Batman nightwalker, p.3
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.3

           Marie Lu
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  Soon the streets changed back to unbroken streetlights and unbarred windows. The paparazzi were slowly but surely gaining on him; if he didn’t throw them off now, they would end up parked outside his mansion gates, fabricating tabloid headlines for why he left his party early. Bruce’s eyes darkened at the thought, and he sped up until the car’s warning beep went off again.

  It wasn’t until he reached another series of stoplights that he heard the echo of police sirens.

  Bruce wondered for an instant if the sirens were for him, the police busting him for speeding. Then he realized that the sound was coming from somewhere up ahead—and not just from a single vehicle, but from what must be dozens.

  Curiosity cut through his dark mood. Bruce frowned as he listened to the wails. He had spent enough time following criminal cases on his own that the sound of sirens always made him sit up straighter. For this area of the city, an upscale shopping neighborhood, the sheer intensity of them seemed out of place. Bruce took a detour from the route that would have taken him back toward Wayne Manor, and instead headed in the direction of the sirens.

  As he rounded another bend, the wails suddenly turned deafening, and a mass of flashing red and blue lights blinked against the buildings near the end of the street. White barricades and yellow police tape completely blocked the intersection. Even from here, Bruce could see fire engines and black SWAT trucks clustered together, the silhouettes of police running back and forth in front of the headlights.

  Inside his car, the electronic voice came on again, followed by a transparent map overlaid against his windshield. “Heavy police activity ahead. Alternate route suggested.”

  A sense of dread filled his chest.

  Bruce flicked away the map and pulled to an abrupt halt in front of the barricade—right as the unmistakable pop-pop-pop of gunfire rang out in the night air.

  He remembered the sound all too well. The memory of his parents’ deaths sent a wave of dizziness through him. Another robbery. A murder. That’s what all this is.

  Then he shook his head. No, that can’t be right. There were far too many cops here for a simple robbery.

  “Step out of your vehicle, and put your hands in the air!” a police officer shouted through a megaphone, her voice echoing along the block. Bruce’s head jerked toward her. For an instant, he thought her command was directed at him, but then he saw that her back was turned, her attention fixed on the corner of the building bearing the name BELLINGHAM INDUSTRIES & CO. “We have you surrounded, Nightwalker! This is your final warning!”

  Another officer came running over to Bruce’s car. He whirled an arm exaggeratedly for Bruce to turn his car around. His voice harsh with panic, he warned, “Turn back now. It’s not safe!”

  Before Bruce could reply, a blinding fireball exploded behind the officer. The street rocked.

  Even from inside his car, Bruce felt the heat of the blast. Every window in the building burst simultaneously, a million shards of glass raining down on the pavement below. The police ducked in unison, their arms shielding their heads. Fragments of glass dinged like hail against Bruce’s windshield.

  From inside the blockade, a white car veered around the corner at top speed. Bruce saw immediately what the car was aiming for—a slim gap between the police barricades where a SWAT team truck had just pulled through.

  The car raced right toward the gap.

  “I said, get out of here!” the officer shouted at Bruce. A thin ribbon of blood trickled down the man’s face. “That is an order!”

  Bruce heard the scream of the getaway car’s tires against the asphalt. He’d been in his father’s garage a thousand times, helping him tinker with an endless number of engines from the best cars in the world. At WayneTech, Bruce had watched in fascination as tests were conducted on custom engines, conceptual jets, stealth tech, new vehicles of every kind.

  And so he knew: whatever was installed under that hood was faster than anything the GCPD could hope to have.

  They’ll never catch him.

  But I can.

  His Aston Martin was probably the only vehicle here that could overtake the criminal’s, the only one powerful enough to chase it down. Bruce’s eyes followed the path the car would likely take, his gaze settling on a sign at the end of the street that pointed toward the freeway.

  I can get him.

  The white getaway vehicle shot straight through the gap in the barricade, clipping two police cars as it went.

  No, not this time. Bruce slammed his gas pedal.

  The Aston Martin’s engine let out a deafening roar, and the car sped forward. The officer who’d shouted at him stumbled back. In the rearview mirror, Bruce saw him scramble to his feet and wave the other officers’ cars forward, both his arms held high.

  “Hold your fire!” Bruce could hear him yelling. “Civilian in proximity—hold your fire!”

  The getaway car made a sharp turn at the first intersection, and Bruce sped behind it a few seconds later. The street zigzagged, then turned in a wide arc as it led toward the freeway—and the Nightwalker took the on-ramp, leaving a trail of exhaust and two black skid marks on the road.

  Bruce raced forward in close pursuit; his car mapped the ground instantly, swerving in a perfect curve to follow the ramp onto the freeway. He tapped twice on the windshield right over where the Nightwalker’s white vehicle was.

  “Follow him,” Bruce commanded.

  It was a feature meant to make it easier for two cars to caravan with each other. Now a green target highlighted over the white car, and the Aston Martin’s voice spoke up: “Car locked on.” A small map appeared on the corner of the windshield, showing exactly where the getaway car was in proximity to Bruce. No matter how much the white car tried to escape now, it wouldn’t be able to shake him.

  Bruce narrowed his eyes and urged the car faster. His entire body tingled from the rush of adrenaline. “Override,” he said the instant the car tried to get him to slow down. He snaked between cars from one lane to another. The Aston Martin responded with blinding accuracy, knowing exactly when he could cut into a narrow space and how fast he needed to be.

  Already Bruce was catching up to the Nightwalker’s car, and the Nightwalker knew it. The other car started to cut wildly back and forth. The few vehicles still on the freeway swerved out of their way as they wove between lanes.

  A spotlight flooded Bruce and the freeway in front of him. He glanced up to see a black chopper flying low and parallel to their chase. Far behind him were the flashing lights of the GCPD cars, but they were a distant sight, getting rapidly smaller.

  What the hell am I doing? Bruce thought in a feverish daze. But he didn’t let up on the gas. Instead, he leaned back and floored the pedal. His eyes were fixed on the swerving white car before him.

  Just a little more. Bruce was so close now that he could see the driver look back to glare at him. The white car swerved around a truck carrying a load of enormous pipes, forcing the driver into Bruce’s lane. The Aston Martin beeped a warning as it automatically veered to the side. Bruce yanked the steering wheel sharply. For an instant, he thought he would hit the side of the truck—but his car slid into the lane by the barest of margins, a perfect fit.

  In this moment, in spite of everything, Bruce felt invincible, even natural, his focus narrowing in on nothing but the sight of his target and the thud of his heart.

  Overhead, the voice from the chopper’s megaphone called out to him. “Pull over,” it shouted. “Civilian, stand down. You will be arrested. Stop your vehicle!”

  But Bruce had caught up to his target. Almost there. He tightened his grip on his steering wheel, hoping his calculations were correct. If he clipped him in the rear correctly, the Nightwalker car’s speed and friction would probably flip him. It ends here.

  Alfred’s going to kill me.

  Bruce patted the steering wheel once. His heart twisted for an instant at what he was about to do. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured to the Aston Martin.

  Then he sped up. The car tried to stop him this time, and he felt the resistance in the steering wheel against his move. “ALERT! Collision ahead!”

  “Override,” Bruce shouted, then rammed his vehicle into the back of the Nightwalker’s car.

  The crunch of metal slamming into metal.

  Bruce felt a shock wave ripple through his body as his neck whipped sideways and he was hurled in an arc, his seat belt cutting into his chest from the force. The other car’s tires screamed against the pavement—or maybe that was Bruce, he wasn’t sure—and he saw the vehicle flip, momentarily airborne. The world streaked around him. For an instant, he caught a glimpse of the driver’s face—a man, eyes wide, his pale skin dotted with blood.

  The white car crashed upside down. Glass exploded out in all directions as the metal frame crushed into a gnarled mass. Even though Bruce knew, as he shook his head groggily, that everything must have taken less than a second, he felt like he could see the metal twisting section by section, the million individual splinters of the windows cutting through the air.

  Police swarmed the white car, their rifles pointed directly at the driver inside. He looked conscious, if barely.

  “Don’t move, Nightwalker!” an officer yelled. “You’re under arrest!”

  Bruce felt another wave of dizziness hit. As one of the officers approached him, shouting angrily now, Bruce heard his car issue a voice call alerting Alfred as well as sending his coordinates to him and the police.

  Bruce’s guardian answered on the first ring, voice tense and frantic. “Master Wayne! Master Wayne?”

  “Alfred,” Bruce heard himself say. “Could use a pickup.” He couldn’t understand what Alfred said in reply—he wasn’t even sure if he could hear Alfred’s words. All he remembered was slumping in his seat, and the world going dark.

  Interfering with a crime scene. Disobeying a police officer’s orders. Obstruction of justice.

  If Bruce had been hoping to avoid news coverage after the flurry on his eighteenth birthday, slamming his brand-new car into a criminal’s vehicle was probably not the best way to do it. Especially not so soon before graduation.

  At least the headlines had veered away from talk of his parents and his money, focusing instead on questions about Bruce’s well-being and splashing photos of his ruined car on their front pages. Rumors of his possible death had swirled online almost instantly after the wreck, along with speculation about whether he was driving while intoxicated or escaping the police.

  “An eventful couple of weeks?” said Lucius Fox from across the table.

  They sat together in a waiting room at the courthouse, watching as the TV news repeated the footage of his Aston Martin crashing into the getaway car. Two weeks had passed since the crash, and Bruce still had a mild headache from the concussion he had suffered. He’d missed a full week of school because of it, and spent the second enduring questions from classmates and swarms of reporters hanging out at the manor’s gates. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a hint of satisfaction at the TV’s news coverage. It was clear to everyone who watched it—even Lucius—that the car would have escaped from the police had Bruce not intervened.

  Not that it mattered to the court.

  “Well, our car did everything it should have, right?” Bruce ventured. “How was that for a test of its safety features?”

  Lucius raised an eyebrow at him, unable to hide a slight smile at his comment, then sighed and shook his head. At least he didn’t have the panicked look on his face today that he did when he first visited Bruce at the hospital and saw him strapped to an IV. “It’s my fault,” he replied. “I shouldn’t have asked you to take that car to the benefit in the first place.”

  “Well, I ended up in the right place at the right time.”

  “Or the wrong place at the wrong time, Bruce. Why did you do it? You suddenly felt a need to dole out justice?”

  It was the question the police had asked him first, too, but Bruce still wasn’t sure how to answer. “Because I knew I could stop him, I guess,” he replied. “And the police couldn’t. Was I just supposed to stand by and watch?”

  “You’re not in law enforcement, Bruce,” Lucius said. “You can’t just intervene like that.” The man’s eyes turned stern for a moment. “If you didn’t look the way you did, the police might have shot you dead for pulling a stunt like that.”

  Guilt hit him, and Bruce couldn’t answer. If he could have intervened in that alley where his parents died so many years ago, his life might have turned out very differently. Lucius was right, of course, and it sent a thread of shame through him. His pale skin may have saved his life. “I won’t do it again,” he said instead, softly.

  The video panned to police shouting at the other driver to come out, and the man being pulled out of the wreckage. “A low-ranking member of the Nightwalkers,” the reporter said. “Little is known about the group, although authorities have released their symbol, one that appears at the locations of each target.”

  Nightwalkers. Bruce recalled the word being shouted by the police that night. He’d heard this group’s name mentioned on the news more frequently over the past year; in fact, the primary suspect in the murder of that businessman—Sir Robert Grant—was considered a Nightwalker, too. On the TV, an image appeared of a coin engulfed in flames, then of that symbol sprayed on the side of buildings at various crime scenes. There was something ominously personal about the symbol, the burning of wealth, like the Nightwalkers would gladly do it to Bruce himself if given the chance.

  “Well, Bruce,” Lucius said as the footage began to repeat. He leaned back in his chair, running a hand absently over his closely cropped dark curls. The lights in the room cast a faint blue highlight against his brown skin. “I suppose our summer plans will have to change.”

  Bruce turned to face his mentor. For being the new head of research and development at WayneTech, Lucius Fox was remarkably young. His smile was quick, his eyes bright and alert, and his step energetic in a way that made it seem like he was perpetually eager to change the world.

  “I can still come into the lab in my spare time,” Bruce suggested, giving Lucius a hopeful look. “Just make sure I’m not the one driving.”

  Lucius let out a soft laugh at that. “We’ll figure things out around your new schedule.” He nodded toward a tablet lying between them on the table. “The world’s more dangerous than you give it credit for, Bruce. We’re just trying to watch your back, okay?”

  Bruce studied the tablet. It was currently logged in to his bank accounts, accessible only with his fingerprints and a code, showing off the new security technology Lucius and WayneTech had developed. If your accounts are opened suspiciously, say, with the wrong code, Lucius had told him, it’ll send our security network an alert and remotely disable the offending computer in an instant.

  Bruce gave Lucius a nod. “Thanks for this,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing all your team’s been up to.”

  Lucius’s brown eyes lit up. “Our security drones aren’t ready to patrol Gotham City just yet—although we’ve already successfully pitched our Advanced Defense Armament to Metropolis. They’re going in on a huge buy for us.”

  The Advanced Defense Armament project. It was a mission that Lucius and Bruce shared a common passion for—encryption tech to secure Gotham City’s banks just as it secured Bruce’s accounts, drone machines to secure the city’s streets. Technology, on all fronts, to save them. “That’s good. This city needs to be safer,” he said quietly. “We’ll make it happen with this—I’m sure of it.”

  Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce could see the news once again showing footage of the Nightwalker. He had killed himself in jail by slashing both his wrists with a smuggled razor the day before detectives were going to interrogate him. The police still had no idea what the Nightwalkers had been up to inside that building—and now, with their only suspect dead, they had lost their biggest lead.

  Bruce studied the mug shot on the screen, trying to
come to terms with the fact that this man he’d seen alive just two weeks ago was now dead. The thought made his stomach turn. This guy must have been either intensely loyal to or terrified of his boss, whoever that was.

  Lucius nodded at the TV. “With Nightwalkers in the streets, it needs to happen sooner rather than later.” A silence lingered between them, the memory of his late parents suddenly heavy in the air, before Lucius finally got to his feet. He walked over to Bruce’s side and put a hand on his shoulder. “Steady, Bruce,” he said kindly.

  Bruce remembered this look from when he would visit WayneTech with his father and listen as Lucius—then a promising intern—gave his father a rundown of new projects he was working on. Now Bruce smiled back at his mentor. “Sorry for the trouble, Lucius.”

  Lucius gave him another pat on the shoulder. “Someday I’ll let you in on all the trouble I got into when I was your age.” Then he bid him goodbye and stepped out of the room.

  Bruce’s phone dinged. He looked down to see a group text from Harvey and Dianne.

  Harvey: hey, so, what’s the official verdict?

  Bruce: What else? Guilty.

  Harvey: sorry, man. What’s your sentence?

  Bruce: Probation for five weeks, and community service.

  Harvey: nooooo.

  Dianne: that’s like half the summer! and finals and graduation are coming up! Did they say where you have to do it?

  Bruce: Not yet.

  Harvey didn’t respond to that, but Dianne texted back a string of sad-face emojis. Let’s hang out soon, she said. To celebrate that you survived without breaking your neck. We’re overdue for our birthday diner trip. A pause. You’re going to be ok, ok?

  Bruce cracked a smile at that. Thanks, he texted back.

  Just when he was starting to wonder how much longer he’d have to stay in the room, two police officers stepped inside. One of them nodded for Bruce to follow them out. “You’re free to go,” he said. “We’ll take you home. Your guardian will meet you there, along with Detective Draccon.”

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