There was a long-standing debate regarding personal cell phone use. Batman had a strict no personal effects in uniform policy, which made sense when one was on a mission or patrolling Gotham, but Batgirl had never seen the point in refusing to bring personal effects to the Watch Tower – and she knew Nightwing had a few loosely connected to Dick Grayson posters on his wall. Still, Batman didn’t have the police commissioner for a father. One would think that given Bruce’s obsessive worry over his sons’ safety, he would understand that Barbara had to have a way to contact her father. Of course, that would take admitting that Batman obsessively worried about his Robins, which would never happen.
The problem was that Batgirl couldn’t use a burner phone to call the police commissioner because he wasn’t supposed to know his daughter was a very involved member of the Bat colony that had invaded Gotham. In the end, Barbara had connected her phone to her wrist computer and heavily encoded the programming. It was a risk, but it was a calculated one.
Of course, had she not bothered with the elaborate code she wouldn’t have received Dick’s text.
He was in trouble. Babs was certain of it. Dick didn’t just text, ‘hey’. He texted memes, rather random bits of information, the end of a conversation he hadn’t realized you weren’t in, and occasionally, a coherent conversation. Hey was the equivalent of I-don’t-know-what-to-say-but-I-don’t want-to-be-alone-with-my-thoughts-right-now. It drove Barbara mad with worry.
She knew he had other friends – knew she wasn’t the only one he counted on. She should have ignored his text. She couldn’t be there for Dick right now. She was leading a mission, but as Miss Martian flew the bioship, Barbara was more and more focused on what Dick was doing right now. She should text him back, just check in.
Penny for your thoughts? M’gann’s voice interrupted her internal dilemma.
It took all of Barbara’s training not to jump at the mental intrusion.
Sorry, M’gann’s voice continued. You just seem distracted.
Probably because I am.
Want to talk about it?
There’s no need. We should focus.
We still have an hour of flight time. M’gann’s tone of voice softened. It’s Dick, isn’t it?
Barbara felt her cheeks heat up. Did everyone know how often the former Boy Wonder was on her mind?
I’m worried about him too. M’gann continued, and Babs kicked herself. Of course, M’gann was just concerned about her friend. The whole world didn’t know about her ridiculous crush.
He’s fine. Barbara replied and forced herself to believe it.
The Martian gave her a serious sideeye and her doubt floated across the telepathic link. Luckily, Babs was saved from responding by Wonder Girl’s timely interruption.
“So…” the girl shifted in her seat. “Are we just going to sit in silence for the entire flight?”
“Hello Megan! Sorry, Wonder Girl! We were chatting telepathically,” M’gann replied.
Wonder Girl shifted back to the front. “I see,” she said, voice clipped.
Batgirl jerked her chin towards the blonde and felt the synaptic soothing of an additional person being added to the link.
Miss Martian saw me check my wrist computer and asked if we had any updates, Wonder Girl. Across the bond, Batgirl felt the calming of bruised pride. Cassie hadn’t learned enough mental control to block basic thoughts and emotions from floating across the mental bond effectively. Batgirl hated this part of leadership. She was glad Aqualad was back in his rightful role. Kaldur had greater patience with teaching others than she ever would.
Don’t apologize. Let’s go over the plan again.
There was a quiet groan from Cassie.
M’gann giggled. You’re fault. You wanted to be a part of the conversation.
Seriously, Batgirl, do you every talk about anything besides work?
M’gann’s smirk was poorly concealed, and Barbara didn’t need anything to distract her further. Dick would be fine. He had plenty of friends, and she would check in as soon as he was back. Her job right now was to lead this mission. She shut her side of the mental link and spoke allowed.
“When we arrive in Miami, Miss Martain will take the commercial docks. Wonder Girl will take Dodge Island and the tourist area. We know the drug often arrives via seaports on coastal cities, but we’re not sure if it’s being smuggled in by phony tourists or shipping companies. I’m covering Overtown as it has the highest rate of drug use and a new drug would hit the streets there quickly. The goal is to find the supplier. We need to know where this drug is coming from.”
She had purposefully placed Cassie in between Miss Martian and herself. Wonder Girl was an incredibly gifted hero, but she sometimes got in over her head with her lack of foresight. Once she corrected that mistake, she’d be an extremely formidable ally. Until then, Batgirl would keep her sandwiched, so a more experienced team member would be able to help her quickly.
It was too much to hope that the inventor of smash would be in Miami, but Batgirl hoped that at least, a senior level operative would be around that could lead her to the chemist responsible. The team that was sent to Stockton after the last reporting of smash successfully stopped the drug from spreading by destroying the supply, but they found zero clues to the origin of the drug.
Batgirl was going to change that. She had to.
Miami in October was still oppressively hot. It was 80 degrees with high humidity in the night air. Batgirl’s costume clung to her like a still drying papier-mache project. She was melting. This was ridiculous. How did people tolerate this? Batgirl sipped from her now lukewarm water. She forced herself to swallow despite the taste. She couldn’t afford to dehydrate.
This city was terrible.
It was nearing 3am, and she hadn’t seen a single sign of smash on the streets. Miss Martian and Wonder Girl had reported similar depressing results. She reminded herself that it was only the first night. They had time.
“I’m calling it,” Batgirl spoke into the comms.
“Oh, thank Zeus!”
“Meet at our rendezvous point. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
It was the fourth night of their week-long surveillance when Batgirl finally spotted a drug dealer who was smart enough not to use his own product. She swooped down with her cape unfurling behind her. She landed with a loud thud and used the shadows to make herself appear larger than she was.
“Who the hell are you?” The man asked. He was short, probably no taller than 5’4”, but he was lean and fit. A gun was tucked loosely in the waistband of his mesh basketball shorts – hardly a secure mode of transporting the weapon. He wore a white tank top and sneakers that easily cost upwards of a grand.
“I need information,” she growled.
The man scoffed, “Chica, you need –”
Batgirl flung a batarang into the man’s calf before sexist drivel could escape. Cursing loudly in Spanish the man collapsed onto one knee and pulled the gun out of his waistband. Batgirl threw another batarang knocking the gun across the alley.
“I need information,” she repeated.
“¡Hija de perra! Who the hell are you?” The man yelled as he placed his hands on the blood slowly trickling from his wound.
“Shit! I thought the Bats lived in Gotham,” the man ranted.
“I need information,” Batgirl repeated again.
Barbara flung a batarang right next to the man’s other leg. “Try again,” she commanded.
The man paled slightly.
“Where do you get your supply of purple?”
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.”
Whipping her leg around, Batgirl kicked the man to the ground then placed her boot on his chest with the toe of her boot placing pressure on his Adam’s apple. “Do not lie to me. You sold purple tonight. When I release you, you’re going to tell me where it came from. Is that clear?” The man gave a shaky nod. “Good.”
Batgirl stepped back and ignored the foul curses the man spat as he rubbed his neck.
“The intersection of Tenth Street and I 441, there’s a building covered with graffiti. You can’t miss it.”
She pulled a bandage from her belt and dropped it on the ground next to the man. “I called an ambulance three minutes ago. It should be here soon.” With that, she pulled her grapple and flew to the nearest rooftop. She had a building to surveil.
Her coms cracked to life as she returned to her bike. “Miss Martian to Beta. I’ve got something.”
“I found several shipping containers loaded with smash. There’s four men unloading the container into trucks and six armed guards.”
“Wonder Girl assist Miss Martian in the takedown. I’m pursuing a different lead.”
Ignoring the posted speed limit signs, Batgirl raced to her destination. Finally, there seemed to be promising leads. Lord willing, they would gather enough information to find the supply chain for smash. She parked her motorcycle in a dark alley a few buildings away. Then she grappled to the roof. Miami didn’t have nearly the same architecture as Gotham. There were no gargoyles or buttress to hide behind. Most of the buildings were low to the ground, which meant it would be easy for someone passing by to spot her. Fortunately, it was upwards of 2:30 am, which meant few cars were driving by, and she was in an area where the government forgot to replace street lamps.
The darkness would serve her well.
Pulling out her binoculars, she searched the outside of the building for guards or potential drug dealers, but the streets and alleys were empty. Her equipment showed that the building didn’t have an alarm system. It seemed this place was used most often for an exchange of goods than a headquarters of any kind. Keeping her frustration in check, she dropped in between two buildings to finish her surveillance on foot.
Closer, she found no evidence of a suppressed alarm system or hidden people. The door to the building no longer shut properly; it swung open with little force. Rats scurried away at her entrance, but the cockroaches weren’t bothered. The room before here was largely empty save for the pests, trash, and used syringes. An old mattress lay in on corner and opposite that was a hallway to another room.
Batgirl opened the door and heard the hissing of an air canister. Ingrained training had her holding her breath and reaching for her rebreather. She placed the piece over her nose and mouth and pivoted, so her back was flush against a wall. She wouldn’t allow anyone to sneak up on her.
Multiple assailants with gas masks flew in through the window. Batgirl threw two batarangs and cartwheeled away. Gunshots embedded in the concrete where she had been previously standing. Landing in a crouch, she threw a smoke pellet, filling the room with smoke. The gunshots rang loud in the enclosed space. Batgirl flew to the masked man closest to her and knocked him unconscious with a quick blow to the head while he was reloading his gun.
She dropped to her knee, dodging another’s shot and threw another batarang into the hand of the goon who shot at her. A grenade rolled to the middle of the floor beside her. The gunfire stopped as cursing filled the room. Batgirl sprang up and jumped towards the open door. She felt the heat of the blast and a sharp pain. And then, nothing.
Batgirl blinked awake and groaned. She tried to bring her hands to massage her aching head, only to discover her wrists were handcuffed and attached to the ceiling by a metal pole that ran across the ceiling. Realizing that forced her brain to remember that her shoulders were pulled tight. A steady burn crept along them and it wouldn’t be long before they were on fire. Mercifully, her feet were planted firmly on the floor, but there was no give for her to bend her legs at all.
She blinked again and realized she wasn’t wearing her cowl. Batgirl still had on her suit, but her gloves and utility belt were missing. It wasn’t uncommon for villains to take those items, so she always carried extra lockpicks in the sleeves of her uniform. Getting them out while her body was dangling from her wrists was going to be difficult.
The room she was in had solid gray walls with a metal door that clearly locked from the outside. The pole that ran across the ceiling ran parallel to the door, but she was a good twenty feet away from the door. Batgirl wouldn’t be able to ambush anyone until her hands were free. She’d have to pick the handcuffs and then figure out how to get the door open. A line of duct tape was on the floor approximately five feet from her. There weren’t any computers or cameras in the room, which would giver her a slight advantage, but Batgirl had no clue what would be beyond this room. She needed more information.
Pushing herself up onto her tiptoes gave her shoulders a moment of relief and gave her more maneuverability in her wrists to tease one of her lockpicks out of her sleeve. She almost had one out of her sleeve when the grating sound of metal against concrete forced her to drop so her feet were flat on the ground. In her haste, the lockpick slipped from her hands and fell down the sleeve of her uniform. That pick wouldn’t be any help.
“Ah, you’re awake,” a young woman said as the door shut behind her. The woman wore khakis and a blue green top with a white lab coat. She had light brown hair that was pulled into a loose ponytail and brown eyes behind light pink plastic glasses. The woman wasn’t especially attractive or unattractive and had no identifying marks. In fact, everything about her look screamed average. “I’m Dr. Amanda Barnes. I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
Batgirl’s eyes widened. This couldn’t be the chemist she had spent all that time hunting. She hadn’t expected someone who was clearly intelligent to just waltz in and offer their name.
“Congratulations, Batgirl! Or should I say Barbara Gordon? You found me!”
Barbara’s mouth dropped open. Yes, her cowl had been removed, but she hadn’t expected to be identified so quickly. Barbara Gordon was hardly famous or well known even in Gotham.
Dr. Barnes walked to where the duct tape line crossed the floor but didn’t cross it. “Don’t look so surprised. I also know that Batman is Bruce Wayne.”
“How?” Barbara stuttered as her brain struggled to reboot.
“Please, the better question is how does everyone not know? Wayne is the only one who could afford Batman’s ridiculous toys. Batman’s injuries always correlate with a Bruce Wayne vacation, and the Robins change every time a new kid enters his home,” the woman explained with an air that suggested everyone else was an idiot. It was a tone of voice Barbara was intimately familiar with. “But then, you figured it out as well. I respect you, Batgirl, which is why I didn’t kill you or your friends. Female geniuses need to stick together.” Dr. Barnes walked along the length of the duct tape. “But I need you to stop cutting into my profits.”
Ignoring most of that speech, Barbara ground out. “Where are my friends?”
Dr. Barnes gave her a half smile. “They’re contained, and it cost me ten men and a shipment of my drug to capture them. I have no plans to kill them although they’ll both probably need to be rescued when we’re done.”
“Where are they?”
Brown eyes rolled dramatically, but Dr. Barnes pulled a tablet from the inside pocket of her white lab coat. After tapping and swiping in a pattern Batgirl couldn’t recognize, she held up the tablet to show two camera feeds. Miss Martian was laying on the floor sweating. Nothing was physically holding her down, but the room she was in was clearly too hot for her to function. In the corner, it appeared that a fire was flickering and growing. Wonder Girl was standing with a panicked look on her face as she stuffed the shirt of her uniform in a hole of a steel container that was filling with water. Wonder Girl was trying to use her super strength to stop the flow of the water.
“It appears that Wonder Girl didn’t think to ascertain her location before trying to punch her way out,” Dr. Barnes said with a voice so full of disappointment that Barbara wanted to defend Cassie.
“I thought you didn’t plan on killing them,” she replied, refusing to allow her own panic to show.
The woman shrugged, and Barbara felt a rage that was normally reserved for the Joker. She couldn’t stand those who couldn’t even pretend to value human life. “I don’t, but I can hardly prevent them from killing themselves.”
Instead of answering, Batgirl swung her weight forward into a running kick. The pain in her wrists from being tugged back violently was nothing compared to her ultimate goal of dislodging a lockpick from her sleeve. The violent swing of her body forced a lockpick out of her sleeve. Slowly, she moved her thumb to grab it. Dr. Barnes hardly looked interested in the attempt Batgirl made. Belatedly, Barbara realized why the floor was marked with duct tape. She couldn’t reach the other woman as long as she was on the other side of that line.
“I understand that you had to try, but next time don’t doubt my calculations,” the woman replied with a long-suffering sigh. She dropped the tablet back into her interior pocket. “Now, as Wonder Girl has thoughtlessly cut our bargaining time short. I’m going to tell you what I want in exchange for your freedom. Leave me alone, Batgirl. Stop cutting into my profits when my drug enters a new city or town.”
“Your drug is killing people!”
“Capitalism kills people,” Dr. Barnes corrected. “Companies that refuse to pay their workers a liveable wage kill people. Laws that militarized the police in certain neighborhoods kill people. Refusing to address the exorbitant prices of medicine kills people. Life kills people. Those smart enough to protect themselves won’t find themselves addicted to my baby.”
Barbara snorted. At least that lecture had allowed her to get her lockpick in place. “So what? Only the strong survive?”
“Only the smart survive. We’re surrounded by idiots. Surely, you’ve noticed.”
“Being intelligent is not the only measure of worth,” Batgirl argued.
The woman rolled her eyes again. “If your friend had a single intelligent cell in her body, she would have noticed she was sinking in the ocean before trying to punch her way out. I have all the time in the world to debate the ethical ramifications of my actions, but judging by the rate of the water’s flow into the shipping container, your friend only has two maybe three hours. Your choice, Batgirl.”
Barbara forced her panic down and faced the situation with as much logic as she could. Dr. Barnes would hardly be swayed by emotional outbursts, and she had said she respected Barbara’s intelligence. Besides if she could keep the woman distracted from her hands, Batgirl could pick the lock before the woman noticed. She needed a little longer to get the pins in place. “Given your own level of intelligence, you could hardly trust my word to back off.”
“You’re right. Instead, I want a video recording of you confirming Batman’s identity. I’ll keep it on file. As long as you drop your investigation, I won’t release it to the public,” Dr. Barnes informed her as she crossed her arms underneath her beasts.
“You’re insane,” Batgirl replied.
“Perhaps.” The woman shrugged. “But I’ll return in an hour. I’m sure you’ll change your mind when Wonder Girl is blue from the cold and her container is half full of water.”
Dr. Barnes turned to leave the room, which gave Batgirl the opening to twist her lockpick one final time and allow her wrist to escape. She ran and did a flying kick at the woman, knocking her done before she could escape the room. Quickly and decisively, Batgirl knocked her out and stole the tablet from her pocket. She stripped the woman of her lab coat and used it to tie her hands behind her back. It wasn’t the most effective means of capture, but it was all she had at the moment.
She tugged her cowl back over her face and hacked the tablet. Accessing the Young Justice emergency line was a quick feat and she called the Watch Tower, hoping to reach Aqualad first.
“Batgirl to Young Justice,” she called.
Kaldur’s smooth voice answered her, “This is Aqualad.”
Praise the Lord for small mercies. “Aqualad, I need an emergency water evac off the coast of Miami. Wonder Girl is trapped in a rapidly sinking shipping container that’s filling with water.”
“Understood. What’s your status?”
“Currently, I’m escaping from the psycho behind smash, and then I’m going to find Miss Martian,” Barbara replied as she searched for schematics of the place on her newly acquired tablet.
“Will you need additional assistance?” Aqualad asked.
“No,” Batgirl replied. She planned to be out of here before help could arrive. She wasn’t a damsel in distress. She was a hero, who could handle herself.
There was a pause on the line. She wondered what Kaldur was thinking. If he doubted her, he didn’t show it. “I’m on my way.”
Batgirl cut the com line and pulled up the video surveillance. M’gann appeared to only be a few hallways away, and it looked like there were only 9 guards between her and her teammate. Unfortunately, five of them were directly outside her door. Three were guarding the door and two others sat at computers watching the room. Why would Dr. Barnes not put a camera in this room if she had one every where else?
She didn’t want anyone else to know Barbara’s identity. Hopefully, that meant that she was the only one who knew Batman’s alter ego. It was going to be hard enough to deal with Dr. Barnes’s knowledge of the event.
One problem at a time, Babs.
Formulating a takedown plan, she said a small prayer and opened the door to her cell. Batgirl changed the lenses in her mask and dug her emergency smoke bomb from her boot. Tossing the pellet into the room, she swept the feet out from the guard closest to her cell and flipped away. She ran to the men by the computers, zigzagging to avoid the accidental bullet and knocked them unconscious before they could sound the alarms.
The other guards cursed. Gunfire filled the room. She cartwheeled out of the way. Batgirl would kill for her batarangs right now. She summersaulted towards the next guard and kicked him in the leg dislocating his knee. The man tried to shoot her, but she stomped on his wrist, breaking the bone. She kicked the gun across the room. The man yelped and Batgirl spun to deal with the other two attackers.
Unfortunately, the room began to clear of smoke. Without her utility built, Batgirl didn’t have access to any of her equipment. The two remaining guards aimed their guns with far more focused precision. Batgirl cursed and danced closer to them. A blow to her abdomen told her that she hadn’t quit missed all of the bullets. That would bruise but thank the Lord for Kevlar. She roundhouse kicked the gun out from the guard closest to her and felt a burn across her thigh. Batgirl turned her fall into a summersault and knocked the last guard to the floor.
Knocking the last two defeated men unconscious, Barbara inspected the wound at her thigh. The good news was that it was just a graze. The bad news was that it still hurt like hell and she had no way to bandage it without her utility belt.
Batgirl immediately decided that wisdom was the better part of valor. Hacking the computers in front of her, she directed the guards to a fake rescue attempt on the other side of the building. She waited for the guards to clear out before limping her way to M’gann’s room.
She knew she was close when she felt the temperature increase significantly. The metal door burned her hands when she touched it. Batgirl kicked it open and her yelp of pain was cut off by the stifling atmosphere of M’gann’s cell. The room’s oppressive heat and smoke in the room forced Batgirl into a coughing fit. Batgirl dropped to the floor and crawled towards her friend. Grabbing her, she dragged M’gann out of the hellhole.
Her vision was going black, and she felt nauseous. The zipper on the back of her uniform burned across her skin, but she got them out of the room. The hallway was no filled with smoke, but if felt significantly cooler.
Batgirl sagged against wall as she waited for her vision to return. She wasn’t sure she could stand, and she was afraid she’d vomit if she tried. She pressed her check into the cooler floor and prayed for relief.
“Gonna need you to wake up M’gann,” she cried.
The Martian moaned, but didn’t move. Well, the moan was progress. If Batgirl could get them further away from the heat, Miss Martian should be able to get them clear of the building. She hoped.
She forced herself to stand and immediately broke into a coughing fit. Batgirl should have found her utility belt before attempting a rescue. She ignored her inner critic. Now wasn’t the time to analyze the mission she needed to act. Batgirl hefted M’gann up and threw one of her arms over her shoulders and dragged them away from the flames and oppressive heat.
M’gann moaned again.
It wasn’t until Barbara was two hallways away from the flames that M’gann regained consciousness.
“What? Batgirl, what’s going on?”
“Oh, thank God!” Barbara exclaimed as she stumbled. Her lungs and leg were on fire.
M’gann caught her, panic filling her face. “What’s wrong?”
Batgirl coughed. “Smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Gonna need you to get us out of here.” A coughing fit erupted from her lungs, cutting her next sentence off.
Stop talking. M’gann commanded telepathically.
Eagerly, Batgirl complied. Aqualad is rescuing Wonder Girl. You should be able to link us up and get us out of here.
What do you need?
M’gann nodded and scooped Barbara up in a princess carry. Miss Martian took a minute to do something telepathically before floating the two of them out of the building and flying away. Batgirl couldn’t keep track of their trajectory, but she trusted the Martian with her life.
Miss Martian deposited her in the chair of the bioship. Batgirl sagged against the chair and focused on her breathing. Soon Aqualad and Wonder Girl were in the bioship as well. Barbara looked Cassie over. She was soaking wet but appeared unharmed.
“You look terrible,” Cassie exclaimed as she sat in the chair text to her. Wonder Girl bit her lip. A tell that Batgirl had tried to train out of her.
Kaldur squatted in front of her. He cast cool water across her burning skin. “Her temperature is significantly elevated. Wonder Girl, grab a water bottle. She needs fluids.”
Batgirl coughed. “We need to pick up Dr. Barnes.”
Kaldur shook his head. “We need to get you to a medic.”
“I’m fine!” Batgirl rasped, surprised at how hoarse her voice sounded.
“You stopped sweating. Your temperature is dangerously high, and your voice suggests significant smoke inhalation. Miss Martian also mentioned that you blacked out on the flight back to the bioship,” Kaldur informed her. His voice was always so patient and smooth.
Wonder Girl handed Kaldur the water bottle, which he brought to her lips. Batgirl was immediately annoyed that he didn’t hand the bottle to her, but her limbs felt inexplicably tired. She swallowed the cool water. Kaldur took the bottle away after a few sips.
“Wonder Girl can pick up Dr. Barnes,” Batgirl said, pleased that she didn’t cough.
The three occupants of the room shared a glance. Then Kaldur nodded. M’gann opened the floor of the bioship and Cassie shot out of the ship.
“Thank you,” Barbara replied, shutting her eyes and drifting off.