"I have him!!" The sound of Oracle's excited voice coming over the speakers startled Batman, which was no easy task to be sure. He had gathered all the clues he possibly could in Crete and had returned to his aircraft, removing his cape and cowl and settling down into a deep meditation. When he came out of his trance to the sound of Barbara Gordon's voice, he felt completely relaxed and rested. In the primary stages of his meditation he had first cleared his mind of all worry over Dick and the situation he found himself in. After a time he had completed his "mind cleansing" technique and he began going over all the clues he had gathered up to this point, a complete theory had formed in his mind as to what Dick was doing with these people. His hand snapped out and touched a switch that opened the comm line on his end.
"Where is he?" He asked.
"In Australia. A small coastal town called Roebourne. I have it on satellite imaging right now, and I'm not going to take my eyes off it again until you find him. I have the satellite image updated every sixty seconds so I can inform you immediately if they move again."
Even as Oracle spoke to him, Batman was firing up the engines and strapping himself into the pilot's seat. Seconds later he was airborne, heading towards Australia. "Thank you Oracle." He replied in a soft voice. Barbara was speechless, Batman was not an especially emotional man and he was certainly not known for thanking people for simply doing their jobs. For Batman to openly thank her, she knew then that Dick's disappearance was weighing on him heavily, as it was on her and everyone else who loved him.
"Just bring him home to us safe and sound." She whispered as she picked up a photograph from her desk and ran her fingers over it, the picture was of herself and Dick Grayson, taken several years ago, before The Joker, before he had cost her the use of her legs. In the picture they were laughing and smiling and loving life. She hoped with all her heart that Dick was all right, and she sent her prayers out to both him, and to Bruce Wayne, the only man who could bring him back. Tears welled up in her eyes and fell down to the pane of glass in the photograph as she imagined a life without Dick Grayson.
Aboard his aircraft, Bruce Wayne went over the facts as he had organized them during his meditation. Dick had been kidnaped, but not killed by his captors. They had the opportunity to kill Tim Drake, and went out of their way not to, despite the fact that he was a witness to the entire event. They were wearing footwear used by special covert operatives, he had discovered a dead body with an identification card that read "Special Operations Division", there were no other dead bodies wearing that special footwear. The dead bodies he did discover he had taken fingerprints of and run through the computer, many were known mercenaries. The picture painted by these facts told Batman several things. Firstly, whoever had kidnaped Dick did not wish to do him any specific harm. It seemed far more likely that his ward had been shanghaied into the service of some covert government operation against some well organized and well funded threat.
Bruce Wayne also knew Dick Grayson better than almost anyone alive. He certainly knew Dick's talents and skills better than most for he had trained the young man from childhood in crime fighting, detective work, the martial arts, and several other areas of expertise. Dick could have escaped from them, he was sure of that. Yet he didn't. He was beginning to believe that Dick did no longer wished to escape his captors. He saw this threat he had been recruited to battle as bigger than the fact that he was kidnaped in the first place. There was also the possibility that someone was coercing Dick into fighting on their behalf but he didn't think that likely, Dick Grayson doesn't respond to threats very well. Soon he would know the truth.
They approached slowly and stealthily, under the cover of the desert night. Nightwing and Summers crawled on their stomachs across the sifting desert sand, their goal now within reach. The temperature had plummeted after the sun dipped behind the horizon and a cold wind wafted over them, sending a chill down both their spines. Nightwing was glad to have the comforting warmth of his uniform surround him, despite the fact that this was not the uniform he was so used to wearing on the mean streets of Bludhaven. With Summers by his side as they crawled towards their goal his mind drifted back to the circumstances that led him to wear the Impact Squadron uniform instead of his own.
He recalled his own amazement at the efficiency with which Impact Squadron worked together. MacQuarrie set up his computer array in the large warehouse back in Roebourne while the rest of the team prepared their weapons, vehicles and tools for the coming assault while he and Summers coordinated their actions with MacQuarrie, who would be guiding the entire operation from his "Crow's Nest" utilizing video displays from shoulder mounted fibre optic cameras on every member of the team, an open comm line shared by every member of the team, and Global Positioning Locators which would tell him anyone's position at a glance. It soon became apparent that Nightwing's uniform, as good as it was, would not interface properly with MacQuarrie's computer systems. Dick's computer interface was designed specifically by Barbara Gordon for use with her own personal operating system, a fact that impressed MacQuarrie to no end, nonetheless, Nightwing's uniform could not be used without two days worth of computer work. The suggestion that Dick wear an Impact Squadron uniform came from an unexpected source.
"He can wear my uniform." Sito's weak voice caught the attention of everyone in the room as he stumbled from his makeshift recovery quarters into the main combat control area. The fact that the young man was up and walking about was a testament to his iron will and definitely a good sign but Summers made it clear as she took his arm to help him walk upright that she did not want him risking his health.
"He needs a uniform, Major, " Sito explained, "I can't go, I wish I could but I can't. So let him wear my uniform, we're about the same size. He's earned it in my opinion. A couple of times over." There was a moment of silence in the room as they all considered Sito's words and a look of obvious respect passed between Nightwing and the wounded man. Summers glanced around the room at the eyes of those under her command. She noticed one or two uncomfortable glances at the floor, but the rest held her gaze and approved of Sito's suggestion. Nightwing had indeed earned their respect, from the first moment he tried to fight them off in his apartment to the death matches on Desolation Island to the their encounter with Kane in Crete, he fought by their side even when he didn't have to. When the threat of revealing his secret identity died with General Walker, he stayed. He did the right thing without having to be coerced. He fought for them and for every human life on the planet. How could they not make him one of them? When her eyes met those of her own second in command Captain Emilio Cortez, he smiled slightly and nodded, affirming her decision.
"Brad?" Summers said, addressing MacQuarrie at his many laptops.
"Get Nightwing into Sito's uniform ASAP. Work up a profile for him and tie him into the computers. His code name: Demolition Man."
"I see you're familiar with my work." Dick replied with a grin.
"After the way you laid waste to Kane's compound I can't think of a better name for you." She joked while the rest of the Squad chuckled at the remark.
His mind raced back to the present. They were within 10 feet of the small pumping station that supplied water to Kane's arboretum and the large pond that lay at it's center. Two armed guards patrolled the perimeter of the small building. They knew someone with Kane's intelligence would position guards at that vulnerable point but even Kane didn't know that Nightwing and Impact Squadron were still alive and that he was still a hunted man. Had he known that the threat of Impact Squadron still existed, the genetically engineered man would no doubt have the place teeming with enough armed guards to repel any attack.
Nightwing and Summers communicated only through hand signals, not daring to utter a single word. They had been watching this pair as they approached, watching them check in on their communicators every hour on the hour. Within minutes they were due to signal again. That would leave them one hour to get into Kane's biosphere, find Colonel Young and the stores of Ebola Omega, not to mention disable any warheads Kane had at his disposal. All in all, they had a very small amount of time to complete their assigned tasks. The activation of the laser beacons would be the signal for the rest of Impact Squadron to descend on the place as, in Captain Cortez's words, the hounds of hell and destroy Kane's virus stores for good, ending his threat to mankind. What Nightwing couldn't help but wonder was what would become of the man? He knew Walker had drafted him with the initial plan of using Nightwing to kill Kane, but even now Dick refused to kill him. Would Summers or Cortez kill Kane? He knew they probably wouldn't get the chance to pull a trigger before Kane killed them. And what would Colonel Young want if indeed he was able to give orders upon his rescue? Young was a good man but even the best of men are capable of killing under certain circumstances. Nightwing had no doubt that if Kane had hurt Young badly, Young would want his revenge. There were still a lot of wild cards yet to be played in this scenario, and Dick didn't like that one bit.
They listened intently as they heard the swish of static on the guard's radio which was neatly clipped to his belt. The voice that filtered out over the speaker was instantly recognizable to both Nightwing and Summers. It was a female voice, Angelica:
"Sentries three and four hourly check in."
"Sentries three and four checking in. All is clear." The two men reported and then the taller one returned his radio to his belt clip. Before the belt radio could even be switched off Nightwing and Summers emerged from the shadows and leaped into action. Nightwing ran toward his prey with all possible speed making only a slight swishing noise as his feet kicked up the sand. By the time the guard heard the noise and turned to confront it he was already too late. Nightwing launched himself into the air and extended his leg, his boot heel hit the guard square in the chin and spun him around several times before he collapsed in the sand. At the same time Summers also broke into a run for her target and with a powerful judo chop and a flip dropped the man, who happened to be almost twice her size, to the desert floor with his companion.
Once again the desert was silent but for the whisper of a slight wind. Just beyond the horizon, Impact Squadron was awaiting their signal which would, for a short time at least, put an end to the desert silence. When the laser beacon was activated, Impact Squadron would come over the horizon, weapons blazing, with every intention of destroying the virus cache in a blazing conflagration, it was up to Nightwing and Summers to get themselves out just in case the explosions took them apart as well. Destroying the stores of the Ebola Omega virus were of primary importance. The duo slipped inside the metal door and quietly shut it behind them. Once inside they took in their surroundings. Like the outside of the tiny building, the inside was very spartan. A control panel filled one wall, covered with displays that informed the user of water pressure going through the pipes and of any possible leaks. A small stool sat in front of it. The loud thrumming of water pumps filled the small room. Playboy centerfolds and a single fire extinguisher adorned the rest of the walls. In the center of the room, recessed into the floor, was a hatch that led to the water pipes, it was barely large enough for Nightwing to squeeze through. Wasting no time, Nightwing ran to it and began to turn the handle on the hatch.
"Well, we're inside." Summers whispered.
"Unfortunately that's the good news." Nightwing replied.
"Should I ask what the bad news is?"
"The bad news is that it only gets harder from here. We have no idea what to expect beyond that pipe. Kane could have this entire place wired to explode like his place in Crete. We'll have to be very careful."
"Then that's what we'll do." She smiled at him as she spoke. He returned the smile but he couldn't help but feel as if he were walking on a razor's edge. The moment it was discovered that those guards were not reporting in, he fully expected Kane to react swiftly and violently. It would take all his years of training to pull off this mission. He pulled the hatch open and they heard the rush of water beneath. Summers handed him a re-breather supplied by Professor Quartermane back in Roebourne. It was a small tube like device that was placed in the mouth, it supplied air for only eight minutes. They had to get to the end of the pipe and to the surface of Kane's indoor lake within that time or they would indeed drown.
"Think dry thoughts." Nightwing said as he put the re-breather between his teeth and took a breath to make sure it was working. When he was assured that it did he lowered himself into the pipe, he felt himself being surrounded by the water. As his eyes disappeared beneath the surface he realized just how dark it would be. There was no light of any kind inside the length of pipe, and with barely enough room to move, he felt more like he was in a coffin than a pipe full of running water. Summers followed and shut the hatchway behind her, cutting off the light supply entirely and immersing them in the inky blackness. With no light to guide him, Nightwing began to feel his way forward, the thrumming of the pumps and the rushing water filling his ears. It was a disconcerting sensation to be sure, it was not a place for anyone with claustrophobia to be. Nightwing inched himself forward, his shoulders pressing against the sides of the pipe, he didn't even have enough room to turn around if the need should arise. Not that it would matter if they could turn around, they both knew the hatch locked immediately behind them. Even his infra red lenses were of no help as the small tube offered not one ray of light to amplify. He thought he felt something brush against his leg and he reached down to touch whatever it was, there was nothing there. Again he thought he felt something brush against his right shoulder, once again, there was nothing there. His imagination was running away with him in the pitch blackness. He had never been in a situation quite like this.
He reached out into the darkness intending to inch himself forward and suddenly felt something solid directly in front of him. He let the currents of the water carry him closer and he reached out again. Again he hit something solid. He removed his gloves and dared to feel the structure, it was a metal mesh wall which allowed water to pass through, but served as a barricade to keep fish in the artificial lake, and unwanted visitors out. Four minutes had passed since they had entered the pipe. They had four more minutes to get past the grating and inside. Behind him he felt Summers tap on his shoulder, obviously wondering what was wrong. He hoped he would live to tell her as he began to test the strength of the grating. They had four minutes of air left......
"Why have you abandoned me?" Kane screamed at the heavens as he threw his copy of the Torah to the floor of the operating theater. He had been consulting it for over fifteen minutes and it told him nothing. He could see no interlocking pattern as he had been accustomed, The Torah was silent. Beside him, Colonel Phillip Young coughed out a weak chuckle as blood streamed across his legs.
"Problem Kane?" He asked in a weakened voice. In response, Kane whirled to face his captive and spoke in a furious, almost feral voice. "Watch your tongue or I swear I will pull it out with my bare hands!!" Young merely smiled, mocking him silently. Standing in the doorway watching him was Angelica, her face a mask of worry. Kane noticed her immediately and crossed the room to confront her.
"What is your problem?" he asked. When she replied it was in a hushed, almost respectful voice.
"The Torah, you can't read it any more?" She asked.
"What of it?" He replied in a tone dripping with barely concealed annoyance.
"Back in Crete, you told me that The Torah itself said it could not be used for evil. Don't you find it strange that all of a sudden it doesn't work?"
Kane considered the idea. It had merit. Whoever had encoded The Torah with such information was even smarter than he himself was. Even Kane had admitted that a vast intelligence was responsible for the encoding of this particular book. Was it possible that The Torah had given him just enough information to lead him to his own doom? He refused to believe that.
"Does that idea frighten you? Do you think 'God' is punishing us now for all our sins?"
Angelica looked at her feet as she answered, "I don't know lover. It does have me...... frightened."
Kane snorted in disgust, "How very human of you." She looked him in the eye with that remark, her eyes filled with hurt. Kane found her accusing stare too much for even him. He didn't mean to hurt her. Frustrated by his failure to read the code and this encounter with Angelica, he glanced back on at Colonel Young. His patience had run out.
"Prepare the Curare solution, the good Colonel will give us all the information we need when I pump him full of chemicals, and send six of our best men down to the storage rooms to prepare the virus stores. I want the first batch put in place within twenty four hours at the airports and train stations. We'll put the rest in place at the Olympic Pavilions by the end of the week. People are already starting to flood into the country for The Summer Olympics. When they leave, I want them all to bring the virus home with them."
Angelica nodded and turned on her heel, going off to carry out Kane's orders without saying a word to him. Back in the operating theater, the medical personnel had begun to prepare the solution that would be injected into Young's veins, causing the man to answer any question put to him while simultaneously wiping his brain clean. Young shuddered at the thought of giving up the secrets buried in his mind. He consoled himself with the fact that he didn't know anything about Impact Squadron's fate. What he didn't know he couldn't tell Kane against his will. Wherever they were and whatever they were doing, Kane would learn nothing of it from him.
Their time was rapidly running out. Counting off the seconds in his head, Nightwing knew that approximately two and a half minutes had passed since they had encountered the metal mesh barrier that blocked their path. Unlike other men, Dick Grayson was born to a life on the trapeze and that training from childhood paid off now, Nightwing had managed to manipulate his incredibly supple body around inside the pipe so that he could kick the barrier with all of his strength. His first strike sent him back against Summers, who caught on to the situation quickly and moved in behind Dick to brace his body with her own. He struck the metal grating repeatedly, praying that no one would hear them over the noise of the water pumps. Summers had begun to feel the cold fingers of panic grip her as Nightwing continued to batter the grate with his boots. If he couldn't get them past it, they would indeed drown here a few minutes from now, their bodies may never be found.
His ankles were beginning to ache, but he had refused to give in at this late date. Nightwing aimed his kicks at the side of the grating, hoping to kick in just enough to allow them to swim by. As time was beginning to run out on them, he felt one corner of the grating begin to give way slightly. Nightwing redoubled his efforts on the area of the mesh that he had felt weaken. Kicking repeatedly with both feet, he finally felt the mesh bend. Another kick - it gave way even more. He decided to risk begin overheard and kicked several more times in quick succession. He reached out and felt the metal wall. He had successfully beaten one corner of the grate so that it bent backwards, allowing the passage. He managed to maneuver his body around again so that he was going through the pipe headfirst and, taking Summers by the wrist, wiggled through the hole in the grating and onwards. They had maybe thirty seconds of air left.
The pipe finally opened up into a large pool and they finally noticed a few rays of light stabbing down through the darkness. Nightwing's eyes widened as a squid of some sort moved past his face. He indicated to Summers that he wanted her to wait there for him at the opening of the pipe while he scouted ahead. He swam up towards the surface, which he estimated was somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet deep. He stopped swimming as he reached the surface and watched as two figures, their images distorted by the refracting light, paced back and forth at the edge of the pool. They were clearly armed, he expected no less from Kane's henchmen. He waited several seconds as tropical fish of all colors and sizes darted past him, regarding this alien visitor to their watery domain. He knew they had only a few precious seconds of air left. Finally his chance arrived as the two guards turned their backs to the pool and he jumped from the water with all his might. The two guards looked back at him, obviously stunned by Nightwing's sudden appearance and certainly not expecting someone to leap from the pool. He used their moment of hesitation to his advantage and grabbed both men by their necks and slammed their heads together, sending them both to the ground unconscious. He whirled about, scanning the area for other guards, he saw none. Behind him, he noticed Summers emerging from the pool, gasping for air.
"You okay?" He asked.
"Oh sure," she panted, "who need lungs anyway?" She replied, making him smile with her levity.
"We don't have much time. I suggest we find Kane's missiles and disable them first. Then we find the Ebola stores and attach the laser beacon."
"What about Colonel Young? He's in here somewhere." He had already considered Young and the precarious position he was in. Unfortunately, he knew that disabling Kane's missiles and virus stores was top priority. The fate of humanity had to come first, Young certainly would agree with them. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder as he spoke, "I know he is. I guarantee you I'll do everything in my power to find him, but first we have to eliminate Kane's threats. We'll get him, I promise."
She returned his smile and together they took in their surroundings. They had indeed emerged in the arboretum and for the first time they appreciated the work that went into Kane's indoor jungle. It was like a cathedral dedicated to worshiping nature. They were surrounded by lush jungle foliage, vines stretched in every direction. The pool they had emerged from was indeed deserving of the term "lake". It was at least forty feet across and thirty feet wide. Fish of every possible color could be seen zipping by. The fading sunlight beamed in through the glass walls, reflecting and refracting across the water sending dazzling colors and patterns throughout the water and across the jungle walls. Above them, there were two walkways joined by spiral staircases that hugged the outside walls from which an observer could enjoy the view below. Both Nightwing and Summers thought they could hear the cry of an animal somewhere in the dense jungle. The only exit from the arboretum was fifty feet away, a small translucent sliding door that led to the rest of the biosphere. Together they broke into a sprint for the door and emerged in a hallway that reminded them both of a hospital. There was no one in sight. Nightwing took point and led the way down the hall to the right. Summers followed with a silenced Heckler & Koch VP 70 at the ready. Around the next corner was an elevator which they entered. Summers glanced at the control panel on the wall.
"Going down?" She asked. Nightwing couldn't help but smile at the innuendo behind the comment but he didn't mention it.
"Definitely. His warheads have to be in some underground launching area somewhere. I hope the basement levels are reasonably small."
She stabbed a button on the panel and the door slid shut with a "ding" followed by the usual muzak one found on elevators worldwide. After several seconds of a clarinet version of "I Will Always Love You" the elevator whisked to a halt and the doors opened into a storage room. Several more stops brought them similar sights, storage rooms filled with food, water, and clothing supplies. Finally the elevator door whisked open and both Nightwing and Summers were stunned by the sight they were confronted with, in a cavernous basement area stood three atomic warheads on launch pads. Across the room were several white coated technicians, Nightwing noticed that they were engrossed in playing computer solitaire. No one had noticed their entrance into the grand room.
"I'll take care of them." He whispered to Summers, who nodded in agreement. He bolted out of the elevator compartment and toward them with all the speed he could muster. The technicians never knew what hit them. In less than thirty seconds, the men had been knocked unconscious with a minimum of effort. One spin kick and a judo throw followed by a series of Shaolin Gung Fu moves and they were all down. Recognizing the control panel for what it was--the computer system that accepted the launch codes and controlled the rocket's firing mechanisms--Nightwing whirled around and placed his wrist unit provided by Professor Quartermane that was designed to fry the operating system on the main control panel. The unit magnetically latched onto the panel and Nightwing activated it by depressing a switch on the side of the unit. All the panels and screens went black as the CPU's fried. Professor Quartermane was as good as his word. Summers ran past Nightwing and over to the three missiles, she placed disruptor units on each of them, effectively disabling the entire system. That particular threat was over.
Nightwing and Summers shared a sigh of relief. The stolen missiles had been rendered useless. That particular threat had been almost as large as the threat of Kane's Ebola stores, which was next on their list.
"We better hurry up. Things are going a little too well and it's making me nervous." He told her as he ran back to the elevator doorway with Summers on his heels. They were far from completing their task.
"We have a problem." Angelica said as she poked her head into the doorway leading to the operating theater. Kane was watching intently as his physicians prepared the solution of Curare and other psychedelic compounds that would cause Young to sing like a bird while simultaneously wiping his mind clean. The solution was almost ready, Young's life was in dire straits and he knew it. He had shut up tighter than a clam. Annoyed by the constant interruptions, Kane whirled around to face her.
"What is it?"
"I thought it might be best to put a few more guards on each shift due to your inability to....."
"My inability to read The Bible code?" He finished the thought for her.
"Yes. I thought it might be best."
"So what's the problem?"
"At least four of our men are not reporting in. Dimitri and Louis at the pumping station and two more in the gardens. I think something may be wrong."
Kane's eyes immediately widened as she told him this. "Are you sure? The comm system is working properly?" Angelica replied that she had indeed checked the system and everything was working perfectly.
"He's here." Kane whispered to himself.
"Nightwing. The Torah would not tell me if he was dead. He survived. I know he did. He's here." Behind them, they heard Colonel Young chuckle, his voice was growing weaker by the moment. "Sounds like all you managed to do was piss the kid off, Kane. He's back to kick your ass now."
Kane's nostrils flared with anger at the taunt but he otherwise ignored it, his mind racing as he calculated his next move. "Get all our available men down to the virus storage area, make sure they are well hidden. Do not fire on them until you receive my orders. I will join you momentarily. If Nightwing isn't there yet he soon will be, and when he arrives no one touches him but me. The rest of you can take care of his companions, let them walk into their own deaths."