"With the power of this discovery comes the responsibility to use it wisely." - British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the completed mapping of the human genome. - June 26th 2000
Major Stacy Summers was not in the best of shape as she stumbled down the deserted dirt road that led to the farmhouse where she had last seen Impact Squadron alive. If the circumstances were different she would be enjoying herself immensely as she walked through the countryside at night. Frogs were chirping, the weather was warm and inviting, and the magnificent coastline which the road followed could be breathtaking under normal tourist circumstances. These were, however, not normal circumstances by any means. She paused for a moment to rip away another tatter from the dress she wore which was supplied by Kane earlier in the evening, after what she had been through in the past two hours the garment was completely ruined. She had torn away the ripped areas making the ankle length dress now end well above the knee.
"Someone's going to think I'm a hooker if this dress gets any shorter." She mumbled to herself as she tossed the ripped piece of dress to the side of the road and continued on. She could now see the farmhouse in the distance and she broke into a brisk jog as she took in the scene. There were no sounds of gunfire, and the lights were on. She hoped that was a good sign. As she ran her she reviewed in her mind all the things that had happened in the past several hours. She had met this Nightwing character, who had saved her life several times in just one day. With his aid, they had surpassed anyone else's efforts to get at Kane and his supply of the biological weapon known as Ebola Omega. They had destroyed a great supply of the vile bug, but they had no way of knowing if that was the extent of Kane's deadly cache. She marveled at Nightwing's fighting ability as she remembered seeing him go one on one with Kane and actually survive. No one had ever done that before. Then she remembered going up in the helicopter with him, which exploded only minutes later as they were over the sea. That was when she heard the footsteps rushing out of the nearby woods and the voices she knew all too well. Her face broke into a smile as she heard them, she knew if Impact Squadron was alive, someone would be doing a perimeter patrol.
"FREEZE!!!" It was Johnson's voice.
"Stand down Johnson, it's Major Summers!! Clearance code Alpha-Charlie-Nine-Nine-Omega!!" She yelled as she raised her hands in the air.
"Major?!? Damn we thought you were dead!!!" At the proper clearance code from Summers Johnson holstered his weapon and removed his communicator from his belt which he used to signal ahead, informing Impact Squadron that Summers was alive and he was escorting her in. Erupting from the farmhouse in an excited crowd, the men of Impact Squadron ran out to meet her, they were obviously shocked to see her, but pleasantly so.
"I don't believe it!! You're alive!!!" Cortez whooped in triumph as he hugged Summers, obviously thrilled to see her alive. When he was done hugging her he let everyone else in the Squad do exactly the same thing as he yelled over the triumphant din, "Captain Emilio Cortez relinquishing command to you Major Summers!!" He then gave her a stiff military salute, which she felt ridiculous returning in a tattered evening gown, nonetheless she did so.
"You're returning command to me Emilio? Where is General Walker? Is he hurt?"
"We don't know where The General is, Major. It's like he disappeared into thin air." Cortez replied. This spiked Summers curiosity, but first she wanted to attend to the men under her command.
"Is everyone okay here?" She asked, "What is our status?" At this question the crowd of men became silent.
"I think you better see this Major." Cortez replied as he put his hand on her elbow and guided her into the building. When they were inside she saw Sito, lying on the floor, his side covered in blood soaked bandages. He was conscious, but just barely. She rushed over to him and dabbed a cold cloth on his forehead as she examined his wounds. She asked Cortez what had happened, Cortez replied in an efficient manner that did not betray his concern for his fallen comrade.
"A small army of Judas' men hit us pretty hard. It was Sito who heard them first. We were pinned down here and Sito was unable to get his weapon. He was caught in a crossfire and a couple of bullets chewed up his right side pretty bad. Corporal Murrant really had his medic training put to the test but he managed to patch him up." Summers turned her attention to Murrant, "Will he live?" She asked.
Murrant stepped forward and cleared his throat before he spoke, "I managed to get him stabilized but he needs more than I can do for him here with this equipment. He's out of any immediate danger but he will die if don't get him to proper facilities."
Summers closed her eyes and rubbed her temples at this, even more bad news. "Damn."
Cortez was the next one to speak, "Major, may I ask, where's the Colonel and Nightwing?"
Summers sighed as she recalled the details of the last few hours before she responded to the question. "Emilio, Colonel Young is currently a captive of Judas, who is now calling himself Kane. He was alive and apparently unharmed the last time I saw him, but just barely. As for Nightwing....." She paused before she answered, almost physically injured by the memory. "Nightwing and I managed to destroy a supply of Kane's Ebola virus, but when we tried to get away in a helicopter, Kane destroyed it. We were forced to jump into the sea, we were separated after that. I couldn't find him when I broke the surface of the water, I think he must have died when he hit the water, probably broke his neck. Although it seems strange that the fall would kill him, he moved through the air like a trapeze artist, but there was no net to break our fall here."
Silence hung over the room like a funeral procession as they realized the implications of her news. Nightwing was supposed to be the man who would bring down Kane. Walker believed it, Young was beginning to believe it, and Impact Squadron was beginning to believe it. With him dead, what hope there was for the mission to succeed died as well.
"And now the General is missing? What the hell is going on Major?" Cortez asked as he handed her a spare uniform to replace her tattered dress.
"I don't know Cortez....... I just don't know."
Kane slammed shut his copy of The Torah as Neil Anderson entered the room, his gun in hand and a smile on his face. The entire complex was buzzing as Kane's remaining men packed all his necessary belongings in crates and barrels, obviously preparing to leave the abandoned monastery. Kane sat in a leather massaging recliner specially outfitted to massage his muscles more vigorously than a normal massage chair one would buy on the retail market would.
"Sorry to interrupt." Anderson offered.
"What is it?" Kane asked.
"You have a visitor. He just showed up at the front gates and asked for you. He is unarmed." Anderson stepped aside and their visitor stepped into the room. Kane smiled and jumped from the chair as he rushed to greet the man. General Douglas Walker, dressed in full Class A military dress uniform, entered the room and embraced Kane while Anderson left the room.
"Judas, it has been too long my son." Walker said as they embraced.
"You still think of me as a son? After all I have done General? You humble me, and please call me Kane. I much prefer it to Judas." He replied as he led Walker to a bar where he poured them both a glass of wine and offered one to The General, which he accepted.
"Always with the Biblical references Kane?" Walker asked as he took a drink of wine, "We code named you Judas because he is seen as history's greatest traitor. I did feel betrayed when you left us. I didn't think you capable of turning on the man who gave you life."
Kane smiled even more broadly at The General's reasoning, "You were indeed in charge of the Darwin Experiment which gave me life General, but you did not specifically give me life. You're teams of lab technicians did that for you. I killed them all when I left you because they saw me as nothing more than a lab rat, when I was quickly becoming their superior."
Walker walked across the room and sat down in the massage chair where he noticed the copy of The Torah on the table beside the chair. He picked it up and examined it as he sipped the wine. "Have you perfected your ability to use The Bible Code to see the future? You were only beginning to experiment with it when you left me."
"Indeed I have father. I have taken it to new levels only imagined by scientists. How do you think I knew when and where you and your men would attack? I can see the future just by looking at the pages. I don't need computers like Dr. Rips did."
Walker shook his head in amazement at Kane's accomplishments, " I sometimes wonder what part of me is inside you Kane. We both know some of the DNA fragments in your genetic makeup belong to me. I can't help but wonder if that part of me which is in you caused you to do brilliant things like this, or if it is because of me you have become an unprincipled killer?"
Kane took a sip of wine and walked to the other side of the room as he admired an Escher painting hung on the wall. "Yes it is true, there is no one else who is closer to being my father than you General. For all intents and purposes, I am your son. You headed the project that created me, some portions of my own DNA are modeled on yours. I suppose that's why I can't understand why you keep hunting me down and trying to kill me."
"Son, you must understand, I have people I must answer to. People who see The Darwin Experiment as a complete failure and hold me responsible. I had two choices, kill you or bring you back. That's why I'm here."
Kane walked around behind Walkers chair as he continued to sip his wine, "You have led Impact Squadron to me father, you did that. They tried to kill me here tonight, they must have done that under your orders."
Walker actually began to laugh at Kane's statement, "As good as they are, Impact Squadron never had a chance against you my boy and you know it. You're too smart for them."
"And this Nightwing character?"
"You have to understand, I was under pressure to bring in a special operative to finish the mission. He was very very good, but still no match for you. I understand that you have probably slaughtered the remaining people under my command. Nightwing is probably dead as well. The entire mission is a total failure because I made you TOO well. Now I'm here, in person, asking you to come back with me. I swear you will never be treated as a curiosity or lab rat ever again. You will be my most prized operative, and a son that I am very proud of."
Kane dropped his glass of wine to the floor and reached out, grabbing Walker with both hands on either side of his head. Walker immediately panicked and tried to get out of the chair, but Kane's awesome strength held him in place. Walker felt Kane start to apply pressure on his skull and he struggled to get away.
"I'm sorry father, there's nothing you can offer me that would make me forget how I was treated. Nothing could make me see the human race as anything but a virus to be eliminated."
In his chair Walker squirmed and thrashed around as he tried to escape Kane's grip and the increasing pressure on his skull, "Please!! Let go....... I can help you......" he pleaded as tears began to stream down his face.
"Don't you see father? You have helped me. You created me, you taught me how to do what I do best. Allow me to demonstrate." Kane applied even more pressure and felt Walker's skull implode, blood gushed from The General's eyes, mouth, and nose as he went limp. Whatever spark of life existed in Douglas Walker left him and his body slumped over in the chair. Kane released his grip and wiped his hands on a towel. Once again Neil Anderson entered the room, this time joined by Angelica, who was dressed in camouflage attire similar to the rest of Kane's men. They both grimaced slightly at the sight of the dead man in the chair.
"What are your orders my love?" Angelica asked as she removed several of Walker's medals from his uniform jacket and pinned them to her own uniform. Kane thought a moment and turned to face them. "I have consulted The Torah, and it cannot tell me whether this Nightwing is alive or dead. Have we recovered their bodies?" Anderson informed them that they had not recovered any bodies and were not likely to for some time considering the strong currents in the water. Kane continued, "I have a hard time believing they survived the fall. Even I would be hard pressed to survive it. Call off the search for their bodies, we don't have time to deal with that right now. We are vulnerable here, but fortunately my superior intellect has allowed for me to continue on according to schedule. Continue loading everything we need onto the planes, we'll leave in an hour for the rock and our new home. Nightwing managed to destroy some of my supply of Ebola Omega but not all. We have enough in the basement storage room to carry out the main objective of my plan. We just won't be able to carry out the second objective but in any case, the second objective is only a safety measure, to make sure the human race is destroyed. Overkill on my part really. Sedate our captive and take him with us, he will make a valuable informant and hostage." Kane continued as he pulled a large map and a ruler our of a nearby desk and started to line up the ruler with certain coordinates. "Do you have the currency I requested?" Kane asked Anderson. Anderson nodded and left the room only a moment later to return with a large suitcase which he placed on the table next to Kane.
"Excellent. Should we have any problems with locals we'll certainly be able to smooth them over with this. Load the planes and hurry, I want to be set up and running at our new home by this time tomorrow, when no one can find us, no one can stop us. Oh and have somebody get rid of.... that." he said as he indicated the former General Douglas Walker. Having received their orders, Angelica and Anderson left the room and started shouting orders to their men. Kane finished his examination of the map and looked across the room at his creator. After a moment's contemplation he sneered in disgust and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Nightwing could not believe his eyes as he watched Kane leave the room. As he peered in the window he could plainly see the former General Douglas Walker dead in the chair which continued to massage his dead body. The scene was macabre to say the least. Still, he had no regrets about his chosen course of action. After leaping from the exploding helicopter he managed to hit the water cleanly, just barely avoiding a spinal injury. Luckily the water was deep enough that both he and Major Summers could survive. The currents posed another problem, the tide was going out and he was hampered by the glass still embedded in his flesh. Thrown against a rock outcropping by the waves, the Bludhaven vigilante was momentarily stunned and separated from Summers by the currents. He recovered consciousness to realize he was drowning, gasping for air he made his way to shore. In the distance he noticed Summers sprinting down the coastline and into the nearby woods. Good. At least she survived the fall. One of Kane's armed search parties prevented him from yelling out to her and he quietly made his way up the cliff face once again and approached the house under cover of darkness.
Ripping away the rest of his tuxedo shirt he managed to remove the shards of glass without passing out from the pain and wrapped the garment tightly around his wounds to slow the bleeding. He noticed the buzz of activity around the courtyard and noticed several of Kane's men in the distance removing a camouflage tarp from three medium sized aircraft bigger than the plane Impact Squadron had been using. Kane was obviously bugging out now after the dent he and Summers had put in his operations. Luckily everyone was too busy to even notice Nightwing. When he came across the window where he found Kane, he hid behind some nearby shrubbery as he watched and listened. What he learned was very enlightening. Kane did indeed have more of his Ebola Omega virus in a basement storage area. Across the yard he noticed several men in containment suits carrying out similar barrels to the ones he destroyed earlier on a medical trolley of some kind. He knew that each barrel probably only contained a few vials of the foul virus surrounded by a coolant and containment fields, but there was more than enough to cause a plague of global proportions. His skin crawled at the thought of people exposed to the virus, their skin melting and their bodies in spasms so violent they broke their own backs. He had some experience with the plague unleashed on Gotham City months ago, but this would make even that disaster seem like an outbreak of the flu.
He also learned that Colonel Young was, thankfully, still alive and would remain relatively unharmed for the time being. "He's a good man," Nightwing thought to himself, "Too good to be harmed by Walker's betrayal." He made a silent resolution to himself to somehow get Young out of Kane's clutches. How he would do that he didn't know quite yet. As Kane left the room Nightwing popped the window open silently and climbed into the room. Ignoring Walker's dead body he walked over to the desk where Kane had been working. The map and suitcase where Kane had left them. He had heard Kane mention their "new home" which he referred to as "the rock". That still gave him little to work with. If Kane got away now they would lose him forever. He could strike at any time. Nightwing knew Kane thought he and Summers were dead. Walker was dead and Young was his hostage. All the senior officers of Impact Squadron were eliminated in his mind and who knows what remained of Francis, Cortez, Sito and the others? Surely they were not all dead, but enough of them to reduce Impact Squadron to an ineffectual part of the equation. At least, so Kane assumed. He and Summers were dead to Kane, and that gave them some breathing room. You don't hunt someone who is already dead.
Nightwing examined the map, it was a map of the entire globe. They could be going anywhere. He remembered Kane's referral to their new home as the rock and looked at the map again. There were several possibilities. He then noticed the ruler with which Kane was triangulating coordinates. It was a standard metric ruler with a metal edge, an edge that would leave an impression on the map if he was lucky. He picked up the map and held it up to the desk lamp, his eyes straining to see what was barely visible. Time was running out he knew. Kane would be back very soon. That's when he saw it. A straight line starting from their coordinates in Crete in a Southwesterly direction. He followed the line downwards to Australia. Mentally he made a note of the latitude and longitude where the indentation ended. It was a location in an area known as the Great Sandy Desert in Northern Australia. It was then that the picture crystallized in his mind, suddenly it all began to make sense. "Oh my God....."
"Kane would need huge crowds of people from all over the world. A multinational event." He whispered aloud as he mulled the idea over in his head, it made more and more sense as he thought about it. "The Summer Olympics in Australia...... he could release it in airports, Olympic pavilions, even concession stands, tourists and athletes would take it back to their home countries." He realized that the supplies of Ebola he destroyed earlier were probably backups. A smaller store of the disease to be released on other continents perhaps, to ensure the fall of humanity. Kane was correct, it was overkill to be sure.
At that moment Nightwing heard the doorknob turning. Someone was entering the room, he had only seconds to hide. Coiling the muscles in his legs, Nightwing jumped backward toward the bookshelf along the wall and with catlike agility scaled it to the top. Beneath him Neil Anderson entered the room and unlocked the suitcase. He opened it to reveal that it was stuffed to capacity with Australian currency, confirming all of Nightwing's suspicions. Anderson let out a low whistle as he surveyed the case full of money and carried it with him as he left the room. Seconds later two men came in and carried out Walker's body. As they left he dropped to the floor. He had learned all that he could here. He was in no shape to take on Kane right now, he had to get away and find Major Summers and whatever remained of Impact Squadron. Together they had to come up with a plan to defeat Kane and eliminate the threat his Ebola virus stores presented to the entire world. Silently he climbed out the window just as Kane entered once again with Angelica.
"Make sure the charges are set Angelica. I want this place completely destroyed, and make sure we have enough warheads on board so that no one will dare try and stop us should we be discovered." She acknowledged his orders and ran out of the room. Nightwing spared a moment for one final glance at Kane and disappeared into the garden. Before long he was climbing back down the sheer cliff and on the shore. He began a steady jog down the coastline where Summers and the rest of Impact Squadron would be. When he was almost a half a mile away he heard the roar of jets and he watched as three silver painted military type aircraft roared out over the water followed seconds later by an ear splitting explosion at what once was Kane's compound. He knew from the size of the explosion that the place would be leveled leaving little or no clues to be found. He was glad he had taken the opportunity to get information on Kane's destination when he did. If he had not, they would have virtually no chance of finding him.
"See you down under Kane." He said softly as he resumed his jog down the coastline. He was beginning to feel weak, no doubt from the blood loss earlier. He had to make it back to Impact Squadron, Nightwing quickened his pace.
45 minutes later......
Stacy Summers didn't like doing what she was doing but she had no choice. They had lost their two top ranking officers and their special recruit on whom all their hopes for a successful mission were pinned. On top of all that, Sito was wounded and needed medical care. Sito was one of those men that comprised the backbone of any group. Easygoing, dedicated, talented, and reliable, she had always liked Sito as did everyone even if they made fun of him. Sito always knew it was good natured ribbing. She wasn't about to let yet another person be killed thanks to Kane and his men. Impact Squadron was now hers to command and her first priority was the well being of those under her command. She knew that Colonel Young would agree with her. His first concern would be the men. Get them to safety, see to their well being, and them come after him. It was difficult for her, she admired and respected Colonel Young. He was a born leader, when his men felt pain, so did he. When they bleed, he bleeds as well. He was also proud of them, they all knew that he saw them all as his children and if they were to die, he would be proud to die by their side. That's what made it so tough for her to leave him in Kane's hands while she got the men to safety.
"No one ever said command would be easy." She thought to herself.
She watched as they loaded the plane with their weapons and other gear, they had already stretchered Sito onto the plane where he was resting in relative comfort. They would have to get new orders and find Kane all over again, or so she thought. That was when she heard MacQuarrie, who was walking perimeter, "YO!!! Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen, somebody's coming in along the road. Identity unknown!!"
Within seconds they had all armed themselves and took up firing positions around the farmhouse. The silhouetted figure ran up to the farmhouse and collapsed in a heap just as Impact Squadron jumped out from their places and prepared to fire. "Hold your fire!!" Summers yelled. Her jaw fell in surprise as she laid eyes on a totally exhausted Nightwing, still bleeding from the cuts on his body. With extreme effort, he raised his head from the ground and smiled at her, "Glad to see you found something else to wear, not that the dress was all that bad.........." he said as he faded in and out of consciousness.
Nightwing floated back to consciousness and allowed his vision to adjust to the minimal lighting of his surroundings. He slowly became aware of several things, first that he was on a stretcher inside Impact Squadron’s aircraft, the second was that he felt much better, and thirdly Stacy Summers was sitting beside him.
"Are you all right?" She whispered to him.
"Australia....... he’s gone to Australia." His voice was hoarse and his throat sore.
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"Yes.... we have to get there as soon as possible. General Walker is dead too. He showed up while I was watching the place, Kane killed him." He choked out the words.
"It sounds like you have a plan." She replied as she gave him a drink of water from a canteen to soothe his throat. "But we have an injured man here. Sito has been shot and I need to get him to a medical facility as soon as possible. We’re prepping for takeoff right now. As for The General, he abandoned us in our time of need and The Colonel is in Kane's hands now thanks to Walker. I can't say he's at the top of my priority list right now, you and Sito surviving are my main concern. I need to get you to a hospital facility."
Nightwing tried to sit up and immediately fell back again, his head throbbing. "Take it easy, you lost blood and you need to rest." She cautioned him.
"How bad is Sito?"
"He’s stable but he needs more help than we can give him here."
"We’ll only get one chance to capitalize on this Stacy, he thinks we’re dead. I know what his plans are now, I think I know how to stop him."
Summers was quiet for several minutes as she considered their situation, Dick could tell that she was weighing the pros and cons of the situation. As ranking officer it was her decision to make. The burden of command fell directly on her shoulders and no one else’s. Sito was a good friend, but he was one man, the fate of the entire human race was at stake. Finally, she lowered her face to Nightwing’s and pressed her lips to his in a soft, tender kiss.
"What was that for?" He asked when she broke off the kiss.
"That was for surviving. We’re going to need you in Australia." She smiled as she turned her attention to Cortez in the main cabin, "Captain Cortez!! Once we’re in the air get us to Australia ASAP. Have our finest medics ready as soon as we touch down for Sito and Nightwing, and get Professor Quartermane to meet us there too. We’ll have need of him and his toys when we get there."
"Aye Major." He replied as he shut the pressure door and the engines began their startup process.
"Feel free to kiss me again anytime." Dick whispered to her.
"Don’t make me give you a sedative."