Batman nightwalker, p.19
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.19

           Marie Lu
 
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  The drone hesitated for a second—perhaps it was her hesitating. Then it raised its weapon. A slight blue glow came from the end of its arm. It’s going to attack.

  The arm shot toward him. Bruce threw himself to the side a split second before the arm struck him—instead, it smashed into the door, shattering it in an explosion of glass. Bruce shielded his neck and face with his arms. As the drone shifted in his direction and reared back to attack again, he sprang to his feet and lunged through the gaping hole in the door. The drone followed in pursuit.

  Bruce entered a narrow corridor. Two Nightwalker guards dressed all in black hoisted rifles and pointed them at him. Their jaws dropped in surprise as the drone crashed in after him. Bruce reacted on instinct—he dove into a roll in front of them and swung a leg out at the first guard, knocking him clear off his feet. As he fell, the drone reached forward and caught him, its grip closing tight around the man’s chest and lifting him up in the air. The man let out a shout—he pointed his rifle at the drone and opened fire. The shots ricocheted off the metal surface. Bruce ducked. The bullets hit the second guard in his legs. He fell to the floor, screaming.

  Bruce seized the injured guard by his arm and dragged him down the corridor and around the corner to safety as the drone behind them realized it had seized one of the Nightwalkers. A glitch that would need fixing.

  The injured guard gave Bruce a bewildered look, but Bruce didn’t have time to explain that he wasn’t here to hurt people. He left the man where he was and sprinted on.

  Bruce had been in this concert hall twice before in his life—he recognized this level as the corridor that led into the smaller of two lobbies. Where were the Nightwalkers holding the hostages? Behind him, he could hear the shouts of the first guard, who had been released by the drone. “Someone’s inside!” he was saying. “I—I don’t know—maybe a cop—he had a black helmet on—”

  Bruce toggled one of the panels on the side of his helmet—and suddenly the walls around him turned grid-like and transparent, heat signals of six Nightwalkers lit up behind the walls, each one turned in his direction and heading his way. He glanced up at the ceiling. That looked transparent now, too—and three floors above him, he saw a dense cluster of heat signals, all gathered in what must be the upper mezzanine area of the concert chamber.

  The hostages.

  His corridor suddenly opened up into a lobby, the gala’s silk ribbons and long banners now jarringly out of place. Bruce took a sharp turn away from the center of the room as several heat signals from an adjacent hall rushed closer to him. As they reached the lobby, he darted into an empty corridor and continued sprinting. Shouts went up behind him. They had slowed in confusion, trying to figure out where he’d gone. Bruce turned his attention toward the nearest stairwell. There were clearly heat signals coming from inside it, but only three—if he played his cards right, he could get past them. He reached the end of the hall and slammed himself into the stairwell door. An emergency siren blared.

  Bruce looked up the stairwell. He didn’t need his heat tech to see that two Nightwalkers were running down toward him, their boots echoing on the metal steps. As he went, he took out the small, round bomb from his backpack. He ran to meet them, jumping up the steps two at a time. As he reached the top of the first flight, he threw the bomb against the wall as hard as he could.

  An ear-ringing boom rang out in the stairwell. Smoke exploded from the bomb and surged up in the blink of an eye, engulfing everything in near pitch-black. Bruce had the sudden unnerving feeling that he was back inside his mansion when the Nightwalkers’ leader had vanished in a cloud of smoke. Bewildered shouts came from the Nightwalkers on the upper flights. Through his shades, Bruce could still see the grid outline of the stairs and the heat signals of his attackers. One of them fired shots, each one looking like a faint red-gold burst. He darted up through the smoke like a ghost.

  Halfway up the second flight, he came face to face with the first Nightwalker.

  The man opened his mouth in a shout, raising his weapon. But it was too late. Bruce struck him viciously in the side of his jaw. The blow hit true; the man’s limbs sagged instantly. Bruce caught him before he hit the ground, then set him down, limp and slumped, against the stair railings. He continued up.

  Two more Nightwalkers came into view. Bruce darted to the floor as the first one fired at him, sending bullets whizzing past his shoulder. Don’t think, just move. He caught the first by his legs and sent him careening backward. The second flung her elbow at him, aiming for his neck—but Bruce spun out of the way as another round of bullets chipped against the wall. He vanished into the gloom of smoke before the two could turn back on him.

  A voice suddenly rang out over the hall’s speaker system. It was a voice Bruce recognized, and for an instant, he paused on the stairs.

  “Stop.” It was Madeleine. She was here after all. “Turn back now, or you risk the hostages’ lives.”

  Her words sent fury coursing through Bruce’s blood. Perhaps she had been the Nightwalkers’ boss all along. When you target my friends, he thought, it is always a fight involving me. He hesitated for a split second—what if they really started killing the hostages? I’m running out of time. He narrowed his eyes and continued his sprint up the stairwell.

  Another Nightwalker sprang into view, but Bruce had seen her coming from afar and was ready. He lashed out before she could open fire—his knee caught her hard in the ribs, and she went down with a hoarse cry. His boots clanged against the steps.

  Finally, he reached the top of the stairs. He kicked the stairwell door open and emerged onto the curving lobby of the concert hall’s balcony level. His boots hit the carpet. With his shades, he saw through the walls to where the concert chamber itself was at the end of the curving hall. The hostages were there. Bruce broke into a run again. As he went, he tapped his ear.

  Alfred’s voice came on. “The police are in,” he said. “Through the opening you made.”

  Bruce started to reply, but he never got the chance. At that moment, the door leading to the concert chamber’s balcony swung open, bringing Bruce to a skidding halt.

  Madeleine.

  She stood with a gun in her hand. It was strange to see her without a glass barrier to divide them, as if she had walked right out of some alternate reality and into his. She looked entirely different from how he remembered her in Arkham Asylum. Gone was her white prison jumpsuit. She now dressed from head to toe in dark blue, military-grade clothes—steel-toed boots, gun holsters at her wide belt, a long-sleeved shirt behind her bulletproof vest. Her hands were hidden under black leather gloves. Her long hair was tied tightly up into a high bun.

  How many versions of her was he going to meet? Her eyes no longer contained that familiar, mysterious, playful look. There was nothing amused about her—this was not the girl who stretched like a languid dancer, who pressed a slender finger to her lips to tease him, who curled up into a tight ball on her bed or wrapped her arms around her knees. This was the real Madeleine, cold and hard and made of steel. Someone capable of committing three murders.

  “Who are you?” she said, pointing her gun directly at him.

  How could he have ever felt for this girl? She was a complete stranger now—maybe she had always been a stranger, and he had never known anything about her. Would he die at her hands tonight? Would she sleep soundly after doing it?

  None of that mattered. She had Dianne and Lucius, and he wasn’t leaving tonight without them. He took a steady step forward.

  The corners of her lips turned up, and she straightened, tilting her head at him in her familiar, mocking way. “Ah,” she said. “You.”

  She’d figured out his identity from his gait. As sharp as ever. She shifted her gun away from him and straight toward the concert chamber door. At the same time, the door swung open, revealing a Nightwalker dragging a struggling person with him. Bruce’s heart stopped.

  It was Dianne. She fought against the arm wrapped around her neck, her face
a livid portrait of both terror and rage, but the Nightwalker hung tightly on.

  The Nightwalker was Richard Price.

  Bruce was so startled to see his former friend’s face that he nearly called out before remembering that no one was supposed to know he was here. Richard? A member of the Nightwalkers?

  Behind Richard’s menacing expression, though, was raw fear. And in that second, as Bruce met his eyes, he realized that Richard was just as terrified of being here as Dianne. As Bruce himself.

  Madeleine aimed her gun at Dianne’s head. “Don’t move any closer,” she commanded Bruce.

  He froze, glaring at Richard. “Let her go,” he snapped, his voice coming out distorted.

  Richard seemed to make a move, as if he almost wanted to do what Bruce said—but Madeleine gestured once at him with her gun. He immediately went back to doing what he was told. His eyes seemed red at the corners, like he’d been crying.

  Madeleine nodded at Bruce’s backpack. “Toss your toys over. Now.”

  Bruce met Dianne’s frightened dark eyes. She didn’t seem to know who he was, but she tried shaking her head, bravely telling him not to do it. He pushed the straps off his shoulders and flung the backpack to Madeleine. She caught it neatly, then slung it over her shoulder.

  “Thanks,” she said. Then her eyes darted to somewhere behind Bruce, and she gave an almost imperceptible nod.

  Bruce started to whirl around, but before he could, something heavy hit him hard behind his neck. Stars exploded before his eyes. He staggered forward. The world closed around him, black and suffocating. As he hit the floor, the only thing he could hear was Dianne’s scream.

  The first thing Bruce heard when he came to was Madeleine’s smooth, familiar voice. Her words drifted somewhere above him. He tried to turn in her direction, but pain lanced through his head, as if a thousand knives were stabbing into his skull. He uttered a hoarse groan and stopped.

  “You should be stripping his helmet off,” someone unfamiliar said.

  “I’ll worry about him, not you,” Madeleine replied.

  “But the boss wants his info, and if—”

  “If you’d like to take it up with him, be my guest. Now, stop wasting my time.”

  A reluctant silence. “Yes, of course.”

  Bruce tried to concentrate through his haze of pain. Madeleine wasn’t the boss, but she definitely had some sort of rank in the Nightwalkers organization. What had she done with Dianne? Where had they taken her? Why hadn’t Madeleine killed him yet? What info did they want from him? He stayed still as he became more conscious of his surroundings, keeping his eyes closed and his breathing even in an attempt to convince anyone around him that he wasn’t listening.

  “What the hell was that rogue drone?” Another voice. “I thought you checked to make sure all the patches were updated at the same time.”

  “It didn’t come from us,” Madeleine said. “It wasn’t on our grid—I don’t have the serial number on file.”

  “Must have come from somewhere else, wherever WayneTech keeps their stash.”

  “You have Lucius Fox down in the first row. Go ask him yourself.”

  At the mention of Lucius’s name, Bruce missed a beat in his breathing.

  Were they inside the concert chamber right now? Their voices didn’t echo the way they should, had they been overlooking the concert stage, and it was quiet. No shuffling feet of hostages, no occasional weeping or frightened murmur. After a moment of concentration, Bruce could make out the faint buzzing of an air conditioner somewhere. An admin office? A supply room?

  “He’s coming around,” Madeleine said, her voice drawing near. He opened his eyes. Lightbulbs lined the sides of two large mirrors against one wall, their warm, piercing light making him squint. Below them sat two vanities, each piled high not with creams and brushes and cosmetics, but with rifles and laptops. The backstage dressing rooms, Bruce thought groggily.

  He turned his head and saw Madeleine sitting on a chair beside him, her hair loose now, her elbows leaning casually on her knees, her fingers interlaced. She was studying his helmet but didn’t reach out to touch it. Behind her stood three Nightwalkers, two men and a woman, all staring grimly at Bruce with their guns drawn.

  How odd, it occurred to him, that their roles had now reversed—that he was her prisoner, and she his keeper.

  “Is he a cop? Is he going to survive?” the third Nightwalker, the youngest of the trio, now spoke up. Bruce’s vision sharpened enough to realize that it was Richard speaking. His face looked completely drained, and he clutched awkwardly at the gun at his belt as if he’d never used it before. “I—” Richard now went on after swallowing hard. “I didn’t ask to stay on—I don’t want to be here—”

  “You seemed okay with giving us a code into your dad’s account,” Madeleine replied without looking back.

  Richard blanched. Then his face contorted in guilt and anguish. “I thought you just wanted his money! I thought you—and now you—”

  “Ellison, Watts, get the new kid out of here,” Madeleine interrupted, nodding once toward the door. “It’s like listening to a goddamn broken record. Go.”

  The Nightwalkers needed no second bidding. They immediately straightened and filed out of the room without another word, leaving him alone in the room with her.

  Bruce’s mind whirled. Was Richard being held here against his will? He and his father had had their differences, but it didn’t sound like Richard had any idea the Nightwalkers would break into his home and kill his father. Maybe he had been blackmailed into doing other things, too.

  When the door finally clicked shut, Madeleine sighed and gave him a disappointed look. “Take off your helmet, Bruce,” she said.

  Bruce reached up and slowly pulled the helmet off his head. Cool air hit his exposed face. “Where’s Dianne?” he demanded. “If you hurt her—”

  Madeleine smiled, although the expression appeared bittersweet. “I thought that was you,” she said. “Calm down. Your friend’s unharmed, if a little upset.”

  “Let her go.” He glanced toward the door. “And Richard Price, too.”

  Madeleine rolled her eyes. “I didn’t force him to be here, you idiot. Boss recruited him of his own free will. Richard thought he was only getting a little revenge, thought he’d just cost his dad some money. Fool.”

  What? In a flash, Bruce pictured Richard’s disgusted expression at their graduation, the revelation that his father had cut him out of his trust fund. Then he thought of the police lights gathering at the Price family’s home. The mayor’s murder. Had Richard been responsible for opening up Bruce’s home for the Nightwalkers to infiltrate it? Would he really sell out his own father for revenge?

  You’re going to regret that. Those had been Richard’s last words to him before tonight. The memory chilled Bruce to the bone, and his fists tightened. Had he sold out Bruce to the Nightwalkers?

  “How long has he been working with the Nightwalkers?” Bruce asked her.

  “A couple of months.”

  A couple of months. At the benefit on the night of Bruce’s birthday, had Richard asked him for WayneTech access in an attempt to steal weapons for the Nightwalkers? Was working with the Nightwalkers the reason why Richard seemed better at fighting than Bruce remembered—why he knew moves that their coach hadn’t taught?

  “And how would you know that?” Bruce pressed. “You’ve been at Arkham that whole time.”

  Madeleine smiled a little. “You weren’t the only one who helped me escape from Arkham.”

  Connections were flashing through Bruce’s mind now, sending his heart racing. The city’s government—and the mayor—had power over and access to everything in Arkham. And Richard had access to the mayor. Bruce thought of Madeleine’s folded creations, of his theory of her secret messages. She’d mentioned an insider giving tips to the Nightwalkers before. Had Richard been the one helping the Nightwalkers receive Madeleine’s signals via the security cams? Had he made sure the right worke
rs gained access to her cell so that she could escape?

  Richard wasn’t just a friend who wanted to exploit their relationship. He was a desperate son, eager for approval, enraged at being denied it, and so determined to get back at his father that he’d gotten himself involved too deeply with the Nightwalkers.

  Bruce was shaking—from rage against his former friend or from grief for him, he wasn’t sure. You walked right into their trap, Richard, he thought bitterly. But Madeleine had tricked Bruce, too, hadn’t she?

  “What did you promise him, for doing all that?” Bruce asked through gritted teeth.

  “It’s more what we promised him we wouldn’t do,” Madeleine replied with a shrug.

  The rest of his family. His mother, his sister. Had the Nightwalkers threatened them, too?

  “You’re a pack of animals,” Bruce snarled.

  “And I told you to get out of Gotham City.”

  “You sent your hit men to kill me and Alfred in my own home.” The rage leaked thick from Bruce’s words, and he made no effort to stop it. “How generous of you.”

  Madeleine made an annoyed sound in her throat. “You honestly think I made that decision from Arkham? Don’t be stupid. Besides, they weren’t there to kill you. We needed you for more than that.”

  “So you were in on it after all. Don’t lie. You’ve done enough of that.”

  “It’s not a lie,” Madeleine said with a shrug. “I only told you what I knew at the time. I didn’t have to help you—not that you seem to listen.”

  “And what was it that you wanted? Access to my accounts? You wanted me to fund your terror campaigns, just like your past victims?”

  “You already did.” She gave him a taunting nod. “Thanks for your generosity.”

  “Yeah, I noticed,” Bruce snapped. “How did you get into my accounts?”

  “The same hack I used to get into the minds of your corporate drones.” She winked. “Pretty advanced tech your people are developing there, Bruce. Not advanced enough, but it did take me quite a few tries.”

  “And that’s why I’m not dead yet? You need me for access to everything else I own?”

 
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