HELL NIGHT

 

            Chaos ruled the streets of Gotham this rainy night.  The coordinated assault by Joker’s league of extraordinary criminals was having the desired effect.  Between Firefly’s attacks on vital roadways and Joker’s indiscriminate bombing of office buildings, it looked for all the world like a combat zone.  With no electricity, water, or phone service, the city descended into a primeval zoo.

            Confused and frightened residents ran aimlessly while trying to flee the madness.   Escapees from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison roamed freely, looting, killing, and terrorizing.  It was, as one cabbie remarked after his taxi got trashed, “hell with the lid off.”

 

            Hovering above the urban mayhem, Firefly calmly went about his work of demolishing the city’s infrastructure.  He blasted craters in Broad Street, Grand Avenue, and any other thoroughfare that looked important.  In addition, he pulverized two major freeway interchanges.  His crowning achievement, however, was the bridges.  Several well-placed fireballs and grenades blew entire sections out of eight major bridges, crippling efforts to bring in aid from neighboring cities.

 

“Robin, get back to the Batcave,  Batman said over his communicator.  “You can do more good at home than you can out there with a broken foot.”

“No!” the dejected Robin answered.  “I need to find Zatanna.  Bane’s headed her way, and you know that’s not a fair fight.  My bike’s just across the street.  I can crawl to it, no problem.”

“Are you going to be able to ride with that foot?”

“I gave myself a pain injection.  I’ll manage.”

“Do not overdo it, and check in with me if you need help.  Put as little weight as possible on that foot.”

“You’re preaching to the choir.  I still want to be able to walk when this is all over.”

 

            The comparatively few line officers that Commissioner Gordon and Captain Martin could contact congregated at Precinct Ten, the only verifiably functional substation.  When Gordon arrived, Lt. Cooper, the senior officer in charge, handed him a hastily scribbled report.

            “Good God!  Has this been verified?”

            “Yes, sir.  Both Arkham and Blackgate are empty.”

            “Things on the street look pretty bad as I made my way in.”

            “It’s worse up north and east,” Martin said.  “At least four apartment towers firebombed.  Vandalism and survival violence are rampant.  And with no water, the Fire Department can only stand around and watch everything burn.  They put out a couple of blazes with their pumper trucks, but they’re empty now.”

            “How many able-bodied men and women do we have on duty?”

            Cooper looked at another note.  “Somewhere between five hundred and a thousand is our best guess.  We know a lot of guys who live in the city went active when this thing started--that’s how they’re trained--but they just can’t contact us.”

            “Out of a force of over twenty thousand?  Cripes!  What about patrol units?”

            “A couple dozen that we know of.  Firefly’s torching anything that rolls.”

            Martin said, “Metropolis and Blüdhaven have offered police and fire help, but they can’t get here since the bridges are out.”

            Gordon rubbed his neck.  “Any luck capturing Joker and his gang?”

            “Sir,” Cooper said, “it’s all the men can do to try to maintain a semblance of order out there.  Nobody has time to look for Joker.”

            “Well, we’ve got to make some effort, or we’ll never stop him!”  The commissioner took a small communicator out of his pocket and stared at it.  “Batman gave me this about a week ago.  He said I’d know when to use it.”

 

            Batman surveyed the broken glass and trail of debris in front of Allied Gotham Bank.  He didn’t need to go inside to know Joker’s cohorts had already been there.  He sprinted down the sidewalk, hoping to catch whoever it was before they could clean out all the major bank vaults.

            His communicator beeped.  “Batman.”

            “It’s Gordon.  We need help.”

            “We’re doing our best to cover the city and hunt for Joker’s people, but it’s tough going.”

            An explosion sounded in the background.  “Right now, he’s kicking our butts.  I don’t have enough officers to reestablish order in the streets, much less try to capture all his wackos.”

            “You worry about gaining control.  We’ll concentrate on stopping Joker.”

            “Okay, but if you don’t find him soon, there won’t be anything left to control!”

 

            Nightwing reached the Gotham Water District plant not long after Mr. Freeze had shattered the pumps and pipes with his freeze-gun.  The place was eerie and quiet.  The emergency lighting began to grow dim as batteries ran down.  Everywhere he looked, he saw frozen water and frozen people.  Even the drinking fountains were iced over.

            He discovered that Freeze had not yet been in the water quality laboratory.  Hearing the clank of metal boots, he knew that was about to change.

            Freeze walked through the door, gun at the ready.

            Nightwing hurled a Wing-Ding from his belt.  It knocked the gun away and shattered its power tube.  “Don’t make ‘em like they used to, huh?”

            Freeze was not amused.  “Nightwing.  Am I not good enough for Batman?”

            “He’s busy trying to stop a really bad joke.”

            “Then I will stop you.”  The man of ice took a freeze grenade from his belt and threw it.  Nightwing ducked, and the white orb exploded, covering the equipment behind him with a thick icy coat.

            “Why are you mixed up in Joker’s plan?”

            “It’s a cold, hard world.  I never pass up a chance to remind people of that.”  He tossed another grenade, which Nightwing dodged by dropping to the floor.  “But no matter, it’s too late for you to ‘save the day.’  As you have seen, the damage is done.”

            Nightwing peered over a table and decided to take a gamble on negotiating.  “This isn’t yours, Freeze.  This vendetta, it’s Joker’s.  You’re just digging yourself a deeper hole.  He’s using you.  Is he really the kind of person you want to take a fall for?”

            Freeze lobbed two more grenades. 

One exploded behind Nightwing, and he could feel the frost on his neck as he got flat on the floor again and started to crawl.  He bumped into a large basin of water used in sampling and testing for pollutants.  Its side still felt warm, which gave him an idea.  Aided by the dim lighting, he scurried under the tables as silently as he could and made his way towards the door, where he would be behind Freeze.

            “It’s a small room, Nightwing.  You can’t hide for long.”

            “No, just long enough.”  He leaped up on a counter, grabbed an overhead pipe like a trapeze, and swung out to give Freeze a hard kick in the back.

            The force knocked Freeze off his feet.  He lost his balance and tumbled into the water basin with a huge splash.

            “Time to thaw out, pal.”

            Freeze’s body temperature began rising, and the heat sapped his strength.  Weighed down by his refrigeration suit, he shed it and weakly tried to climb out.

            Nightwing pulled him from the water and took him to the control room, where he tied him up securely.  “Batman, I’ve got Mr. Freeze wrapped and ready for the cops at the Water District plant,” he radioed.

“Excellent.  Our first victory tonight, and heaven knows we need it.  I’ll tell Gordon.  Maybe he can spare a man to pick him up.”

“What’s it like out there?”

“Bad, and deteriorating.  Not enough cops to put a lid on the mayhem caused by all the escapees.  At least the rain has stopped.”

“What can I do?”

“If we could get the electricity back on, it would help tremendously.  Go to the power plant and assess the situation.”

“Right away.”

 

Batman asked, “Batgirl, what’s your situation?”

            “Pretty quiet up here.  The only action I’ve seen is Firefly torching the bridges.”

            “I need you to move to Zone Three.  I can’t contact Catwoman or Nikki.”

            “Okay.  Any idea where they were?”

“Southeast of Arkham.”

“I’ll buzz you when I get there.”

 

In the shadow of a firebombed East End tenement building, Dr. Leslie Thompkins oversaw a makeshift triage center amid the noise and confusion.  She emptied the supply stocks of her clinic and used them to help the injured.  Assisted by one nurse and a handful of volunteers, she did what she could for three dozen patients, most of whom barely escaped Firefly’s attack.

Some Good Samaritans had hauled in a few work lights and a gas-powered generator to keep them lit.  It made the site a tempting target, but the magnitude of the need forced her to ignore the risk.

While she bandaged one man’s head, she looked down the street and saw at least ten more walking wounded heading her way.  “The word is out,” she said to nurse D’Andra Washington.

“Uh-huh,” D’Andra agreed, taping up a boy’s leg splint.  “’Course those lights probably have something to do with it.”

“I like to think of them as a beacon amid all this violent darkness.”

“Hope.”

“Yes.  Before long, though, we’re going to be as overwhelmed as the hospitals.”

“I’d rather be here than there tonight, Dr. Leslie.”

“Is that because you think so highly of my medical skills,” the physician chuckled, “or because the hospitals are claustrophobic madhouses by now?”

“Help!”  An anguished wail caught their attention.

“Lord have mercy!”  D’Andra gazed in disbelief.

Choking and coughing up blood, Nikki was dragging herself across the street in their direction.

As Leslie ran to her, she noticed a bloody trail which snaked behind the girl and disappeared down a black alleyway.

“She crawled all this way in that condition?” D’Andra asked.

Leslie picked up Nikki and held her.  “It’s alright.  I’m a doctor.”

Nikki pointed and tried to speak but could only cough and wretch.

Shhh, don’t talk, dear.”  Leslie wiped her face and smiled, oblivious to the crimson stains on her own clothes.

D’Andra sprinted over with bandages and an IV.

Leslie looked up and shook her head.

Nikki feebly pointed toward the alley again.  “Catwoman…shot,” she said, her voice a barely audible gurgle.

“Catwoman’s been shot?”

With the last ounce of strength she possessed, she grabbed Leslie’s coat and stared into her eyes.  “Save…Cat…woman….”

Leslie felt the grip loosen as Nikki expired in her arms.  Gently laying her head down, she covered her with a blanket.

“What was she muttering?” D’Andra asked.

“Catwoman’s been shot, too,” Leslie answered before charging off with a flashlight.

The nurse followed her down the alley and stared again at the trail of blood.  “She cared more about Catwoman than herself.  Wow….”

“Oh, my God!” Leslie gasped.

 

Penguin’s men had stolen so much money from the banks, the weight of it slowed them down.  They were starting to leave bags behind, and they hadn’t even gotten to the Diamond Exchange yet.

Batman caught up as they scrambled out from Pinnacle Bank, carrying even more sacks.  “Penguin.  I should’ve guessed.”

“Guessed what?”

“That Joker would put you in charge of looting the banks.”

Penguin pointed his umbrella at Batman, and a sharp blade appeared at the tip.  “Sorry to cut our visit short,” he said as he lunged, “but I have more withdrawals to make.”

Batman blocked the knife with his gauntlet, then wrenched the umbrella from Penguin’s grip and rammed the handle into his belly.

Groaning as he stumbled backwards, Penguin growled, “Using a man’s umbrella against him?  Most unbecoming.  Take him out, boys!”

Before his henchmen could attack, a deafening explosion echoed down the street.  Smoke and flames poured out the courthouse windows.

Batman turned to look, and seconds later another blast occurred, at City Hall.

Penguin wasted no time in using the diversion to escape.

Batman glanced back to see him and his thugs trotting away, moneybags in tow.  He could not be in two places at once, and whoever was bombing those buildings posed a greater immediate threat.  Throwing Penguin a withering look, he ran in the direction of the blasts.

 

            Although he did it most reluctantly, Gordon issued a “shoot to kill” edict for anyone who did not obey police orders to clear the streets.  There was simply no other way for his outnumbered officers to deal with the violence and destruction.

            Rather than link up with their onetime employers, most of the freed criminals wandered through Gotham in mobs, cutting a swath of murder and devastation wherever they went.  Joker couldn’t have been prouder.

            Reviewing the latest reports by the light of a camping lantern, Gordon sighed and looked at Martin.  “This is how Custer must’ve felt at Little Big Horn.”

            “Here’s a bit of good news, sir.  The unofficial count of officers on duty is up to fifteen hundred.  Apparently, they’re managing to get here by hook or by crook.”

            “It’s still not enough.  The whole damn force wouldn’t be enough.  And so far, Batman’s crew has made just one capture, Mr. Freeze.  Nothing’s going right.”  He wiped his face.  “If this isn’t the longest night….”

 

Batgirl was searching for Catwoman and Nikki where Batman told her to, but she saw nothing except wreckage and injured refugees searching for a way out of the city.

A police motorcycle went flying into the tables at a sidewalk café, flattening them.  As she turned the corner, she saw the source of the projectile: Killer Croc.

He stomped in her direction.  “What is this, ladies’ night?  First Catwoman, and now you.  The mighty Batman has to send girls to do his job?”

“It’s called equality in the workplace.  You guys should try it sometime.”

“Try this!”  He threw a manhole cover like it was a discus.

She crouched down, and it flew past her, then smashed through the windshield of a parked car, setting off its alarm.

He ran at her, and she let a Batarang fly.  It ripped a gash in his chest, enraging him even more.

When she stood up, he leaped on her and slammed her to the sidewalk.  She tried to throw him off, but he was too heavy.  Before she could reach for her utility belt, he picked her up and lifted her above his head.

“Put me down, you jerk!”  She struggled and kicked, but could not get loose from his grip.

“As you wish.”  He tossed her through the plate glass window of a Chinese restaurant.  She bounced off two tables and slid to the floor.

 

Nightwing encountered two of Riddler’s guards as he approached the main building of Gotham Light and Power.  They offered resistance but were no match for his speedy kicks and jabs.  He barely broke a sweat knocking them out.

Another thug jumped him once he was inside.  He grabbed him by the arm and threw him into a group of file cabinets, which toppled over.

In the control room, Riddler heard the scuffle and looked at his last two assistants.  “What do a bowler and an ice cream man have in common?”

No answer.

“They both make splits, and I suggest we do the same.  Out the back way!”

Nightwing kicked open the door and raced inside to find the room empty.  “At least they left their lights.”  Sitting down at the control console, he looked over the dozens of dials, gauges, buttons, and switches before him.  “Think I’m gonna need some backup.”  He pressed his communicator.  “Batman, I’m inside the GL&P station.”

“What’s happening?”

“Riddler and his men just high-tailed it out of here.”

“We’ll catch them later.  Can you turn the power back on?”

“Uh, maybe, with a little help.”

“What do you see on the grid screen?”

“A bunch of red dots.”

“Good.  That means the backup power is on in the control system.  I was afraid Riddler had shut it down, too.  Turn on the server farm.”

“Okay.  Done.  Master control is up.”

“Tell it to bring the relay switches online.”

“It’s asking for a password.”

“TF8J993M.”

“How did you know that?”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell.  Now it should show you the status of the subgrids across Gotham.  Bring each one up, and there will be light.”

“What the--?  Oh, crap!  I should’ve known he wouldn’t make it easy.”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a message from Riddler.  ‘Kudos to Batman for getting this far.  If you want Gotham to shine like a star, put on your thinking cap and do not piddle.  You must answer five of my riddles.  Get just one wrong, and I’m sorry to say, the bombs that we planted will blow you away.’”

“Charming.  Try your best, and take it easy.  I’m closing in on Joker, so I have to go.  You know Riddler almost as well as I do.”

“What if I get stumped?”

“Wait.  I’ll call you back later.  Whatever you do, don’t guess.”

“No need to worry about that.”

 

“Thank you, Joker!” Penguin blurted as his men loaded sack after sack of money into a stolen van.  “Never thought I’d say those words.  Your pyrotechnic display couldn’t have been timed better.”  He opened a sack and ran his hands through the bundles of greenbacks.

            “Where to now, boss, the hideout?”

            “Nah.  How about Blüdhaven?  I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”

            The assistant frowned.  “We’re supposed to take the money back to Joker’s cave.  That’s the plan.”

            “That’s his plan.  My plan is to steal a boat, head west, and enjoy our hard-earned pay for a while.”

            Penguin’s man smiled.  “But Joker’s gonna be super-pissed at you.”

            “We’ll be long gone by then.  Besides, he’s got bigger problems at the moment.  Batman’s after him.”

 

The Dark Knight spotted Joker and his bazooka on the roof of a two-story boutique shop.  He was angling for a better shot at One Gotham Center across the street.

Joker pulled the trigger and laughed as the grenade blew a hole in the middle of the blue glass tower.  “Bull’s-eye!”

Batman fired a grappling hook and quickly winched himself up.

RomeLondonChicago…and now Gotham.  Burn, you stinking outhouse of a city!  Burn!”

“Feeling like Nero tonight?”

Joker turned around.  “Batman!  For once, I’m actually glad you showed up.”

“Why?”

“So I can gloat in you face, Batbrain!  Look around.  See what my friends and I have done.  My finest hour, if I do say so myself.”

“Every hour has an end.”

“Not this one.  I have royally kicked your ass, and there’s no way even you can deny it.  This city has no power, no water, no law, no order, no cops.  Oh, and no Catwoman.  I killed her myself a while ago.  Just thought you should know.”

“As usual, your jokes aren’t funny.”

“It’s no joke.  I came, I shot, I conquered.”

Batman felt a twinge of anxiety, even though he couldn’t be sure Joker was telling the truth.

“C’mon, admit it, will you?  I won.  Hail and hallelujah, I finally beat you after all these years!”

“I’ll concede the first round to you, Joker, but the fight’s not over.”

“Yes, it is.  You see, this is a first round knockout.”  He laughed wildly.

Harley Quinn emerged from the darkness and punched Batman’s head with a shot from her boxing glove gun.

The blow made him black out.  He fell off the roof and dropped into a garbage dumpster beside the boutique.

Joker looked down.  “Splendid aim, my dear.  Right where he belongs.  Let’s be on our way.  We’ve got places to go and things to destroy.”

 

Nightwing took a deep breath and opened the first riddle.  “‘What question can someone ask all day long, always get completely different answers, and yet all the answers could be correct?’  Easy one.  ‘What time is it?’” he typed.

Riddle number two came on the screen.

He breathed a sigh.  “Okay.  One down, four to go.  ‘If you got paid with it you wouldn't be happy.  The rich need it.  The poor have it.  But if you eat it you'll die.  What is it?’  Heard this one.  ‘Nothing,’” he replied.

Riddle number three appeared.

“Okay, you’re probably softening me up, getting me overconfident, and gonna hit me with a real zinger at some point.  Lay it on me.  ‘What can run but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a head but never weeps?’  Hmm.  Sounds like…a river.”  He entered the answer.

Riddle number four displayed.

“Steady, Dick.  Watch the nerves.  ‘Golden treasures I contain, guarded by an army of hundreds and thousands.  Stored in a labyrinth where no man walks, yet men come often to seize my gold.  What am I?’”

This one he had to stop and think over.  “It’s obviously not real gold.  What else is gold?  ‘Stored in a labyrinth.’  ‘Guarded by an army of hundreds.’  Ahh!  Honey!”  Quickly, he typed the letters.

Riddle number five showed.

“What?  It’s in French?”  Frustrated, he hit the console.  “My French is about as good as my Swahili.  Riddler, you slimy little rat!”

 

Batman awoke with a throbbing headache.  Climbing out of the dumpster, he ran to the Batmobile, jumped in, and streaked off to find Joker.  On the horizon, he saw rising columns of smoke where none had been before, and he knew the Clown Prince could not be far away.

Joker’s remark about killing Catwoman haunted him.  Was it just a psychological trick to distract, or had his love really been murdered?  He was about to try radioing her again when he heard the communicator beep.

A familiar, yet unexpected voice was on the other end.  “Hello?  Batman?  Is anyone there?”

“Leslie?”

“Yes.  Catwoman’s badly injured.  She’s got two gunshot wounds in the abdomen, and she’s lost a helluva lot of blood.  Her sidekick is dead.”

“Can you help her?”

“I’ve done what I can to stem the bleeding, but she desperately needs a transfusion.  If she doesn’t get to a hospital quick, she won’t make it.”

“Where are you?”

“Twelfth and Seaton.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

 

To her amazement, Batgirl emerged from the restaurant window without any lacerations or broken bones.  In fact, the only injuries she noticed were a headache and a slightly bruised rib as she looked herself over.  “This new armor is fantastic.  Ooh, I’d better check in.”

 

Beyond the city’s reservoir, a bright glow lit up the road.  Batman briefly wondered if the power was back on, but quickly realized he was seeing flames, not lights.  Robinson Park was burning, thanks to Firefly’s aerial assault.

His communicator beeped again.  “This is Batgirl.  I had a rather lopsided fight with Killer Croc, but I’m still in one piece, thanks to your new armor.”

“What’s your location?”

She looked up and the street sign.  “Twelfth and Skyline.”

“Catwoman’s been shot and needs immediate hospitalization.  She’s three blocks north at Twelfth and Seaton with Leslie Thompkins.”

Omigosh!”

“Leslie has a car, and you’re a lot closer than I am.”

“What’s up where you are?”

“Firefly.  I’ve got to put him out of business before the whole town’s ablaze.”

“Understood.”

The Batmobile squealed to a halt, and he leaped out.  He had a promise to keep.

Firefly zoomed past, then circled back when he noticed the black car.  Too tempting to ignore, he thought.

Watching him dive for an attack, Batman grabbed a Batarang, counted to three, and let it sail.

The dark blade cut a chunk off Firefly’s backpack.  Before he knew it, he was veering out of control.  Unable to stabilize his flight, he spun like a corkscrew.  In a panic, he tried to land, but it was too late.  He careened into a tree and exploded, his flaming debris touching off smaller fires in the park.

Batman put his head down and dashed through the burning greenery while branches fell all around.  As he got closer to the center of the park, he heard screaming.

Poison Ivy was encircled by flames, with no way out.  The searing heat started to singe her hair.

Shielding himself with his cape, Batman charged into the blaze, grabbed Ivy around the waist, and barreled through the hedges into a clearing.  “Keep moving!  Run!” he said, letting her go.

She followed him north, where the park hadn’t burned, and a few minutes later they were on the other side of a small stream.

“Gotta...rest,” she panted.  “Can we stop?”

“This stream would be an effective firebreak, should the blaze make it this far, which I doubt, considering all the rain tonight.”

She washed her smudgy face in the water and looked at the burnt tips of her hair.  “Thank you, Batman.  You saved my life.”

“I told you I would try.”

Smiling, she struck a seductive pose.  “Maybe this could be, you know, a fresh start between us?”

“Afraid not.  You’re who you are, and I’m who I am.”

“Translation: I’m still a criminal to you,” she pouted.

“You’re still a criminal, period.  Just inactive, at the moment.”

“Okay, be that way.  See if I ever lift a leaf to help you again.”

“We’re even now, Ivy.  Perhaps we should leave it there.”

“Yeah, perhaps.”

He turned and headed out of the park.

 

Leslie stood up when she saw Batgirl running toward her.  “I was expecting Batman.”

“He’s still busy saving the city from Joker’s gang.”

“As usual, at her expense.  She’s over here.”

Batgirl was shocked by Catwoman’s appearance.  Her hair was tangled and matted with dried blood, while her skin looked almost white.

“I took the suit off to treat her but left the mask on in deference.”  She pointed across the street.  “My car’s the blue sedan.  I’ll help you get her inside.”

“Will she live?”

“Possibly, though I’m not optimistic.  She was bleeding in that alley too long.”

 

Robin found Zatanna hiding behind some shrubs near the entrance to Grant Park.  He eased his cycle to a stop, then dismounted, being careful not to come down hard on his right foot.

When she saw him, she jumped out and struck an aggressive stance.  “Stay away!  Don’t hurt me!”

“Zatanna, it’s me, Robin.  Hey, is everything alright?”

A strange fear that she had never known coursed through her body.  She grabbed her wand and aimed it at him.  Nibor, emoceb--”

“Whoa!  Don’t do that!”  He stood still and raised his hands.  “Did Scarecrow get you with one of his powders?”

A flash of anger flared in her eyes.  “Move back!”

“Give me a second.  My foot’s broken.  I’ve got antidote for Phobos in my belt.  Really.  Let me bring it to you.”

“Roll it over here.”

Ow!”  His right leg gave out again, and he fell awkwardly.  Keeping his eyes on her, he reached into his belt and extracted a vial, which he rolled in her direction.

Still holding out her wand, she picked up the vial and examined it.

“Drink it.  Go ahead.”

She hesitated.

“What can I do to you?  I’m sitting in the grass with a bum leg.  Drink the stuff.”

She opened the vial and gulped down the gold-colored liquid.  Grimacing from the taste, she asked, “What’s in that?” before doubling over and sitting on the ground.

Five minutes later, she felt like herself again.  The fears were gone.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.  That’s what allies are for.”

“I’m glad you found me.  Sorry about the feral girl act.”

“It was Scarecrow’s twisted little concoction, not you.”

“Now, about that foot.”  She pointed her wand.  Nibor toof laeh!”

Instantly, the broken bones healed, and he was able to stand.  “Wow!  Fantastic!  How did you do that?”

She smiled.  “Trade secret.”

“Where should we go next?”

With a frown, she said, “After Scarecrow.  His name is mud.”

“Which way?”

“He headed north.”

“Hop on my bike.”

 

The emergency room at Gotham General Hospital was jammed full with victims of the violence.  Batgirl parked the car and removed Catwoman’s mask before carrying her inside.

Seeing her approach, the guard at the door moved people aside to let her in.  Attendants and nurses cleared a path to the triage area.  One nurse looked at the limp woman in her arms and gasped, “Good Lord, that’s Selina Wayne!”

Batgirl placed her on a stretcher and looked up at the closest doctor.  “Two gunshot wounds and massive loss of blood.  It may take a miracle to keep her alive.”

He gazed across the crowd of people needing treatment.  “We ran out of those a long time ago.”

“Somebody needs to notify her husband,” a voice said.

Batgirl watched as they started working on Selina.  “I’ll take care of it.”

 

With each passing hour, more and more police could be seen around town.  The effects of Scarecrow’s gas were not as long-lasting as he calculated and had begun to wear off, especially at the substations, where the concentration was lower due to the buildings’ smaller size.

Gordon and Mayor Golini, who had managed to link up with the commissioner at Precinct Ten after a perilous cross-town journey, both noticed the difference as reporting calls kept increasing.  Finally in direct command of enough officers to mount a coordinated response, they started reasserting systematic control over the wild streets.

A unit of four heavily armed and armored officers deployed near Monolith Square in response to sightings of Killer Croc.  They spotted him on Benton Street going west.

“This is the police!  Put your hands behind your head and lay down.”

“Go away, you toy soldiers with pop guns!”  He charged at them and leaped on the hood of one squad car.

The officers opened fire--with armor piercing bullets.

Croc realized he’d made a mistake when the shots hurt instead of tickled.  He crawled off the car and tried to scamper away, but the four cops continued firing round after round, reloading at least once.

Jerking in a crazy staccato dance as the bullets tore into his flesh, he shouted, “Damn you!” and dropped to the pavement, blood trickling from his mouth.  Groaning, he rolled over and breathed his last.

“Commissioner, this is Unit Nineteen.  Killer Croc is dead.  Repeat, Croc is dead.”

Gordon smiled at Golini.  “I think it’s beginning to turn around.”

 

Batman’s communicator beeped.

“They’re working on her at Gotham General,” Batgirl reported, “but she’s in very critical condition.  I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.  We did the best we could.   It’s in other hands now.”

“Where do you need me next?”

“Get in touch with Robin and Zatanna.  They may want help.  I still have to find Joker.”

 

The Clown Prince and Harley next set their sights on the Cultural District.  “How many more grenades you got back there, Puddin’?”

“Seven.  Gotta use them carefully.  Hey, pull over.  There’s the Flugelheim Museum.  Culture’s so overrated, don’t you think?”

“Definitely.”

He loaded the bazooka and took aim at the front doors.  “Bye bye, art snobs!”

The rocket found its target, splintering the doors and blowing out all the first floor windows.

“Free admission for everyone!”

“I like the way you think, Harley.  Turn right at the corner.  We aren’t far from the Gotham Opera.  It’s time to bring down the house!”

 

Nightwing stared at the French riddle on the screen, “Quel genre de fromage est fait vers l'arrière?”  It might as well have been hieroglyphics to him.

His communicator beeped.  It was Batman.  “How are you doing with those riddles?”

“One to go, and it’s in French.”  He read the text to Batman.

“It probably won’t make any more sense to you in English.  ‘What kind of cheese is made backwards?’”

“What kind of cheese is made backwards?  Riddler’s lost it for sure.”

“There’s always an answer.  Let your mind work.”

“How’s the situation where you are?”

“Making progress.  I see lots of cops, and two bad guys have been taken out--permanently.  Killer Croc and Firefly are no longer with us.  Zatanna and Robin are in pursuit of Scarecrow.  Bane, Penguin, and Joker are still at large.”

“Riddler, too.”

 

In the Batcave, Alfred was trying his best to monitor the overall situation and give Batman any helpful information he could glean when the intruder alarm went off.  Someone had breached the Batmobile entrance.

He moved closer to the systems console, shut off the alarm, and got ready to deal with whoever--or whatever--was coming his way.

A couple of minutes later, he heard the sound of shoes walking up the drive.

“Hello, Alfred,” Riddler said, tipping his hat.  “Been a while, hasn’t it?  I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d drop by.”

“I’m rather busy, Mr. Nygma.”

He twirled his cane.  “Too bad you’ll miss all the fun.”

“What sort of ‘fun?’”

Riddler moved closer and glanced around.  “I’m going to invite Joker over here to share our little secret.  He’ll have a field day destroying this place.  But first….”  He took the top off his cane and pulled out a long, thin sword.  “I need to kill you.”

 

Batman couldn’t stop thinking about the final riddle.  He mulled it over several times and rattled off every type of cheese he knew.  Finally, the answer came to him.  Nodding his head, he smiled.  “That’s one of your better efforts, Riddler.  Very clever.”  He picked up the communicator.  “Nightwing, I’ve got it.  Edam.”

“Edam?”

“E-d-a-m is m-a-d-e backwards.”

Ooohh,” he groaned as he typed.  “Hey, you’re right.  The console’s unlocked.”

“Then bring up the power grid, and let’s take this city back!”

 

A chorus of cheers rose from one end of Gotham to the other when the lights blinked back on.  Things were definitely looking up, though the night was far from over.

Golini stared out the window as his city came alive again.  “Thank you, Batman.”

 

Riddler aimed his sword right at Alfred’s chin.  “You see, even if Batman survives the night, once Joker and I expose him and obliterate this cave, he’s finished.  One way or the other, the era of the Bat is over.”

Alfred calmly pressed a button and slipped on a mask as the Batcave filled with knockout gas.

Riddler coughed and grew drowsy before collapsing.

Once he was unconscious, Alfred switched on ventilation fans to clear the air, then tied him up securely.  Next, he contacted Batman.

“Is everything all right?”

“Quite.  I have something for you.  Riddler decided to pay us a visit.  He’s now tied up and ready to be hauled off.”

“How did you manage to subdue him?”

“The gas, sir.”

“Good thinking, Alfred.  I’ll ask Nightwing to deliver him to the police.”

 

Several minutes later, Batman spotted Bane on a rampage west of Miller Harbor.  The giant ripped a fire hydrant loose and pitched it through the windshield of a passing bus, killing the driver and sending the empty vehicle crashing through the barred windows of a pawn shop.

Blocking the street with the Batmobile, Batman climbed out and steeled himself to face the only villain strong enough to kill him barehanded.

Bane taunted him.  “Finally decided to show up, huh?”

“I’ve been a little busy tonight.  You understand.”

“I understand I’m going to kill you!”  He ran forward and kicked Batman in the chest.

The Dark Knight hit the Batmobile with such force, he tumbled over it and fell to the pavement on the other side.  Jumping back up, he threw a Batarang, which Bane knocked away with his armored gauntlet.

“Throw harder next time.  Or maybe you need glasses?”

“I can see just fine.”  Climbing on top of the car, he leaped into the air and landed a hard kick to Bane’s face.  As the muscleman staggered from the pain, Batman connected with some stinging punches to his ribs and a spinning kick that knocked him off balance.

Bane got back on his feet and grabbed Batman in a viselike bearhug.  “Bet your grandmother never squeezed you this tight!”  However, he quickly grew frustrated.  “I can’t crush you with all that armor on.  Aaarrgghhh!”  With that, he tossed him across the avenue into the bus wreckage.

Batman collided with the roof, bounced, and hit the street like a sack of potatoes.  Momentarily disoriented and shaken, he stood up to see Bane charging at him, fists clenched.

“Time to die!”

Pulling out a pair of Batarangs, he took careful aim and flung them.

The blades whizzed by Bane’s head so closely, one of them nicked his left ear.

“Just a scratch,” Bane laughed.  “You missed--again!”

“Look down.”

Bane noticed a liquid dripping from his chest.  Alarmed, he felt the Venom tubes on his head.  The Batarangs had sliced them apart.  He dropped to his knees in frustration as his strength and muscle size returned to normal.  No longer a threat, he looked up at Batman.

Tired and angry, the Dark Knight kicked him under the chin, and he went down for the count.

A patrol unit hunting for Bane noticed the Batmobile and stopped.  “Can we give you a hand, Batman?” an officer asked.

“Yeah,” he said, walking away.  “Bane’s taking a nap.  Make sure he wakes up behind bars.”

 

Zatanna found Scarecrow near the Clocktower.  He was still taking any opportunity to accost the police or roaming criminal escapees with his fear- and psychosis-inducing powders.

With Robin shadowing her, she crept up behind him on a street corner.  She tapped him on the shoulder with her wand.  “Ever wonder what a real scarecrow feels like?”

He turned around in surprise.

Before he could gas her, she shouted, “Worceracs emoceb warts!”

Robin watched in astonishment as Scarecrow transformed into a straw dummy.

Satisfied with her revenge, she put the wand away.  “Got a match?”

“Uh, I don’t think we should do that.  Let’s look for the police, or wait until Batgirl gets here.”

“Eh, maybe you’re right.  There’s been enough fire in town tonight.”

 

Things remained turbulent, but bit by bit law was returning, if not order.  Soon after electric power was restored, television and radio stations resumed broadcasting.  Golini immediately went on the air to addresses the citizens.

“People of Gotham, this has been--and continues to be--a sleepless night for most of us.  We have witnessed what can only be described as a night of horror.  A group of master criminals led by Joker have carried out the most sinister and barbaric assault Gotham has ever experienced.  The police, in conjunction with Batman and his allies, have made significant progress in capturing or killing those responsible.

“However, just as the night is not yet over, neither is their job.  As your mayor, I urge you to stay off the streets and remain indoors until morning.  The fewer people out and about, the easier it will be for the police to secure the city.  In addition to Joker’s gang of hoodlums, we are having to contend with escapees from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison.  Even so, significant progress is being made in that regard as well.

“I ask for your patience and prayers as we seek to restore all normal city services, including water and transportation.  Together, we will bounce back from this atrocity.  Our spirit is strong, and nothing can break it.  Have courage and hope.  Good night.”

 

When Batgirl arrive to help Zatanna and Robin, what she found was not what she expected.  Shaking her head, she studied the straw man, then looked at them.  “Okay, I think I’ve lost too much sleep, or maybe Killer Croc gave me a concussion.  Tell me this is a prop from the Wizard of Oz and not Dr. Crane.”

“It’s him, alright,” Robin said.  “I saw it happen.”

Batgirl frowned at Zatanna.

“It was him or me,” the magician explained.  “He’d already hit me with his psycho powder once.  He wasn’t going to do it twice.”

“We need to give him to the police.  Turn him back into a person.”

“Not on your life.”

“Zatanna!”

“Not as long as he’s carrying his wicked little potions.”

Batgirl sighed and removed Scarecrow’s coat and gloves.  “There.  He’s unarmed.  Now do it.”

Zatanna rolled her eyes and pulled out her wand most reluctantly.  “Worceracs emoceb namuh.”

Scarecrow looked himself over.  He started to speak, but Zatanna kicked him in the crotch with her pointed shoe.  Robin punched his jaw with a right cross, and he dropped like a rock.

“Was that really necessary?” Batgirl asked, slipping a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.

“Yes,” they answered in unison.

“I see a squad car.  I’ll tell them you have a pick-up.”

 

 

Unfazed by the resumption of electric service or the capture of his colleagues, Joker expended his final bazooka rounds on the Nakashima Tower and an elevated train.

“Is that it?” Harley wondered.

“Just one left,” he said, stroking the shell.

“Let’s go use it on Arkham.  Blow the nuthouse to pieces.”

“No, no.  This one’s reserved for a very special target: the Batmobile!”

“Ooh, even better, Puddin’.”

Off to the right, he saw the Knights Dome Sports Complex.  “Pull in over there.  Let’s go up top and get a panoramic view of our handiwork.”

“Sure.”

With some effort, they broke into the arena, found the maintenance elevator, and took it to the dome’s roof.

Cautiously getting her footing on the curved surface, she asked, “You sure it’s safe?  The sign says ‘Danger!  Restricted Area.’”

“Ignore it.  This is the new Gotham City, and I make the rules now.  The only thing I’ll restrict is people with Bat in their names.  Behold our empire, my queen!”

Despite the return of lights, the city still very much resembled a war zone.  Many of the fires continued to burn and even spread, in some cases.  Human casualties from the violence numbered into the thousands.

“It’s...oddly beautiful,” she commented.

“There’s nothing like the sight of a burning cesspool,” he agreed, laughing maniacally.

A shadow appeared to the right.  “Yes, there is.  The sight of the cells you two will be occupying in Arkham,” snarled Batman.

“You again?  Finish him!” Joker shouted.

Harley pointed her pistol and fired, but the bullets bounced off the Dark Knight.

Joker glared at her.  “That won’t work, you idiot!  He’s wearing armor.”

“Oops, I forgot.”

Tired, emotionally ragged, and still hurting from his match with Bane, Batman jumped forward to take them on.

Joker tried to fling a razor-edged playing card, but Batman punched him in the belly before he got a chance.

Harley looked around for her boxing glove gun, then remembered it was in the car.

Batman grabbed her shoulders and gave her a vicious head-butt.  She staggered from the blow, and he smacked her face with the back of his glove.

“Oww!” she whined.  “Stop!”  Feeling like she was losing her balance, she turned around to steady herself.

Batman booted her hard in the fanny, sending her slipping down the side of the dome.  She landed head first on the maintenance terrace below and passed out.

“That’s no way to treat a lady!” the Clown Prince fumed in anger.  He pulled out a gun.

Batman kicked it away.  “That’s no lady.”

“She’s more elegant than your little tabby cat ever was.”

Batman grabbed him by the shirt and repeatedly smashed his face.  “You’ve had this coming a long, long time.  For the hotel massacre,” he hissed.

Joker barely had time to hold his broken, bleeding nose before Batman kneed him in the groin and boxed both sides of his ribs.

“Jake Drake’s murder!”  A karate chop to the abdomen.  “Your deadly broadcast!”  A left hook to the chin.  “This whole hellish night!”  A roundhouse right to the jaw, which knocked him flat on his back.  “Catwoman and Nikki!”

Barely conscious, Joker did little more than moan.

“You--don’t--mess--with--me!  I own the night!  You got that, you sick bastard?  I am the night!  With a sneer, he nudged Joker off the dome and watched him slide to a stop ten feet from Harley.

He let out a guttural yell, then calmly reached for his communicator.  “Commissioner, it’s finished.  Send a unit to pick up Joker and Harley Quinn from the terrace of the Knights Dome.”

“Great news, Batman!”

“Send paramedics, too.  There’s a lot of blood up here.”  Moving a small switch on the device, he said, “Batman to all team members.  The nightmare’s over.  Everyone rendezvous at the Batcave.”

“Did we win?”

He looked at the blood on his suit, then at the smoke rising from the ravaged city skyline.  “Nobody won tonight, Zatanna.  Nobody.”

 

When they reconvened half an hour afterwards, the survivors were tired, but generally upbeat--except for Batman.  After the Batmobile pulled in, he shed his suit and tossed it at Alfred, who had to reach to catch it.

The catharsis he had in pummeling Joker did not entirely exorcise the bottled-up demons inside.  He realized he hadn’t even allowed himself to grieve over Selina’s shooting yet.  He looked somber, and his eyes revealed a man close to the edge.

Everyone could see that, regardless of their own injuries, the battle had been roughest on him.

He sat down at the table and looked at each of his allies.  The Dark Knight’s cold, dispassionate logic came over him again.  “Thank you for your service tonight.  Whatever we may have accomplished, it couldn’t have been done without all of you.  I’m grateful for such friends.  Any final reports?”

Zatanna yawned.  “I’m still a bit woozy from Scarecrow’s drug.  I just need some sleep.”

“Don’t we all,” said Robin.  “My foot’s fine, thanks to Z and her ‘magic touch.’”

Nightwing asked, “What’s the tally on the bad guys?”

“Freeze, Riddler, Bane, Joker, Harley, and Scarecrow are all in custody,” Batgirl answered.  “Firefly and Croc are confirmed dead.  The police don’t have a line on Penguin yet.”

“My guess is he took the money and ran,” Bruce said.

“Smart move, considering everyone else’s fate,” Robin commented.

Batgirl said, “Nightwing and I have discussed it, and we’re going back out for a few more hours to help the police roundup Arkham and Blackgate escapees.  They’ve only found half of them so far.”

“What about Two-Face?” asked Bruce.

“Didn’t budge from his cell.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “The coin knows all.  The coin tells all.”

“Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing for him to have,” Bruce commented.

Alfred said, “Sir, the limousine is ready upstairs.  I thought you would be eager to get to the hospital and see Mrs. Wayne.”

He picked up the torn, bloody Catsuit Batgirl brought home, and tears came to his weary eyes.  “Give me a minute to put on some street clothes.”

 

The quiet of the Intensive Care Unit felt eerie to him, after the cacophony and mayhem of the streets.  A nurse was checking Selina’s IV when he arrived.

“Mr. Wayne?”

He turned around.

“I’m Dr. Harris.”

“How is she?”

“Come with me.”  The doctor led him to a chair several feet away.  “Have a seat.  It’s the proverbial good news/bad news.  The good part is, it looks like she’ll pull through.  We’re continuing to give her blood.  Her vitals have risen a little and are steady.  We don’t often see a patient lose that much blood and survive.  Whoever worked on her out there undoubtedly saved her.”

“Leslie Thompkins.  She’s a lifesaver, all right.  What’s the bad news?”

Harris hesitated.  “One of the bullets really tore up her uterus, and we had to remove it to stop the internal bleeding.  I’m sorry, Mr. Wayne, but she can’t have any more children.”

Were Bruce not already so numb, the news would have devastated him.  As it was, it just added to his melancholy and anger.  If I’d known that, he told himself, I think I’d have killed Joker.

He closed his eyes and covered his face.

“I’ll give you a moment to yourself.”

“Have you told her?”

“No.  She hasn’t regained consciousness yet, but I expect her to wake up in the coming hours.”

“Thank you, doctor.”  He walked slowly to the window at the far end of the room.  Another rain shower was covering the city.  He noticed fewer fires and more lights on.

The nurses were chattering softly about the limited restoration of water service, due to some ingenuity and serious rerouting by city officials.  He was glad to hear that.

 

About an hour later, Leslie Thompkins found him nodding off beside Selina’s bed.  “Bruce?”

Wha--Oh, hi, Leslie.”

“Sorry to wake you.  You look exhausted.”

“Nothing gets past you, does it?”

She smiled.  “How’s Selina?”

“Let’s go talk.”

They went out to the vacant ICU waiting area.

“Is she going to make it?”

“Yeah, the doctor thinks she will.  He said you saved her life.”

“I did my best.  But you know who’s really responsible?  That girl with her.”

“Nikki?”

“She was bleeding profusely, and she crawled a very long way to get our attention.  That effort cost her own life.  Her last words were, ‘Save Catwoman.’”

He began sobbing.  She held him and offered comfort.

When he collected himself, he told her, “She can’t have more children.  The shots ripped her up too badly.”

“Oh, Bruce.  You must be heartbroken.”

He tried to fight back more tears.  “We talked about having another.  I wanted a boy.”

She held his hand.  “I’m so, so sorry.”

A look of anger flashed in his eyes.  “It’s just one more thing Joker’s taken away from me...and from this city.”

“I don’t know if you want me to go down that road, Bruce.”

“You saw firsthand what happened--the misery and destruction.  That has to change your mind about Batman.  The evil’s out there, and it strikes without warning.  If good men--and women--do nothing, evil wins.”

“Isn’t it possible that Batman’s existence is the reason for so much violence?  He gives those crazy people a cause.”

“No, Leslie, he’s the reason things aren’t even worse.  Think back, way back.  Long before there was a Joker, there was plenty of crime.  Thugs at first, like the guy who killed my parents.  Then mob bosses--the Falcones and Moronis.  It’s entropy.”

“What”?

“Entropy, the principle that the universe tends to degrade into a state of chaos and disorder.”

“We’ve certainly witnessed that tonight.”

“Batman’s duty is to slow down the degradation and make sure we never see it on this scale again.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, and I know you mean well, but look at what it’s costing you.  I’ve had to keep Selina from dying twice.  When are you going to stop putting her life in jeopardy?”

“She makes her own choices.  Beyond that, we’ve agreed.  We’ll stop what we’re doing when the city is safe enough for children like Helena to grow up without fear.”

“I’ve never admired so much someone I disagree with.”

“Does that mean you’ll still be there for us?”

“Unfortunately.  Thirty-some years ago, I made a promise to a little boy and a certain butler, and I’m a woman of my word.”

He cracked a brief smile.  “I’ve never disagreed so much with someone I admire.”

 

He napped again in the chair next to Selina.  When he woke up, he squeezed her hand.  To his surprise, the hand squeezed back.  “Selina?”

She opened her groggy eyes and gazed at him.  “Hey, handsome,” she muttered.

He kissed her hand.

“Am I...alive?”

“Very much so.  You’re in the ICU at Gotham General.  Dr. Harris says you’ll be fine.”

“Is it over?”

“Yeah.”  He tried to sound upbeat.  “The good guys won.”

She yawned.  “How’s Nikki?”

“We can talk about everything later.  You just get your rest.”

“I feel like an elephant tap danced on my body,” she groaned.

“I’ll check with the nurse to see if it’s time for any pain medicine.”

“Thanks.  You should rest, too, darling.  Go home and sleep.”  She yawned once more.  “I’ll join you.”

He looked out the window again.  The clouds were breaking, and the morning sun crept over the eastern horizon.

The worst night in Gotham history had ended.

 

Bruce slept until four, then took a long shower.  He went back to the hospital, broke the bad news to Selina, and stayed with her until almost nine, when she dozed off.  Once he got home, he scrounged some leftovers from the fridge for a late dinner.

“How is Mrs. Wayne this evening?”

“She’s good, Alfred, considering.  You know, she seemed more broken up over Nikki’s death than she did about being unable to have children.  Not that she took it in stride, but she certainly shed more tears for Nikki.  She loved that girl like a sister.  Guess I never realized how close they’d become.”

“What do you make out of last night’s events, if I may ask?”

“Honestly, I haven’t had time to do any ‘post-game analysis.’  It’s definitely a turning point for Gotham, to say the least.  But whether we move forward as a stronger,  united city or regress as a dysfunctional crime factory, remains to be seen.”

“With Batman and his friends around, I’m betting on the former.”

“We nearly fumbled the game away last night, Alfred.  You may want to hedge your bet.”

 

Forty minutes later, Gordon and Golini buzzed Batman’s communicator, since the Bat-signal had been destroyed.

Initially, he was going to ignore it, but because he hadn’t spoken to the commissioner at length after the assault ended, he reluctantly donned the Batsuit and left.

Gordon immediately apologized when he appeared on the roof.  “I’m sorry to drag you out again after the yeoman duty your team did last night, but we needed to touch base.”

“Agreed.  That’s why I’m here.”

“You must be beyond exhausted,” Golini commented.

“I won’t deny that I’d love a good night of sleep.”

“And you deserve it,” said Gordon.  “Your whole team does.  I understand you lost one.”

“Nikki.”

“My condolences.”

“Thank you.  Catwoman nearly died, too, but she’s recovering.”

“Bruce Wayne’s wife was shot, pretty badly from what Batgirl told me.  She’s expected to make it, though.”

Batman said, “Tell Mr. Wayne I’m sorry.  I know what he must be going through.”

“He’s not upset at you,” Golini said.  “None of us are.  Without you, God knows how much bigger a tragedy we would’ve had.”

“Batgirl and Nightwing have been a tremendous help bringing in the Arkham and Blackgate escapees.  Only a handful are still at large.  Penguin’s the only master criminal not in custody.  Do you suppose he escaped?”

Batman folded his arms.  “Yes.  He was just in it for the money.  Joker’s operation wasn’t anything but a means to an end for him.  How many people were killed?”

  “We’re still tallying everything up, but it’s probably over a thousand,” the mayor answered.  “Some parts of the city were badly damaged by the fires, and others were untouched.  On the positive side, phone and water service are almost fully restored.  I’ve imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, which should help Jim’s people and yours.  We’re looking at a huge amount of rebuilding, especially the infrastructure.  Hopefully, we’ll make it a better city than it was.  Mitch Brandenburg’s a good man to have at the helm.”

“If the city does recover, I’m afraid the crime rate will, too.”  Gordon shook his head sadly.

“It will.”  The Dark Knight walked away.  Spreading his cape at the roof edge, he added, “I’ll send you a replacement Bat-signal.”