was. I backed away towards the door and heard the buzzer as Cash unlocked it.

Langstrom stopped shaking for a moment and his wings covered his face. Suddenly he burst up from the floor with a screech, fully Man-Bat now. His face was now that of a bat. He sniffed the air from left to right and grunted when he looked over at me. It took a couple of steps forward and cocked its head.

“You not help Langstrom. I live! Not man! SCREEEEEEEEEE!” The creature lifted off the floor and glided towards the cage entrance as I bolted and slammed the door behind me, striking it in the face as it sealed behind me. Man-Bat shook itself as it got up from the floor and walked, coming face to face with me at the gate, fur from its face pushing through the mesh and hot, stinking breath blowing in my face. “Gotham’s becoming quite a circus again.” It said and with that flew up to the rafters.

I stepped back slowly in horror. It knew who I was.

Man-Bat rested on the top bar of the Aviary and watched Batman leave. The lights blinked off in the room and he began to swoop around the cage. Resting on another bar he barked out. “I do what ask. Boy now. My son too.”

Over the speaker system built into the Aviary wall classical music began to play and a voice responded “Music calms such a savage beast, you agree?”

“Not like music. Hurts.” Man-Bat covered his ears with his wings and shut his eyes. The music was physically hurting him. “Give boy please. I love boy too.”

The voice began to speak to someone else in the room it was broadcasting from. Man-Bat could hear two voices now, talking to each other.

“Did you get the scent?” The first voice asked. This one was well spoken and sounded like he was in control.

“Yeah, I was splashin’ aroun’ down there the whole time. He won’t have noticed me.” The second was gruff, a definite Florida accent. Perhaps from the Everglades. Whoever this man was, he sounded big and powerful.

“And?” The first voice wanted clarification on whatever ‘the scent’ was.

“He ain’t no Batman I remember. I’ve smelt this one before. We hunting?” The second voice responded. “I need to get outta here an’ stretch my legs.”

“You’ll find one of the grates at your regular feeding station loose Waylon. Don’t kill him, I just want him worn down.” The first voice sounded excited and Man-Bat could hear the other person shuffling off in the background quickly.

“WHERE BOY?!!!!” Man-Bat screamed up into the air.

“But I thought you asked the Batman to find him for you? Oh well, if I must.” There was a click above the cage and something fell from the roof and landed on the sandy floor. The speaker went static, then off as Man-Bat glided curiously down the base of the cage.

He walked over to the object, sniffed, then backed away frantically before screeching up to the rafters, bashing his head continually against the ceiling trying to get out.

In the sandy floor lay a tiny claw clipped from its childs wing…

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Five: Alone in the Dark

            Gordon walked over to me as we met by his squad car. He had a puzzled look on his face. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “I saw you back away from Langstroms cage. Does he know anything?”

“Yes, I think so, but he won’t be able to help us while ever he’s like that.” I replied, still reeling from the revelation that Man-Bat possibly know who I was. “He can’t control his body anymore. It’s like there’s two separate people in there vying for control. If the Man-Bat is the dominant form we’ll never get anything from him.” I explained to Gordon that I needed to find Langstroms boy and extract the DNA to try and convert him, for a time at least, to a human. I also told Gordon that before he’d transformed into the creature Langstrom had suggested that it had been girls that were the victims of The Tattoo. It was the first clear lead we’d had to finding them.

“That’s good.” Gordon nodded. “Because while you were in there with Langstrom, I got a call from the MCU. Another parcel.”

“Have they opened it yet?” I asked.

“No, they’re waiting for me to arrive. I’m going now; Wilkins is staying here to check out the meta’s kept at the Asylum.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You ok?” I told Gordon nothing and tried to steady myself. To be honest I felt physically sick. “Maybe finding this child will help. I’ll let you know what we’ve got when I get back to MCU. Good luck.” He walked over to his car and drove off.

I sat in the Batmobile and took a deep breath before firing the ignition and heading back into Gotham.

Gotham‘s becoming quite a circus again.

            The phrase kept spinning round and round in my head. The look in Man-Bats eye was strange, now I came to think of it. It wasn’t as if he was threatening me. More of a warning.

He wasn’t the only one who knew.

I crossed the Arkham Bridge and banked immediately down an alleyway which would take me through The Narrows and towards Gainsly, bringing me to Wayne Towers, underneath which lay the Bat Bunker – my own personal Batcave.

I couldn’t use Bruce’s lair. In fairness though I didn’t need to anymore. Oracle had herself up there and had a more valuable use for it than I did. Plus, like I had already said, it was odd without my mentor not being there.

Bruce had set up several dens around Gotham which were linked to the Batcave and could be used if it was ever compromised. One of these secondary Bat caves had been built directly below Wayne Towers and was the largest. It housed a back-up computer hub and a forensics lab as well as an armoury and a garage where I could store both a Batmobile and a Bat cycle.

I wouldn’t be staying there. It was only to pick up supplies. If my identity had been uncovered then it would be more than likely that so had my base of operations.

As I grew nearer to Wayne Towers, whipping through alleyways and down side roads like a sidewinder missile I tapped my earpiece. “Oracle?”

“How can I be of assistance?” Barbara’s voice chirped over the secure channel.

“Two things. Can you check any police reports within the last three weeks for missing girls in the immediate Gotham and neighbouring city areas? We have reason to believe victims are female.

“I also need you to cross reference any recent sightings of Langstroms Man-Bat with reliable eyewitness statements and any possible places for a roost located within Gotham City limits.” I asked and could already hear her fingers working over a keyboard.

“Any particular time frame?” Oracle replied. Barbara never asked why unless she was really troubled. She always did whatever she could and she was excellent at that.

“Langstrom arrived at Arkham two days ago so anything between now and then. He wants me to obtain his son. If you can have Robin begin to set up the forensics’ lab in a secure location, not the Bunker, for a, hopefully, live capture.” This was time for the “why” question.

“Can I ask Batman?” Oracle had stopped typing and I heard her nervously take a sip of a drink. “Or is that classified?”

“Chance of an identity compromise. If that is the case then I need you to find any information as soon as possible and cease all communications as soon as… Oracle?” I tore my earpiece from my mask as a loud, high pitched noise burst from the speaker. I held it up and could still hear static.

Looked like someone had terminated communications for me already.

As I pulled into the Bunker via the sewer entrance and stepped from the Batmobile into complete darkness. The lights should’ve reacted to my presence. Special radar equipment fixed within the Batsuit should’ve set off the motion detector systems and alerted them to my being here.

I shone my torch around. Everything was here and nothing looked as though it had been touched. I walked over to the computer but it was dead. I tried typing in various passwords and codes but nothing helped. Even a sharp kick to the hard drive did nothing to improve to situation. All that showed on the monitor was a small, green winking “_” almost taunting me into action…

The armoury!

I launched myself across the room in a mad panic. Some of the most sophisticated technology in the world lay within that room. If anyone with mal-intent got hold of that there was no telling what they could do.

I tried entering the pass code on the electronic keypad but it didn’t work. There was a small beep which meant there was still power; I was just locked out. I attempted to wrench the door open but the electromagnetic locks held it in place.

That was good. If I couldn’t get in then no one could. Unfortunately it meant that the only arsenal I had was that which I’d got in my utility belt; Batarangs, wire and a few smoke pellets. It’d have to do.

It was as if someone had just shut everything down. Not destroyed anything or hacked into any files, just turned it off. I only had to assume that this was what had happened to Oracle. We all had emergency communicators which would all sound if we were in danger and Barbara’s, Damien and my own all registered green on the tiny LED built into my utility belt.

It was time to go old school.

I could try CB radio but that was too easy to get on to. Cell phone?

I sealed the Bunker and jumped back into the car. That still worked fine at least. I pulled down the GPS screen to reveal a small computer. On the screen were various mobile phone numbers. I hit Barbara’s personal number and I could hear the ring alert tone through the speakers in the car using the hands free.

“Hello?” She answered, her voice much clearer than the digitised voice of Oracle.

“It’s me. Are you ok?” I asked although hopefully if she could answer her phone she was. I didn’t use names though in case anyone unsavoury was with her.

“Fine, fine.” She sighed. The possibility she was as concerned as I was never crossed my mind. “Everything just went down here. Are you ok Jack of Clubs?”

If she used my code name that meant she was on her own. We couldn’t use our real names as this was an unsecured channel and to use the name Batman meant anyone listening in could track us. “Yes, it’s almost as if everything just turned off. All computer systems directly linked to our intranet have been deactivated.”

“I’m trying to get things back online but it’s as if someone with interior access has shut the system down. King of Spades and Jack of Hearts are trying there best too.” With that she meant Alfred and Damien were helping out in the cave as well. I could hear her fingers frantically racing across the keyboard and flicking switches on and off. “Nothing works.” And with that I heard her slam her fist down on her desk.

“Contact me on this number once things are running again. Gordon said MCU had received a parcel, I want to know what it is.” I hung up and raced off into the night.

The Bat signal was already lighting up the sky like a sinister second moon as I skidded to a halt a few blocks away from Gotham Central Police Department Headquarters. I used the fire escapes and overhangs to reach the rooftops of the opposite building before dropping in behind where Gordon was stood, waiting.

“A toe.” He said, as he turned and walked over.

“DNA match?” I asked as the Commissioner passed me a clear evidence bag that contained the appendage.

“No. This means another victim. Three so far.” He lit his pipe. “Anything on the Bat-child?”

“I’m having some… technical difficulties at the moment.” I scrutinised the toe. Something was etched in fading blue ink on the underside. “Let me guess.”

“Another tattoo. ‘Tick Tock’. Do you know what that means because I have no idea?” He shrugged his shoulders and walked over to the edge of the building, resting his arms on the ledge. “I also have no idea what to tell the press or the mayor.

“Another interesting one for you; no women or young girls have been reported missing in the last two months, never mind three weeks.”

I tossed him back the bag and rubbed my chin. Tick Tock? It must have been a clue but without my equipment I had nothing to immediately analyse it with. Were we being given a time frame by our mysterious criminal now? Did ‘Tick Tock’ symbolise the passing of time?

Gordon’s radio buzzed. “Go ahead.” And he raised it to his ear listening intently. He ran his fingers through his hair and connected the radio back to his belt.

“Guess who’s gone missing from Arkham?” The question was almost rhetorical.

Tick Tock.

The Killer Croc.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Six: Lair of the Dragon

            Moments after the Commissioner received another radio call. He looked at me with a sense of urgency I’d not seen for a while.

“You need my help?” A voice said smugly and Powell Wilkins walked over from the fire escape.

I walked over to him and lifted him up by the collar. I didn’t like being surprised by my enemies so when a scrawny little man who was a complete enigma to me did it I like it even less. “What do you know?” I growled into his face.

“Batman!” Gordon rushed over and put a hand on my arm.

I dropped Wilkins. It was getting to me. The fact that people were missing in my city and were being hurt and abused and I had no leads, someone had access to the internal intranet that Batman needed to operate and that this arrogant mystery man always seemed to appear when I least needed it. Plus there was the chance that Langstrom knew I wasn’t the original Batman.

Wilkins straightened himself out. “Thank you Commissioner.” He nodded and then looked round at me. “Every newspaper and press office in Gotham just received a body part with a tattoo mark. Each tattoo says ‘The Batman is powerless’. What do you intend to do?” He raised an eyebrow and stood defiant in front of me.

What was going on? There were fifteen local newspapers and six independent news stations that reported from within Gotham. That meant twenty one different body parts. The only course of action I could take was to capture Croc – he was mentioned on the last tattoo; he had to know something.

“Seraph’s complete resources are open to you if you wish to use them.” Wilkins had a slight grin on his face. He wanted me to ask for his help. That way I would owe him. It wasn’t going to happen.

I turned to Gordon. “We need those body parts. Someone in the lab needs to identify the DNA. We need to see whether these are all separate victims or a culmination of a few.” I walked to the edge of the building before spinning on my heel to face Wilkins.

“Thanks for the kind offer,” I gritted my teeth. “But I have to go hunting.”

And with that, I outstretched my arms and glided of the roof.

“Richard, what are we looking for?” Damien asked as he crouched by the sewer entrance in full Robin garb.

“Its Batman when we’re out like this.” I shook my head. Damien liked to do it. He was constantly testing me and pushing my boundaries. It was part of his make up. He had always had it done to him during his upbringing and he found it difficult to detach from that mind set but he did make an excellent Robin and I’d need his tracking skills on this one.

I waded through the sludge that ran into this duct and shone my torch around the entrance. “Could be anything. But someone’s sending us clues so I’m assuming they’ve left us a trail that leads straight to Croc.”

Damien jumped into the waste and began to search around hurriedly. I envied his excitement. It wasn’t that he was eager to please. He was eager to prove himself. He had been constantly in his father’s shadow, even as a small child before he had met Bruce, and now he wanted to show that he was more than just another Robin. He made it common knowledge to those within our close circle that he didn’t like the fact that I was Batman and not him.

The truth was that he wasn’t ready.

He was too disciplined which meant he sometimes missed things others would pick up immediately. He sometimes didn’t know when to stop in violent situations when we had had no other recourse but to retreat and his people skills were terrible. Maim and ask questions later could often be Damien’s motto. This was something he had been taught in the League of Assassins but it wasn’t something that would always work in the world where there were rules to follow. Especially when Damien was teetering on a precipice that was far too easy to fall from and never return.

“Here!” He called from over at another outlet; his yellow, green and red outfit already stained black with, well with whatever. Alfred wouldn’t approve.

I almost swam over through the thick sewerage. Outlet Two looked the same but Damien was pointing to the base of the grill. The bars had been bent ever so slightly but had then been levered back into place. There were scratch marks around the fittings and indentations on the pipe work where something – someone – had shifted their bulk under. To anyone else it would’ve been unnoticeable but Damien was an expert tracker.

He pointed to three outlets opposite. “The one on the left drains directly from Arkham. Did you really need me for something as simple as that Batman?” He smirked and began to bend the bars back to climb inside.

The thing was I didn’t.

I needed the company and the support. Since I had taken up the mantle as the original Robin there had been one of Batman’s enemies other than Two-Face who had frightened me. And I mean really bothered me. Croc had been in my nightmares and my daydreams. He had been there in the back of my mind and chased me as an adult. I don’t know why he scared me so much, maybe it was how he looked, and maybe it was his size, his brutality. I need Robin with me in case I froze.

It had crossed my mind if sometimes that was why Bruce needed a Robin. To genuinely help him when he became stuck or frightened. I often thought there was much went on behind that mask that I never truly understood.

Now was the time to find out.

I followed Damien in and we both instantly snapped into hunting mode. Robin spread his feet apart to get a better footing and crouched. I wrapped myself in the Kevlar-backed cape and removed a Batarang from my belt ready to strike. I looked up and saw several, thick steel pipes that ran the length of the drain. I nodded up and Robin nodded back.

We leapt up and each grabbed a pipe. Walking along the drain floor would echo around the pipe work, no matter how careful we were. Croc would pick up the vibrations. He’d either charge for us or he’d disappear and that would be our lead lost.

I swung forward gently. Robin followed. We travelled to an intersection and changed course. It leads to the docks, Killer Crocs old home before he was sent to Arkham. I assumed he would have stopped by. Even if he wasn’t there now then he must have been there. Any clue was better than no clue.

Robin tugged on my cape and I stopped. Up ahead there was the tinny sound of music. Paradise City by Guns and Roses.

There was no point trying to be secretive now. Croc wanted to be found. We dropped from the pipe work but I still motioned for Robin to hug the walls. We might still have a slight element of surprise. Our prey still didn’t know where we coming from or how quickly we’d picked up his trail.

The music got louder as we reached a t-junction and the water became deeper and began to rush. The overhead pipes had ended too. Just to the left of the junction and old style ghetto blaster sat on a chair and blared out the classic rock tune. Robin and I advanced towards the stereo, stepping cautiously into the water.

The trap was sprung.

A huge beast burst from the water, grabbing Robin by the back of the neck and diving straight down into the sewerage. I was smashed into the wall by the wake of water caused by the monsters movement and the stereo collapsed into the river of Gotham’s waste, drowning Axel Rose and Slash in mid flow.

I felt a blow to the back of my head and my world went black as I heard the beast speak.

“Now then boy, you know I loves my rock music!”

Tiny electric lights gave off a dim glow as I came round to find myself in a round chamber in the sewer system. Mould hung off the walls and the place stank. Everything looked green and I shook my head to clear my vision. I jumped to my feet and stood unsteadily calling for Robin. I looked around but could see nothing. I heard a rhythmic swishing sound coming from a water source to my left which soon became a thud of footsteps. The Killer Croc emerged slowly into the chamber.

At a staggering seven foot eight inches, he towered over me. His body was huge, as toned as that of any wrestler. Covering his body was a thick layer of reptilian scales. He had a long tail that held the armoured back scale plates of all species of crocodile that ran straight up his back to the top of his head. His face was now much more bestial that I remembered and had an elongated snout with sharp protruding teeth. He stood facing me, breathing heavily, and then lumbered over to the centre of the room to stand square on to me. His hands were huge and each finger ended in a dirty claw. His knuckles were torn and oozed blood – blood which I hoped was only his own.

“Boy of yours got some fight in him New Man.” He spoke in a deep, Louisiana drawl. “Gots to put him on a leash I think. Might do it when I show him to my friends.”

He pointed to the right channel that ran off the platform. Five alligators lay there patiently, all with mouths agape.

“Where is he?” I stood and focussed on Croc. I was afraid but more for Robin now than myself. I couldn’t show it otherwise he’d have me and I couldn’t, wouldn’t,  allow that.

“Safe as houses New Man.” He pointed at me. “You ain’t him.” He sneered showing a mouthful of teeth. “I know him. You smell different. Not got the same damn stink.”

“I know you too Waylon.” His smile disappeared as I spoke his real name. I couldn’t believe he could smell the difference! It was something I’d never even thought of. Then again, I never thought he’d escape Arkham.  “Why’re you doing this?”

Croc laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “You think I’m your killer? Ha!” He started to stalk me. It was ever so slight but I watched all his muscles tense really slowly and he arched his back slightly. “I just want to be left alone to run my business!”

With that he swung a fist that smashed into the wall above my head as I ducked but then flicked his tail and knocked me off my feet. His other fist smashed into my face, fracturing my jaw. He scratched at my leg tearing into my thigh. The pain was unbearable. I wanted to scream but couldn’t show I was hurt. I rolled and managed to get back on my feet.

“You wanna know why?” He jumped back into the centre of the platform, watching me hungrily. The alligators to right of us began to thrash about with excitement. One roar from Croc stopped them instantly and they backed away. “I like it in Arkham. I wanna go back.”

What? Then why escape? I didn’t need to ask as he continued but not before knocking me off my feet again with his tail. I quickly jumped up, confused. What was going on?

“He came to me saying he could put me on the map again New Man. Said I wouldn’t have to worry about anything again. Not even you.” This time a smash to my ribs which pinned me against to the wall. His face came up to mine, his breath stunk of fish and meat.

I swung a punch to his temple with my right then another into his jaw with my left before head butting him making Croc stagger back, shaking his head to clear his vision. I ran to kick him but he grabbed my foot and swung me across the room.

“Who did?” I clutched my side trying to catch my breath before having to jump again to avoid another charge. Definitely a broken rib.

“I ain’t telling. Said they’d sort all my affairs. All I got to do is this. Then I go back to Arkham either way, whethers I beat ya or not. I can sit in there, eating, tormenting Cash in my own luxury pad, while my businesses on the outside get run for me. And when the Great Age starts I got my own place. I don’t get hurt no more New Man!” He ran over to and head butted me again, following it with a volley of punches. I fell to the floor and he stomped on my right leg. I felt it break. I wasn’t quick enough. Why wasn’t I quick enough?!

He laughed. “You ain’t nothing New Man.” He walked slowly towards the right stream where the alligators were. “I’m going back to Arkham now. I suggest you find your girls before the Great Age starts or there’ll be no place for you in it.”

I heard him stomp off and a commotion in the water as his ‘pets’ followed him. Great Age? He wouldn’t get hurt anymore? What was he talking about? I was as much in the dark now as I had been before.

I crawled over to the stream that ran in from my left, my leg in agony. That was the direction he had originally come from. I had to find Damien. He could’ve done anything to him, especially judging from the ferocity of the attack on me.

I fell over the edge of the platform and into the stream.

And blacked out.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Seven: Revelations

“DAMIEN!” I cried as I shot up on the surgical table. I couldn’t focus properly, everywhere was dark. Where was I? Where was Robin? I’d lost him during my fight with Killer Croc. I tried to jump off but a familiar hand pressed against my chest and a reassuring voice said,

“Master Richard, just calm yourself.”

I looked up and as my vision cleared I could see the balding head and moustache of Bruce Wayne’s butler smiling gently over me. “You’ve certainly been through the wars.”

My eyes slowly began to adjust and I could make out computer monitors, all filled with static fuzz. Surgical instruments. A collection of Batmobiles. Suits of armour in glass casings. A huge coin. A life size Tyrannosaur.

I was in the Batcave.

I heard a whirring sound and I turned to see Barbara cross the room in her wheelchair. “Welcome back. You were certainly doing some snoring there!” She smiled.

I sat up on the bed and felt a spike of pain in my right leg. The Croc had broken in during our fight… Damien! Where was he? If they’d found me then possibly they had him.

“I know what you’re going to ask.” Barbara wheeled round the table to face me. “I even know what you’re going to do but I’d advise against it.”

“As would I Mistress Gordon.” Added Alfred as he walked away to wash some equipment he had used to operate in one of the nearby sinks.

“Where is he?” I looked down at my leg to see it was in a splint. I also had bandages strapped around my chest to support the broken ribs I had sustained. I hopped off the table to see if I could stand on the leg. I could but I’d need lots of painkillers if I was to continue. I limped over the room to wear the Batsuit had been laid across a collection of keyboards and files.

“Pressed and ironed” Alfred nodded towards me.

“We don’t know.” Barbara frowned. “We only found you and we only did that because you must have fallen on one of the sonic alarms in your boots.” She looked up and I followed her gaze to see that all the bats in the cave were gone. “They went crazy when you triggered it and left the cave in a mass panic. They’ve not done that for years. Alfred followed in the Bentley and found you down a storm drain.”

“Yes…” Alfred walked over and ruffled his nose. “Putrid. One thing you and Master Bruce had in common is your choice of arenas in which to fight.” He put an arm round my shoulder as I slipped on the Kevlar breast plate and cowl before helping me back to the operating table so I could sit down. He then offered me some morphine before slipping the rest of the bottle into my utility belt. He knew I was going to go after Damien rather than let my injuries heal. Bruce would’ve only done the same for me.

“How long was I out?” My head hurt like hell before the morphine kicked in. The power behind Crocs punches had been incredible akin to being hit by a wrecking ball. I explained about the trap and the fight whilst Alfred and Barbara slowly nodded their heads. “I also struggled fighting him. My reflexes have never been that slow.”

“About seven hours now. You were slower due to the fact you’d been poisoned Dick. Ethylene glycol to be more precise. And lots of it.” Barbara reached down next to her leg and brought a tiny metal capsule over to me.

“Antifreeze? Lots of it in this?” I held the capsule up to see a crack at one end. “How?”

“Concentrate. Pure. But the metal the canister is made of can expand and contract within the human body. Almost making it bigger on the inside. Its nearly operating on a quantum level but we can discuss that later. It was implanted beneath the skin on your left arm. Along with this.” She took the capsule off me and reached over to the surgical table to pick up another, relatively the same size, but this capsule had a flashing red light within which pulsed every two or three seconds. “Tracker. It’s off now. But that would explain how Croc got topside of you, not his appreciation of 80’s rock. Did anyone get really close to you to inject these? The poison would’ve had to have been in your system about an hour prior to your meeting with Croc for it to really start kicking in.”

I tried to think…

Powell Wilkins. When he had surprised me on the rooftop of GCPD and I’d grabbed him.

“I need to find out what Seraph is. I’m betting they have Damien.” I jumped off the bed and dragged myself over to one of the computers.

“Nothing on them.” Barbara drove over and I leant against the arm of her chair before topping up on morphine. “And I’m going to still struggle to get anything. Every system is still down. Nothings hacked from what I can tell, just the system has been shut off.”

An idea suddenly hit me. “Are all the bunkers and safe houses down Alfred?” Bruce had a network of ‘emergency’ Batcaves around the city so he was never far from first aid, weapons or a vehicle.

“I don’t see what you mean Master Dick.” Alfred looked puzzled.

“Someone is in our system and we don’t know how right?” They both nodded.  “Well maybe its not from an external source like we’ve been looking for. Maybe they’ve got access to our system internally.”

Barbara smiled. “Bruce had to have something on hardcopy showing where all the Batcaves are. He would’ve planned exactly for something like this.”

Alfred went over to a filing cabinet near one of the still static monitors. It took him a few moments and some intense rifling through the drawers but he finally emerged with a schematic plan of Gotham’s sewer system and two pieces of acetate. He tacked the schematic to a monitor and we walked over to look. As we reached him he lowered the first acetate sheet over the plan.

“This shows where all the entrances are to the emergency bat caves via the sewer Master Dick.” Alfred and Barbara both scanned them quickly. I could almost read their thoughts before they spoke.

“Which is our active bunker then?” Barbara looked at me puzzled.

“Lower the next acetate please Alfred.” We all leaned in as the clear sheet suddenly revealed all the buildings above ground in relation to the hideouts.

“I still don’t see it Dick.” Barbara said.

“I do.” I smirked. “Right there.” And I pointed at the map. My gloved finger pressed hard down on a building above a cave in downtown Gotham, Stevensville to be exact.

A tattoo parlour.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Eight: Sovereignty

            My leg was shooting me with pain regardless of the amount of morphine I’d taken and the splint. Barbara and Alfred hadn’t bothered trying to stop because they knew their pleas would’ve fallen on deaf ears. I had to find Damien and fast. God knows what was being done to him.

I tore through Stevensville in the Batmobile. I’d decided not to use the sewer entrance as I assumed it would’ve been covered with security if they had access to the Bat-Hub, even though Alfred had advised that I “not go in all guns blazing”. I expected they thought I’d try and stealth my way in, which was in part what I intended. But using the sewer system was not the way.

I pulled up a few blocks away from the tattoo parlour, called Runes of Ruin, which was on the ground floor of a disused unit, and headed up a fire escape onto the rooftops. I could skulk around using the air conditioning units on this building for cover. From my vantage point I could see four guards patrolling the two-storey. I knew they would be expecting me now they had Damien. And they were wise to.

They all carried small assault rifle and wore a kind of flak jacket. They were all men with long hair that fell down their backs. From behind they looked like women except for the well toned, muscular frames. I used the binoculars built into my cowl to zoom in further. A couple of them had slight limps while one struggled to hold his gun because he was missing a digit… They had mutilated themselves! It suddenly fell into place. The reason there had been no reports of any missing girls was because there weren’t any missing girls. These men had done this to themselves – cut off their own appendages – disguised them and then sent them to the police. Man-Bat had thought they were girls due the long her and his less than capable ability to reason once he had changed. Whoever had bribed Croc – probably Wilkins – had just told him he had kidnapped some women so Croc had enough information to pass onto me.

The fact that these guards were slightly impaired would make my job easier however they were not to be underestimated. Anyone who could do that to themselves must have been either incredibly disciplined of seriously disturbed.

I managed to grapple over to a ledge just below the rooftop without being seen and scaled my way round. Using a sonar vision tool I could see where the men were and make out where they were looking. The first two were easy to dispatch. When they were facing away from me I crawled up, grabbed each round the leg and anchored them upside down to the ledge I had used. One punch to the temple rendered them unconscious.

Mounting the roof I was able to flank each of the others using air con units similar to the one on the adjacent buildings. The third man went down with a kick to the groin then a left hook to face. I was caught dragging his body round the back of a vent when the last guard rounded on me. I leapt from my spot before he had chance to get a round off and pinned him to the floor just as he was about to radio for backup. Placing all my weight on him and tossing his rifle over the edge of the building he had no option but to co-operate.

“Seraph?” I growled at him, face to face.

“Yes.” He replied with the same twang to his accent Wilkins had. His was more pronounced. Definitely Serbian or Bosnian. “You will not stop us Grayson.”

I wanted to recoil as I heard him use my real name but stopped myself. There were obviously no secrets on my part here tonight. I hit him in the faced hard breaking his nose before lifting him up and thrusting him over the ledge, face down.

“I won’t stop you from falling either. Where’s Wilkins?” I gave him a jab to the kidney. My leg began to twang and it took everything not to make it show. “Now!”

The man began to laugh. “You still think that is who he is? Seraph, the snake with wings, will bite down on you and your friends hard.” A concealed knife shot from his left sleeve. He broke free of my grasped and stabbed himself in the throat. Blood sprayed across the rooftop and hit my chin before the guard dropped to the floor.

I kicked down the door that led from the roof into the building, rolling down the stairwell and ducking behind a crate as a spray of gunfire blasted over my head. I used the sonar again and could make out eight men in the room. I had five Batarangs in my utility belt. I bobbed over the crate and quickly looked around. The attic room was pretty empty. There were several other crates where the men were hidden. The wooden beams holding up the ceiling looked fairly old. Three were supporting the roof but the others…

I launched three of the bat shaped weapons at the roof bringing down two of the struts. Scanning quickly with sonar I could see it left me with three conscious guards and lots more cover. I crawled through the debris on my stomach as dust and timber settled around me. I had knocked a hole clean through the attic floor and right down into the shop below. Other men rushed up the stairs, each carrying weapons but I could see my exit.

Running and leaping had always been my forte. I jumped through the hole in the floor, surrounded by a cloud of dust and landed in the tattoo shop on the bottom floor. The men who had gone upstairs had left two unsuspecting gents alone. They were back to back, pointing their guns nervously around the room. I dropped onto one – my leg screaming out in agony now – instantly rendering him out of the game, and kicked the others legs out from under him. One blow to the head and he was out of it too.

A round of applause came from behind me and I turned to see Powell Wilkins ascend from a basement staircase, a sneer across his thin face making his cheek bones rise at an impossibly odd angle, exposing his teeth and making him look like a vampire about to strike. He wore a long black coat around his shoulders and had Kevlar body armour under it. A sword swung at his belt. He reminded me of someone but I didn’t know who. I was about to run at him when I heard an all too audible click of a trigger behind me. I spun to the floor as the bullet buried itself in my right shoulder however I tried to keep my focus on Wilkins. Luckily the morphine was numbing some of the pain.

“Try to get up and I have another twelve men stood behind you each awaiting the honour of ending the Batman’s reign over Gotham.” Wilkins walked over. It was true. The others had come from upstairs and all waited, guns cocked, for me to make a move. One thing Bruce had always liked; I did as I was told.

“You are hurting, yes?” Wilkins grabbed me by the chin and I felt myself wince. His accent was stronger now. He must have been trying his best at faking American. Maybe Gordon hadn’t even noticed and I had only picked up on it due to my training.

Wilkins tossed my head aside and then struck me on the back of the neck. The world span and I went to sleep.

I felt water on my face and shook my head. My mask was gone and I was tied to a chair. I looked around to see that I was in the Bat-Hub. The monitors were all on, relaying camera feeds from around the city. Another screen was covered in lines of code while one of Wilkins followers hacked away at the keyboard. To my right I could see the armoury. A little red light shone above the keypad; still locked. I smiled to myself. Wilkins only had basic access to the equipment. Still it had been enough to knock out the intranet connecting it to the Batcave but not enough to get into the more secure files.

“Richard…” I shot my gaze round as best I could to see Damien tied in a similar position to a chair next to me. He seemed okay. Beaten to a pulp but nothing looked broken and he wasn’t bleeding.

“Damien! Are you-“ I began before I received another blow to my face.

“Silence!” One of Wilkins thugs roared in my ear. “You listen to Seraph now!”

Wilkins emerged from the shadows, placing the glass down from which he thrown water at me. He still wore the same demonic grin.

“I assure you that the boy,” He looked at Damien and spat with disgust, “is fine. If you wish him to remain in such a state you will do exactly as I ask you.” His gaze seemed to penetrate my very skin. I felt sick to the core.

“How did you get in here?” The Hub must’ve been secured otherwise anyone could’ve gained access. I also guessed that the building was converted to a tattooist after Bruce had built the secondary Batcave below it.

Wilkins scoffed. “I love this part in Bond movies where the so-called villain tells all. Good, I will speak. It will help you to understand my purpose. You will be staying with me after we’re finished here anyway.” He cracked his knuckles and dragged a chair out of the darkness at the other side of the room, placing it in front of me before giving me a slap to the face.

“I am a hunter and an assassin Mister Grayson. It is a job I take great pride in. I created Seraph, the winged serpent, to destroy these meta-humans I see everyday. They walk our land as if it is completely natural they belong here. Aliens, mutants, freaks. But it is not natural. I want to restore the order of things.” He shifted in his chair, excited by what he was saying. “I will restore the order of things.”

“That’s not what I asked.” I snarled at him through my lips that I could now tell had been split. “How did you get in here?”

Wilkins continued to grin. “Your Doctor Langstrom is a genius you know? He made a normal man better than a normal man. Stronger, faster but unfortunately into a monster. If I can alter the specific genes that make a man strong and fast then I can create a league that can destroy all those things I hate so much.”

“But you’ll just be making men into meta-humans. What will that achieve?” My interest was piqued but I needed to keep him talking. I could nearly reach for a Batarang I had stashed in the back of my utility belt. I looked at Damien. His head was bobbing, falling in and out of consciousness but I could see he was still listening. He sighed suddenly.

“Hear him out Richard. It gets better.” His head bobbed back down again.

“Look at my men.” Wilkins gestured around the room. The thug’s chests swelled with pride. “Utterly devoted. They have chopped off their fingers and toes in honour of our cause to lure the Batman in.” He got up off his chair and walked over to one of the men. “What happens once we have rid the world of this meta-freaks Ezekiel?”

The man smiled. “The League of Sovereignty is supreme. Pure. We will have made the Earth clean, ushered in the Great Age and with that we go to our graves our destiny fulfilled!”

I realised in horror what Wilkins had brainwashed these men into. He was going to try and genetically alter them and then they were going to sacrifice themselves in the name of his cause in battle against the people I called friends. I decided to change tack slightly.

“What do you need me for?” I couldn’t find the Batarang. I needed even more time.

“Well now you ask.” Wilkins sat in front of me again. “I had learned Langstrom had a son, one hundred per cent bat creature and I had also managed to track it here, to Gotham. We found it roosting in this building and we captured it.”

Wilkins lifted the cloth on what I assumed was a box in the corner. Inside, bruised and bloody was Langstroms son. It was more bat than man. It began to shriek and thrash about as soon as it set eyes on Wilkins and his men but a boot to the side of the cage soon silenced it. “See, it had crawled through many a space in the wall and ended up in this delight of a room! I could use this animal to extract the genetic code I need for my soldiers. Soon after its father came looking, a genius some say, but one who could not work any of these damn computers.”

The thin man walked over to one of the monitors and punched it. “He could not hack them, only get me the basic programs, so I told him I would keep his mutant son until he brought me the Batman. The crocodile was easy to tame, money is the food that fuels such a beast.

“There is a file, marked JLA that I want access to. If you do not give me the codes I will kill Mister Pennyworth and Miss Gordon. The boy” – again spoken with complete disdain – “will be thrashed within an inch of his life.”

“Who are you really?” I raised my eyebrow. “What is this League of Sovereignty?”

“They are my people, the true children of the Earth, its Sovereigns. The boy here belongs to League of Shadows.” He grabbed Damien by the hair and pulled his head back. “My sister’s league.

“My name is Yusef Barram al Ghul, son of the Ra’s al Ghul, and I am the true heir to my father’s legacy.”

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Nine: Escape

“Ra’s has no sons!” Damien exclaimed. Could it be though? The Demons Head held many a secret. But surely he would’ve picked a son as his heir not his daughter?

“Oh, he has many boys. He is a man like any other.” Yusef shifted to the back of the room behind his hacker sat at the console. “I was but a forgotten brat left by the waste side with a dozen other illegitimate boys. You have many dead uncles.

“My father didn’t want a male heir to leave his legacy to. It was deemed too much of a challenge to his own supremacy. A male child, he thought, would usurp him. A girl could bear a male child for him to transfer his own self to – as was planned for the boy here – and still be subservient to her father.” He gestured towards Damien and laughed. “You are nothing but a hollow vessel boy.”

“He is so much more than that.” I gritted my teeth as I spoke. Something gave inside my glove. A Batarang slipped out from the wrist and into my fingers. I just needed to work on my rope for a short while. I had to keep him talking. “How come he hasn’t killed you then? Surely a man as connected as Ra’s knows of your existence?”

“Oh he knows.” Yusef frowned and shook his head. “My mother contacted him after I made my way home; escaping from one of the child death pits he had set up. You aren’t supposed to have real memories until you’re five Mr Grayson but I assure that climbing over the bodies of – what seemed like to a child – hundreds of dead boys, each suffocated with a neurotoxin, stays with you for a while.

“He killed them all, all his little boys, and buried them in a pit outside one of many harems in Baghdad. At first my mother didn’t know what to do with me. How I made it back to her is anyone’s guess. She had to make contact with him; she feared he would come after her and kill her if he found out by any other means. My survival must have impressed him or he took it as some sort of sign. He took me and trained me for the League of Shadows. He slaughtered my mother anyway.

“I never knew who my father was until I reached my middle age. It was when Ra’s kidnapped a young boy – the apprentice of the Worlds Greatest Detective, you Mister Grayson – and I was to aid the mission. It was all part of a test to see if Batman was worthy of Ra’s daughter, Talia. I openly showed my disapproval. Believing you to be his son, and with my own lack of a father in my life, I expressed my concern of taking a mans son away from him. I was laughed at and left to watch your abduction. Once you had been taken my ‘sister’ visited me and showed me photographs of all the slain children from Baghdad.” He snarled at Damien and spat at him again. “Your mother said once sentence to me in all the time I knew her – ‘This is what Ra’s thinks of sons’.

“I investigated and found out the circumstances of my birth. I vowed to avenge my mother by rendering the League defunct. I would do what Ra’s could not and purify the Earth, ending with the death of Ra’s al Ghul!” Like all true maniacs he even added a laugh at the end.

“That’s all I needed to hear.” I cut the final strand of rope with the Batarang, leapt from my bonds and shouted, “John and Mary”, my parents names. Everything went black – the room switched off – but I had time to rush Damien, rip him from the chair and drop behind the monitors in the room as gunfire flashed around illuminating the room like a 50’s slow motion camera.

The names were a verbal code I’d installed to shut down and destroy the Bat-Computers in the case they were taken hostage or hacked. The monitors flared and blew out. Yusef and his men were blinded for a second and then disorientated as the room filled with smoke but it wasn’t long before I heard him scream at them to follow us. He knew that our closest exit was the sewer route.

We dropped into the tunnels and ran. “Thank you Richard.” Damien said and smiled.

“Thank me when we’re at Arkham.” I winced as pain shot through my leg. The splint had held but I was still in agony from the break.

“Arkham? Why?” Damien grabbed my round the waist. We were going slowly but hopefully we were still faster than our pursuers, especially those minus digits.

“We can’t stave them all off but I know a sort-of man that can. Someone who just wanted to be left alone til this was all over.” I managed a smirk. “And who doesn’t like it when people go back on their deals.”

Damien got it immediately. “I can track our way there. No worries”

It was then that I heard an ear splitting whine and the splashing footsteps of our pursuers.

“Oh no.” I said and grabbed the Boy Wonder. “Run Damien.”

Yusef had found the prototype device upon stumbling across the Bat-Hub. It was a one man flying machine, much smaller than a Batwing and with half the flight time, that could travel stealthily and almost undetected throughout the underground system and for brief periods in the air above ground. It held two air to air rockets and a twin rotating cannon just under the nose.

It hadn’t been deactivated.

BATMAN:

Like Father, Like Son…

Part Ten: Bringing the Family to Roost

            Gunfire rang out around us and a few shots ricocheted off my armour and pinged around the tunnel walls. They were gaining on us but hopefully not for long. The tunnels had started to take on a familiar green hue and the stench of rot had grown stronger.

“Make as much noise as we can? That’ll attract him.” Damien asked. I nodded a reply. My leg was hurting far too much and it was taking all my effort to concentrate. We rounded a corner and Damien jumped. I almost missed it and ducked and rolled underneath a huge arm that swung out of the water. Damien pulled me on.

Killer Croc emerged into the path of the Seraph members. He tore into the first two, arms and entrails flew against the walls as he did so. They fired at him but he dove back under the water and popped up behind them.

“You said you’d leave me alone!” He roared and with one mighty swing he lopped off the head from the nearest man. “You said you’d look after things til everything was sorted!”

I stopped briefly to look back. Croc saw my but was too busy tearing into the men to come at us. He pointed towards me. “I’ll get ya New Man, you jus’ see if I don’t!” A shot winged him and he turned with another roar, his enormous girth filling the tunnel.

“Keep going Richard.” Damien pulled at my arm and broke into a run. “We need to get clear of that machine. We’ve got to find another route before we get to Arkham.”

“No,” I said, “that’s exactly where we need to be. My secret weapon is there. It also flies and it has a damned good reason to take that thing out of the sky.” I looked back again. There was no sign of Croc but I could hear the dull whine of the machine and see a faint light emanating from its cockpit.

“Arkham Damien. Quickly!”

We burst from a grate together at the base of the Aviary in Arkham Asylum. The gate had already been loosened so I could only assume that was how Croc had been getting to and from the sewer.

The craft containing Yusef Barram al Ghul had nearly gained on us, firing a few shots off in the tunnels but had been forced to take a different route when we had veered off down a service access shoot.

I grabbed hold of a ladder and dragged myself up towards the cage, Damien in tow, and ran towards the gate. Man-Bat shrieked and swooped to meet me, growling and hissing as it stood opposite me.

“I haven’t got long Langstrom but the man who has your son is coming in a machine I can’t take down but you can. If you stop him I guarantee I can return you to your son.” The pain in my leg was unbearable now and I dropped to the floor in front of the cage.

“You see boy?” Man-Bat asked.

There was a distant rumbling.

“Yes,” Damien replied for me. I was exhausted and nearly unconscious through shock.

The sound of an engine was growing louder.

“He’s distressed but fine –“ Damien was thrown against the cage door as a blast ripped through the wall opposite. There was faint bleep and the gate of the Aviary unlocked.

Everything was pretty much a blur. The machine appeared through the gap where the wall had been. It was like a miniature Batwing and Yusef laid flat inside almost in a crucifix position, each hand resting on a trigger for a weapon.

“Grayson! Boy!” Yusef was furious, spitting with rage. “All my work for nothing!”

Damien and I were stuck fast beneath rubble, both too weak and tired to move. There was a clicking sound and a clawed foot past slowly by my head.

“You have boy?” Man-Bat asked, curiously.

“Langstrom?” Yusef asked. “You have become that insipid creature again. I have no time for this.” He fired a few shots off but Man-Bat was too quick and nipped around the back of the machine, raising himself up above ready to strike.

“You have boy, yes or no?” Langstrom wrapped his wings around his body and crouched on a ledge above. “Boy fine?”

“I’ll rip your ‘boys’ head from its shoulders if you don’t tell me where the dynamic duo are hiding.” The end of Yusef’s sentence was almost spoken as a taunt, dismissing Man-Bat completely.

Bad mistake.

The creature dropped into the air and smashed into Yusef, spinning the machine around in all directions, shots flying everywhere. Man-Bat snapped and tore at the mans flesh, chunks snapped off the vehicle as it tumbled and fell. Langstrom was too close for Yusef to fire at him and his body alignment was such that he couldn’t get out from within. The prototype machine had become his tomb.

It hit the floor with a clang. Man-Bat reached inside with his snout and there was a horrible snapping sound. He raised his head and screeched.

The son of The Demons Head was no more.

Damien and I lowered the pickup flap onto the field near the woods at Wayne Manor and looked across at each other with a nod. We grabbed the tarp that was stretched over it and ran back towards the front of the truck, ducking round the fender and craning our necks to see what happened next.

Man-Bat staggered upwards, the sedation finally wearing off, rubbed his eyes and scanned the area. He sniffed the air and grunted before nuzzling something between his legs.

An almost perfect replica of himself, only tiny, looked up and copied his father’s movements. He shrieked happily and rubbed against his father’s wing. Both creatures hopped off the truck, took a few steps and leapt into the air.

They hovered for a while, surveying the area. Man-Bat turned to face the cab of the truck. “Thank you,” He grunted and they both flew off into the woods.

When we were sure they had gone, Damien helped me into the cab, my leg now firmly in a cast, and got into the drivers seat.

“What now Richard?” he asked.

“They fly about; eat some rabbits, no harm done really.” I grinned; the joke completely went over Damien’s head.

“No. I mean more training? More research on Ra’s? My mother is going to want to know about this.” He started the engine and headed for the manor.

“We have an Xbox night. You. Me. Pizza and game of your choice.”

“But we must prepare.” Damien replied stubbornly. “It’s how I was brought up-“

“I know.” I cut him off. “But someone close to us said to a good friend he regretted missing our childhood. One night off. Let’s be like brothers.” I turned and smiled at him. “Let’s be more than just the cowls for the night.”

Damien looked straight forward but I could see a smile creep across his face too. And I was sure I noticed his eyes water for a second but then it was gone.

“Ok.” He replied.

“No worries. Let do this! I’m really gonna whup you at Halo!” I rapped the dash and Damien set off.

“Thank you Dick.”  Damien said and quickly wiped his eyes.

I pretended not to notice.

END

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