Leathery wings beat the air over midtown Gotham. Squinting against the lingering light of the summer evening, Man-Bat soared over the city, looking for signs of the Outsider or one of his companions. He had dropped off some of the short coils of rope that he had fashioned from cowhide strips at the dockside meat plant where Ragman had been waiting. Consultation with Batman and Nightwing had brought Kirk Langstrom to the conclusion that the Outsider’s telekinetic powers did not affect organic matter. Therefore, he reasoned, using animal flesh to tie one of these creatures up should work so long as they weren’t allowed to touch any other objects.
Such a thing is beyond the realm of rational thought, but then so is the idea of injecting oneself with an extract from bats in order to become a sort of were-bat, thought the biologist-turned-super-hero. A scream from below caught his attention. Tucking his wings close to his body, he dived toward the sound. Thirty feet above the ground, he snapped them open, catching air and halting his descent. Two, then three beats of the leathery pinions stabilized his position long enough to take in the action.
The scene was Robinson Park, a popular spot for couples and children in normal times, which had become a precious refuge from the horrors of the alien invasion for those involved in rescue and defense operations. Now, park benches and statues were chasing people out of the park.
“Go, flee, enjoy the last few hours left to you!” screamed a hideous creature standing atop a small hill. “This place will make a perfect staging area for those of us to follow!”
“Not if I can help it, lumpy!” said the Man-Bat as he slammed, feet-first, into the rampaging Gra’xian.
“Ah, the mutant! Let’s see how well you fly without your wings!” Laying his pale hands on a metal fence, it sprang to life. Splitting apart, the heavy wire that made up the chain link fence rushed through the air, small pieces tearing into the hero’s wings.
“ARRGH!” screamed Man-Bat, the pain in his wings like fire. He slammed the wings together in front of himself, both to present a smaller target, and to drive any further projectiles back away from him and into the Gra’xian instead. He dropped to the ground, kneeling as waves of pain washed through his body.
“Curious. I thought they were some technological invention, but they are apparently a part of you.” Man-Bat looked up and thought he could detect the outline of a beard on the chin of the strange creature who faced him.
“Douglas Dundee was a friend of mine, you lunatic. I’ll see to it that you pay for what you’ve done to him and the others.” Rising to his feet, Langstrom stole an old trick from some long-ago dirty fighter and threw a handful of dirt and gravel into the eyes of the Gra’xian.
“Yaah!” exclaimed the creature, focusing on the distraction instead of its opponent. Man-Bat used that moment, closing the distance between them and wrapping the creature up in his wings.
“There, nothing for you to use your powers on!” Pulling more of the leather cords from his pocket, Man-Bat swiftly tied up his opponent before radioing Batwoman.
“I don’t get it, Nightwing. Why aren’t we using the Batcave?”
“Too dangerous,” replied the New Titan, glancing over at the young teenager in the passenger seat. “We know the Outsider has been in the Batcave at least once since he returned, when he transformed Silver. This weird telekinesis of his works by touch: once he touches something, he has control of its molecular structure, so he could turn anything in there against us.”
“So that’s why we’re riding around in a Batmobile that looks like a museum piece, right?”
This brought a laugh to Nightwing’s lips. “I’m sorry, Robin, I know it may seem like a relic to you, but let me tell you, driving a modified ’77 Trans-Am was a real thrill for me! And since this one has been mothballed in Metropolis for the past eight years, the chances of the Outsider having gotten his mitts on it are slim.”
The boy with the yellow hood over his masked face grinned back. “Yeah, but you gotta admit, the newer wheels have it all over this one!”
Before the former Robin could respond, the radio in the dashboard came to life. “If you can hear this, guys, the big man wants to meet at base two.”
“The Wayne Foundation tower, right?” asked Robin without keying the microphone.
“Yepper. This would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to worry about the blasted aliens fouling up communications,” added Nightwing as he gunned the engine and headed downtown.
A short time later, the pair of young heroes was joined by Batwoman on a rooftop across from the gleaming tower that held the offices of the charitable Wayne Foundation, as well as the former metropolitan version of the Batcave. Miraculously spared from the strife that had torn across Gotham thanks to the alien invaders, it had become a refuge for those who had lost homes and families in the attacks. From their vantage point, they could see groups of people in most of the windows, as the charity had opened its offices for use as temporary shelter. In the midsummer heat, the great column of greenery that enclosed the building’s central elevator shafts looked ragged and overgrown.
“So, where is he?” asked Nightwing as the Dominoed Dare-Doll landed next to him.
“And hello to you, too, Boy Wonder,” she replied with a smile. “He buzzed me to let me know he’d been held up. A group of looters on Shooter Avenue.”
“And you didn’t go to help him?”
“There were only six of them.”
Nightwing let the issue drop. “So, what’s the deal, here?”
“The penthouse. It’s been empty since the Outsiders left town in January.”
“Oh, wow. That’s just before the Outsider took over Alfred again, isn’t it?” asked Robin.
Nightwing nodded. “Makes sense. A home away from home.”
“And since Alfred was handling the details of remodeling the penthouse to rent out to a new tenant, he never had to worry about someone showing up unexpectedly.” They all turned, not surprised to find that Batman had arrived unheard. “It seems that the Outsider was in control all this time, just waiting for this transformation to take place.”
“I don’t think it’s a transformation,” said Batwoman. “I just came from the hospital. Jason Bard has regained consciousness. According to him, when Dr. Dundee changed, he saw Doug fade out of sight, then this faux-Outsider fade in. It sounds like some kind of teleportation.”
“A cross-dimensional exchange. Whatever was done to our friends in February must have taken several months to have its final effect.”
“You mean we can really cut loose on them?” asked an eager Robin.
“All except the Outsider himself. That is still Alfred, and while there’s still a chance…”
Nobody had to ask Batman to complete the thought.
Four figures made their way into the Wayne Foundation tower, each using a different route. Nightwing took the direct approach, waiting for a signal from the others before launching a promethium spike and line across from the rooftop where he had been waiting into the side of the Wayne tower just below the penthouse level. He jumped and fell in a controlled dive that ended when the slack on the line was taken up. From there, he twisted his body to control his swing, so that he came up within the great open center of the building. Letting the mechanism in his belt pull in the line, his swing was shortened so that he ended the swing high in the greenery that surrounded the central elevator shaft.
Below the streets, Batman made his way through a maze of tunnels until he entered the long-abandoned subway tunnel that had served as the downtown Batcave. He didn’t enter the cave itself, but worked his way around it in a series of utility conduits until he was able to enter the central elevator shaft.
A block away from the building, Batwoman flagged down one of the ambulances that had been crisscrossing Gotham City for weeks. This one was headed for the Wayne Foundation building at a slow pace, which led her to believe that the driver was headed to the tower’s service bay to refill the vehicle’s gas tank. “You keep driving; I need to slip into the building unseen,” she told him. In the back of the ambulance, she rode until she heard the driver’s door open. By the time he finished filling the tank, she was gone. He did happen to glance up and spot a black-clad form slipping up through a dislodged ceiling panel. Once above the ceiling, Batwoman made her way to one of the enclosed ladders that gave access to plumbing connections on every floor of the building, and started climbing.
A lone bicyclist darted through the streets, turning suddenly to glide into the Wayne Foundation lobby through one of the automatic sliding doors. The cyclist leaped from the moving bike to an abandoned security station, then vaulted through the air to a stairwell. If you’re gonna sneak in, at least do it with style, thought Robin as he started the long jog up fifty flights of stairs.
At the top of the building, in the penthouse originally occupied by Bruce Wayne and later by members of the heroic team known as the Outsiders, the first denizen of Gotham to bear that name sat on a chair, looking out the wide expanse of windows. While not the tallest building in Gotham, the Wayne Foundation tower did offer one of the finest views of the city. Now that view was obscured by smoke as several areas still burned in the aftermath of recent alien incursions. Even as he watched, a pair of unidentifiable ships streaked overhead, sending bursts of laser fire at seemingly random targets.
“Of all the times for my own plans to come to fruition,” said the gruesome figure as he looked over the city. “How could I have known, five months ago, that by the time the Q-radiation in my captives built up enough to activate the teleportation mechanism, that this world would be under attack? Fah!” He brushed his hand over a pair of aluminum coasters. Immediately, they soared out through the open balcony window, changing shape as they flew. By the time they reached the alien ships, they most closely resembled a pair of circular saw-blades spinning in the air. They split apart, each one ripping into one of the ships. Several times over, each one tore into its target. After a dozen or more such attacks, the ships came apart in midair.
“So, you see, you can continue bringing over more Gra’xians, exterminate the fleshlings, then destroy the attackers,” said one of his companions.
“No, the process is too slow. Unless something drastic happens, by the time the Q-radiation builds up in another set of humans, the aliens will have taken over.”
“What about killing them and inundating them with the Q-radiation? That is what brought you to this world, is it not?” asked a second companion.
“Too risky. It only worked because the human called Alfred Pennyworth still had a minute spark of life within him. Very few humans have the determination and loyalty that he possessed, that kept a bit of his spirit striving to survive.”
“Damned right he did! And that’s going to be your downfall, Outsider!” All three of the Gra’xians turned at once, to find the blue, gray, and gold-clad figure of Nightwing standing in the doorway from the kitchen. Without hesitation, he fired one of his wrist-mechs directly at one of the Gra’xians.
On impact, it burst into a vaporous cloud that seemed to dissipate into nothingness. He fired again, with similar effect. After the third such attack, the Gra’xian staggered and reached for its throat. “Air! Can’t breathe!”
“Halon grenades. Useful for putting out fires, but a barrage of them will keep the oxygen away for a few moments,” said the former Teen Wonder as he jumped up to grasp an exposed ceiling beam.
“Those are new, aren’t they?” asked Batwoman as she swung down from the roof over the living room and in through the open balcony window. Her feet struck the other newly arrived Gra’xian, kicking it away across the room.
“Fools! You’ve signed your own death warrants!” screamed the Outsider. At his mental command, the furniture came to life. Chairs, sofas, tables, even the pictures on the wall flew around the room, attacking the Dynamite Duo.
“Not nice!” called Robin, dropping down through the fireplace. In his hands, he had a device he had retrieved from the Gotham branch of STAR Labs before his bicycle ride. He fired several quick blasts, and the objects moving around the room were frozen to the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. “Glad I remembered that the lab rats were studying this baby!”
At that moment, the hidden elevator from the Batcave opened. There was no elevator car there, just Batman, suspended from a grappling hook fired into the top of the shaft. He swung into the room, landing behind the Outsider. “It’s time to end this,” he said.
“Oh, indeed, Batman, and it will end with your death!” cried the Outsider, ramming an elbow back into the Dark Knight’s solar plexus. Years of conditioning rendered his reaction almost imperceptible, but the Outsider moved quickly. He ran out past the pool to the edge of the building. “If you truly do want to finish this, you will find me where it all started!” He jumped as a strip of the building’s siding tore away. It swung under him, and he landed upon it. Then, stretching out and down, it quickly lowered him to the ground.
Inside the penthouse, the remaining Gra’xians tried to follow his lead. With a nod toward Robin, Nightwing fired concussive bursts at the feet of both of them, knocking them into the rooftop swimming pool. Robin pointed the freezing ray at the pool, fired, and immobilized them in a multi-ton block of ice.