Robin tumbled forwards onto a hard floor, followed a second later by his best friend, who, of course, landed on top of him.
Wally groaned as they got to their feet. Only then did he look up and immediately wished he hadn't.
They were in a large room of some sort, made of darker grey concrete than wherever they'd been. And they weren't alone. Twenty other people were present including such welcoming faces as Sportsmaster, Cheshire, Black Manta, Mr. Freeze, Zatanna (in new, evil-colored threads, no less) a weak-looking Psimon and a dozen other guys, many of whom had very dangerous-looking guns. The others seemed stunned at the new arrivals for a second, but quickly recovered and pointed their various weapons at the two boys.
From the shadows, the infamous jar-shape of the Brain appeared, flanked by his gorilla lackey.
"It seems we have intruders" Brain said. "Please, if you all would deal with them."
"Uh, Rob?" whispered Wally as his friend slowly got to his feet.
"I totally blame you for this."
December 28, 11:34 CST
"And, here we are" said Hugo Strange, gesturing to a solid steel door sticking out of a thick concrete wall. Painted in red above were the words "Belle Reve Extreme Containment—Isolation."
The Flash rolled his eyes at the warden's theatrics. "Stop stalling" said the speedster. "Stalling?" replied Strange, nodding to a nearby guard and placing his eye in front of a retinal scanner. "I have no idea what you mean. I am merely following protocol. After all, the Justice League may have a charter from the United Nations, but the U.S. government is under no obligation to allow you access to maximum security inmates. It is only because I wish to convince you that you are mistaken that I am bending the rules as much as I am. After all, the sooner we can determine why you continue to believe that prisoners are escaping, the sooner we can put a stop to it and I can get back to doing my job."
Flash suppressed a scowl but said nothing. They had no evidence of wrongdoing on Strange's part, but between the Ice Fortresses, Professor Ivo's appearance in New Orleans and now Mr. Freeze again, there was just too much of a coincidence. And that's why he was here instead of running off to help Bats get Wally back.
There was an electronic beep as the retinal scan was approved and the four-ton door slid into the wall.
"This is the only way in or out of E.C.-I." Strange said as they stepped into a short hall. "Any other way would require pounding through over thirty feet of concrete or slipping through filtered air vents the size of rats. And we keep an electric current running through those just in case." The door closed behind them and the hall darkened. Beams of all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation washed over them, scanning for hidden weapons. Seeing that they were clean, another guard in a bullet-proof glass box waved them through into another hallway. This one was lined by smaller steel doors, each of which had a control panel and a television monitor mounted next to it.
"Even during the riot in September," Strange continued in full tour-guide mode "our boys in Extreme Containment were able to seal it off and keep its prisoners under control. Which is good, since its sole purpose is to hold the inmates too powerful or dangerous for the general population."
Flash nodded, glancing at the cell to his right. From the outside, it looked like a bank vault with a series of odd glowing runes stuck to it. The screen revealed its contents, however: Wotan the Sorcerer, quietly meditating on the floor, inhibitor collar clasped around his neck.
"All of our magic-wielding prisoners are down that hallway" said Strange. "We'd prefer if we didn't have to have them all in one area, but this wing is coated in magic disrupting charms provided by your Zatara and all locks and hinges are made of Nth metal, which, if I understand correctly, disrupts magic as well. Can't take any chances, can we?"
Flash shook his head. He hated evil magicians, he really did. The only bad guys more annoying were those that didn't even have magic but pretended, like Abra Kadabra.
"Say, how is Zatara?" asked Strange. "He was quite helpful in developing our magical containment procedures and I haven't seen anything about him on the news lately."
Flash scowled slightly. "He's on leave. Family… business."
"Ah, of course. How rude of me to ask. I wish him the best. Now, on your left, you will see another member of the infamous Injustice League. We have them all here, save Joker and Dr. Isley, who are at Arkham. I hear that your protégé Kid Flash was the reason we were able to take Count Vertigo into custody. Very impressive."
Flash grunted a response as he glanced at the monitor Strange had pointed at. It showed a tan man with raven-colored hair staring at the wall, which was coated in some shiny material. He was clearly a prisoner, given the orange jumpsuit and inhibitor collar, but he didn't look that dangerous. It took Flash a minute to realize just who it was.
"Black Adam" he muttered. Black Adam was basically an evil counterpart to Captain Marvel, down to getting his powers by saying "Shazam" and being hit by lightning.
"Very good. Tet-Adam is actually a model prisoner, and I have high hopes for his rehabilitation. Normally we would be able to release him into the general population, but his power to summon his, er, 'magic lightning,' for lack of a better term, means he is at constant risk of escaping his inhibitor collar. We've been able to insulate his cell, but taking him anywhere else would be quite a risk."
"Right" said Flash. "Say, could we maybe, I don't know, check on the prisoner I asked about over an hour ago? Or are you going to keep trying to buy yourself more time?"
"I merely try to be polite and look where it gets me" said Strange, throwing up his hands in an overly dramatic way. "Very well. Let us see if Prisoner #3280 is still in his cell, like he was this morning."
They walked the next minute in silence before reaching the cell.
"There" said Strange, pointing to the monitor. "Satisfied?"
Sure enough, one Mr. Freeze was sitting inside the cell, playing chess with himself.
"No way" said Flash. "If I was going to go away that easily, I wouldn't have walked all the way down here."
"Of course" replied the warden. "I expected nothing less." He walked over to the control panel and entered a code into a keypad.
"This is Warden Strange" he said to an image of a guard that had appeared on a tiny screen on the panel. "I need you to open cell ECI-211 for me."
"Uh, roger that, Warden" the guard replied. "Do you need support?"
"Not at all. I have every confidence in our systems, especially since I have a member of the Justice League with me. Open the door."
There was a loud buzzing noise and the door slid back, revealing the prisoner.
Mr. Freeze looked different than he had before. No longer did he wear a modified version of his cryosuit to keep him alive, like he had in General Population. He'd proven before that that could be used as a weapon when he'd taken Amanda Waller hostage. Now that he had his own cell in solitary, they simply gave him a normal jumpsuit and chilled the room. Ultimate security. The prisoner couldn't leave without killing himself. Not necessarily the most ethical decision, but hey, that's what you get after you kidnap the Warden of a supermax prison.
"Ah, visitors" he said, turning to face them. A wall of cold-resistant plexiglass separated him from Strange and the Flash but they both shivered slightly, both at his glare and the temperature of the air.
"Hello, Victor" said Strange. "This man has a few questions for you, if you wouldn't mind answering."
"Well, if it isn't a member of the Justice League" Freeze said, his voice suitably unimpressed. "The Flish, correct?"
"The Flash" the speedster muttered.
"Well, whatever it is you came for, it can't be too important, seeing as Batman sent an errand-boy instead of doing it himself. Considering what he did to Nora, I don't blame him for not wanting to get within a mile of me."
"Now, now, Victor" said Strange. "You and I both know that your wife's death was no one's fault but your own. And it certainly was not Batman's."
Freeze slammed a fist on the table, knocking over several of the chess pieces, but he said nothing.
"You have been in your cell for the past forty-eight hours, correct?" asked Flash, hoping for a subject change.
"No" said Freeze, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I left yesterday to have tea with the President before he gave me a personal tour of Fort Knox."
"Well, a reliable source claims that they saw you at Cape Chidley in Canada last night."
"Then your source is not as reliable as you believe" Freeze replied. "This is the second time that I have been unjustly accused of escaping this facility. I am growing tired of it, as are my attorneys."
"Not counting the one time you did escape custody here, of course" added Strange. Freeze growled but said nothing.
"Any other questions?" he asked, turning back towards his board and putting pieces back in place.
Flash glared at him but said nothing.
"Well then, I'm sure you can show yourselves out" Freeze said, waving his hand dismissively.
"See?" said Strange as they exited the Extreme Containment wing a few minutes later. "Freeze is here. If you so desire, you may watch the hours and hours of security footage we have, proving that he was here and not in Canada. You may interview the guards if you really see the need. But as warden of Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary, I can say with complete certainty that the Mr. Freeze your source encountered was either imaginary or an impostor."
"Or perhaps the impostor is here, taking the place of the real one" said Flash.
"I suppose this means you're going to want use to take his fingerprints and DNA, aren't you?" said Strange. Flash nodded.
"Very well. Jacobs!" Strange said, motioning for a nearby guard to come over.
"Yes sir?" asked Jacobs.
"Take this man to the security archives room and let him watch everything from the past week in E.C.-I."
"Sir, are you sure that's…"
"Yes. I'm sure. Then take him over to Tawlry and confirm that Prisoner #3280 is who we think he is. I'm going to have to go back to my office to do paperwork. I am still allowed to do my job, aren't I, Mr. Flash?"
The speedster grumbled. "Sure. Whatever. But remember, if you're up to something…"
"The League will take me down?" Strange finished, putting his hands up in mock surrender. "I believe that I know how far your influence extends. Pray that you don't overreach."
Flash gave a 'whatever' shrug and followed the guard out of the room. Strange sighed and entered his office, where a hooded figure in a brown cloak was waiting.
"He suspects nothing?" the figure asked.
"Well, he suspects the 'what,' but not the 'how'" Strange replied, turning his attention to the set of private security monitors the cloaked guest had been watching. One screen was entirely devoted to following Flash as he and a guard moved towards the archives.
"The more they focus on Freeze, the less likely they are to realize who's truly missing" Strange said. "But this is it. After this, we need to keep it clean. Otherwise we risk the entire prison."
"The Light do not necessarily share your sentiments" said the figure. "But then again, it's not really their necks on the line, is it? I wouldn't worry too much. The League is chasing its own tail. However, I am told that you are to prepare Lifeboat Protocol, just in case things unravel faster than we anticipate."
"Good" said the figure, gazing at another screen, containing the image of Black Adam. "Operation Pedestal begins in a few days. After that, the League won't be a problem anymore. Keep it together until then, and you'll be fine."
Strange forced himself to smile.