Bruce Wayne sprang for the communication console built into his desk on the corporate jet, pausing only to press a small button to acknowledge the beeping coming from a device hidden in his belt buckle.
“The JLA signal can wait; I’m sure it’s related to the events in Metropolis,” he said to nobody in particular. He stabbed at an intercom button. “Pete, request clearance to land at the closest Metropolis airport.”
“No can do, Mr. Wayne. They’ve closed them to everything but emergency traffic,” came back the voice of his pilot.
“What’s the tower frequency?” Receiving the information, Bruce quickly adjusted the radio set and reached for the microphone. “Metropolis International Tower, this is WE1. Over.”
“WE1, this is Metropolis International, Air Traffic Control. We need this channel kept clear. Over.”
“Requesting clearance to land, Defense Department priority code Wilco Epsilon two-zero-seven-seven. I repeat, priority code Wilco Epsilon two-zero-seven-seven. Over.”
There was a pause while the air traffic controller verified the override code. Bruce used that time to patch his conversation into the cockpit.
“Flight WE1, you have clearance to land on runway one-nine. You are in position now to start your approach. Over.”
“Thank you, Metropolis. Flight WE1, over and out.” Bruce flipped a pair of switches and punched a phone number on the console’s keypad. “Lucius, it’s Bruce. Get in touch with all of the network affiliates. I want copies of all footage relating to the destruction of the Daily Planet ready for pickup at your office in one half-hour. See if you can get copies of the feed from the cable news channels, too.” Alfred Pennyworth saw his boss’ face tense up as he listened to his business administrator. “I see. Same thing we’ve done for Gotham. Contact the Mayor’s office in Metropolis, and let him know that the resources of Wayne Enterprises and the Foundation are at his disposal. Anything that can be done for the families, any infrastructure damage that needs to be repaired, put our people on it. Thanks, Lucius. I’ll be in touch.”
“Sir, what about Master Jason?”
“He’s next.” Another switch was toggled on, and the speakers came alive with the background noise of the Batplane in flight. “Get on back to the cave. Try to reach Dick; tell him to be ready to go when you get there. Use the JLA teleporter in the cave to get up to the satellite, then get down to Metropolis unless you hear otherwise from me.”
“The JLA Satellite? Don’t you need to program their computers to recognize me?” replied Jason Todd, the teenage crime-fighter called Robin.
“I already did. Dick should be in there, along with the rest of the New Titans. You should be up there within the hour.”
Having made arrangements as best he could, Bruce stood and headed for the back of the plane. Alfred was already waiting with his costume.
“We have the cycle, right?”
“Yes, sir. I will go prepare it while you change.”
“No need, Alfred. There will be time for me to do that while the plane is landing. I’ll head into downtown Metropolis. You take the plane back to Gotham and get Natalia back to the Manor. See to it that she’s taken care of.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll be standing by in case you need anything.”
“Thank you, Alfred. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
It was almost twenty minutes later when a black streak erupted from the back of small jet sitting on the runway. It banked and turned down a service road, and in seconds it was out of sight.
“Dick! Are you there? Dick!”
The loud voice seemed to come from every corner of the room. Dick Grayson awoke with a start, sitting up in his old bed at Wayne Manor where he’d come to make amends. “Who’s there?” he asked in a loud voice.
“It’s Jason. I’m bringing the plane in now. Meet me in the cave.”
Dick looked around, slowly realizing that Jason had to have been speaking over a remote intercom system. “Five minutes.”
Five minutes later, Nightwing was pulling on his gloves as a breathless Robin emerged from the hallway that led to the Batplane’s hangar. “What’s the deal, Jase?” he asked, even as his replacement gestured toward the JLA teleporter cabinet tucked in a small alcove.
“Some nut-job was duking it out with Superman and blew away the Daily Planet Building,” Robin said. “He wants us to head up to the satellite, then we’ll see if he wants us in Metropolis.”
“The Planet?” Nightwing stopped in his tracks as it hit him. “Did they have the building cleared?”
Robin shook his head. “They didn’t have reason to evacuate the building. News report said that there were probably over a hundred people inside.”
“Oh, my God,” said Nightwing, collapsing against the wall. “Jimmy, Lois, and Perry.”
Robin reached up to lay a hand on the older hero’s shoulder. “Dick? You gonna be all right?”
“No, I’m not. Not until we find out who killed my friends.” The look on Nightwing’s face was chilling. “Maybe not even then. But I won’t know until we do that much.” He turned and walked toward the teleporter. “Let’s go.”
Even in Metropolis, the symbol of the Bat was known and respected. The crowds parted before the black motorcycle as it approached the site of the great city’s latest casualty. The police cordon likewise made way for the vehicle to pass. At the edge of the crater the bike stopped, and the rider dismounted, removed his helmet, and strode down the wall of the crater toward the solitary, colorful figure of Superman kneeling at its center.
“I didn’t expect you so soon.” The head remained bowed, the eyes closed, tears flowing through the closed eyelids. “After everything that’s happened, and…”
“You should know better, Kal. Did you ask them to stay back, or…?” The question remained unfinished, as the Batman glanced up at the three figures floating above in respectful silence.
“Who?” Superman turned and looked up to spy Green Lantern, Firestorm, and the Martian Manhunter, looking down and awaiting his word. He stood up, raised a hand, and waved them in, before turning toward Gotham’s caped crusader. “Thank you, Bruce,” he whispered, a hand reaching out to his old friend.
The additional Justice League members touched down just as the Flash joined them in a crimson blur. “I checked with the police department. MadFire’s dead. He collapsed as they were transporting him to the jail. Looks like a massive cerebral hemorrhage.”
“Who was he? I’ve never heard of him before,” said Green Lantern. “Energy readings from the satellite were off the scale.”
“I saw the end of the fight on television,” said Batman. “All the power was in that armor. I’ll need to check it out. I doubt a newcomer like him built it himself. There’s got to be somebody behind this.”
“No dice on the armor,” continued Green Lantern. “The officer I talked to says it looks like it fried itself pretty well when he hit the water. Said it looked like some kind of self-destruct mechanism was built in.”
“All the more reason to believe that MadFire was acting for somebody else.” Batman turned to Metropolis’ crestfallen champion. “I have network tapes of the battle being delivered up to the satellite. We’ll review those; see if we spot anything there.” Seeing no reaction, he lifted Superman’s chin in order to look in his eyes. “Come on, Kal. Let’s get you up there — see if we can track down the mastermind.”
“Yeah, sure,” was all the Kryptonian could come up with.
“Intriguing. I did not expect the Detective to get involved so quickly. My actions in Gotham must not have been drastic enough.” Ra’s al Ghul switched off the television with which he had been monitoring the events in Metropolis, then stood and strode out of his private quarters and into the operations center of his intelligence network.
“Sir! The Justice League is getting–”
“I know,” said the ruthless would-be world conqueror, cutting off his aide’s words with a slash of his hand. “Just as I expected they would. I did not expect the Batman to get involved so quickly, though. No matter. MadFire is dead; the armor and its weaponry is untraceable. And surely the Kryptonian is already dropping into the depths of despair over the loss of so many innocent lives.” One weathered hand reached out to caress the curves of the tall glass bottle that held the Daily Planet Building and its occupants. “He devotes his entire life to saving the helpless and the weak, and now… now he must face the cold, hard reality that he cannot save everyone — that his friends have died because he was unable to stop a rampaging madman.”